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Virtue And Empire Life Of Cato The Elder History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Marcus Porcius Cato (234-149 BC) also known as ‘Cato the elder’ was a political leader of great integrity and determination. Often referred to as ‘the elder’ to identify him from his equally renowned great-grandson, ‘Cato the younger’ was born in Tusculum in the Sabine mountains. Cato was also a well known Roman soldier, censor, national leader, public speaker, and writer. His stern morality in office as well as in his private life became proverbial. His early life was spent on his father’s farm near Reate, in the Sabine country. Here he acquired early in life those qualities of simplicity, frugality, strict honesty, austerity, and patriotism for which he was regarded by later generations as the embodiment of the old Roman virtues the third name of Cato the elder was not ‘Cato’ at first but ‘Priscus’, he obtained the surname of Cato as a result of his great abilities since the Romans call a man who is wise and prudent, catus. Catus is also a Latin word meaning clever. His native ability and shrewdness, says Plutarch, gave him the surname Cato (“the shrewd”) replacing the earlier name of Priscus. Love of the soil, implanted in him in his youth, remained throughout his life; though not content with the agricultural limitations of a Sabine farmer he became in later years the owner of great plantations worked by slave labor

Hellenization is a term used to describe the spread of Ancient Greek culture and language. The result of hellenization was that elements of Greek origin combined in various forms and degrees with local elements, which is known as Hellenism. In modern times hellenization has been associated with adoption of modern Greek culture and the ethnic and cultural homogenization of Greece to be Hellenistic is to make or become Greek in character, language, culture, or civilization. The hellenization and the various conquests in Rome made a great impact on the life of Cato the elder both professionally and personally.

Cato was a censor, orator, author, soldier and a statesman. He entered the military service at a tender age of 17 where he participated in the Second Punic war. As a Roman soldier, he helped his country go through some conquests such as conquests of Egypt and wars in Spain successfully. As the city grew by virtue of its exceptional military skill and boundless appetite for territory, it assimilated lands and people at first immediately adjacent-the Sabines and Etrusca-and then further and further a field, until by the time of birth of Christ Rome dominated the Mediterranean, Europe as far as the Rhine, Turkey, Middle East, North Africa and more. Each act of conquest was also an act of negotiation He obtained virtues such as eloquence and courage which came in handy when he retired from the army and became an orator and a statesman.

As a censor, he was a strong guardian of morality. Censorship role involved condemning issues that were meant to deny some segment of the population justice in the society. Thus Cato was a man of integrity and uprightness and adopted an anti-Hellenistic attitude arguing that though the Greek culture was attractive and necessary for progress of Rome, in the long run it may lead to collapse of the Roman society. Cato ceaselessly sought out those who misused public property. Pipes with which people used to illegally draw water from the public water supply, were simply severed. Private buildings which overlapped onto public land were demolished. The rich suffered enormous taxation, and severe regulations were introduced to prevent any luxuries Cato deemed excessive

Cato was a respected good orator or a public speaker. He gave numerous speeches whether in the senate or elsewhere that were inspirational, more specifically the memorable quotes that he came up with. He is said to have been the first to teach Rome to speak Latin and thus he is credited as the father of Latin prose. He was also a renowned author. Though even once retired from politics Cato still would not rest. He created the first Roman encyclopaedia, produced a work on medicine, wrote a history of Rome, and also, due to having grown up on a farm, wrote a text on farming (the oldest complete Latin prose work) Through oratory Cato was able to display his eloquence gained from the military service and pass to the generations to come, wisdom through the various proses that he authored. The considerable, though fragmentary, remains of his speeches show the unmistakable influence of Greek rhetorical training, and yet are throughout concerned with moulding his Roman audiences ethically and morally in ways consistent with Roman tradition

Cato was a responsible father and husband. He always considered his family more important than the rest of the responsibilities held outside home and thus he found valuable time to spend with his family.  He used to say that the man who hit his wife or child, laid violent hands on the holiest of holy things thus he considered wife battery and child abuse as crimes. In addition he treated the slaves that worked in his household well and he could train the youthful slaves into better careers in future.

Cato was influenced by the Greek rhetorical training that assisted him build his charismatic abilities and consequently contributing to his eloquence during his time as the Roman senator. However he was not in support of the mass importage of the Greek culture which is manifested by his refusal to learn Greek language in early life though he lived in Athens for some time. As the result of the hellenization and the conquests, Cato had the knowledge of the practical morally corrupting consequences which Greek philosophy and culture has had on the Greek society and consequently the same consequences probably would be replicated in the Roman culture in the future. This would be detrimental since Greek culture by that time was supporting some immoral sexual practices such as pedophilia. Thus Cato reacted to this changes brought about by hellenization by adopting an anti-Hellenistic attitude as he continued strengthen his virtues such as patriotism and frugality acquired earlier in life.

In conclusion, Cato was undoubtedly one of the most striking characters of the Roman Republic, and his name became similar with the stern old Roman morality for generations to come. In its early point of development, Roman Empire suffered from the twin problems of foreign influence and imperial expansion. Roman Empire has managed to rise against all odds and presently, Rome is at a peak of political success and has appropriated Greek learning and culture.


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