A statue of Cato the Younger. The Louvre Museum. He is about to kill himself while reading the Phaedo, a dialogue of Plato which details the death of Socrates. The statue was begun by Jean-Baptiste Roman (Paris, 1792 – 1835) using white Carrara marble. It was finished by François Rude (Dijon, 1784 – Paris, 1855). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
…Lucan’s Cato differs from the closest contemporary representation of the historical figure on which he is based by taking action despite his belief that the Republic has long since ceased to be…
The Historical Cato suffered something of a transformation, moving from the real life General who committed suicide rather than live in defeat to the near divine God-man of Lucan who gave his life for Roman liberty to Plutarch who has settled Cato just a bit, but still sees him as the ultimate hero.
But, I find Lucan’s representation of Cato the most breathtakingly daring. Why? Lucan, in Pharsalia, was writing with a settled representation memorialized by Seneca who was Lucan’s uncle. This representation was one the people of Rome had come to know and love as history, and in fact, must of it was at the very least historical sounding. However, suddenly Lucan writes about a man who was divine, taking the place of the gods, acting as a cosmic sacrifice. Cato’s Stoicism, a surface Stoicism at best, was idealized. Cato was idealized. Cato was mythologized and not after hundreds of years of reflection or with an intense propaganda campaign, but because of a written answer to a moral crisis. Suddenly, what Seneca and the Roman people had accepted about Cato the Younger and his involvement in the Civil War was cast aside for a myth.
Lucan wrote a new representation of Cato the Younger but in such a way as to warp the contemporary representation, using memory and myth to do so. Thus, the contemporary representation of Cato the Younger was replaced by the contemporary mythical (re)presentation of Cato by Lucan, and it was one the people accepted enough to have Plutarch write to temper it.