His only complete extant work seems to have been an extremely popular and influential one.
De agri cultura (on agriculture) deals with the practical and profitable management of an estate, rather than the nitty-gritty of seeds and soil. Additionally, he threw in a recipe or two, and seems to have had an almost unhealthy obsession with cabbage!
The most likely reason, however, is that Cato’s private hatred of all things Greek spilled over into his literary life.
Cato believed that the Greeks were decadent, immoral, and generally inferior to what a good man should be, i.e. a Roman. Indeed, he considered most of the moral decay going on ‘these days’ a direct result of increased Hellenization.
‘In the Ad filium he called the Greeks a vile and unteachable race; in 155 BC, worried by the effect their lectures were having on Roman youth, he was anxious that an embassy of Athenian philosophers should leave Rome rapidly’.
Not that Cato’s spleen was uniquely vented Greek-wards; he had a similar contempt for, or at least fear of, the Carthaginians.
Here at least Cato’s xenophobia (a detestable Greek word!) was not quite so blind.
Carthage had been one of the biggest threats to Rome during the statesman’s time – with the brilliant general Hannibal very nearly changing irrevocably the balance of power in the Mediterranean.
The counterweight to this, and indeed the reason why many still look on Cato with great fondness, is that such brutality, cruelty and inhumanity are at odds with his character in general.
But much more than his vulgar sympathy for the great unwashed, what helped Cato make enemies were his morals and his mouth.
He was firmly against the repeal of the lex Oppia, emergency austerity measures that were obsolete in the wake of the booty accrued in the victory over Carthage.
He also seems to have been, with the glaring exception of Carthage, a broad-church isolationist.
Rome’s military interest in Rhodes and Macedonia were particularly distasteful to him for the simple and indubitable fact that such countries’ interests were none of Rome’s business.
Indeed, Cato the Elder is one of those wonderful characters from the annals of the past who not only vividly come to life, but generate an emotional response.
And clearly there is plenty of ammunition for both his supporters and detractors to argue their respective corners. But on reflection, people in both camps tend come away with a similar feeling about this cantankerous and constant old git who said what he liked and liked what he said…