Cornelius Nepos : Life of Cato

This is the only section that has survived from the book of Cornelius Nepos "On Latin Historians". Nepos mentions at the end that he had already written a longer biography of Cato.    

Translated by J.C. Rolfe (1929). Click on the L symbols to go to the Latin text of each chapter.   Click on ** to go to the translator's footnotes.




  [1] L   Marcus Cato, born in the town of Tusculum, in his early youth, before entering on an official career, lived in the land of the Sabines, since he had there an hereditary property, left him by his father. Then, with the encouragement of Lucius Valerius Flaccus, later his colleague in the consulship and the censorship - as Marcus Perpenna, the ex-censor, was fond of mentioning - he moved to Rome and entered public life. 2 He served his first campaign at the age of seventeen. In the consulate of Quintus Fabius and Marcus Claudius {214 B.C.} he was tribune of the soldiers in Sicily. On his return from there he joined the army of Gaius Claudius Nero and won high praise in the Battle at Sena, ** in which Hasdrubal, the brother of Hannibal, fell. 3 As quaestor the chance of the lot assigned him to the consul Publius Africanus, ** with whom he did not live as the intimacy of their association demanded; ** for he disagreed with him throughout his whole life. He was chosen plebeian aedile with Gaius Helvius. 4 As praetor he was allotted the province of Sardinia, from which at an earlier time, when leaving Africa after his quaestorship, he had brought the poet Ennius to Rome - an act which, in my opinion, was no less glorious than the greatest possible victory in Sardinia. **  

  [2] L   He was consul with Lucius Valerius Flaccus {195 B.C.}, and being allotted the province of Hither Spain, from it won a triumph. 2 When he lingered there somewhat too long, Publius Scipio Africanus, then consul for the second time {194 B.C.} - in his former consulship Cato had been his quaestor - wished to force him to leave the province, in order himself to succeed him. But the senate would not support Scipio in the attempt, although he was the leading man in the state, because in those days the government was administered, not by influence, but by justice. Therefore Scipio was at odds with the senate and, after his consulship was ended, he lived the life of a private citizen in Rome.   

  3 But Cato was chosen censor, once more with Flaccus as his colleague {184 B.C.}, and administered the office with severity; for he inflicted punishment upon several nobles, and added to his edict ** many new provisions for checking luxury, which even then was beginning to grow rank. 4 For about eighty years, from youth to the end of his life, he never ceased to incur enmity through his devotion to his country. But although often attacked, he not only suffered no loss of reputation, but as long as he lived the fame of his virtues increased.   

  [3] L   In all lines he was a man of extraordinary activity; for he was an expert husbandman, an able jurist, a great general, a praiseworthy ** orator and greatly devoted to letters. 2 Although he took up literary work late in life, yet he made such progress that it is not easy to find any thing either in the history of Greece or of Italy which was unknown to him. 3 From early youth he composed speeches. He was already an old man when he began to write history, of which he left seven books. The first contains an account of the kings of the Roman people; the second and third, the origin of all the states of Italy - and it seems to be for that reason that he called the entire work the Origins. Then in the fourth book we have the First Punic War, and in the fifth, the Second (Punic War). 4 All this is told in summary fashion, and he treated the other wars in the same manner down to the praetorship of Servius Galba, who plundered the Lusitanians. In his account of all these wars he did not name the leaders, but related the events without mentioning names. In the same work he gave an account of noteworthy occurrences and sights in Italy and the Spains ; and in it he showed great industry and carefulness, but no learning.   

  5 Concerning this man's life and character I have given fuller details in the separate book which I devoted to his biography at the urgent request of Titus Pomponius Atticus. Therefore I may refer those who are interested in Cato to that volume. **  

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1.   More commonly known as the battle of the Metaurus river, 207 B.C.   

2.   P. Scipio Africanus, the conqueror of Hannibal.   

3.   The relations of a quaestor to the consul or praetor under whom he served were like those of a son to his father; of. Cic. Div. in Caec. 61.   

4.   That Ennius came back with Cato was mere chance. Cato was bitterly opposed to the tendencies which Ennius represented.  

5.   The censor's edict contained numerous standing provisions (edictum tralaticium) handed down from his predecessors, to which new ones were added from time to time.   

6.   Cato was the greatest orator of his time.   

7.   This extract is therefore only a brief summary of his larger work, put in to make his list of Roman Historians complete, just as the brief extract XXI, De Regibus, is added to make his list of Generals of Foreign Nations complete. 

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