Section 1: Who was Cato the Younger?

Cato the Younger was a fascinating historical figure from ancient Rome, admired for his unwavering virtue and commitment to the Roman Republic, and a famous vocal opponent of the leadership of Julius Caesar.

Born in 95 BCE into a family with a long history of public service and rank, Cato the Younger, whose full name was Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, was the great-grandson of the famous Cato the Elder, who was himself a notable statesman and soldier in his own right.

Growing up, after the passing of his father, Cato was raised by his uncle, Marcus Livius Drusus. It was Drusus who instilled in him a deep sense of duty and moral discipline, traits reflected in both his personal philosophy and his efforts in politics.

Outside of the wall of politics, Cato was also greatly influenced by Stoic philosophy, a way of life that shaped his beliefs about personal virtue and civic responsibility. This philosophy helped mold him into a fiercely principled and incorruptible leader, one who would ultimately die than surrender to something he did not believe in.


Cato’s political career began when he was elected as a quaestor (another name for financial officer) in the Roman government. This began his rise through the political ranks, one that would lead him to challenge the very emperor himself. As he continued to gain prominence, he held several key positions, such as:

  • Aedile – Responsible for public buildings and originally also for the public games and the supply of corn to the city

  • Praetor – A judicial officer who had broad authority in cases of equity, was responsible for the production of the public games, and, in the absence of consuls, exercised extensive authority in the government

  • Senator – The Senate had broad jurisdiction over religious and judicial matters, as well over tax, war and peace, criminal (including bills of attainder), military, foreign policy (with concurrent powers with the executive), and administrative matters. In short, the Senate controlled all areas of public life.

Throughout his career, Cato was known for his unwavering commitment to the Roman Republic, and, to reflect the way of life instilled in him by his mentor and uncle we discussed earlier, he often fought against corruption and the concentration of power in the hands of a few.

One of Cato’s most significant roles was his famous and steadfast opposition to Julius Caesar. He saw Caesar as a threat to the Roman Republic and its ideals, fearing that Caesar’s ambition would naturally lead to tyranny.

In the Senate, Cato consistently opposed Caesar’s policies and even led to the dissolution of some of his plans. He became a de facto leader for those who shared his concerns about preserving the Republic’s traditions and values.

Tragically, Cato’s efforts to defend the Republic ultimately proved futile, and when Julius Caesar ultimately emerged victorious in the civil war against Pompey, thereby claiming rule, Cato chose to commit suicide rather than surrender to Caesar. This final act of defiance further cemented his reputation as a champion of virtue. Although some would say he could have chosen to live and lead virtue from within the Senate, further influencing the direction of the Republic.

Cato the Younger’s legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of those who loved the Republic. His unwavering dedication to principle and virtue has inspired many throughout history, making him an enduring symbol of what it means to put the greater good above personal ambition. He also influenced Stoic philosophy, which we’ll look into now.

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Section 2: Cato’s Stoic Philosophy

Cato’s love for Stoic philosophy played a significant and lasting role in shaping his beliefs, actions, and ultimately the way he chose to end his life.

Stoicism, a practical and accessible philosophy, has been followed for thousands of years to help people overcome adversity, find inner peace, and live a good and happy life. Originating in ancient Greece, Stoicism was created by a man named Zeno of Citium and focuses on self-discipline, virtue, and wisdom as the path to happiness. Cato learned to love the principles of the philosophy and embraced it wholeheartedly; as a result, it seeped into his life as a statesman and a person.

Stoicism taught Cato that the key to a good life lies in accepting that there is much outside our control and that we should therefore focus on developing one’s inner character, living in harmony with nature, and aligning ourselves with reason.

It emphasizes the importance of virtues like wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation. Cato believed that by cultivating these virtues, he could make the best decisions for himself and the Roman Republic.

One of the core principles of Stoicism is that we can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we respond to it. This idea resonated deeply with Cato, who faced numerous challenges in his life, and instead of getting bogged down by the difficulty of external events, he focused on maintaining his own integrity and principles. This mindset allowed him to stay true to his beliefs even in the face of adversity.

Cato’s commitment to the philosophy was evident in both his private and public life. He practiced self-discipline and lived a simple, frugal lifestyle. He was known to wear plain clothing and eat modest meals, rejecting the extravagance that was common among the Roman elite, much like the example set by Socrates. This simplicity helped him stay grounded and focused on his responsibilities to the Republic.

In his political career, Cato applied Stoic principles to fight against corruption and uphold justice. He was admired for his unwavering integrity and his dedication to the greater good. His commitment to virtue and the Republic made him an inspiration to those who sought to preserve Rome’s traditional values.

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Section 3: Cato’s Impact on Stoicism

Cato’s life served as an incredible example of how Stoic principles can be applied in practice, and in our own lives. His actions even resonated with later Stoic thinkers like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, who thought of Cato as a role model.

Cato’s commitment to the principles of virtue and integrity provide us with a real-life illustration of how to live by Stoic ideals. His unwavering dedication to the Roman Republic, his fight against corruption, and his personal frugality all come together to show us how someone can live according to Stoic principles and live a good life, even in a complex and challenging environment like ancient Rome. Cato’s life offers a tangible example of how we can not only use Stoicism as a guide through adversity but also to help us maintain our moral compass along the way.

His legacy also had a profound effect on later Stoic philosophers, such as Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, the three most prominent Stoics of their time. These men admired Cato for his courage, wisdom, and commitment to justice, often referencing his life and actions in their own writings.

For instance, Seneca, a prominent Roman Stoic philosopher, frequently praised Cato in his essays and letters. He admired Cato’s dedication to his principles, even in the face of adversity, and used his example to teach others about the importance of living a life guided by Stoic values.

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