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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

The image of Caesar as the general and then dictator who turned Rome from a republic into an empire fascinated 18th century intellectuals. There seemed to be two schools of thought on the issue: those who focused on Brutus the assassin who used violence to end Caesar’s life in order to save the Republic (an act of tyrannicide); and those who focused on Cato who used political and moral suasion to oppose Caesar. Shakespeare and Voltaire wrote plays in which Brutus played an important role. Trenchard and Gordon in Cato’s Letters and Addison in this play turned to the figure of Cato. This debate came to mind in early 2005 when Liberty Fund published its edition of Addison’s play.

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28 February, 2005

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In Joseph Addison’s play Cato Cato is asked what it would take for him to be Caesar’s “friend” - his answer is that Caesar would have to first “disband his legions” and then “restore the commonwealth to liberty” (1713)

Read the full quote in context here.

In Act II Scene II of Addison’s play, Decius, the Ambassador from Caesar, asks Cato what it would take for Cato to be Caesar’s "friend" as Caesar began using his military successes to pave the way to his political conquest of Rome:

Bid him disband his legions,
Restore the commonwealth to liberty,
Submit his actions to the public censure,
And stand the judgment of a Roman senate:
Bid him do this, and Cato is his friend.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

Decius: Caesar is well acquainted with your virtues,
And therefore sets this value on your life:
Let him but know the price of Cato’s friendship,
And name your terms.

Cato: Bid him disband his legions,
Restore the commonwealth to liberty,
Submit his actions to the public censure,
And stand the judgment of a Roman senate:
Bid him do this, and Cato is his friend.


Decius: Cato, the world talks loudly of your wisdom—

Cato: Nay more, though Cato’s voice was ne’er employed
To clear the guilty, and to varnish crimes,
Myself will mount the rostrum in his favour,
And strive to gain his pardon from the people.

Decius: A style like this becomes a conqueror.

Cato: Decius, a style like this becomes a Roman.

Decius: What is a Roman, that is Caesar’s foe?

Cato: Greater than Caesar: he’s a friend to virtue.

[More works by Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719)]