Decius. Caesar is well acquainted with your virtues, and therefore sets this value on your life. Let him but know the price of Cato’s friendship, and name your terms.
Cato. Bid him disband his legions, restore the commonwealth to liberty, submit his actions to the public censure, and stand the judgment of a Roman senate. Bid him do this, and Cato is his friend.
Decius. Cato, the world talks loudly of your wisdom –
Cato. Nay, more, though Cato’s voice was ne’er employed to clear the guilty, and to varnish crimes, myself will mount the rostrum in his favor, and strive to gain his pardon from the people.
Decius. A style like this becomes a conqueror.
Cato. Decius, a style like this becomes a Roman.
Addison, Cato II.I
A Far Cry From Mitt Romney
Today in History: During a Mar 23, 1775 speech before the second Virginia Convention, Patrick Henry responds to the increasingly oppressive British rule over the American colonies by declaring, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
From Garry Wills
Young students at Princeton took ancient names to identify themselves with the ideals under their study … no different from George Washington reflecting on his favorite play, Addison’s Cato … Men were quick to quote such verse at a time when the lines between “real life” and art were made deliberately fuzzy. Indeed, later memories of people like Nathan Hale and Patrick Henry were intertwined with echoes of the play:
What a pity is it that we can die but once to serve to serve our country (4.4)
It is not now a time to talk of aught but chains or conquest, liberty or death (2.4).
Joseph Addison, Cato (London: Printed for J. Tonson, 1735).
Garry Wills, Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment (Garden City: Doubleday, 1984).