Introduction to the Cato Maior 1. Cicero as a writer of philosophy
In his youth, in preparation for a public career,
Cicero devoted himself with ardour and success to
the study of philosophy, and, during the whole of an
exceptionally busy life, spent all his spare moments
in reading and in the society of the learned. As a
relaxation from public employment he produced in
55 B.C. his De oratore,
in 54 his De republica
52 his De legibus.
His choice of literature as his
chief pursuit was due to political causes.
In January 49 B.C., after twelve months as governor of Cilicia, Cicero returned to Italy to find his
country in the midst of civil war. Long hesitating
which side to embrace, he finally gave his support
to Pompey. After the battle of Pharsalus, in
August 48, Cicero decided that further resistance
to Caesar was useless and, in October, went to
Brundisium, remaining there virtually a prisoner
until September 47, when Caesar granted him an
unconditional pardon. Although treated by the
dictator and his friends with great respect, Cicero
held proudly aloof from any active participation in
a government which he regarded as a tyranny.
When, by Caesar's complete dominance of the
courts and the Senate, Cicero had been excluded
from those activities in which he had spent thirty
brilliant and laborious years, he was forced to find
some other outlet for his tireless energy of mind and
body. Full of grief for the downfall of the Republic,
harassed by debt and struggling under an almost
intolerable weight of domestic sorrows, he turned to
the writing of philosophic books as the surest relief
from trouble and as the best means of serving his
country. Early in 46 B.C., he withdrew from Rome
to the quiet of his country places, and in that year
published Paradoxa, Partitiones oratoriae, Orator,
De claris oratoribus,
and, probably, Hortensius.
In February 45 the death of his adored and only
daughter drove him into a frenzy of writing in an
effort to forget his grief. In an incredibly short time
he produced, in the years 45 and 44, Consolatio, De
finibus, Tusculanae disputationes, De natura deorum,
Cato Maior, De divinatione, De fato, De gloria, De
and De officiis.
The De officiis,
finished in November, closed his literary career.
2. Date of composition
In a letter to Atticus written on May 11, 44 B.C.
xiv. 21), Cicero speaks of the Cato Maior
as then already written. In the De divinatione
it is referred to as a recent work. It followed
the De natura deorum
which was not completed
until late in August 45. While there can be no
certainty as to the exact time of composition
the probability is that it was written between
December 15, 45 and January 3, 44 B.C. It was
not fully revised, however, until July 17, 44 (Ad Att.
Cicero once refers to this essay as O Tite, si quid
xiv. 11), from its initial words; once as
ii. 3), and twice as Cato Maior
4; Ad Att.
xiv. 21). Its full title is Cato
Maior de senectute.
4. Dedication to Atticus
The Cato Maior
and the Laelius
are both dedicated
to TITUS POMPONIUS ATTICUS, who was born at
Rome in 109 B.C. His friendship with Cicero began
in childhood and continued until Cicero's death in
43 B.C. From about 88 to 65 B.C., Atticus lived in
Athens, devoting himself to the study of Greek
philosophy and literature. He wrote Latin verses,
which are highly commended by his biographer
Cornelius Nepos, Roman Annales,
history of Roman families and a history in Greek
of Cicero's consulship. He died in 32 B.C., at the
age of 77, highly esteemed by the Emperor Augustus
Caesar and by the leading Romans of his day.
More than 400 letters from Cicero to him are extant
to prove the rare intimacy and deep affection existing
between these two remarkable men.
5. TIME OF THE DIALOGUE AND ITS INTERLOCUTORS
The discussion is supposed to occur in the year
150 B.C., between Cato, then 84, Scipio, then 35,
then about 36.
MARCUS PORCIUS CATO, who was born at Tusculum in 234 B.C., served under Fabius Maximus as
a private soldier in the campaign against Hannibal
in Campania in 214, and as a military tribune in the
siege of Tarentum in 209. He was elected quaestor
in 204, plebeian aedile in 199, praetor in 198, and
consul in 195. In 194 he celebrated a triumph for
his victories in Spain.
In the war against Antiochus he was on the staff
of the consul Marcus Acilius Glabrio, and distinguished himself at the Battle of Thermopylae in
191. In 184 he was censor with Flaccus and began
his struggles against the lax morals of the day.
He degraded seven senators, and exerted all his
power to stem the tide of luxury and extravagance.
Going as an envoy to Carthage in 157, he returned
full of alarm at its prosperity and always thereafter,
it is said, concluded every speech with the words
ceterum censeo delendam esse Carthaginem.
in 149. In addition to his ability as a farmer,
soldier, statesman and orator, Cato had considerable literary talent. He published 150 speeches,
a book of witticisms, a treatise entitled De re
works on legal subjects and a history of
Rome from its foundation to the year 150 B.C.,
PUBLIUS SCIPIO AFRICANUS MINOR was born about
185 B.C. He was the son by birth of Lucius Aemilius
Paulus, and the son by adoption of Publius Cornelius
Scipio, son of Africanus the Elder. He was a great
student and a patron of Greek and Roman letters,
and numbered among his intimate friends Polybius,
the Greek historian; Panaetius the Stoic, and the
Roman poets Lucullus and Terence. At the age
of seventeen he fought under his father Paulus at
Pydna, and in 151 B.C. was military tribune in
Spain. In 148, though only a candidate for the
aedileship, he was elected consul. As consul a
second time he destroyed Carthage in 146. Thirteen
years later, in his third consulship, he captured
Numantia. His death occurred in 129 and was due,
it was thought, to violence. Carbo, the popular
leader, was suspected of having strangled him in his
bed as he slept. According to the evidence of
Cicero and Polybius (Hist.
xxxii. 9–16), Scipio was
one of the purest and noblest men in history.
6. Greek sources of the Cato Maior
Cicero, in the letter of dedication of the Cato
refers to Aristo Cius as the author of a
treatise on old age, and he may have drawn upon
that author in writing his own treatise. In Chapters
2 and 3 the conversation between Cephalus and
Socrates in Plato's Republic
is closely followed.
Chapters 17 and 22 contain passages from Xenophon's Oeconomicus
In the form
of the dialogue Cicero adopted the method of
Aristotle rather than that of Plato, to avoid the
frequent and continuous exchange of question and
answer, and to permit one speaker, after a few
remarks from the other interlocutors, to give a
7. Manuscripts, editions and translations
The best MSS. of the Cato Maior
are: P (at
Paris), 9th or 10th century; L (at Leyden), 10th
century; B (at Munich), 12th century; R (at
Zurich), of uncertain date; E (at Berlin), 12th
century; S (at Munich), 11th century.
The present text is eclectic, following most
closely that of J. S. Reid, but with such readings
adopted from the editions of Müller, Bennett and
others as seemed preferable. The critical notes of
Reid and Müller and the interpretative notes of
Reid and Bennett have been consulted with great
profit in the preparation of the translation.
For an extensive bibliography of this essay the
reader is referred to the excellent edition of Frank
Gardner Moore. Of the many translations consulted
the best, in the opinion of the present translator,
in their order of merit, are those of Shuckburgh,
Edmonds, and A. P. Peabody.
My grateful acknowledgements are due to Prof.
bechtel of Tulane University, and to Prof. henry
Strauss and Dr. J. L. Hancock of the University
of Arkansas for a critical reading of the manuscript,
and to my friends Mr. Brookes More of Hingham,
Mass., and the late Judge Jesse Turner of Van
Buren, Ark., for many helpful suggestions and