He once wished to dissuade the Roman people from insisting unseasonably upon a distribution of corn, and began his speech with these words:
‘It is a hard matter, my fellow citizens, to argue with the belly, since it has no ears.’ Again, inveighing against the prevalent extravagance, he said:
‘It is a hard matter to save a city in which a fish sells for more than an ox.’
Again, he said the Romans were like sheep; for as these are not to be persuaded one by one, but all in a body blindly follow their leaders,
‘so ye,’ he said,
‘though as individuals ye would not deign to follow the counsels of certain men, when ye are got together ye suffer yourselves to be led by them.’ Discoursing on the power of women, he said:
‘All other men rule their wives; we rule all other men, and our wives rule us.’ This, however, is a translation from the sayings of Themistocles.1
He, finding himself much under his son's orders through the lad's mother, said:
‘Wife, the Athenians rule the Hellenes, I rule the Athenians, thou rulest me, and thy son thee. Therefore let him make sparing use of that authority which makes him, child though he is, the most powerful of the Hellenes.’
The Roman people, Cato said, fixed the market value not only of dyes, but also of behaviour.
‘For,’ said he,
‘as dyers most affect that dye which they see pleases you, so your young men learn and practice that which wins your praise.’
And he exhorted them, in case it was through virtue and temperance that they had become great, to make no change for the worse; but if it was through intemperance and vice, to change for the better; these had already made them great enough. Of those who were eager to hold high office frequently, he said that like men who did not know the road, they sought to be ever attended on their way by lictors, lest they go astray.
He censured his fellow citizens for choosing the same men over and over again to high office.
‘You will be thought,’ said he,
‘not to deem your offices worth much, or else not to deem many men worthy of your offices.’ Of one of his enemies who had the name of leading a disgraceful and disreputable life, he said:
‘This man's mother holds the wish that he may survive her to be no pious prayer, but a malignant curse.’
Pointing to a man who had sold his ancestral fields lying near the sea, he pretended to admire him, as stronger than the sea.
‘This man,’ said he,
‘has drunk down with ease what the sea found it hard to wash away.’
When King Eumenes paid a visit to Rome, the Senate received him with extravagant honours, and the chief men of the city strove who should be most about him. But Cato clearly looked upon him with suspicion and alarm.
‘Surely,’ some one said to him,
‘he is an excellent man, and a friend of Rome.’
‘Granted,’ said Cato,
‘but the animal known as king is by nature carnivorous.’ He said further that not one of the kings whom men so lauded was worthy of comparison with Epaminondas, or Pericles, or Themistocles, or Manius Curius, or with Hamilcar, surnamed Barcas.
His enemies hated him, he used to say, because he rose every day before it was light and, neglecting his own private matters, devoted his time to the public interests. He also used to say that he preferred to do right and get no thanks, rather than to do ill and get no punishment; and that he had pardon for everybody's mistakes except his own.