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:

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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.