The Lucky Cato Revisited

 (Plut. Cat. Mai. 17.7)

John R. Porter

University of Saskatchewan

Another man Cato expelled from the senate was someone who had been a promising future consul, Manilius, for kissing his wife in broad daylight with his daughter looking on. Cato claimed that for his part he never embraced his wife except after a loud clap of thunder, and he said as a joke that Jupiter’s thunder made him a happy man. (R. Waterfield, tr.)

J. Bradford Churchill (Phoenix 55 [2001] 98-107) has recently challenged the accepted understanding of Cato’s remark (represented above by Robin Waterfield’s translation), arguing instead for the following rendering: “[Cato] said that his wife never embraced him except when there was a great peal of thunder, and that she joked that he was a lucky man when Jupiter thundered.” While this translation accounts nicely for certain features of the transmitted text, it is not altogether unproblematic. An examination of the passage’s specific context, the pertinent Roman cultural norms, and Plutarch’s own views on women and sexuality suggests that there is still more to be said regarding Cato’s clima(c)tic fortunes.

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