The Disitchs of Cato: Book Two

[If it chances that thou desirest to learn farming, read Virgil. But if thou strivest rather to know the potency of herbs, Macer tells thee of this in his poems. If thou wishest to know about the Roman and Punic wars, enquire of Lucan who tells of the combats of Mars. If it takes thy fancy to love something or to learn by reading how to love, have recourse to Naso. But if thy chief desire is to live wisely, hear what thou canst learn about those things through which an old age free from vice is  produced. So come and learn by reading what wisdom is.]

1. Help if thou canst e’en those thou dost not know;
More precious than a crown are friends won so.

2. Ask not if gods there be above the earth;
For earth care thou who art of mortal birth.

3. Cease death to fear: none but a fool would choose
Thro’ fear of death the joys of life to lose.

4. Strive not in wrath o’er something wrapped in doubt;
Wrath clouds the mind and puts good sense to rout.

5. Be quick at opportunity’s demand;
When time requires, the price must be at hand.

6. Excess avoid: let little satisfy;

Safest the ships which smallest waters ply.

7. Hide well those acts of thine which cause thee shame,
Lest some make worse thy plight by words of blame.

8. Thinknotthat evil-doers surely win;
Tho’ hidden for a while, time shows their sin.

9. No small man’s want of body’s strength despise;
Oft nature wit in place of strength supplies.

10. Yield to defeat awhile: for often we
The victor beaten by the vanquished see.

11. Dispute not with thy friend, for often so
From trifling words most serious discords grow.

12. Ask not the lot what doth the god intend;
Without thy help he will decide thy end.

13. Though envy roused by pomp doth not destroy,
Forbear to stir it, for it doth annoy.

14. Bear with brave spirit every unjust wrong;
The joy that’s won unfairly lasts not long.

15. Revive not memories of former strife;
T is shame to bring old hatreds back to life.

16. Nor praise nor blame thyself . Foob thus have erred,
When by vain hope of glory they were stirred.

17. Spend sparingly thy gains: with wasting vain
Soon wealth is lost that took long time to gain.

18. To fit th’ occasion laughable appear;
T is sometimes wisdom folly’s mask to wear.

19. No spendthrift be, nor gain a miser’s name;
For either fault is sure to hurt thy fame.

20. Since those who much to thee are wont to tell
Deserve but little faith, distrust them well

21. Condone not what thou dost, overcome with wine;
‘T is not the liquor’s fault: the blame is thine.

22. Thy secret thoughts to trusted friend declare;
Thy body trust to wise physician’s care.

23. Vex not thyself when bad men win, for so
Doth fortune go about to lay them low.

24. For what the day may bring, thy mind prepare;
So with more ease thou ills foreseen wilt bear.

25. Let not despair o’er ill thy courage take;
Not e’en at death doth hope a man forsake.

26. Fail not when opportunity is fair;
Behind Time’s bald, his forehead’s thick with hair.

27. Observe what’s past and what may next ensue
And Janus-like keep both ways under view.

28. For health’s sake, when on pleasure bent be slow;
Less unto pleasure than to health we owe.

29. Disdain not, arrogant, what most advise;
Thou none canst please while thou dost all despise.

30. Guard well thy health with special care and skill;
I Thyself and not the seasons blame when ill.

31. Trust not in dreams, which make seem real and true
Just what awake was most desired by you.


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