De Agri Cultura
De Agri Cultura (
Latin pronunciation: [ˈdeː ˈaɡriː
kʊlˈtuːraː], On Farming or On Agriculture), written by Cato the
Elder, is the oldest surviving work of
Latin prose. Alexander Hugh
McDonald, in his article for the Oxford Classical Dictionary, dated
this essay's composition to about 160 BC and noted that "for all of
its lack of form, its details of old custom and superstition, and its
archaic tone, it was an up-to-date directed from his own knowledge and
experience to the new capitalistic farming." Cato was revered by
many later authors for his practical attitudes, his natural stoicism
and his tight, lucid prose. He is much quoted by Pliny the Elder, for
example, in his Naturalis Historia.
2 Defense of farming
3 Farm recipes
6 Texts and translations
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
The work of Cato is often characterized as a "farmer's notebook"
written in a "random fashion"; it is hard to think of it as
literature. The book seems to be no more than a manual of husbandry
intended for friends and neighbours. Its direct style, however, was
noted by other ancient authors like
Aulus Gellius as "forceful and
vigorous", in a context of extreme simplicity. Perhaps the main
De Agri Cultura
De Agri Cultura is its depiction of rural life during
the Roman Republic.
Defense of farming
Cato's introduction compares farming with other common activities of
that time, specifically commerce and usury. He criticizes both, the
former on the basis of the dangers and uncertainty which it bears, the
second because according to the Twelve Tables, the usurer is judged a
worse criminal than a thief. Cato makes a strong contrast with
farming, which he praises as the source of good citizens and soldiers,
of both wealth and high moral values.
De Agri Cultura
De Agri Cultura contains much information on the creation and caring
of vineyards, including information on the slaves who helped maintain
them. After numerous landowners in Rome read Cato's prose during this
time, Rome began to produce wine on a large scale. Many of the new
vineyards were sixty acres, and because of their large size, even more
slaves were necessary to keep the production of wine running
One section consists of recipes for farm products. These include:
an imitation of
Coan wine (in which sea water was added to the must);
the first recorded recipe for vinum Graecum, imitating the style of
Greek wine that used to be imported to Roman Italy.
recipes for savillum, libum and placenta, pastries similar to
There is a short section of religious rituals to be performed by
farmers. The language of these is clearly traditional, somewhat more
archaic than that of the remainder of the text, and has been studied
by Calvert Watkins.
All of the manuscripts of Cato's treatise also include a copy of
Varro's essay of the same name. J.G. Schneider and Heinrich Keil
showed that the existing manuscripts directly or indirectly descend
from a long-lost manuscript called the Marcianus, which was once in
Biblioteca Marciana in
Venice and described by Petrus Victorinus
as liber antiquissimus et fidelissimus ("a book most ancient and
faithful"). The oldest existing manuscript is the Codex Parisinus
6842, written in
Italy at some point before the end of the 12th
century. The editio princeps was printed at
Venice in 1472; Angelo
Politian's collation of the Marcianus against his copy of this first
printing is considered an important witness for the text.
Texts and translations
Brehaut, E. 1933. Cato the Censor, on Farming. New York: Columbia
Dalby, Andrew (1998), Cato: On Farming, Totnes: Prospect Books,
Goujard, R. (1975), Caton: De l'agriculture, Paris: Collection Budé,
Les Belles Lettres
William Davis Hooper, translator. Marcus Porcius Cato, "On
Agriculture"; Marcus Terentius Varro, "On Agriculture". Harvard: Loeb
Classical Library, 1934.
^ Latin: dē agrī cultūrā, literally "concerning the cultivation of
^ "Cato (1)", Oxford Classical Dictionary, second edition. (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1970), p. 215.
^ Hooper, William Davis & Ash, Harrison Boyd: Marcus Porcius Cato,
On agriculture; Marcus Terentius Varro, On agriculture Volume 283 of
Loeb classical library. Loeb classical library.
Latin authors. Harvard
University Press, 1934. page xiii.
^ Est interdum praestare mercaturis rem quaerere, nisi tam periculosum
sit, et item foenerari, si tam honestum. Maiores nostri sic habuerunt
et ita in legibus posiverunt: furem dupli condemnari, foeneratorem
quadrupli. Quanto peiorem civem existimarint foeneratorem quam furem,
hinc licet existimare. (...) Mercatorem autem strenuum studiosumque
rei quaerendae existimo, verum, ut supra dixi, periculosum et
calamitosum. Hooper & Ash, page 2
^ Et virum bonum quom laudabant, ita laudabant: bonum agricolam
bonumque colonum; amplissime laudari existimabatur qui ita laudabatur.
(...) At ex agricolis et viri fortissimi et milites strenuissimi
gignuntur, maximeque pius quaestus stabilissimusque consequitur
minimeque invidiosus, minimeque male cogitantes sunt qui in eo studio
occupati sunt. Hooper & Ash, page 2
^ Gately, Iain (2009). Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. New York:
Gotham Books. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-592-40464-3.
^ "Cato's 'De Agricultura': Recipes".
^ M.D. Reeve discusses the descent of both Cato's and Varro's essays
in Texts and Transmission: A Survey of the
Latin Classics, edited by
L.D. Reynolds (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 40–42.
Watkins, Calvert (1995), How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of
Indo-European Poetics, New York: Oxford University Press,
K. D. White, "Roman agricultural writers I: Varro and his
predecessors" in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt ed. H.
Temporini. Part 1 vol. 4 (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1973)