Distichs of Cato, also known as simply Cato, are a collection of maxims and moral advice. The Cato is written with distichs (Latin: disticha), i.e. couplets or pairs of successive lines of hexameters; and consists of four books.
In the middle ages the author on the Distichs of Cato was supposed to be Cato the Elder, but it was finally attributed to an unknown author named Dionysius Cato from the 3rd or 4th century AD.
The book was held at very high esteem in the middle ages. It was praised due to its wisdom and morality, but also as a Latin teaching aid. Benjamin Franklin was among many scholars who saw the value in this work, he writes:
“For certainly, such excellent Precepts of Morality, contain’d in such short and easily-remember’d Sentences, may to Youth particularly be very serviceable in the Conduct of Life, since there can scarce happen any Affair of Importance to us, in which we may need Advice, but one or more of these Distichs suited to the Occasion, will seasonably occur to the Memory, if the Book has been read and studied with a proper Care and Attention.” - (Cato’s Moral Distichs Englished in Couplets. Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by B. Franklin, 1735. pp. iii–iv.)
The Cato starts with the reason for its writing:
Cum animadverterem quam plurimos graviter in via morum errare, succurrendum opinioni eorum et consulendum famae existimavi, maxime ut gloriose viverent et honorem contingerent. Nunc te, fili carissime, docebo, quo pacto morem animi tui componas. Igitur praecepta mea ita legito, ut intellegas; legere enim et non intelligere neglegere est.
When I noticed how many people are so wrong with their ways of conduct, I realized I must help their judgment and advice to their reputation, so they may live gloriously and attain honour. Now, my dearest son, I’ll teach you how to develop morals for your mind. Therefore read my precepts so that you understand them; for to read and not to understand is to neglect.
Let’s consider some of the distichs:
2.26. Rem, tibi quam noscis aptam, dimittere noli;
Fronte capillata, post haec occasio calva.
Don’t give up a things that you know fits you;
From the front the opportunity is hairy, from behind bald.
4.5. Cum fueris locuples, corpus curare memento;
Aeger dives habet nummos, se non habet ipsum.
When you are rich, remember to take care of the body;
For sick rich person has wealth, but doesn’t have him himself.
There are several versions of the Cato, and also several translation. One version with English tranlation of Wayland Johnson Chase is in the public domain and can be found here. This tranlsation is quite free (in order to keep a rythem also in English!). For a modern translation which is closer to the Latin by the author of the blog one can see here.