The Distichs of Cato: Book Four

[If thou wishest to lead a life free from cares, cling not to faults which injure character. Remember that these precepts must be read often by thee. Thou wilt find in them a teacher through whom thou wilt be able to transform thyself.]

1. Wouldst happy be, scorn wealth. Those always seem
To beg it greedily who wealth esteem.

2. Nature her favors never will deny
If what thy needs require will satisfy.

3. When to poor judgment thou dost failure owe,
Say not that Fortune’s blind, for ‘t is not so.

4. Love nard, but use it sparingly; refrain
From perfumes which all decent men disdain.

5. When rich, well for thy body care. One’s wealth
Is of but small avail if he lack health.

6. Since thou at school thy teacher’s blows hast known,
Thou’lt better bear thy father’s angry tone.

7. What certain profit brings, let that be done;
Uncertain risks and unsafe projects shun.

8. Give as thou canst to those who ask, for know
Thou didst well gain when thou didst well bestow.

9. Seek quick the truth when once thou dost suspect,
Dangers grow large when nourished by neglect.

10. When hurtful lust hath hold of thee, refrain
From giving to thy appetites free rein.

11. Thy fear of beasts declares their rule o’er thee;
Know thou that man alone should dreaded be.

12. Not strength alone, but wisdom, too, possess;
Thus thou canst gain a name for manliness.

13. When sick, from friends seek thou relief. Be sure
Thy trusted friend can give thee certain cure.

14. Why for thy guilt should guiltless victims bleed?
‘T is vain to think their blood doth cleanse thy deed.

15. Whene’er a trusty friend thou dost desire,
Not of his wealth but of his life enquire.

16. Employ thy gains; the name of miser flee;
What good is wealth when want still lives with thee?

17. If through thy life thou wouldst a good name save,
Be not to pleasure base an abject slave.

18. Flout not old age while thou dost sense possess;
Age ever brings to all some childishness.

19. Learn thou a trade lest wealth may fly away;
For skill, once gained, shall ever with thee stay.

20. What’s said to thee with caution ponder well;
Men’s practice words may hide as well as tell.

21. Practice with zeal the skill thou’st learned. Thou ‘It find,
Use trains the hand as study does the mind.

22. Let not death’s sure approach thee terrify;
Who life despises doth not fear to die.

23. Learn only of the learned : teach th’ untaught;
Knowledge of truth must to all men be brought.

24. If thou wouldst sanely live, take this to heart, —
Avoid excesses; thence diseases start.

25. Condemn not thou with inconsistency
What once thou hast approved full publicly.

26. When fortune smiles, forget not she may frown ;
When fortune frowns, be not too much cast down.

27. Cease not to learn; wisdom’s through study gained;
By lapse of years alone ‘t is ne’er attained.

28. Praise not o’ermuch: one day’s enough to show
If he, oft claimed thy friend, is really so.

29. To wish for knowledge is no cause for shame;
To have it merits praise; to scorn it, blame.

30. With love and wine pleasure and strife are knit;
Cleave to the good in these; the bad omit.

31. Who silent is and melancholy, shun;
Perchance the quiet rivers too deep run.

32. When fortune’s favor seems not thine, take thought
Of him to whom Dame Fortune less hath brought.

33. Begin what thou to finish canst not fail;
Safer near shore than on the deep to sail.

34. Break not against the righteous man the laws,
For God’s th’ avenger of the righteous cause.

35. When wealth takes wings thou shouldst not then repine;
Rejoice the more that anything is thine.

36. Sad is the fate to lose one’s hard-won gains,
But much is saved if only health remains.

37. Count not on life: howe’er thy way may wend,
Death shadowlike will everywhere attend.

38. The calf’s the plow’s; incense doth heaven please;
Think not the god by slaughter to appease.

39. If thou art beaten, cease then to resist;
Who could o’ercome will able be t’ assist.

40. When thou hast sinned, at once thyself chastise;
To cure the hurt thy grief will well suffice.

41 . To thy old friend never unfriendly prove;
Though he be changed, forget not former love.

42. To show thy gratitude take ev’ry care,
Lest on thee fall the shame that ingrates bear.

43. A life of naught but dread can not be sweet:
For those by terror held, death is most meet.

44. When servants thou hast bought, remember then,
Altho’ thou term’st them slaves, they still are men.

45. Secure thy chance when first it be at hand.
Lest that once scorned thou dost in vain demand.

46. In bad men’s sudden death take not delight.
Those only die well who have lived aright.

47. Having a wife, be watchful of thy friend,
Lest false to thee, thy fame and goods he spend.

48. When thou at last from study hast much lore,
Recall there’s much to learn from life’s vast store.

49. Dost ask why I this form of verses choose?
Know brevity did bid me couplets use.


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