Cato the Elder

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In love, as in gluttony, pleasure is a matter of the utmost precision.
Italo Calvino
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Marcus Porcius Cato (234 BC - 149 BC) Roman statesman, often called "The Censor," Sapiens, Priscus, or Major (the Elder), to distinguish him from Cato the Younger (his great-grandson).


  • Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise.
    • Plutarch's Life of Cato
      Variant: Wise men profit more from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise men shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise.
  • The best way to keep good acts in memory is to refresh them with new.
    • Apothegms (no. 247)
  • Emas non quod opus est, sed quod necesse est. Quod non opus est, asse carum est.
    • Buy not what you want, but what you have need of; what you do not want is dear at a farthing.
    • Epistles (94) as quoted by Seneca
  • Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.
    • Sometimes quoted as Carthago delenda est.
    • Moreover, I advise that Carthage should be destroyed.
    • Cato was convinced that the security of Rome depended on the annihilation of Carthage and he urged his countrymen to the Third Punic War. Towards the end of his life he ended all of his speeches in the Roman senate with these words.


  • An angry man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes.
  • An orator is a good man who is skilled in speaking.
  • Anger so clouds the mind, that it cannot perceive the truth
  • Be firm or mild as the occasion may require.
  • Cessation of work is not accompanied by cessation of expenses.
    • Variant: Even though work stops, expenses run on.
  • Consider it the greatest of all virtues to restrain the tongue.
  • Vir bonus, dicendi peritus
    • A good man, skilled in speaking. [Definition of an orator]
  • Do not expect good from another's death.
  • Don't promise twice what you can do at once.
  • From lightest words sometimes the direst quarrel springs.
  • Grasp the subject, the words will follow.
  • I think the first virtue is to restrain the tongue; he approaches nearest to gods who knows how to be silent, even though he is in the right.
    • Variants: He is nearest to the gods who knows how to be silent.
  • I would much rather have men ask why I have no statue, than why I have one.
    • Response when asked during a celebration of a new statue being dedicated to some other public figure, why there were no statues of him.
      Variants: I had far rather that people should ask why there is no statue of me than why there is one.
      After I'm dead I'd rather have people ask why I have no monument than why I have one.
  • In conversation avoid the extremes of forwardness and reserve.
  • In doing nothing men learn to do evil.
  • It is a hard matter, my fellow citizens, to argue with the belly, since it has no ears.
    • Variant: It is difficult to speak to the belly, because it has no ears.
  • Lighter is the wound foreseen.
  • Not that I might die learned—but that I might not die unlearned.
  • Old age isn't so bad when you consider the alternatives.
  • Patience is the greatest of all virtues.
  • Should anyone attempt to deceive you by false expressions, and not be a true friend at heart, act in the same manner, and thus art will defeat art.
    • Variant: If you would catch a man let him think he is catching you.
  • The best way to keep good acts in memory is to refresh them with new.
  • The worst ruler is one who cannot rule himself.
  • 'Tis sometimes the height of wisdom to feign stupidity.
  • We cannot control the evil tongues of others; but a good life enables us to disregard them.

Probably Misattributed

The Distichs of Cato were long attributed to Cato the Elder but probably are the work of a much later author called Dionysius Cato from the 3rd or 4th century A.D.

  • Fronte capillata, post est Occasio calva.
    • Hairy in front, opportunity is bald behind.
    • Disticha, Bk. ii, No. 26

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