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Plutarch and his Roman Readers$
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Philip A. Stadter

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780198718338

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: December 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198718338.001.0001

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Cato the Younger in the English Enlightenment

Cato the Younger in the English Enlightenment

Addison’s rewriting of Plutarch

21 Cato the Younger in the English Enlightenment
Plutarch and his Roman Readers

Philip A. Stadter

Oxford University Press

Joseph Addison’s Cato, produced in 1713 at the beginning of the English Enlightenment, found in that hero, who preferred to kill himself rather than live under Julius Caesar’s dictatorship, a model of political integrity and patriotic sensibility that could be approved by Whigs and Tories alike. Addison, following the habit of his time, did not attempt to be historically accurate, but to project an image of political integrity. The cast of characters includes only three historical figures besides Cato himself, while other characters are invented to support two amatory subplots. The tone of the play is closer to Seneca’s words (De div. prov. 6) cited in the play’s epigraph, ‘Ecce par Deo dignum’. The death scene of Act V presents Cato with Plato’s Phaedo in hand and his sword by his side, calm and ready for death, in complete contrast to Plutarch’s scene of ill-temper, violence, and gory spilling of entrails. Addison’s deviations from Plutarch’s portrait in his Cato Minor illuminate both his own view of philosophically based political heroism and Plutarch’s own more jaundiced view of Cato’s resistance and death, and provides an excellent example of the reception of a classical exemplum.

Keywords:   Plutarch, Cato Minor, Joseph Addison, Cato, Caesar, Enlightenment, reception, integrity, patriotism, England

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