Disticha catonis is a collection of moral maxims in four books of 306 hexameters (18 in prefaces, 288 in distichs), of unknown origin, perhaps from the 2nd or 3rd century a.d., attributed to Cato the Elder (c. 200 b.c.). It is a curious mixture of pagan and Christian injunctions, some with a Machiavellian slant. The manuscripts also contain 56 short prose sententiae. A prose preface to Book I may have been added in a Carolingian recension of the collection. In the Middle Ages it was used as a schoolbook from which students learned moral precepts as well as Latin grammar. It was translated into Greek by Maximus planudes (d. 1310), into German by notker labeo (d. 1022), and into other Western vernaculars in the late Middle Ages. Almost every medieval library catalogue lists a copy. It was frequently imitated and parodied, and was one of the first books printed.
Bibliography: m. boas, ed., Disticha Catonis (Amsterdam 1952). j. w. and a. m. duff, eds. and trs., Minor Latin Poets (Loeb Classical Library ; London 1934). f. skutsch, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. (Stuttgart 1893–) 5:358–370. m. schanz, c. hosius, and g. krÜger, Geschichte der römischen Literatur, 4 v. in 5 (Munich 1914–35) 3:34–41. h. held, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 2:980–981.
[r. t. meyer]