The Problem With Having Dinner With Cato the Elder -The Toast

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cato“‘Ceterum autem censeo Carthaginem esse delendam’ (English: “Furthermore, I consider that Carthage must be destroyed”) is a Latin oratorical phrase which was in popular use in the Roman Republic in the 2nd Century BC during the latter years of the Punic Wars against Carthage. The phrase was most famously uttered frequently and persistently almost to the point of absurdity by the Roman senator Cato the Elder (234-149 BC), as a part of his speeches.”

“Oh, gods, you didn’t invite Cato tonight, did you?”

“I — I invited everyone in the Senate –”


“What is it? What’s wrong? What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing, if you wanted to host a Carthage-destroying lecture tonight. But if you wanted to throw a pleasant dinner party, you know, everything.”

“He’s still on that kick?”

“Still on that…Listen, Lavinia the Hostess, yesterday I ran into Cato outside of the Villa Publica — the Villa Publica, mind you, not the Curia Hostilia, and I tried to have a conversation with him, and do you know what he said to me instead of saying ‘goodbye’ or ‘take care’ or ‘give my love to the little ones’?”


“He said ‘Carthage must be destroyed.’ Just like that. Like he’s on the floor of the Senate. That’s what he says instead of goodbye now.”


“Swear it.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“And the worst part is, he’s preaching to the choir. It’s…look, of course, in theory I agree that Carthage must be destroyed. And we will destroy it, we absolutely will. But there are so many other places to destroy right now. We have to destroy Macedonia, we have to destroy Philip of the Nine Golden Armies, we have to destroy Tyre and Sidon, we have to destroy the bearded men of the north…we can’t drop everything and go destroy Carthage right now just because it’s Cato’s pet project.”

“Of course.”

“And frankly, in the meantime, it’s more than a little rude of him. Must the niceties no longer be observed just because Carthage still has people living in it? Would it kill him to just say ‘goodbye’ at the end of a conversation?”

“I kn — oh, shut up, shut up, he’s here. I’m sorry. But be nice. Be nice.”

“I’m always nice.”

“Not your version of nice. What other people mean when they say nice.”


Things had gone well, if a bit stiffly, at first. At one point Marcellus the Awful mentioned a partridge hunt he’d recently been on and Cato’s eyes gleamed before he realized he’d misheard him.

But Autilius the Sailor had only that week returned from a four-year trip to the Islands of the Sun, and innocently remarked on the towers of Carthage during his return voyage. Lavinia the Hostess could have poisoned him.

“Carthage, you say?” Cato said blandly, and she knew in her heart the night was ruined. But they didn’t call her Lavinia the Hostess for nothing.

Turning to the man on her left, Lavinia asked (loudly, brightly, determinedly), “Pliny, I hear you’ve discovered a new kind of hedgehog. That must have been fascinating.”

Pliny swallowed, nodding excitedly. “I have — I was walking in my garden when –”

“The thing about Carthage,” Cato said, “is that it must be destroyed.”

Julia the Snob pursed her lips in amazement, and Lavinia the Hostess knew she could kiss the planning committee goodbye this year.

“Is this a new kind of cheese?” Marcellus asked Lavinia, gamely trying to stem the tide, and she could have kissed him.

“The thing. About Carthage. Is that it must be destroyed. We sit here feasting like victorious warriors while Carthage stands, even now, her proud towers visible from the sea!”

Yes, of course, Lavinia thought desperately, but life has to go on — 

Cato grabbed the salt cellar from the middle of the table. “Imagine this is the fleet of the Phoenicians,” he instructed the girl to his left. He poured his goblet of wine across Lavinia’s best tablecloth. “And this is the wine-dark sea. Now, Carthage is over here” — he scattered the bones from his plate and began to fashion a crude set of towers out of them.

Lavinia drank the rest of her goblet in one sustained gulp, then motioned to the serving-Gaul for more. It was going to be a long night.

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