Cato ("Dionysius Cato")

The Distichs, Liber I (Book I)




1. Si deus est animus, nobis ut carmina dicunt,
Hic tibi praecipue sit pura mente colendus.
If God is a spirit is as poets sing,
With mind kept pure make thou thy offering.

2. Plus uigila semper neu somno deditus esto;
Nam diuturna quies uitiis alimenta ministrat.
Be oft awake: from too much sleep abstain,
For vice from sloth doth ever nurture gain.

3. Uirtutem primam esse puto, conpescere linguam:
Proximus ille deo est, qui scit ratione tacere.
Who rules his tongue doth highest praises reap:
Godlike is he who silence well doth keep.

4. Sperne repugnando tibi tu contrarius esse:
Conueniet nulli, qui secum dissidet ipse.
Ne'er with thyself perversely disagree;
Who's out with self in peace with none will be.

5. Si uitam inspicias hominum, Si denique mores,
Cum culpant alios: nemo sine crimine uiuit.
If on men's lives and deeds thou look'st, thou'lt see
That from those faults they blame, not one is free.

6. Quae nocitura tenes, quamuis sint cara, relinque:
Utilitas opibus praeponi tempore debet.
Shun that which harms, e'en tho thy love is caught;
Before mere wealth should safety first be sought.

7. Clemens et constans, ut res expostulate esto:
Temporibus mores sapiens sine crimine mutat.
Be ever kind or stern to suit the time:
The wise may change his practice without crime.

8. Nil temere uxori de seruis crede querenti:
Semper enim mulier quem coniux diligit odit.
Heed not when of thy slave thy wife complains,
For whom her husband loves, she aye disdains.

9. Cum moneas aliquem nec se uelit ille moneri,
Si tibi sit carus, noli desistere coeptis.
When thou giv'st counsel, cease not till the end,
Though it unwelcome be, e'en to thy friend.

10. Contra uerbosos noli contendere uerbis:
Sermo datur cunctis, animi sapientia paucis.
Try not with words the talker to outdo;
On all is speech bestowed: good sense on few.

11. Dilige sic alios, ut sis tibi carus amicus;
Sic bonus esto bonis, ne te mala damna sequantur.
Love others so that thou'rt to self a friend;
Prefer the good and thus dire harm forfend.

12. Rumores fuge neu studeas nouus auctor haberi;
Nam nulli tacuisse nocet, nocet esse locutum.
Spread not vain talk lest thou be thought its spring;
Silence ne'er harms but speech may trouble bring.

13. Spem tibi polliciti certam promittere noli:
Rara fides ideo est, quia multi multa locuntur.
On others' promise do not base thine own;
Talk doth abound: good faith is rarely shown.

14. Cum te aliquis laudat, iudex tuus esse memento;
Plus aliis de te quam tu tibi credere noli.
When praised, thou of thyself the judge must be;
Accept no praise not spoken truthfully.

15. Officium alterius multis narrare memento;
At quaecumque aliis benefeceris ipse, sileto.
Fail not another's kindness to proclaim;
Thine own good deeds 't is better not to name.

16. Multorum cum facta senex et dicta reprendis,
Fac tibi succurrant, iuuenis quae feceris ipse.
Dost thou when old another's faults proclaim?
Recall that young thou gavest cause for blame.

17. Ne cures, si quis tacito sermone loquatur:
Conscius ipse sibi de se putat omnia dici.
`T is self-conceit the whisperer to mind,
As if what's whispered were for thee designed.

18. Cum fueris felix, quae sunt aduersa caueto:
Non eodem cursu respondent ultima primis.
When fortune smiles, beware lest some ill strike;
End and beginning often are unlike.

19. Cum dubia et fragilis nobis sit uita tributa,
In morte alterius spem tu tibi ponere noli.
Since with so frail a thread thy life is spun,
Thou hope of gain from other's death shouldst shun.

20. Exiguum munus cum dat tibi pauper amicus,
Accipito laetus, plene et laudare memento.
Thy poor friend's present from his scanty store,
Take gratefully as if the gift were more.

21. Infantem nudum cum te natura crearit,
Paupertatis onus patienter ferre memento.
Since naked thou wast born, then patient be
If doomed to bear the load of poverty.

22. Ne timeas illam, quae uitae est ultima finis:
Qui mortem metuit, quod uiuit, perdit id ipsum.
Dread not the day that endeth all life's ills;
For fear of death all joy in living kills.

23. Si tibi pro meritis nemo succurrit amicus,
Incusare deos noli, sed te ipse coerce.
When in thy time of need friends fail to come,
Blame not the gods, because the fault's at home.

24. Ne tibi quid desit, quod quaesisti, utere parce;
Utque, quod est, serues, semper tibi desse putato.
Nurse what thou hast, that it may farther go;
Deem thyself poor and thus miss being so.

25. Quod dare non possis, uerbis promittere noli,
Ne sis uentosus, dum uir bonus esse uideris.
Promise no more than thou canst sure redeem,
Lest thus thou fail to be what thou wouldst seem.

26. Qui simulat uerbis nec corde est fidus amicus,
Tu quoque fac simules: sic ars deluditur arte.
Him who is smooth in speech, but false in heart,
In his own coin repay, with art for art.

27. Noli homines blando nimium sermone probare:
Fistula dulce canit, uolucrem dum decipit auceps.
No trust in smooth-tongued men's professions lay;
Sweet sounds the fowler's pipe to lure the prey.

28. Cum tibi sint nati nec opes, tunc artibus illos
Instrue, quo possint inopem defenders uitam.
If to thy sons thou canst not riches give,
Then teach them trades that they may safely live.

29. Quod uile est, carum, quod carum, uile putato:
Sic tu nec cupidus nec auarus nosceris ulli.
Despise the dear and value the mean thing;
So harm to none thy greed and lust shall bring.

30. Quae culpare soles, ea tu ne feceris ipse:
Turpe est doctori, cum culpa redarguat ipsum.
Do not thyself what thou art wont to blame;
When teachers slip themselves, 't is double shame.

31. Quod iustum est petito uel quod uideatur honestum;
Nam stultum petere est quod possit iure negari.
Ask what is right and fair, no more beside;
'Tis vain to crave what may be well denied.

32. Ignotum notis noli praeponere amicis:
Cognita iudicio constant, incognita casu.
Change not known friends for those thou dost not know;
Tried friends are sure, untried may not be so.

33. Cum dubia in certis uersetur uita periclis,
Pro lucro tibi pone diem, quicumque sequetur.
Since naught is sure but life's uncertainty,
Prize well the day that now is given thee.

34. Uincere cum possis, interdum cede sodali,
Obsequio quoniam dulces retinentur amici.
Though thou canst win, yield sometimes to thy friend;
Thus yielding, strength to friendship thou wilt lend.

35. Ne dubita, cum magna petes, impendere parua:
His etenim pressos contingit gloria raro.
In quest of greater matters spare not small;
On those by trifles ruled fame doth not call.

36. Litem inferre caue, cum quo tibi gratia iuncta est:
Ira odium generate Concordia nutrit amorem.
Strive not with him whom friendship bound to thee;
Anger breeds hate, love thrives in harmony.

37. Seruorum culpa cum te dolor urguet in iram,
Ipse tibi moderare, tuis ut parcere possis.
When thy slaves' failings make thine anger warm,
Thine anger check, lest thou thy interests harm.

38. Quem superare potes, interdum uince ferendo;
Maxima enim est hominum semper patientia uirtus.
Tho' thou at once couldst win, a while await,
Of human virtues patience is most great.

39. Conserua potius, quae sunt iam parta, labore:
Cum labor in damno est, crescit mortalis egestas.
Save what thou'st earned: when thou must needs replace
A loss incurred, dire want comes on apace.

40. Dapsilis interdum notis et largus amicis
Cum fueris, dando semper tibi proximus esto.
To all thy friends give freely of thy pelf;
But always duly mind the needs of self.



  The text is from The Distichs of Cato: a famous medieval textbook, tr. Wayland Johnson Chase, Univ. of Wisconsin Studies in the Social Sciences and History, Number 7, 1922, pp. 16-23 [WID Lc 25 42].

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