Ides of March: Cato the Younger

Wednesday, March 15, AD 2017

And, in general, Cato thought he ought to take a course directly opposed to the life and practices of the time, feeling that these were bad and in need of great change.

Plutarch, Life of Cato the Younger

 

 

 

I think it would have amused the Romans of Caesar’s generation if they could have learned that the assassination of Julius Caesar would eventually receive immortality through a play written more than 16 centuries after the event by a barbarian playwright in the Tin Islands that Caesar had briefly invaded.  It would have tickled their well developed concept of the ludicrous, judging from Roman comedy.

Caesar was assassinated because he had established himself as absolute ruler of Rome as Marius and Sulla had done before him.  Once again the Senate was to be reduced to a rubber stamp.  However, unlike the brief periods of one man rule engaged in by Marius and Sulla, Caesar, a much abler man, was clearly aiming to turn Rome into a monarchy to be ruled by him alone, and his successors after him.  The Republic, dying for the last half century, was now dead and Caesar was the undertaker.  However, some Romans refused to accept this fact.  Foremost among them was Cato the Younger.  A living anachronism, Cato longed for the Republic that his ancestor Cato the Elder had lived in a century and a half before, and stood against those who sought to hurry on the death of the Republic.  Fate has allowed only one speech of Cato to survive, his powerful brief oration that convinced the Senators to impose the death penalty on the Cataline conspirators.  In this speech we see Cato’s love of the Republic and his clear eyed awareness that it was unlikely to survive the corrupt generation among whom he lived.  Cato understood that the Republic was a lost cause, but he viewed this lost cause as worth fighting for and dying for.  Here is the text of his speech:

 

 

 

MY feelings, conscript fathers, are extremely different when I contemplate our circumstances and dangers, and when I revolve in my mind the sentiments of some who have spoken before me. Those speakers, as it seems to me, have considered only how to punish the traitors who have raised war against their country, their parents, their altars, and their homes; but the state of affairs warns us rather to secure ourselves against them, than to take counsel as to what sentence we should pass upon them. Other crimes you may punish after they have been committed; but as to this, unless you prevent its commission, you will, when it has once taken effect, in vain appeal to justice. When the city is taken, no power is left to the vanquished.

 

But, in the name of the immortal gods, I call upon you, who have always valued your mansions and villas, your statues and pictures, at a higher price than the welfare of your country, if you wish to preserve those possessions, of whatever kind they are, to which you are attached; if you wish to secure quiet for the enjoyment of your pleasures, arouse yourselves and act in defense of your country. We are not now debating on the revenues, or on injuries done to our allies, but our liberty and our life is at stake.

 

Often, conscript fathers, have I spoken at great length in this assembly; often have I complained of the luxury and avarice of our citizens, and, by that very means, have incurred the displeasure of many. I, who never excused to myself, or to my own conscience, the commission of any fault, could not easily pardon the misconduct, or indulge the licentiousness, of others. But tho you little regarded my remonstrances, yet the republic remained secure; its own strength was proof against your remissness. The question, however, at present under discussion, is not whether we live in a good or bad state of morals: nor how great, nor how splendid, the empire of the Roman people is; but whether these things around us, of whatever value they are, are to continue our own, or to fall, with ourselves, into the hands of the enemy.

 

In such a case, does any one talk to me of gentleness and compassion? For some time past, it is true, we have lost the real names of things; for to lavish the property of others is called generosity, and audacity in wickedness is called heroism; and hence the State is reduced to the brink of ruin. But let those who thus misname things be liberal, since such is the practise, out of the property of our allies; let them be merciful to the robbers of the treasury; but let them not lavish our blood, and, while they spare a few criminals, bring destruction on all the guiltless.

 

In such a case, does any one talk to me of gentleness and compassion? For some time past, it is true, we have lost the real names of things; for to lavish the property of others is called generosity, and audacity in wickedness is called heroism; and hence the State is reduced to the brink of ruin. But let those who thus misname things be liberal, since such is the practise, out of the property of our allies; let them be merciful to the robbers of the treasury; but let them not lavish our blood, and, while they spare a few criminals, bring destruction on all the guiltless.
Caius Cæsar, a short time ago, spoke in fair and elegant language, before this assembly, on the subject of life and death; considering as false, I suppose, what is told of the dead—that the bad, going a different way from the good, inhabit places gloomy, desolate, dreary and full of horror. He accordingly proposed that the property of the conspirators should be confiscated, and themselves kept in custody in the municipal towns; fearing, it seems, that, if they remained at Rome, they might be rescued either by their accomplices in the conspiracy, or by a hired mob; as if, forsooth, the mischievous and profligate were to be found only in the city, and not through the whole of Italy, or as if desperate attempts would not be more likely to succeed where there is less power to resist them. His proposal, therefore, if he fears any danger from them, is absurd; but if, amid such universal terror, he alone is free from alarm, it the more concerns me to fear for you and myself.
Be assured, then, that when you decide on the fate of Lentulus and the other prisoners, you at the same time determine that of the army of Catiline, and of all the conspirators. The more spirit you display in your decision, the more will their confidence be diminished; but if they shall perceive you in the smallest degree irresolute, they will advance upon you with fury.
Do not suppose that our ancestors, from so small a commencement, raised the republic to greatness merely by force of arms. If such had been the case, we should enjoy it in a most excellent condition; for of allies and citizens, as well as arms and horses, we have a much greater abundance that they had. But there were other things which made them great, but which among us have no existence—such as industry at home, equitable government abroad, and minds impartial in council, uninfluenced by any immoral or improper feeling. Instead of such virtues, we have luxury and avarice, public distress and private superfluity: we extol wealth, and yield to indolence; no distinction is made between good men and bad; and ambition usurps the honors due to virtue. Nor is this wonderful; since you study each his individual interest, and since at home you are slaves to pleasure, and here to money or favor; and hence it happens that an attack is made on the defenseless State.
But on these subjects I shall say no more. Certain citizens, of the highest rank, have conspired to ruin their country; they are engaging the Gauls, the bitterest foes of the Roman name, to join in a war against us; the leader of the enemy is ready to make a descent upon us; and do you hesitate, even in such circumstances, how to treat armed incendiaries arrested within your walls? I advise you to have mercy upon them; they are young men who have been led astray by ambition; send them away, even with arms in their hands. But such mercy, and such clemency, if they turn those arms against you, will end in misery to yourselves. The case is, assuredly, dangerous, but you do not fear it; yes, you fear it greatly, but you hesitate how to act, through weakness and want of spirit, waiting one for another, and trusting to the immortal gods, who have so often preserved your country in the greatest dangers. But the protection of the gods is not obtained by vows and effeminate supplications; it is by vigilance, activity, and prudent measures, that general welfare is secured. When you are once resigned to sloth and indolence, it is in vain that you implore the gods; for they are then indignant and threaten vengeance.
In the days of our forefathers, Titus Manlius Torquatus, during a war with the Gauls, ordered his own son to be put to death, because he had fought with an enemy contrary to orders. That noble youth suffered for excess of bravery; and do you hesitate what sentence to pass on the most inhuman of traitors? Perhaps their former life is at variance with their present crime. Spare, then, the dignity of Lentulus, if he has ever spared his own honor or character, or had any regard for gods or for men. Pardon the youth of Cathegus, unless this be the second time that he has made war upon his country. As to Gabinius, Statilius, Cœparius, why should I make any remark upon them? Had they ever possessed the smallest share of discretion, they would never have engaged in such a plot against their country.
In conclusion, conscript fathers, if there were time to amend an error, I might easily suffer you, since you disregard words, to be corrected by experience of consequences. But we are beset by dangers on all sides; Catiline, with his army, is ready to devour us; while there are other enemies within the walls, and in the heart of the city; nor can any measures be taken, or any plans arranged, without their knowledge. The more necessary is it, therefore, to act with promptitude. What I advise, then, is this: That, since the State, by a treasonable combination of abandoned citizens, has been brought into the greatest peril; and since the conspirators have been convicted on the evidence of Titus Volturcius, and the deputies of the Allobroges, and on their own confession, of having concerted massacres, conflagrations, and other horrible and cruel outrages, against their fellow citizens and their country, punishment be inflicted, according to the usage of our ancestors, on the prisoners who have confessed their guilt, as on men convicted of capital crimes.

 

Cato died in the civil wars that followed Caesar crossing the Rubicon so he did not live to see the death of his beloved Republic.  However, his words live on as a warning for those who love liberty.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Responses to Ides of March: Cato the Younger

  • Lord Acton describes the fall of the Republic and the Augustan Principate very well: “The Roman republic laboured to crush the subjugated nations into a homogeneous and obedient mass; but the increase which the proconsular authority obtained in the process subverted the republican government, and the reaction of the provinces against Rome assisted in establishing the empire. The Cæsarean system gave an unprecedented freedom to the dependencies, and raised them to a civil equality which put an end to the dominion of race over race and of class over class. The monarchy was hailed as a refuge from the pride and cupidity of the Roman people; and the love of equality, the hatred of nobility, and the tolerance of despotism implanted by Rome became, at least in Gaul, the chief feature of the national character.”

  • The American Republic also has died. Can anyone assign a date for the head stone? The slow death spiral likely began the day the Constitution was ratified and accelerated.

    Interestingly, I was reading (for banking and economic history) an old (before the reds seized public education) AP high school American History textbook. The book stated that under the (failed) Articles of Confederation Congress with the Northwest Ordinance of1 787 had solved the problem of empire (which had bedeviled the UK in the 1760’s and 1770’s) by establishing the mechanisms to admit territories into the United States as permanent equals to the original states.

  • “The slow death spiral likely began the day the Constitution was ratified and accelerated.”

    You make Cato the Younger T. Shaw seem like an incorrigible optimist.

    The Brits would hit upon the solution of self-governing Dominions in the 19th Century. The problem for the Brits is that the technology did not exist to have a unified global country in the great days of the British Empire. Of course with the rise of nationalism in the 19th century such a state was rendered impossible. Divergent interests of course would still have been a problem even without lack of technology or nationalism. Australia always has to keep a close eye on China and Japan while such Asian concerns, in the absence of British control of India, Hong Kong, Burma, Malaya and Singapore, are not even of tertiary concern to the Brits.

  • “Unprecedented freedom” made me think, MPS about the seeds of Jewish thought planted in the previous few
    hundred years by dispersion and captivity through esp the thoughts of the prophet Daniel the Maccabees – hey – even Jonah and Esther 😊
    You Daniel may have influenced Cyrus and the Maccabees certainly sent emissaries to Rome on behalf of religious freedom

  • I am an optimist. At my age, I’m elated every morning I wake up and most everything still works. Hope is one of the Cardinal Virtues. My true home is not the here-and-now. I simply ignore illegal executive orders, unconstitutional laws, unjust regulations, and liberty-denying court diktats. For example, for me LGTB means Liberty, Gold/Guns, Trump, and Booze. If I were not an optimist, why would I buy Lottery tickets.

    Another “victory” for the (failed) Articles of Confederation was the bond of union it created when the landed (about half of the states owned parts of the Northwest Territories) states ceded to the national government the Northwest Terr., and non-landed (about equal in number) were provided equal benefits from future sales of the lands (to pay the Revolutionary War debts). The states would need to stay with the Union in order to reap their shares of the benefits from land sales.

  • Anzlyne wrote, “[T]he Maccabees certainly sent emissaries to Rome on behalf of religious freedom”

    The Romans understood the power of religion; “Separatim nemo habessit deos neve novos neve advenas nisi publice adscitos” – Let no one have gods by himself, neither new nor introduced, unless publicly acknowledged, says the Law of the XII Tables of 500 BC. However, virtually all beliefs were tolerated; as Gibbon says, “The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful.” What the authorities viewed with deep suspicion was any kind of sect, demanding the obedience of its members.

    We have a bronze tablet containing the Sc de Bacchanalibus, of 186 BC, suppressing the Bacchanalian cult and it is very revealing. “No one shall appoint either man or woman to be master or to act as master; no one, either man or woman, is to be an officer (to manage the temporal affairs of the organization); nor is anyone of them to have charge of a common treasury; they shall not form conspiracies among themselves… make mutual promises or agreements, or interchange pledges.” Drunken orgies in honour of a god were no problem; being part of an organization exercising authority over its members was to be “rem capvtalem faciendam censvere” – adjudged a capital offence.

    This fear only intensified under the Empire. After the great fire in Nicomedia, the Emperor Hadrian would not allow his friend Pliny to form a volunteer fire brigade; he feared it might become a political club. Christians were persecuted, not for their beliefs, but for their membership of a “collegium illicitum,” an illicit corporation, by authorities who condemned, as a state within the state, every inner group or community, class or corporation, exercising authority over its members.. “Non-denominational Christians,” had they existed (they didn’t), the Romans would have viewed with unconcern.

  • T. Shaw
    “The American Republic also has died. Can anyone assign a date for the head stone? The slow death spiral likely began the day the Constitution was ratified and accelerated.”
    The American Republic lives in our Founding Principles: THE UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE and our CONSTITUTION. Respect for the sovereign person. Jesus Christ is a sovereign person who has been maligned and evicted from the public square. This will change.