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image of Mnemosyne

The discussion as a whole raises literary and philological questions concerning Cato's thought and style, focussing on a locus classicus, the preface to his De agri cultura. It is argued that the first and last of the six sentences of this at once laconic and highly mannered piece are corrupt in the MSS tradition. This undermines the coherence, logic, and point of Cato's train of thought. The gist should run as follows. 'Backing mercantile enterprise with capital can sometimes be to make capital but is always risky, usury is less risky but is virtually as disreputable as theft, high praise has traditionally gone to the good farmer for his skill, the merchant is plucky and enterprising too but as indicated open to hazard; besides, farming is praiseworthy for various purely moral and social reasons; but the alpha and omega of all the professions I have cited (including farming properly undertaken) is to make capital earn capital'. To secure this the two sentences require emendation as follows:

Est interdum praestare <rem> mercaturis rem quaerere, ni tam periculosum si<e>t; et item fenerari, si tam honestum si<e>t


Nunc ut ad rem redeam, quo<a>d prom(p)si institutum, principium hoc erit, <rem re quaerere>.


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