The Distichs of Cato

The Distichs of Cato were perhaps the single most common grammar school textbook used by students straight through the 17th century. It was used by students who memorized the words stanza by stanza verbally, then written. It was only after completely learning a work such as this could students move on to more complicated texts. This means the morals and mores taught by the Distichs were common across not just England but the entire western medieval world.

Some of the rhymes here are particularly fascinating, especially if one remembers most students were male – so rhymes were written for them. Advice given to those young students is not far from what we try to impart on modern young people – do not marry for money, if your wife is right – endure it, be kind, don’t gamble and don’t believe everything you read.

The translation presented here was originally translated by Wayland Johnson Chase.  It can be found in its entirety along with a history of the use of the text at: The text is broken into five sections here. The prologue, and four books.

Source: Wayland Johnson Chase, The Distichs of Cato: a famous medieval textbook, Univ. of Wisconsin Studies in the Social Sciences and History, Number 7, 1922, pp. 16-23.


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