Cato (A Tragedy in Five Acts)
by Joseph Addison (1672 - 1719)
Rendered with this introduction by Richard Lewis of Stoic Voice Journal
I take great pleasure in presenting the following rendering of Joseph Addison's play Cato . I first became aware of the play while reading the writings of Jim Stockdale. In an essay on public virtue, he writes:
"George Washington was so taken with the character of Cato the younger in Joseph Addison's 1713 play Cato that he made the Roman republican his role model. He went to see Cato numerous times from early manhood into maturity and even had it performed for his troops at Valley Forge despite a congressional resolution that plays were inimical to republican virtue. Washington included lines from the play in his private correspondence and even in his farewell address." (Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot, Hoover Press, 1995, p.75.)
Of course, this perked my interest and sent me out in search of Cato. As fate would have it, I found a very worn 1848 edition of The Works of Joseph Addison in three volumes at our local college in Helena and was given permission to borrow the volume containing Cato for several months to copy the text.
Joseph Addison's Cato premiered on April 14, 1713, and was an immediate success. In fact, it went on to become one of the most popular English plays of that period. In addition to being a dramatist and poet, Joseph Addison was also a prominent essayist and was noted for his graceful writing style. Samuel Johnson once wrote: "Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the study of Addison."
Cato the younger (95-46 B.C.) was a Great Roman Statesman and Stoic. He took sides with Pompey in his unsuccessful civil war against Julius Caesar. After Pompey was defeated at Pharsalus, Cato and Scipio moved their forces to northern Africa. The play takes place in the city of Utica, located in the kingdom of Numidia. Scipio has been defeated at Thapsus, and Caesar and his legions are advancing towards Utica, where Cato and a small Roman senate stand ready to defend the last vestige of the Roman Republic.