2.02 The Donat and the Cato
I’m sorry, I meant to post the comment above at section 2.03, paragraph 3. I’ve copied it there now.
“…the Italian Donat was originally a drilling book that went into considerable detail for students coming to the language for the first time.” In a practical sense would these students still have been Latin beginners, by the time they started the Italian Donat? Or would they have had some immersion in spoken Latin in the school, during the couple of years of preliminary training mentioned in the first paragraph of Section 2.01?
Good point. In fact confidence in the attribution was the single largest factor in the centuries-long prestige of this text. Below we will see several humanists who argued, even when they recognized it could not have been authored by an historical Cato, that the work was wise enough to merit his name. This kind of word-playful manner of writing is one of the lessons the text had for new readers. Every Latin text, the teachers were saying, even the most elementary, should engender literary wit along with the wisdom.
With regard to the identification of the Cato of the Disticha Catonis, we are told in the tradition of the Accessus ad auctores that, “Duo Catones erant Romae, Censorinus Cato et Uticensis Cato,” that is, Marcus Porcius Cato (the Elder), whom you cite, and Marcus Porcius Cato “Uticensis” (the Younger) (d. 46 BCE). Perhaps you should mention both and possible conflations? The attributions may be incorrect, but the fact that most people believed in the authorship is important when it comes to studying the reception of the text in the Middle Ages and beyond.