Thirty More Famous Stories Retold - James Baldwin

"Delenda Est Carthago!"

"Delenda est Carthago!"

A noble old Roman, eighty-four years of age, had just finished a stirring speech in the Forum, or great market place of Rome, and these were his closing words: "Delenda est Carthago!" (Carthage must be destroyed!)

His words were repeated by his hearers; they were carried into the street; they were discussed by excited men in every part of the city.

"Who says that Carthage must be destroyed?" asked one citizen of another.

"Cato the Censor says so," was the answer. "He says that two such cities as Rome and Carthage cannot long exist under the same sun. One must soon submit to the other. If Rome does not destroy Carthage, then Carthage will destroy Rome."

"Then every Roman must join with Cato and cry, 'Delenda est Carthago!' "

Cato was dreadfully in earnest about the matter. Rome had already had two long wars with the great city on the other side of the Mediterranean. Cato, when a young man of eighteen, had served as a soldier in one of these wars. In his old age, when the cities were at peace, he had been sent as an ambassador to Carthage. He was astonished at what he saw there. He had supposed that Rome was the richest and most powerful city in the world; but now he feared that he was mistaken.

He saw the harbor of Carthage swarming with ships from all parts of the world; the wharfs were piled with the wealth of many countries; the shops were filled with rich and rare merchandise; the market place was thronged with buyers and sellers; the beauty of the public buildings and the strength of the city walls surpassed anything of which Rome could boast; the wealth and power of Carthage were too great to be estimated.

And so when stern old Cato returned home he felt that there was but one way to save Rome. He must arouse his countrymen to a sense of their danger. Carthage must be destroyed.

When he had finished his speech in the Forum, he wrapped his toga about him and went down into the street. Every one who saw him knew by the broad purple border on his white homespun toga that he was one of Rome's great men—that he had held some of the highest offices in the gift of the city. A narrower border denoted a citizen of less renown; no border at all signified that its wearer had not yet been honored with an office. But in those days to be a Roman even of the humblest rank was better than to be a king.

In the street Cato met many of his friends; and no matter on what subject they might talk, his last words when parting with them were, "Delenda est Carthago!"

He had been a Roman censor, and for a time had been the most powerful man in Rome. He had had the oversight of the morals of the city, and had tried hard to preserve the simple, sturdy habits of his forefathers. There was nothing that he hated more than luxury and self-indulgence; and now when he saw young men dressed in fashionable style idling in the streets, his anger was hot against? them. "Delenda est Carthago!" he cried, while reproving them for their folly. And when he saw officers of the state living in fine houses and enjoying their wealth, he sneered at them in contempt and cried out, "Delenda est Carthago!"

He did not stay long in the city, but hastened to return to his farm on the Sabine, where he had lived all his life except when in the service of Rome. And his first greeting to his family was, "Delenda est Carthago!"

Had you seen him on his farm you would not have thought of him as the greatest of Romans. Having laid aside his toga, he appeared dressed in the rude fashion of a hard-working farmer. With a broad-brimmed hat on his head and a sheepskin cloak thrown over his shoulders, he walked out to see his cattle and crops, to gather grapes in his vineyard, and to pick olives from his olive trees. He met with his country neighbors and talked about the prospects of the wheat harvests and the best methods of making wine; but he always closed his discourses by crying, "Delenda est Carthago!"

His manner of life on the farm was very simple. Everything was just as it had been in the days of his father and of his grandfather. Cato was a hard worker to the end of his life. He plowed his fields, he sowed his grain, he helped the reapers, he gathered his hay, he fed his flocks and herds. "To do these necessary things," said he, "is to be a Roman of the old-fashioned sort."

His wife and daughters were Romans of the old-fashioned sort, too. They had the care of the home; they ground the barley and made the bread for the household; they attended to the milk and pressed the cheeses; they bottled the wine from the home grapes; they spun and wove the clothing for the family. Life on the Sabine farm was a continuous round of hard work and pleasant duties; and the coarse fare and simple diet gave to all the household good health and long and happy lives.

The great Roman's last days would have been spent peacefully enough if it had not been for the bitter hatred which he bore toward Carthage. Whenever he went down to Rome, it was to stir up among his fellow-citizens the same feelings which he himself had. Whenever he made a public address, whether it was upon politics or religion or farming, he did not fail to add a word about Carthage. And when, at length, worn out by old age, he lay down for the last time upon his hard, humble cot, his farewell message was, "Delenda est Carthago!"