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An Ennian inscription for a statue of Cato in Plutarch’s Cato Maior

Jackie Elliott

University of Colorado Boulder

This paper proposes that the inscription at the base of the statue of Cato the Elder in the Temple of Salus, of which we hear via Plutarch, is mediated via famous lines from Ennius’ Annales.

Chapter 19 of Plutarch’s Cato Maior describes conflicting élite and popular responses to Cato’s censorship: as Plutarch has it, while the élite’s response was one of opposition, the people’s was one of admiration, and it culminated in the erection of a statue of Cato in the Temple of Salus on the Quirinal. Plutarch reports that the statue bore a Latin inscription, to which he implies he had access—although we know that the Temple of Salus burnt down in the reign of Claudius (Pl. HN 35.19). Plutarch remarks on the inscription’s extraordinary terms: it didn’t, he writes, record Cato’s military commands or his triumph but instead bore the words that Plutarch renders thus in Greek: ‘ὅτι τὴν Ῥωμαίων πολιτείαν ἐγκεκλιμένην καὶ ῥέπουσαν ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον τιμητὴς γενόμενος χρησταῖς ἀγωγαῖς καὶ σώφροσιν ἐθισμοῖς καὶ διδασκαλίαις εἰς ὀρθον αὖθις ἀποκατέσησε’ (Plut. Cato Maior 19.3).

Plutarch’s report is in various aspects incredible. It is far from certain that the statue was erected in Cato’s own lifetime (Kienast 1954: 87, Fraccaro 1957i: 435, Astin 1978: 103, n. 89; contra Papini 2004: 366-7; Vessberg 1941: 44 and Gruen 1992: 122 simply accept the implication of Plutarch’s narrative that the statue was contemporary with Cato, while Richardson 1992: 341 leaves the question open). The language as Plutarch has it is characterized by a certain redundancy: the crisis of the state receives double expression (ἐγκεκλιμένην; ῥέπουσαν ἐπὶ τὸ χεῖρον), while Cato’s salutary response is described threefold (χρησταῖς ἀγωγαῖς; σώφροσιν ἐθισμοῖς; διδασκαλίαις) (Sehlmeyer 1999: 147). Strange too is the rejection, noted by Plutarch, of mention of Cato’s achievements and his triumph in favour of his ethical response to the alleged crisis of state—a crisis that some have found hard to attribute to Cato’s lifetime (Sehlmeyer loc. cit.; although, in the context of Plutarch’s account of Cato’s censorship, it seems best interpreted as a moral crisis of Cato’s own construction).

This paper proposes that the inscription as Cato has it is best interpreted by reference to Ennius’ famous lines on Fabius Maximus Cunctator: unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem. / noenum rumores ponebat ante salutem. / ergo postque magisque viri nunc gloria claret (Ann. 363-5 Sk.). Fabius, under whom Plutarch reports Cato served, is an explicit model for Cato from early in Plutarch’s text (Cato Maior 3.5: τὸν τρόπον καί τὸν βίον ὡς κάλλιστα παραδείγματα προθέμενος), making the compliment effected by the Ennian allusion one Plutarch's Cato would have appreciated. Such a Fabian compliment would have been all the more appropriate in the context of the Temple of Salus, where the paintings of C. Fabius Pictor adorned the walls (Val. Max. 8.14.6; Pl. HN 35.19). Again, the prominence of the notion of salus in Ennius’ language underwrites the relevance of the Ennian verses to a statue placed in the Temple of Salus. The notion of a crisis of state that Cato remedied (τὴν Ῥωμαίων πολιτείαν ἐγκεκλιμένην καὶ ῥεπουσαν . . . εἰς ὀρθον αὖθις ἀποκατέσησε; cf. Ennius’ restituit rem) also has a firmer foothold when it is set into the Hannibalic crisis that Ennius’ Fabian lines draw to mind. The ensuing section of Plutarch’s text (19.4) describes Cato’s habitual insistence that true glory in the form of men’s silent recognition of his contributions was in his eyes preferable to the common tokens of public esteem popularly sought; to which too Ann. 364-5 offers an analogy. After thus exploring the inscription’s proposed allusion to Ennius, the paper goes on to consider possible contexts for the statue and its inscription, including one at the end of the Republic, in that blurring and elevation of the two most famous Catoes that takes place in the wake of the suicide of the younger at Utica in 46 BCE.

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