Brother AACOOLDRE : Cato's Letter to Cicero

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  1. AACOOLDRE

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    CATO’s LETTER TO CICERO: A clue to some Stoic ideas in comparison to Egyptian ideology.

    By Andre Austin

    In 50BC Cato wrote Cicero. Cato, at this time was the leading Stoic. Cato states that:

    “Triumph does not always follow a Supplication. On the other hand, the Senate’s judgement that a province has been held and preserved by its governor’s mild and upright administration rather than by the swords of an army or the favor of the Gods is far greater distinction than a Triumph; and that is what I proposed in the house” (Cicero Selected Letters #53).

    St Augustine didn’t like the Stoics or Cato because he killed himself in 46BC. Augustine said:

    “Was it, I would ask, fortitude or weakness which prompted Cato to Kill himself? For he would not have done so had he not been too weak to endure Caesar’s victory” ( City of God Book 19: 4).

    What alerted me to Cato’s letter were the terms mild (temperate) and upright because I read this before in Plutarch’s essay on Isis and Osiris. These terms don’t come up until the end of the quote but I thought it highly necessary to build up a foundation.

    40. The insidious scheming and usurpation of Typhon (Satan), then, is the power of drought, which gains control and dissipates the moisture which is the source of the Nile and of its rising; and his coadjutor, the Queen of the Ethiopia, signifies allegorically the south winds from Ethiopia; (Matthew 12: 42 for whenever these gain the upper hand over the northerly or Etesian winds which drive the clouds toward Ethiopia, and when they prevent the falling of the rains which cause the rising of the Nile, then Typhon, being in possession, blazes with scorching heat; and having gained complete mastery, he forces the Nile in retreat to draw back it waters for weakness, and, flowing at the bottom of its almost empty channel, to proceed to the sea. The story told of the shutting up of Osiris in the chest seems to mean nothing else than the vanishing and disappearance of water. Consequently they say that the disappearance of Osiris occurred in the month of Athyr, at the time when, owing to the complete cessation of the Etesian winds, the Nile recedes to its low level and the land becomes denuded. As the nights grow longer, the darkness increases, and the potency of the light is abated and subdued. Then among the gloomy rites which the priests perform, they shroud the gilded image of a cow with a black linen vestment, and display her as a sign of mourning for the goddess, inasmuch as they regard both the cow and the earth as the image of Isis; and this is kept up four days consecutively, beginning with the seventeenth of the month. The things mourned for are four in number: first, the departure and recession of the Nile; second, the complete extinction of the north winds, as the south winds gain the upper hand; third, the day’s growing shorter than night; and, to crown all, the denudation of the earth together with the defoliation of the trees and shrubs at this time. On the nineteenth day they go down to the sea at nighttime; and the keepers of the robes and the priests bring forth the sacred chest containing a small golden coffer, into which they pour some potable water which they have taken up, and a great shout arises from the company for joy that Osiris is found. Then they knead some fertile soil with the water and mix in spices and incense of a very costly sort, and fashion there from a crescent-shaped figure, which they clothe and adorn, thus indicating that they regard these gods as the substance of Earth and water.

    41. When Isis recovered Osiris and was watching Horus grow up as he was being made strong by the exhalations and mists and clouds, Typhon was vanquished but not annihilated; for the goddess who holds sway over the earth would not permit the complete annihilation of the nature opposed to moisture, but relaxed and moderated it, being desirous that its tempering potency should persist, because it was not possible for a complete world to exist, if the fiery element left and disappeared. Even if this story were not current among them, one would hardly be justified in rejecting that other account, to the effect that Typhon, many ages ago, held sway over Osiris domain; for Egypt used to be all a sea , and for that reason, even to-day it is found to have shells in its mines and mountains. Moreover, all the springs and wells, of which there are many, have a saline and brackish water, as if some stale dregs of the ancient sea had collected there.

    But, in time, Horus overpowered Typhon; that is to say, there came on a timely abundance of rain, and the Nile forced out with its alluvial deposits. This has support in the testimony of our own observation; for we see, even today, as the river brings down new silt and advances the land, that the deep waters gradually recede and, as the bottom gains in height by reason of the alluvial deposits, the water of the sea runs off from these. We also note that Pharos, which Homer knew as a distant a day’s sail from Egypt (Od. 4:356) is now a part of it; not that the island has extended its area by rising, or has come nearer to the land, but the sea that separated them was obliged to retire before the river, as the river reshaped the land and made it to increase.

    The fact is that all this is somewhat like the doctrines promulgated by the Stoics about the gods; for they say that the creative and fostering spirit is Dionysus, the truculent and destructive is Heracles, the receptive is Ammon, that which pervades the Earth and its product is Demeter and the daughter, and that which pervades the sea is Poseidon.


    42. But the Egyptians, by combing with these physical explanations some of the scientific results derived from astronomy, think that by Typhon is meant the solar world, and by Osiris the lunar world; they reason that the moon, because it has light that is generative and productive of moisture, is kindly towards the young of animals and the burgeoning plants, whereas the sun, by its untempered and pitiless heat, makes all growing and flourishing vegetation hot and parched, and, through its blazing light, renders a large part of the earth uninhabitable, and in many a region overpowers the moon. For this reason the Egyptians regularly call Typhon “Seth”, which, being interpreted, means “overmastering and compelling”. They have a legend that Heracles, making his dwelling in the sun, is a companion for it in its revolutions, as is the case also with Hermes/Thoth and the moon. In fact, the actions of the moon are like actions of reason and perfect wisdom, whereas those of the sun are like beatings administered through violence and brute strength. The stoics assert that the sun is kindled and fed from the sea, but that for the moon the moving waters from the springs and lakes send up a sweet and mild exhalation”.


    I will repeat the quote from Cato again so you can compare it with the last paragraph above.

    “Triumph does not always follow a Supplication. On the other hand, the Senate’s judgement that a province has been held and preserved by its governor’s mild and upright administration rather than by the swords of an army or the favour of the Gods is far greater distinction than a Triumph; and that is what I proposed in the house” (Cicero Selected Letters #53).

    Andre Austin is the author of Lukewarm: The Temperature of Justice

    www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_9_8?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lukewarm+the+temperature+of+justice&sprefix=Lukewarm%2Caps%2C429


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