In preparation for Stoic Week, which starts next Monday, here is a special guest article which explores the example of Cato, and the five lessons which we can take from his character today….
NB. If you are new to Stoic Week 2013, please click here to read more about it and to download this year’s day by day Handbook.
Stoicism for Modern Stresses: Five Lessons from Cato
Rob Goodman & Jimmy Soni
Julius Caesar wanted to end him. George Washington wanted to be him. And for two thousand years, he was a singular subject of plays, poetry, and paintings, with admirers as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, the poet Dante, and the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius.
Yet, for all that, you’ve probably never heard of him…
We’ve spent the last few years excavating the life, times, and legacy of Marcus Porcius Cato the Younger, better known to the world simply as Cato. He was the senator who led the opposition to Julius Caesar in the last years of the Roman Republic, then killed himself rather than live under a dictator. He brought Stoicism into the mainstream. The Founding Fathers resurrected him as a symbol of resistance to tyranny. George Washington even put on a play about him in the bitter winter at Valley Forge.
Why does he matter today? Because at a time of crisis and calamity in Rome, Cato’s mission was to live life on his own terms, even (and sometimes especially) when those terms put him at odds with everyone around him.
Cato reminds us that there’s a thin line between visionaries and fools — a lesson especially important to entrepreneurs, authors, creative-types, or really anyone doing work that goes against the grain.
He remains both a shining example and a cautionary tale. Here are five lessons he can teach us about reputation, authority, fear, discipline, and legacies:
1) Master the power of gestures.
We talk about our times as the age of information overload, but public figures in all ages have had to compete to be heard. Ancient Rome was saturated with political talk: popular lawyers like Cicero consistently drew huge crowds, and the Roman people could regularly hear all-day parades of political speeches in the Forum. How could someone break through all that noise?
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