The Distichs of Cato: Book Three

[Whatever reader shall desire to know this poem, will gain many advantages, since it contains maxims which are very applicable to life. But if he reject it, he will hurt not me, the writer, but himself.]

1. Learn what both life and precepts teach, and so
Life’s fulness have which th’ untaught never know.

2. Upright, care not if bad men thee deride;
‘T is not within our power men’s tongues to guide.

3. When as a witness thou must needs appear,
Favor thy friend, but keep thy good name clear.

4. Deem soft cajoling speech an empty cheat;
Truth naked is, but flatt’ry cloaks deceit.

5. Inaction’s sure to waste one’s life away;
Sloth in the mind doth on the body prey.

6. With pleasure hghten now and then thy care.
That so life’s burdens thou mayst better bear.

7. Blame not what other men may say or do,
Lest thee they jeer and for the same thing, too.

8. Thy heritage preserve and multiply,
Lest thou the world’s harsh censure justify.

9. If wealth abounds, when life draws near its end,
Be not a stingy, but a generous friend.

10. Thy slave’s wise counsel, do not proudly scorn
But prize good sense e’en in the lowly born.

11. If from thy wealth and place thou dost descend,
Still be content with what the seasons send.

12. For dowry take not to thyself a wife.
Nor keep her with thee if she spoils thy life.

13. From others’ actions seek to find the clue
To what thou best mayst shun and best mayst do.

14. Begin what thou canst end, without avail
Is that begun which speedily doth fail.

15. Speak out when wrong thou knowest hath been done,
Lest thou thro’ silence urge the culprit on.

16. When sued unjustly to the judge apply;
I The Law’s intent is wrong to rectify.

17. To what thou dost deserve with calm submit;
If thou hast guilt, chastise thyself for it.

18. Read much and much of it forget: ‘T is well
T* admire but not believe what poets tell.

19. Talk little at thy feasts lest men esteem
Thee wordy, though thou fain wouldst witty seem.

20. Thy wroth wife’s speech fear not. But have a care;
A woman by her weeping can ensnare.

21. Use without waste whatever gains thou’st made;
I Who wastes his own, will others’ rights invade.

22. Judge not that death’s a thing to apprehend;
If ‘t is not good, yet ‘t is of bad the end.

23. Bear thy wife’s tongue when she hath useful been;
Impatience and retort alike are sin.

24. For both dear parents equal love e’er hold;
Be not to father fond: to mother cold.


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