Cato the Elder and Cultural Memory

Working Papers on Nervan, Trajanic and Hadrianic Literature 1.26 (17/3/15)

‘Cato the Elder and Cultural Memory’                               Martin Dinter

Abstract for a paper given at the project’s 3rd Literary Interactions conference, in Boston, 18-19 June 2015:

Cato the Elder holds a privileged place in Roman cultural memory. Not only do we have his image defined (or let’s say distilled) early on by Cornelius Nepos’ mini-biography but he was also evidently such a prominent figure in the public consciousness that Cicero in his Cato Maior de senectute could presume him to be well known to his audience and draws upon his character accordingly.

This paper will address Cato’s reception towards the end of the first and beginning of the second century AD. Whilst frequently referenced in Quintilian’s and Frontinus’ writings – so obviously Cato was still part of the cultural matrix of the time – I shall trace the ‘image’ of Cato (or what remains of it) in the works of Martial and Juvenal in particular and then provide a link to the extensive and detailed lore that Plutarch provides in his appreciation of Cato’s life (one would not want to call it a biography). Martial references Cato twice in the prefatio to his first book of epigrams alone and numerous times throughout his epigrammatic oeuvre. Juvenal evokes Cato just twice but his brief references tab into much the same cultural memory Martial’s epigrammatic wit relies upon. Comparison with material provided by Valerius Maximus on the one hand and biographical lore embellished by Plutarch on the other will demonstrate how the image of Cato the Elder has been adapted, compressed and then expanded again under Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian.