I'm trying to find/confirm two anecdotes about (I think) Cato (not sure which, Elder or Younger). They both refer to being modest in the face of one's own greatness.

The first has Cato being asked during the unveiling of a new statue, "Why is there no statue of you among these statues of great men?" His answer was to the effect that, "I'd rather be asked why there is no statue of me among the great man, than be asked why there is one."

The second sees Cato at some banquet. He chooses to sit away from the head of the table where the VIPs are, and instead to sit much further down. A friend asks him "Why are you sitting so low down; surely you'll have a seat up near the host?" Cato replies "I'd rather sit low down and then be asked to move up, that to sit high up and be asked to move down"

Can anyone shed any light on these? Are they true? Was it Cato? Most important, do you have a source for them. I can find the statue one in WikiQuote, but I trust that as far as I can kick it. And I can't find the dinner party one at all. thanks.


Plutarchus's biography of Cato the Elder is the obvious place to begin the search at:

Still, it appears that the people approved of his censorship to an amazing extent. At any rate, after erecting a statue to his honour in the temple of Health, they commemorated in the inscription p359upon it, not the military commands nor the triumph of Cato, but, as the inscription may be translated, the fact "that when the Roman state was tottering to its fall, he was made censor, and by helpful guidance, wise restraints, and sound teachings, restored it again." 4 And yet, before this time he used to laugh at those who delighted in such honours, saying that, although they knew it not, their pride was based simply on the work of statuaries and painters, whereas his own images, of the most exquisite workmanship, were borne about in the hearts of his fellow citizens. And to those who expressed their amazement that many men of no fame had statues, while he had none, he used to say: "I would much rather have men ask why I have no statue, than why I have one." 5 In short, he thought a good citizen should not even allow himself to be praised, unless such praise was beneficial to the commonwealth. [19(3)]

I couldn't find the second one though in a quick search.


The second "quotation" appears in substantially the same form at least twice in the Bible (Prov. 25,6-7; Luke 14,8-9). This does not mean that Cato did not say it as well, but it does raise doubts.

  • Thought the same about the dinner party one, better to take the lower place and be "promoted" than to be "demoted"! Wonder if it was a common adage, not necessarily attributable to anyone? – TheHonRose Oct 13 '15 at 19:00

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