Portrait of Joseph Addison

Cato denounces generals like Julius Caesar who use success on the battlefield as a stepping stone to political power (1710)

Found in: Cato: A Tragedy and Selected Essays

Marcus Porcius Cato (95–46 B.C.) was a Stoic philosopher and politician who opposed the actions of the Roman general Julius Caesar who used his successes on the battlefield to make himself dictator of Rome. In this passage “Marcus” denounces the would be tyrant for seeking political greatness by means of slaughter and the ruin of his country:

Presidents, Kings, Tyrants, & Despots

Thy steady temper, Portius,

Can look on guilt, rebellion, fraud, and Caesar,

In the calm lights of mild philosophy;

I’m tortured ev’n to madness, when I think

On the proud victor: every time he’s named

Pharsalia rises to my view!—I see

The insulting tyrant, prancing o’er the field

Strowed with Rome’s citizens, and drenched in slaughter,

His horse’s hoofs wet with Patrician blood!

Oh, Portius! is there not some chosen curse,

Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,

Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the man

Who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin?