Roman frieze

“Cato the Elder in Aulus Gellius”
Kari Ceaicovshi (Bear Creek School, Seattle)

Aulus Gellius mentions Cato the Elder by name in fifty-eight of the approximately four hundred chapters comprising the Noctes Atticae. As such, Gellius is our primary source for the fragmenta Catonis compiled by Malcovati (ORF4, 1953). While these fragments provide scholars with material to reconstruct Cato’s literary style and identity, the context in which Gellius places them reveals the underlying cultural ideologies of Gellius’ Antonine Rome. In this paper I argue that Gellius uses Cato as a culutral authority on a variety of topics ranging from women to language. I ground my argument in the works of Holford-Strevens (2003:8) and Swain (2004), both of whom recognize Cato as an important figure through whom Gellius moralizes. I differ in that I argue that Gellius is not writing escapist literature in the face of the depoliticizing of the Imperial aristocrat, and follow Roller (2001) who reads Gellius as a window into the world where traditional hierarchy between Roman aristocrats of varying social status is reinforced, established, or challenged (2001:135). I go farther than Roller and assert that not only does Gellius establish himself as a socially dominant figure but also that he attempts to counter-act the cultural pull generated by the Second Sophistic through his quotations of Cato supporting certain (unpopular) cultural ideologies such as the practice of Roman authors writing Greek.

Return to CAPN program