Monosticha & Disticha Catonis door Marcus Porcius Cato "Censor" (234 - 149 v. Chr.)


Incipiunt dicta Marci Catonis ad filium suum.
Cum animadverterem quam plurimos graviter in via morum errare, succurrendum opinioni eorum et consulendum famae existimavi, maxime ut gloriose viverent et honorem contingerent. Nunc te, fili carissime, docebo, quo pacto morem animi tui componas. Igitur praecepta mea ita legito, ut intellegas; legere enim et non intelligere neglegere est.

Since I am aware of how many stray in the path of morals, I thought I should come to the aid of their understanding and take their reputations into account, so that they might live with greatest glory and obtain honors. Now I shall teach you, dearest son, how to fabricate morals for your own mind. There read my precepts, that you may understand; to read and not to understand is to be negligent.

Itaque deo supplica. So, pray to God.
Parentes ama. Love your parents.
Cognatos cole. Respect your kindred.
Magistrum metue. Fear (respect) your teacher.
Datum serva. Keep what is given to you.
Fora para. Be careful of the market-place.
Cum bonis ambula. Keep company with good people.
Antequam voceris, ne accesseris. Don't go until called.
Mundus esto. Keep clean.
Saluta libenter. Greet freely.
Maiori concede. Give way to your superior.
Minori parce. Be nice to your inferior.
Rem tuam custodi. Keep what you have (your counsels?)
Verecundiam serva. Preserve modesty.
Diligentiam adhibe. Be diligent.
Libros lege. Read books.
Quae legeris, memento. Remember what you read.
Familiam cura. Take care of your family.
Blandus esto. Be nice (be laid back).
Irascere ob rem noli. Don't get angry for no reason.
Neminem riseris. Don't laugh at anybody.
Mutuum da. Give in return.
Cui des, videto. Think about to whom you are giving.
In iudicio adesto. Stand by (a friend) in court.
Ad praetorium stato. Keep in good standing.
Convivare raro. Don't party too much.
Quod satis est, dormi. Sleep the right amount of time.
Iusiurandum serva. Keep your oath.
Vino tempera. Don't drink too much.
Pugna pro patria. Fight for your country.
Nihil temere credideris. Don't be gullible.
Tute consule. Give good advice.
Meretricem fuge. Flee the prostitute.
Litteras disce. Study literature.
Nihil mentire. Don't lie.
Bono benefacito. Do good to the good.
Maledicus ne esto. Don't curse.
Existimationem retine. Hold on to your reputation.
Aequum iudica. Judge properly.
Parentem patienter vince. Overcome your parent with patience.
Beneficii accepti esto memor. Remember a good turn.
Miserum noli ridere. Don't sneer at the poor.
Consultus esto. Be a good guru.
Virtute utere. Practice virtue.
Iracundiam temporale rege. Control your anger.
Trocho lude. Play with the hoop (sic!).
Aleam fuge. Spurn dice-playing.
Nihil arbitrii virium feceris. Don't be a bully.
Minorem non contempseris. Don't sneer at your inferior.
Alienum noli concupisci. Don't covet.
Coniugem ama. Love your wife.
Liberos erudi. Teach your children.
Pati legem, quam ipse tuleris. Keep the law you make yourself.
Pauca in convivio loquere. Don't talk much at a banquet.
Illud stude agere, quod iustum est. Seek to do that which is right.
Libenter amorem ferto. Be ready to show affection.
Minime iudica. Do not judge.

Disticha Catonis

Liber i

1. If God is a spirit, as the songs tell us,
He is to be worshiped above all with a pure mind.

2. Always keep alert, nor be given to sleep;
For continuous idleness offers food for vice.

3. I think the first virtue to be keeping your tongue;
He is close to God who knows how to keep quiet properly.

4. Avoid strongly being contrary to yourself;
He agrees with no one who disagrees with himself.

5. If you look at the life of those (and their ways of life)
Who find fault with others, {you will find that} nobody is without fault.

6. Things you have which are harmful, though dear, let go;
In time, usefulness should be put before wealth.

7. Be constant and kind, as the case demands;
The wise man changes his ways as time demands without fault.

8. Believe nothing blindly of a wife complaining about the servants;
For often a wife hates the one the husband likes.

9. When you warn somebody who does not want to be warned,
If he is dear to you, do not desist in what you have begun.

10. Do not exchange words with a wordy person;
Speech is given to all, wisdom of mind (good sense) to few.

11. Love others in such a way that your are a dear friend to yourself;
So be good to the good, so that bad things will not happen to you.

12. Flee from rumors, nor try to be taken as the author of them,
For it does not harm anyone to be silent, to be spoken may harm.

13. Do not consider a thing promised to you to be certain;
Surety is rare, because many say many things.

14. When someone praises you, remember to be your own judge;
Do not believe of others about you more than you believe.

15. Remember to tell publicly of favors by others;
And you yourself, when you do good to others, be silent about it.

16. When, having grown old, you complain about the deeds and sayings of others,
Let those come back to you that you did as a youth.

17. Do not pay any attention if someone talks behind your back (with silent speech);
The self-conscious man thinks everything is said about him.

18. When you are happy, watch out for adverse things;
The end does not always follow the same course as that begun.

19. Since the life given to us is doubtful and fragile,
Do not place your hope in the death of another.

20. When your poor friend gives you a small gift,
Accept it happily and remember to praise fully.

21. Since nature created you as a naked infant,
Remember to bear the burden of poverty patiently.

22. Do not fear that which is the the final end of life:
Whoever fears death misses out on the joys of life.

23. If no friend stands up for you as you deserve,
Do not accusee the gods, but scold yourself.

24. So that you won't be lacking, keep from using up what you have gained,
And, so that you may keep what you have, always pretend you don't have them.

25. That which you can lend do not promise twice to anyone,
Do not be a windbag if you want to be considered to be a good man.

26. Whoever dissimilates in words but is not at heart a faithful friend,
Treat him the same way: thus sleight is deluded by sleight (Piers).

27. Do not accept men who talk with meaningless words (have smooth on their tongue);
The pipe sings sweetly, when the fowler deceives the bird.

28. When you have sons rather than riches, then instruct
Them in the arts, so that they may be able to live a life without riches.

29. Take that which is cheap to be dear, that dear to be cheap;
Thus you will be known neither as greedy nor avaricious.

30. Those things you are accustomed to blame do not do yourself;
It is bad for a wise man when his own guilt comes back (to haunt him)

31. Ask for whatever is right or what seems proper;
For it is foolish to ask for that which might rightly be denied.

32. Do not promote the unknown over the known;
Known things are subject to judgment, unknown to chance.

33. Since fickle life turns on uncertain perils,
Consider each day you struggle through a gain.

34. When (you are sure) you can win, now and again give in to a buddy;
Sometimes good friends are kept by giving in.

35. Do not hesitate, when you are seeking great things, to spend a little;
For in such matters good behavior requires expenditures.

36. Beware of starting a fight with someone who is closely joined to you;
Anger brings about hatred; harmony nourishes love.

37. When the pain of servants' faults pushes you to anger,
Get hold of yourself, so that you may spare your own (not harm yourself).

38. Conquer the one you can conquer now and again slowly (do not be in too much a hurry to conquer someone);
The greatest virtue in human matter is always patience.

39. Preserve with greater effort what you have already gained;
When labor is set at naught, human need grows.

40. Be a rich friend now and again to known friends,
When you are fortunate, but always to yourself.

Liber ii

II. If perchance you want to learn about tilling the soil,
Read Virgil; but if you seek to know rather
The powers of herbs, Macer will sing you his songs.
If you wish to know the Roman and Punic wars,
Ask Lucan, who told of the battles of Mars.
If you happen to love something, or want to learn of love by reading,
Seek out Ovid; but if this is your worry:
To live as a wise man, hear those things you may learn,
From which an old age free of vice is drawn:
So come closer and learn by reading what wisdom is.

1. If you can, even remember to halp people you don't know;
More precious than a kingdom it is to gain friends by kindness.

2. Avoid asking what are the secret things of God or heaven;
Since you are human, worry about human things.

3. Give up the fear of death; for it is foolish always
By fearing death to miss out on the joys of life.

4. Do not fight about something uncertain when you are angry;
Anger keeps the mind from being able to discern the truth.

5. Give goods quickly when the situation demands;
A thing is to be given when the time or the situation demands.

6. Flee that which is excessive; remember to rejoice in small things;
That craft is most safe which is born by a small stream.

7. Remember, prudent that you are, to keep that which you think shameful from your associates,
So that many will not blame that which displeases you alone.

8. I don't want you to think that crimes enrich bad men;
At times crimes are hidden, but with time they are obvious.

9. Do not disdain the powers of a small body;
He may be strong in counsel (though) nature denies him strength.

10. Yield at times to one whom you know not to be your equal;
We frequently see the victor conquered by the loser.

11. Do not contend in words with an associate;
Occasionally a great fight grows from few words.

12. Do not seek to figure out what God intends;
What he sets up for you, He figures out without you.

13. Always remember to avoid envy with great care,
Which, even when it is not harmful, neverless is bothersome to endure.

14. Be of strong mind when you are wrongly accused;
No one is happy for long who wins with an injust judgment.

15. Do not allude to the curses of a past quarrel;
It is bad to remember anger after arguments.

16. Neither praise nor blame yourself yourself;
This foolish people do, whom empty fame itches.

17. Make use of gains sparingly when riches abound,
Easily may be lost which took a long time to earn.

18. Be stupid when the time or situation demands;
To fake stupidity is at times the highest prudence.

19. Shun luxury, and also remember to avoid
The fault of avarice; for they are inimical to good repute.

20. Do not always believe someone who tells things;
Little credence is to be paid (to them), because they talk a lot.

21. The crimes you commit in drinking do not fail to recognize;
There is no fault in wine, but the fault is that of the drinker.

22. Entrust secret counsels to a close-mouthed associate;
Commit aid for the body to a trustworthy doctor.

23. Do not be bugged at unworthy successes;
Fortune indulges the evil that it may wound them. (Time wounds all heels)

24. Foresee that you bear the fortune of those things which come;
For more lightly does whatever we foresaw before wound us.

25. Do not give up your fortitude when things go wrong;
Keep up hope: hope alone does not desert man, not even in death.

26. The thing which seems fitting to you, do not give up;
Fortune has a forelock in front, after that is bald.
{Luck looks good coming, bad going}

27. Look at what has happened, and see that which is coming;
Imitate that god who looks in both directions (Janus).

28. Be more forceful so that you may strong, occasionally be more sparing {in eating, drinking, etc.}
A few things are owed to pleasure, more to health.

29. Never spurn public opinion alone,
Lest you please no one when you want to spurn many.

30. Let your health, which is foremost, be your main worry,
Nor blame the weather, when you yourself are the cause of pain.

31. Don't pay attention to dreams; for the human mind hopes for
That which it wishes when it is awake; in sleep it recognizes itself.

Liber iii

III. Any reader who wishes to know this poem
Since it brings precepts which are most applicable to life,
1. Instruct your mind with preceptss, nor cease to learn;
For a life without principle is like an image of death.

Preface b: You carry many useful things, but if you scorn it,
You are not neglecting me, the teacher, but you yourself.

2. If you live rightly, do not worry about the words of bad people;
It is not our call as to what each person says.

3. When called as a witness, except (Fr. sauf) in cases of shame,
As much as you can, hide the fault of a friend.

4. Remember to watch out for smooth and lisping words;
Simplicity is the mark of the true, deceit that of telling stories.

5. Flee from torpor, which means lassitude of life;
For when the mind is lazy, inertia consumes the body.

6. Intersperse now and again your cares with joy,
That you may be able to bear in your mind any kind of travail.

7. Do not criticize the saying or deed of another,
Lest another deride you in similar fashion.

8. That which fate gives you, write in your book as most important,
Keep it, increasing it, so that you won't be what public opinion says.

9. When riches are overabundant for you at the end of old age,
Make sure to live as generous man, not chintsy with your friends.

10. As a lord do not despise the counsel of your servant;
Never spurn anyone's advice, if it useful.

11. If in goods and income things are not what they were,
See that you live happy with that which the times offer.

12. Flee from taking a wife for the sake of dowry,
Nor wish to keep her if she begins to be burdensome.

13. Learn from the examples of many what deeds you should emulate
And which to avoid; the life of others is a mistress (teacher) to us.

14. Whatever you can, try, lest under the weight of the burden of the
task Work collapses and you give up that tried in vain.

15. That which you know to be wrongly done, do not conceal,
Lest by keeping silence you seem to be willing to imitate wrongdoers.

16. Beg for the aid of the judge under a bad law;
For the very laws themselves desire to be sued properly.

17. That which you bear by right, remember to bear patiently,
And when you stand guilty before yourself, judge yourself strictly.

18. See to it that you read much, having read forget much;
For poets write a lot of miraculous, but not believable, things.

19. At feasts make sure to be modest in speech,
So that you won't be called loud-mouth when you want to be considered urbane.

20. Do not fear the words of an angry wife;
For when a woman weeps, she fills the tears with ambush.

21. Make use of your wealth, but do not seem to waste it;
Those who use up their own goods, when they are gone, follow others.

22. Make sure to say to yourself that death is not to be feared;
For even if it is not good, it is the end of evils.

23. Remember to bear the tongue of your wife, if it is useful,
For it is bad to not be willing to suffer and not be able to keep silent.

24. Love and do not bug your parents, dear in familial love,
Nor offend your mother when you want to be nice to your father.

Liber iv

IV. Whoever you are, if you wish to lead a safe life,
Do not fix your mind on faults which are contrary to character.
Always remember to read these precepts over and over;
You will find a teacher through whom you can change.

1. Spurn riches, if you wish to be happy in mind,
For those who chase after them, always beg as misers.

2. Necessities from nature will never be lacking to you,
If you are content with what need demands.

3. If you are careless and do not steer your affairs with reason,
Do not say that fortune blind, which she is not.

4. Love money, but do not love it too much for its own sake,
Which no one good and honest seeks to gain.

5. When you get rich, remember to take care of your body;
A sick rich man has wealth, but he does not have himself.

6. Just as you bear blows in school now and again from the teacher,
Accept your father's overlordship when he breaks out in anger in words.

7. Do things which are worthwhile, but remember to avoid
Those in which there is fault and no sure hope for travail.

8. What you can give, give freely to the asker;
For to have done right with goods is to be considered as gain.

9. Whatever is suspect to you, immediately test what it is;
For those things which are at first ignored often harm.

10. When the cursed pleasure of Venus holds you in its grasp,
Do not indulge in gluttony, which is pleasant to the stomach.

11. When you take it upon yourself to fear all living beings,
One above all is to be feared most by you: man.

12. If your strength in body is great for you,
See to it that you are wise; thus you will be considered to be a strong man. (sapientia et fortitudo)

13. Ask for aid from your associates when you are in travail;
No one is a better doctor than a faithful friend.

14. When you yourself are a killer, why should the victim die for you?
It is foolishness to hope for salvation in the death of another.

15. If you are looking for an associate or a faithful friend,
It is for you to look not at the fortune but the life of the man.

16. Make use of riches you have gained, avoid the name of miser;
What use are riches to you, if you live like a poor man?

17. If you want to keep a good reputation while you are alive,
Make sure to avoid in mind those things which are evil joys of life.

18. Since you are wise in mind, do not mock old age;
For whoever is growing old, there is a childish mind in him (anacoluthon).

19. Learn something; for when fortune suddenly leaves,
Art (a trade?) remains and never leaves the life of a man.

20. Look quietly upon all things that people say;
The speech of men hides their ways and reveals them also.

21. Practice zeal in whatever art you have taken up,
That consideration may aid native talent, and practice likewise the hand.

22. Do not worry much about the times of fate which will come;
He does not fear death who knows how to spurn life.

23. Learn, but from the learned; teach yourself the unlearned;
For the knowledge of good things should be spread abroad.

24. Drink what you can (properly), if you wish to live healthy;
The cause of bad disease is most frequently some kind of pleasure.

25. Praise openly whatever you have tested out,
Live so that you are not then accused of the crime of flightiness.

26. In peaceful times always be on the lookout for adverse things,
And again, in bad times, remember always to hope for better.

27. Do not cease learning; worry increases wisdom;
Rarely is given to prudence a long space of time.

28. Praise sparingly; for the one you have often put to the test,
One day will show you what a friend he has been.

29. Do not be ashamed when you wish to be taught what you do not know;
To know something is praiseworthy, blamable is to not want to learn anything.

30. Between Venus and Bacchus there is both struggle and pleasure;
Embrace that which is pleasant in your mind; but avoid the strife.

31. Remember to avoid those who are depressed and silent in their minds;
When a river is peaceful, perhaps deeper water is hidden. (Still waters run deep).

32. When your fortune in things displeases you,
Look at that of your neighbor, which will seem to you worse.

33. Whatever you can, try; for to seize the oar at the shore
Is far safer than to spread the sail on the high sea.

34. Do not contend wrongly against a just man;
For God is always angry at unjust anger.

35. Do not weep over stolen goods,
Rather be happy, if it happens you have something (left).

36. It is a grave matter to accept the loss of goods;
There are some things which a friend ought patiently to bear.

37. Do not promise yourself a long stretch of life;
Wherever you go the shadow of bodily death follows you.

38. Please God with incense, that the calf may grow without (to) the plow;
Do not think to please God when sacrifice is made to Him to by killing. (Ps. 49 and 50).

39. Give way to fortune when hurt, give way to the powerful;
Whoever is able to harm might now and again be able to help.

40. When you have sinned in some way, charge yourself right away;
When you cure wounds pain is remedy for pain (similia similibus, the preacher's way).

41. Never condemn a friend of long standing,
He has changed his ways, but remember his first merits.

42. Be gracious in your business dealings, to those to whom you may be dearer,
So that you won't bear the name of "ingracious" (a person who makes use of others' work without thanking them).

43. Avoid being suspected so that you won't be miserable forever,
For death is most proper for the timid and suspected.

44. When you have bought your own slaves for your use,
And you call them servants, remember they are still men.

45. You should always seize the first occasion immediately,
Lest you seek again that which you ignored previously.

46. Do not rejoice at the sudden death of evil-doers;
Happy die those who life is without blemish.

47. If you have a wife, lest fame and fortune labor,
Avoid the enemy who has the name of friend.

48. If you come to know many things through study,
See to it that you learn many things, from life be willing to learn nothing (negative missing here, or positive, see Boas).

49. You marvel that I write these verses in bare words?
This brevity brings about, to join in one thought two (lines).

(trans. J. Marchand)

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