Cato The Elder Speaks To The Senate House:
While Gaius sat beside his father and listened, the revered Senator, perhaps the most revered in the entire Senate House, rose to his full height to speak. Everyone else immediately fell silent. Gaius Antonius sitting there beside his father the Senator could hear “Sh-h-h-h-h-h-h!” followed by a great hush over the entire Senate. When not a sound could be heard the elderly Senator who hardly even showed his age though he was now in his seventies looked around at everyone and took them in seemingly one by one before he began to speak.
Gaius could not turn away after Cato’s eyes passed over him and seemed to touch him though he had not come near him physically. The lines in his face and forehead were deep and seemingly carved there as if in marble. His eyes missed nothing and felt as if they had turned Gaius’s very soul inside out. His craggy appearance only set the atmosphere for what was to come.
He held his head erect and stiffened his spine looking down his long, pointed nose that stuck out from his face as if to warn the unwary that Marcus Porcius Cato was about to descend upon them. With a look so serious and grave he could have frightened Jupiter himself, Cato began to speak.
He traced the history of the Roman involvement with the city state on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, or “Our Sea” as the Romans liked to call it. He announced that it had now been going on for a century and needed to come to an end very soon.
Gaius whispered to his father, “But I thought it was at an end after the last war!” he objected. “That was now over fifty years ago. He was only twenty. Fifty years seemed like a long time to him, half a century in fact.
“Sh-h-h-h-h!” his father hissed at him, frowning.
“We defeated Carthage during two very costly wars!” Cato declared. “One war our grandfathers fought. The one before our great-grandfathers fought. I has cast a pall over our Republic ever since. We don’t know what the enemy may be up to next.”
All the Senators looked at each appalled.
“We tried to give Carthage a chance. We even tried to make friends with them after the last war and take them into our orbit of sister cities fronting Our Sea. But now they are abusing our trust again, trying to make war against their sister city. How do we know that this is not a first step in a planned rise to power and then hegemony over the Mediterranean?” Cato exclaimed flinging out his arms.
The Senators shook their heads and shuddered.
“They give us specious reasons about how their neighbor Numidia is trying to impinge upon their state. But this could be the beginning of the end for our republic which has grown tired of warfare and no longer wants to expend the effort to defend itself.”
Cato made sure to eye each Senator individually as if this senator and that senator might be individually responsible for that infringement upon honor and duty. Gaius shivered. He was too young to remember much. But the censorious, no-nonsense expression on Cato’s face reminded him of his pedagogues in the classroom.
“So soon does Rome forget the horrors of the last Punic War. When has there ever been a battle like Cannae? When have we ever lost so many men in one day? Who here did not lose a near and dear ancestor on that day?”
Cato moved from his seat and came around the room confronting each senator individually until many a man broke down weeping.
“Hear me, oh Rome,” Cato returned to his seat and waved his arms about in the air as if he were trying to attract the attention of the gods themselves. “Hear me when I say that Carthage must be destroyed!”
If he ever lived beyond today, Gaius knew he would never forget those words.
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