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MARCUS PORCIUS CATO (B.C. 234-149), known in history as the elder
Cato, was the type of Roman produced by the most vigorous days of
the Republic. Born at Tusculum on the narrow acres which his peasant
forefathers had tilled in the intervals of military service, he
commenced advocate at the country assizes, followed his fortunes to
Rome and there became a leader of the metropolitan bar. He saw gallant
military service in Spain and in Greece, commanded an army, held all
the curule offices of state and ended a contentious life in the Senate
denouncing Carthage and the degeneracy of the times.
He was an upstanding man, but as coarse as he was vigorous in mind and
in body. Roman literature is full of anecdotes about him and his wise
and witty sayings.
Unlike many men who have devoted a toilsome youth to agricultural
labour, when he attained fame and fortune he maintained his interest
in his farm, and wrote his De re rustica in green old age. It tells
what sort of farm manager he himself was, or wanted to be thought to
be, and, though a mere collection of random notes, sets forth more
shrewd common sense and agricultural experience than it is possible to
pack into the same number of English words. It remains today of much
more than antiquarian interest.