Katon — the man who has made himself
Cato the younger, a Roman soldier, Senator, the stoic, was a very special person. Few were the people who loved him. He was unkind friend, an uncompromising politician, a stubborn debater – and all this did not prevent him to talk with Roman Senator from dawn to dusk. We’re not sure how we would in turn liked him. But we admire the way of life of Cato, the only man who could stand up to Julius Caesar and to defend the Roman Republic. We admire Cato and consider him an outstanding man from the past – and besides the dude who made himself.
He made himself – but not in the usual sense. Cato came from a family of state people and never knew the need for money. He made himself into a deeper sense: he made it his aim to live consciously. Many believe that the character is just given to us from birth: we spend an enormous amount of time doing something, but rarely think about what kind of people we would like to be. Cato is in this sense different from us. He created his character: strict, hard, incorrigible in principle.
We can learn a lot from Cato: take his March through the North African desert with the remnants of troops loyal to the Republic, or his decision to commit suicide, not obeying the dictatorship of Caesar. But in fairness, we note that a lot of it to adopt is not: for example, his stubborn unwillingness to compromise in favor of the Republic. And yet we believe that the main lesson that we can take as Cato is the ability to control their own character. Here are a few steps along the way.
Respect your roots – but don’t let them to control themselves
Imagine that before you stands an example of five generations of your brave ancestors. Imagine that they have removed the waxy death mask, and then the face was carved from stone on the walls of your house. In other words, imagine that you every day staring face of his father, and his father, and his father – the same day they are watching as you leave the house and return home. If you can imagine it, you partially understand what it’s like to be a Roman, and that means a sense of their own roots.
But if you want to understand the conditions in which grew Katon, add to this picture one more detail. Very often, almost every day, he passed by the statue of his famous grandfather to his full height, under it an inscription in which he thanked for the salvation of the country, «when Rome stumbled and almost fell.»
Many of us in the place of Katon would be paralyzed by this oppression of the past. Cato, no. He did not deny their roots, not hide from them: at the age of 18 years, he first showed himself, a refuge from the changes to the old hall, built by his grandfather, and his political stance has earned a reputation as a defender of the mos maiorum – ancestors around. But he also knew when to break away from the roots and go their own way. So, he publicly showed the independence, when the young man became a follower of suspicious foreign philosophical school of stoicism.
Stoicism is the Greek philosophical school that was brought to Rome for several generations to Cato. She school taught that the man can be steadfast, happy, even despite the loss and misery, because happiness, in her opinion, it was in virtue. The road to virtue, in turn, lay in understanding destructive emotions such as anger and fear, and conscious control over them. Not the emotions control the person, and the person controls the emotions so thought the Stoics, who worked hard: on consciousness and self-control. To be a stoic in Rome, you have to be very brave. Why? First, because it was a foreign philosophy, and to all a stranger in Rome treated with caution. The father of Cato in his letter to his son, expressed the opinion, which largely repeated public: he believed the Greeks worthless wild tribe, whose works carry a destructive force.
So when Cato declared himself a follower of stoicism and even became the embodiment of this philosophy to the Romans, he was at risk. However, his choice was a kind of personal Declaration of independence. He showed that Cato is aware of the great Roman past but not living it. Thanks to the stoicism of Cato become respected. He became a very influential school of philosophy – and you can imagine what it meant for society Cato.
Don’t be afraid to be funny
Cato believed that shame is only what is really a shame. So he could feel free to wear old faded clothes, walking barefoot in any weather, to do without the benefits of civilization and silently endure the insults. Ambitious friends ridiculed Cato for what he did not seek immediately to get into politics. The stoic Seneca tells the story about the attack on the Katon in the public baths, when the philosopher is silently ignored this incident. Someone like Cato was just to raise eyebrows or even to trigger this event. He was expecting this. Roman stoicism was not just a collection of aphorisms – it was a practical guide to life, something like a collection of exercises that can be practiced by every. Cato learned to eat the food of the poor to do without food, to speak directly or to remain silent, to remain calm in disasters and deal with the loss of all – so he could do his temper and control of your mind is the source of your own happiness.
If the development of Cato filmed it you would have to announce some cool soundtrack: heavy metal well suited to Express all of his power. After all, work is not just reasoning. It acts. Work on yourself means to come to certain conclusions and to test them in practice, to develop good habits that will become second nature.
Distinguish the important from the superficial
In politics, Cato has always followed traditions. He defended the ancient liberty of Rome during the assault on the autocracy. Some saw contradictions between his traditionalist (in any case not conservative) political stance and commitment to a new philosophy. But they just did not understand.
In the Roman Republic was full of public men who violated the status quo is even more pronounced: policy-podsticati Catiline and Claudius and Catullus, whose erotic poetry was led to Rome in horror. Compared to them, Cato was something more serious: he challenged his own time on a completely different level.
Cato made himself, but this does not mean that he simply was a follower of the ancient counterculture. He was just free enough to estimate the dominant culture a new look and consciously abandon part of this culture. In the city, where everything is flaunted luxury, he lived simply and modestly, though, and inherited great wealth. In the political system that is mired in bribery, corruption, fraudulent elections, it was clean on the hand. Cato was one of the founders of civil disobedience: in some cases, he triumphed over his opponents, he was arrested, he was literally physically forced to shut up.
Even more surprising fact: the Cato showed someone else the Romans sympathy for conquered peoples and «barbarians». Once, when Rome was celebrating the destruction of the Caesar, the Gallic tribe (celebrated by all, including women and children), Cato rose in the Senate and demanded to recognize it as a war crime. The described case shows us that stoicism was the first school of philosophy that taught universal respect for the person – this idea emerged after Christianity, and evolved from the cosmopolitanism of the Stoics.
Cato was kontrkultura – but in the deepest sense of the word, he went deeper than the surface. Stoicism teaches that we should constantly separate the essence from the chaff, to find what is the source of true happiness. Cato looked in the root and not afraid to Express their beliefs.
Make yourself mean more than you think
If today, Katona has few followers, it’s because our view of «the man who made himself» very exaggerated. Today this concept is mainly invested one meaning – wealth. We often talk about it, and I used to think that to make yourself equivalent to what you will acquire a large fortune. We cherished the idea that we are our earnings and overlooked the deeper idea of work on oneself.
If Cato wanted wealth, he would not have to lift a finger. He was of noble origin, good name, wealth, respect, and thanks to this he could become an officer in the Roman Parliament, which would be forgotten in a thousand years. But history remembers him, because he had made a different choice.
What if we begin to understand the expression «make yourself» more deeply, we will expand this understanding? Then the political situation in our society will certainly change. But whether a person will survive, like Cato, in today’s political landscape? No. No.