Cornelius Nepos: Cato as a Historian
De Latinis Historicis
This is the third and summary paragraph of brief epitome of Cato from a lost book. Cornelius Nepos had written a separate biography of Cato, which is now also lost.
In omnibus rebus singulari fuit industria,
In all things he was a man of extraordinary industry,
nam et agricola sollers et peritus iuris consultus et magnus imperator
for he was at once an expert farmer and an able jurist and a great general
et probabilis orator et cupidissimus litterarum fuit.
and a capable orator and extremely devoted to letters,
Quarum studium etsi senior adripuerat,
on which [latter] studies he did not embark until late in life,
tamen tantum progressum fecit,
yet he made such great progress
ut non facile reperiri possit neque de Graecis neque de Italicis rebus
that it is not easy to find, either in Greek or in Italian matters,
quod ei fuerit incognitum.
anything that was unknown to him.
Ab adulescentia confecit orationes.
From his youth he composed orations.
Senex historias scribere instituit,
In his old age he began to write histories,
earum sunt libri septem.
of which there exist seven books.
Primus continet res gestas regum populi Romani,
The first contains the deeds of the kings of the Roman people,
secundus et tertius unde quaeque civitas orta sit Italica,
the second and third, of whence the Italic polity arose,
ob quam rem omnes Origines videtur appellasse.
for which reason, it seems, all the books are called The Origins.
In quarto autem bellum Poenicum est primum, in quinto secundum.
In the fourth, morever, the First Punic War; in the fifth, the Second.
Atque haec omnia capitulatim sunt dicta;
And all these things are told summarily,
reliquaque bella pari modo persecutus est
and he treated the other wars in the same way,
usque ad praeturam Ser. Galbae, qui diripuit Lusitanos.
down to the praetorship of Servius Galba, who despoiled the Lusitanians.
Atque horum bellorum duces non nominavit,
And he did not mention the leaders in these wars,
sed sine nominibus res notavit.
but put the facts down without any names.
In iisdem exposuit quae in Italia Hispaniisque
In this manner he set forth what things in Italy or the Spains
aut fierent aut viderentur admiranda;
had been done, or seemed especially noteworthy;
in quibus multa industria et diligentia comparet,
in all of which he displayed great industry and diligence,
but no training.
Talent and energy are much, but proper training is vital. It is this lack to which Nepos points at the end. Cato was self-taught in his old age; he did what industry and diligence can do, but it was not everything. One thing that training might have given Cato is the ability to see the connecting thread, the unifying theme, in the things he is describing. For an example of how a unifying theme, in this case a trait of personality, is brought out by Nepos himself, see his own sketch of the Greek general Aristides.
26 Jan 2007 / Contact The Project / Exit to Latin Index Page