Stoic Theory: Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans


Problem 1
The following story (taken from Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans) is an account of an incident that took place during consular elections in the Roman Republic. Pompey, Crassus and Caesar formed a coalition with the intent to cease the power in Rome. Their main opponent was Cato the Younger, a famous Roman Stoic. In the story below, Cato and his candidate Domitius are physically intimated and wounded on the way to the election place, barely surviving. But Cato does not give up and shows no fear by making himself a candidate while Domitius (the candidate he favored) gives up:
Pompey and Crassus had a meeting with Caesar, who had come across the Alps, in which they laid a plan to canvass jointly for a second consulship, and, after they were established in the office, to get a vote passed giving to Caesar another term in his command, of the same duration as the first, and to themselves the largest provinces, money and military forces. This was a conspiracy for the division of the supreme power and the abolition of the constitution. And although many honourable men were getting ready to canvass for the consulship at that time, they were all deterred by seeing Pompey and Crassus announce themselves as candidates, excepting only Lucius Domitius, the husband of Cato’s sister Porcia. Him Cato persuaded not to withdraw from the canvass or give way, since the struggle was not for office, but for the liberty of the Romans. And indeed it was currently said among those citizens who still retained their good sense, that the consular power must not be suffered to become altogether overweening and oppressive by the union of the influence of Pompey and Crassus, but that one or the other of these men must be deprived of it. So they joined the party of Domitius, inciting and encouraging him to persist in his opposition; for many, they said, who now held their peace through fear, would help him when it came to voting. This was precisely what the partisans of Pompey feared, and so they set an ambush for Domitius as he was going down at early morning by torchlight into the Campus Martius. First of all the torch-bearer who stood in front of Domitius was smitten, fell, and died; and after him the rest of the party were presently wounded, and all took to flight except Cato and Domitius. For Cato held Domitius back, although he himself had received a wound in the arm, and exhorted him to stand his ground, and not to abandon, while they had breath, the struggle in behalf of liberty which they were waging against the tyrants, who showed plainly how they would use the consular power by making their way to it through such crimes. But Domitius would not face the peril, and fled to his house for refuge, whereupon Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls. Cato, however, would not give up the fight, but came forward himself as candidate for a praetorship, wishing to have a vantage-point for his struggles against the men, and not to be a private citizen when he was opposing magistrates.
Given the Stoic theory of emotions and the assumption that Cato was a Stoic sage (or a virtuous person), which one of the following statements correctly describes Cato in this story:
1. Although Cato might have been afraid (i.e., experienced the emotion of fear) just like all other people (Domitius, etc.), he overcame his fear and did not let the fear influence his actions.
2. Cato did not experience fear at all. He was aware, of course, that the situation looks dangerous and frightening, but he did not allow himself to become afraid.
Indicate the correct answer and explain why you think that one is correct.


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