The Distichs of Cato: Book One

1. If God a spirit is as poets sing,
With mind kept pure make thou thy offering .

2. Be oft awake: from too much sleep abstain.
For vice from sloth doth ever nurture gain.

3. Who rules his tongue doth highest praises reap:
Godlike is he who silence well doth keep.

4. Ne’er with thyself perversely disagree;
Who’s out with self in peace with none will be.

5. If on men’s lives and deeds thou look’st, thoult see
That from those faults they blame, not one is free.

6. Shun that which harms, e’en tho thy love is caught;
Before mere wealth should safety first be sought.

7. Be ever kind or stern to suit the time:
The wise may change his practice without crime.

8. Heed not when of thy slave thy wife complains,
For whom her husband loves, she aye disdains.

9. When thou giv’st counsel, cease not till the end,
Though it unwelcome be, e’en to thy friend.

10. Try not with words the talker to outdo;
On all is speech bestowed: good sense on few.

11. Love others so that thou’rt to self a friend;
Prder the good and thus dire harm forfend.

12. Spread not vain talk lest thou be thought its spring;
Silence ne’er harms but speech may ‘trouble bring.

13. On others’ promise do not base thine own;
Talk doth abound: good faith is rarely shown.

14. When praised, thou of thyself the judge must be;
Accept no praise not spoken truthfully.

15. Fail not another’s kindness to proclaim;
Thine own good deeds ‘t is better not to name.

16. Dost thou when old another’s faults proclaim?
Recall that young thou gavest cause for blame.

17. ‘T is self-conceit the whisperer to mind,
As if what’s whispered were for thee designed.

18. When fortune smiles, beware lest some ill strike;
End and beginning often are unlike.

19. Since with so frail a thread thy life is spun,
Thou hope of gain from other’s death shouldst shun.

20. Thy poor friend’s present from his scanty store,
Take gratefully as if the gift were more.

21. Since naked thou wast born, then patient be
If doomed to bear the load of poverty.

22. Dread not the day that endeth all life’s ills;
For fear of death all joy in living kills.

23. When in thy time of need friends fail to come,
Blame not the gods, because the fault’s at home.

24. Nurse what thou hast, that it may farther go;
Deem thyself poor and thus miss being so.

25. Promise no more than thou canst sure redeem,
Lest thus thou fail to be what thou wouldst seem.

26. Him who is smooth in speech, but false in heart.
In his own coin repay, with art for art.

27. No trust in smooth-tongued men’s professions lay;
Sweet sounds the fowler’s pipe to lure the prey.

28. If to thy sons thou canst not riches give,
Then teach them trades that they may safely live.

29. Despise the dear and value the mean thing;
So harm to none thy greed and lust shall bring.

30. Do not thyself what thou art wont to blame;
When teachers slip themselves, ‘t is double shame.

31. Ask what is right and fair, no more beside;
‘T is vain to crave what may be well denied.

32. Change not known friends for those thou dost not know;
Tried friends are sure, untried may not be so.

33. Since naught is sure but life’s uncertainty,
Prize well the day that now is given thee.

34. Though thou canst win, yield sometimes to thy friend;
Thus yielding, strength to friendship thou wilt lend.

35. In quest of greater matters spare not small;
On those by trifles ruled fame doth not call.

36. Strive not with him whom friendship bound to thee;
Anger breeds hate, love thrives in harmony.

37. When thy slaves’ failings make thine anger warm,
Thine anger check, lest thou thy interests harm.

3S. Tho’ thou at once couldst win, a while await,
Of human virtues patience is most great.

39. Save what thou’st earned: when thou must needs replace
A loss incurred, dire want comes on apiece.

40. To all thy friends give freely of thy pelf;
But always duly mind the needs of self.

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