Tuesday, November 30, 2004


A New Twist on an Old Saying

Tim Worstall
recalls Cato's famous expression "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam" ("Furthermore it is my opinion that Carthage must be destroyed"), with which the crusty old Roman ended every speech in the senate. It is sometimes quoted as "Carthago delenda est" ("Carthage must be destroyed"). Carthage was Rome's arch-enemy, and eventually it was destroyed, wiped off the map completely.

Worstall facetiously recommends as a modern equivalent "Ceterum censeo Unionem Europaeam esse delendam" ("Furthermore it is my opinion that the European Union must be destroyed"), or "Unio Europaea delenda est" ("The European Union must be destroyed") for short. Of course, Worstall does not wish Europe itself to be destroyed, only the European Union. Indeed, he sees the destruction of the European Union as a way to save Europe.

These sentences are good ways to remember the passive periphrastic, otherwise known as the second periphrastic (Allen and Greenough §§ 158.d, 194.b, 196; Bradley's Arnold §§ 200, 392), and the rule that the nominative subject of a main clause in direct discourse becomes accusative in indirect discourse, while the indicative verb becomes infinitive (Allen and Greenough § 580; Bradley's Arnold § 445).

Incidentally, both forms of Cato's recommendation seem to be modern reconstructions of his exact words from ancient evidence.

Plutarch, Life of Cato 27.1 (tr. Ian Scott-Kilvert):
Afterwards he adopted a still more forceful method of driving home his point: whenever his opinion was called for on any subject, he invariably concluded with the words, 'And furthermore it is my opinion that Carthage must be destroyed!'
Florus, Epitome 1.31:
Cato with implacable hatred used to declaim that Carthage must be destroyed, even when the debate was on another subject.

Cato inexpiabili odio delendam esse Carthaginem et cum de alio consuleretur pronuntiabat.
Pliny, Natural History 15.20.74-76 (tr. John Bostock and H.T. Riley):
[74] The mention by Cato of the variety which bears the name of the African fig, strongly recalls to my mind a remarkable fact connected with it and the country from which it takes its name. Burning with a mortal hatred to Carthage, anxious, too, for the safety of his posterity, and exclaiming at every sitting of the senate that Carthage must be destroyed, Cato one day brought with him into the Senate-house a ripe fig, the produce of that country. Exhibiting it to the assembled senators, "I ask you," said he, "when, do you suppose, this fruit was plucked from the tree?"

[75] All being of opinion that it had been but lately gathered, -- "Know then," was his reply, "that this fig was plucked at Carthage but the day before yesterday --so near is the enemy to our walls." It was immediately after this occurrence that the third Punic war commenced, in which Carthage was destroyed, though Cato had breathed his last, the year after this event. In this trait which are we the most to admire? was it ingenuity and foresight on his part, or was it an accident that was thus aptly turned to advantage? which, too, is the most surprising, the extraordinary quickness of the passage which must have been made, or the bold daring of the man?

[76] The thing, however, that is the most astonishing of all -- indeed, I can conceive nothing more truly marvellous -- is the fact that a city thus mighty, the rival of Rome for the sovereignty of the world during a period of one hundred and twenty years, owed its fall at last to an illustration drawn from a single fig! Thus did this fig effect that which neither Trebia nor Thrasimenus, not Cannæ itself, graced with the entombment of the Roman renown, not the Punic camp entrenched within three miles of the city, not even the disgrace of seeing Hannibal riding up to the Colline Gate, could suggest the means of accomplishing. It was left for a fig, in the hand of Cato, to show how near was Carthage to the gates of Rome!

[74] Sed a Catone appellata iam tum Africana admonet Africae ad ingens documentum usi eo pomo. namque perniciali odio Carthaginis flagrans nepotumque securitatis anxius, cum clamaret omni senatu Carthaginem delendam, adtulit quodam die in curiam praecocem ex ea provincia ficum ostendensque patribus: Interrogo vos, inquit, quando hanc pomum demptam putetis ex arbore.

[75] cum inter omnes recentem esse constaret: Atqui tertium, inquit, ante diem scitote decerptam Carthagine. tam prope a moeris habemus hostem! statimque sumptum est Punicum tertium bellum, quo Carthago deleta est, quamquam Catone anno sequente rapto. quid primum in eo miremur, curam ingeni an occasionem fortuitam, celeritatemque cursus an vehementiam viri?

[76] super omnia est, quo nihil equidem duco mirabilius, tantam illam urbem et de terrarum orbe per CXX annos aemulam unius pomi argumento eversam, quod non Trebia aut Trasimenus, non Cannae busto Romani nominis perficere potuere, non castra Punica ad tertium lapidem vallata portaeque Collinae adequitans ipse Hannibal. tanto propius Carthaginem pomo Cato admovit!

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