Lessons from Cato (IM 704)

Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger, better known to the world simply as Cato. He was the senator who led the opposition to Julius Caesar in the last years of the Roman Republic, then killed himself rather than live under a dictator. In his own day, he was a soldier and an aristocrat, a senator and a Stoic. 

History remembers Cato as Julius Caesar’s most formidable, infuriating enemy—at times the leader of the opposition, at times an opposition party unto himself.

George Washington is known to have a great respect for Cato. He even put on a play about Cato in the bitter winter at Valley Forge.

In doing nothing men learn to do evil. – Cato

Cato didn’t have Caesar’s military skill, or Cicero’s eloquence, or Pompey’s boyish good looks. But he had something even more formidable: a determination to hold himself, and those around him, to an insanely high standard. He asked to be measured by a standard higher than winning and losing in Roman politics, and that’s why he still matters long after ancient Rome went to ruins.

Why does he matter today? Because at a time of crisis and calamity in Rome, Cato’s mission was to live life on his own terms, even  when those terms put him at odds with everyone around him.  He reminds us that there’s a thin line between visionaries and fools–a lesson important to entrepreneurs, authors, creative, or really anyone doing work that goes against the grain.

The two important lessons from Cato are:

1. Use pain as a teacher:

Cato walked around ancient Rome in unusual clothing—with a goal of getting people to laugh at him. He learned to eat a poor man’s bread and live without luxuries—even though he was a Roman aristocrat. He would walk bareheaded in the rain, shoe-less in the cold.

He believed pain and difficulty could build endurance and self-control. Cato was drilling himself to become indifferent to all things outside the magic circle of the conscience. He could be ridiculed, starving, poor, cold, hot, sick—and none of it would matter. As the Stoic philosopher Epictetus taught: “Where is the good? In the will. Where is the evil? In the will.” Once a fight was broken up and he refused to accept a apology from an offender by replying: “I don’t remember being hit”.

2. Fear Nothing:

On an election day during a consequential race, Cato and his brother-in-law rose before dawn and set off for the polls. They were ambushed. The torchbearer at the head of Cato’s party collapsed with a groan—stabbed to death.

The assailants wounded each member of the party until all had fled but Cato and his brother-in-law held their ground. And Cato being wounded as blood poured from his arm. For Cato, the ambush was a reminder that if the front-runners were willing to perpetrate such crimes on the way to power, then one could only imagine what they would do once they arrived. It was all the more important that he stand in front of the Roman people, show off his wounds, and announce that he would stand for liberty as long as he had life in him.

Cato, meanwhile, walked unguarded and alone to the polls. Fear can only enter the mind with our consent, Cato had been taught. Choose not to be afraid, and fear simply vanishes.

Some of his Quotes are:

“By liberty I understand the power which every man has over his own actions and his right to enjoy the fruits of his labour, art and industry, as far as by it he hurts not the society or any member of it…” -Cato


Consider in silence whatever any one says: speech both conceals and reveals the inner soul of man. – Cato


Consider it the greatest of all virtues to restrain the tongue.



I think the first wisdom is to restrain the tongue.



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