[image ALT: Much of my site will be useless to you if you've got the images turned off!]
Bill Thayer

[image ALT: Cliccare qui per una pagina di aiuto in Italiano.]

[Link to a series of help pages]
[Link to the next level up]
[Link to my homepage]

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!


 p2  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 and in 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.

 p3  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 amicitia, Topica, 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. (Ad Att. 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  p4 December 15, 45 and January 3, 44 B.C. It was not fully revised, however, until July 17, 44 (ad Att. XVI.3).1

3. Title

Cicero once refers to this essay as O Tite, si quid (ad Att. XVI.3),º from its initial words; once as De Senectute (De div. II.3), and twice as Cato Maior (Lael. 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, a genealogical 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 extant to prove the rare intimacy and deep affection existing between these two remarkable men.

 p5  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, and Laelius,​2 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. He died 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 rustica, works on legal subjects and a history of Rome from its foundation to the year 150 B.C., entitled Origines.

Publius Scipio Africanus Minor was born about 185 B.C. He was the son by birth of Lucius Aemilius  p6 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),​a 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 Maior, 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 found. Chapters 17 and 22 contain passages from Xenophon's Oeconomicus and Cyropaedia. 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  p7 remarks from the other interlocutors, to give a connected discussion.

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 criticisms.

[We now have in the Budé series the edition and French translation by P. Wuilleumier, Paris, 1955. P. Venini also has published De Senectute, Turin, 1959.]​b

The Author's Notes:

1 That the reference in this letter is to Cato Maior and not to De gloria is clear from the context; besides, the De gloria had been sent to Atticus six days before (ad Att. XVI.2).

2 For a sketch of Laelius see Lael. Introd., pp104‑105.

Thayer's Notes:

a So the Loeb introduction; but Book XXXII of Polybius doesn't once mention Scipio, whose character is praised at length in X.2 ff.

b This sentence, bracketed in the print edition in front of me, cannot of course have been written by Falconer, and is properly still under copyright. It is so brief as surely to fall under fair use.

[image ALT: Valid HTML 4.01.]

Page updated: 17 Feb 08