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The Living Philosophy of Cato— The Father of Roman Stoicism

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4m May 9, 2021
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The philosophy of Cato the Younger was a blend of ancient Roman values and Stoicism. As his biographers Goodman and Soni noted about Cato the Younger philosophy was not a risk free choice especially the Stoicism Cato chose. With his flamboyant adherence to this Greek philosophy Cato was making “the career-endangering choice of becoming the public face of Stoicism, a school widely regarded in his day as subversive and un-Roman”. It was with Cato that Stoicism became truly Roman.

Cato dressed in simple clothing and went about barefoot and bareheaded in warmth or cold; he looked more like a statue of Romulus than any of his fellow Senators. He was immune to corruption, a stickler for morality. When he was a general he made himself more like a soldier than a commander, sleeping on the ground with his troops, eating the same meagre food, wearing the same clothes, digging ditches beside them, and joining them on the march, always on foot.
He was a man who lived his philosophy with uncompromising integrity. This inevitably led to conflict with Caesar who was trying to concentrate power into himself and become a lifelong dictator. Cato resisted and when he ultimately lost he committed suicide rather than living a day under Caesar’s rule. His death spurred on the Republican movement (Brutus and Cicero wrote panegyric pamphlets about him within a year of his death and Caesar wrote his Anticato which has been called one of the greatest missteps of his career and inflamed rather than crushed the idolisation of Cato; it seems Caesar was still too angry at Cato — his biographers state that Cato is the only man Caesar never forgave).

Fast forward almost 2 millennia and he became the inspiration for the founding fathers through the play of Addison in the 18th century. George Washington modelled himself on Cato and came to be known as the American Cato. You can see this influence all over his actions and his words (as a young soldier he felt his time would have been better spent as an actor in Addison’s Cato and at the lowest ebb of the Revolutionary War he staged a production of the play in Valley Forge).


Further Reading:
Rome's Last Citizen — Rob Goodman, Jimmy Somi
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13538752-rome-s-last-citizen
Rome in Crisis — Plutarch
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6988689-rome-in-crisis


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#stoicism #thelivingphilosophy #cato #philosophy #catotheyounger #romanstoicism

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