XX, He was also a good father, a considerate husband, and a household manager of no mean talent, nor did he give only a fitful attention to this, as a matter of little or no importance. Therefore I think I ought to give suitable instances of his conduct in these relations. He married a wife who was of gentler birth than she was rich, thinking that, although the rich and the high-born may be alike given to pride, still, women of high birth have such a horror of what is disgraceful that they are more obedient to their husbands in all that is honourable.
He used to say that the man who struck his wife or child, laid violent hands on the holiest of holy things. Also that he thought it more praiseworthy to be a good husband than a great senator, nay, there was nothing else to admire in Socrates of old except that he was always kind and gentle in his intercourse with a shrewish wife and stupid sons. After the birth of his son, no business could be so urgent, unless it had a public character, as to prevent him from being present when his wife bathed and swaddled the babe.
For the mother nursed it herself, and often gave suck also to the infants of her slaves, that so they might come to cherish a brotherly affection for her son. As soon as the boy showed signs of understanding, his father took him under his own charge and taught him to read, although he had an accomplished slave, Chilo by name, who was a schoolteacher, and taught many boys.
Still, Cato thought it not right, as he tells us himself, that his son should be scolded by a slave, or have his ears tweaked when he was slow to learn, still less that he should be indebted to his slave for such a priceless thing as education. He was therefore himself not only the boy's reading-teacher, but his tutor in law, and his athletic trainer, and he taught his son not merely to hurl the javelin and fight in armour and ride the horse, but also to box, to endure heat and cold, and to swim lustily through the eddies and billows of the Tiber.
His History of Rome, as he tells us himself, he wrote out with his own hand and in large characters, that his son might have in his own home an aid to acquaintance with his country's ancient traditions. He declares that his son's presence put him on his guard against indecencies of speech as much as that of the so-called Vestal Virgins, and that he never bathed with him. This, indeed, would seem to have been a general custom with the Romans, for even fathers-in-law avoided bathing with their sons-in-law, because they were ashamed to uncover their nakedness.
Afterwards, however, when they had learned from the Greeks their freedom in going naked, they in their turn infected the Greeks with the practice even when women were present.
So Cato wrought at the fair task of moulding and fashioning his son to virtue, finding his zeal blameless, and his spirit answering to his good natural parts. But since his body was rather too delicate to endure much hardship, he relaxed somewhat in his favour the excessive rigidity and austerity of his own mode of life.
But his son, although thus delicate, made a sturdy soldier, and fought brilliantly under Paulus Aemilius in the battle against Perseus.1
On that occasion his sword either was smitten from his hand or slipped from his moist grasp. Distressed at this mishap, he turned to some of his companions for aid, and supported by them rushed again into the thick of the enemy. After a long and furious struggle, he succeeded in clearing the place, and found the sword at last among the many heaps of arms and dead bodies where friends and foes alike lay piled upon one another.
Paulus, his commander, admired the young man's exploit, and there is still extant a letter written by Cato himself to his son, in which he heaps extravagant praise upon him for this honourable zeal in recovering his sword. The young man afterwards married Tertia, a daughter of Paulus and a sister of the younger Scipio, and his admission into such a family was due no less to himself than to his father. Thus Cato's careful attention to the education of his son bore worthy fruit.