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Cato the Elder and the destruction of Carthage.

  The last of his political actions is supposed to have been the
  destruction of Carthage; while the younger Scipio brought about the
  fulfilment of the act, it was by the design and especially the
  judgment (gnome) of Cato that the Romans undertook the war.
  PLUTARCH, Life of Cato the Elder

  Must we ... give up any hope of finding a reason for this sudden Roman
  fury against an enemy who was powerless? Cato was a hard man and
  lacked breadth of vision, but he was neither stupid nor easily
  excitable, and was therefore unlikely to undertake a difficult war for
  purely emotional reasons.
  GILBERT CHARLES-PICARD, The Life and Death of Carthage

  ... in the real of our desire, we are all murderers.
  SLAVOJ ZIZEK, Looking Awry

Among Cato the Elder's writings there should have been a monograph entitled How to Do Things with Words, since his famous soundbite or gnome on Carthage is not only his best-known work, but also one of the most resonant soundbites from antiquity (possibly even more notorious than veni, vidi, vici). (1) The reason for its resonance possibly is that Cato appears as that miraculous figure whose words do not represent actions in the past but create a future within which actions seem inevitable. The representations of Cato collude with this apparition by conflating the sententia with "its" outcome, noticeably bypassing the Senate's first response to the debate, their decision not to destroy Carthage but to relocate it (a response to which I will return). Instead, many texts work to minimize the gap between word and deed. Pliny the Elder, who will reappear later in this paper, may serve here as the representative example:
  [W]hen he was declaiming in every meeting of Senate that Carthage must
  be destroyed [Carthaginem delendam] ... and at once they embarked on
  the third Punic war, in which Carthage was destroyed [Carthago deleta
  est]. (HN 15.74-75)

What Cato creates as a potentiality, he represents as necessity--Carthage must be destroyed--and what he represents as necessity, we and (most of) the writers of antiquity now available to us see forever under the shadow of its fulfillment by Scipio. Pliny's way of rendering this is to see Cato's demand, Carthago delenda est, met with (the aftermath of) its fulfillment, Carthago deleta est, while on the far side of the perfect participle those of us born after the destruction of the city are left to contemplate the marvel of this figure whose words translate so clearly into deeds. Another way to put this is that we, Plutarch, and Pliny see the destruction of Carthage as completed, and retroject into the second century B.C.E. the necessity of this destruction. Cato becomes, from this perspective, a spokesman not for his present but for ours. And this makes him more, not less potent. Why does antiquity create this monster, and why do we perpetuate it?

Cato is a monster not because his words consign the people of Carthage to the flames, but because his awareness renders him opaque to historical understanding. Charles-Picard's perplexity in the epigraph to this paper arises in part out of this opacity. Because Cato's insistence on the historical necessity of destruction (a necessity that arises out of subsequent recognition) is a voice from the future, his words cannot be understood historically, that is, cannot be understood within the context of their own time. In other words, the statement Carthago delenda est, and its speaker, can only make sense from the perspective of Carthago deleta est. Note here that Carthage in these statements always is--Carthago est--but its existence oscillates between a dependence upon the future (delenda) and a dependence upon the past (deleta). (2) Thus, before continuing with a reading of Plutarch's and Pliny's Catos, it is necessary to formulate the status of Carthage, or rather of Carthage the undead city.

The year 146 B.C.E. saw the destruction by Rome of both Carthage and Corinth. What makes these two events significantly different? (3) One simple answer (4) would be that the destruction of Corinth was didactically conceived within the process of the education of the Greeks. Perhaps more importantly, the destruction of Carthage constituted the destruction of a rival towards which the Romans had already constructed a relationship of identification. One of the most perceptive readers of Mediterranean culture, Scipio Africanus the Younger, sums up this relationship at the fall of the city, when he confesses that he fears the same fate for Rome. The destruction of Carthage, therefore, and the retrospective construction of Carthage as a place that must be destroyed, mark an important place in the Roman social imaginary. Carthage becomes the place that cannot be assimilated within the Roman system of empire and, moreover, irreducible to a Roman totality of knowledge. Yet the destruction of this place is precisely what liberates it to represent the irreducible in abstraction; around the idea of Carthage Roman obsessions about empire and death come to accrue. It is no accident that Lucretius, writing to dispel humanity's fear of death, turns to the memories of the Punic wars as a means of imagining annihilation or nonbeing:
  Therefore death is nothing to us and matters not one bit, since the
  nature of the mind is considered to be mortal. And just as we felt no
  distress with regard to past time, when the Carthaginians were coming
  to battle from all sides, when everything was shaken by the terrifying
  tumult of war, and, shivering, trembled under the high vaults of the
  heavens, and was in doubt under whose domination all humankind on
  land and sea must eventually fall; so, when we are no more [ubi non
  erimus], when body and soul, from which we are made one, are split,
  then surely nothing can affect us, who are no more [qui non erimus],
  nor can anything cause us sensation, even if the earth mingles with
  the sea and the sea with the sky. (3.830-42)

Lucretius's reference to the great wars of the past is taken to be sardonic: (5) just as his contemporaries can feel no distress about a crisis that gripped the world before they were born, so they should not fear what will happen after they die. At the same time, the trembling ancestors are facing the possibility of their own annihilation. The dominion of the world will pass either to Rome or to Carthage; there is no symbolic place in that world for the loser of the struggle. In that sense the loss of world rule would be, for the Romans, a symbolic death. Lucretius, therefore, presents his readers not just with an example of how the past cannot inspire fear in the present, but with an example from the past of the fear of death experienced nationally rather than individually. In so doing, he perhaps undercuts his own argument, since the concept of Rome's destruction, although safely confined to the past, is not necessarily something that Lucretius's readers could contemplate without emotion. The argument is predicated upon an assumption that history has no potency in the present--a dangerously confident assumption to make about Roman culture, even if you are a Roman. More importantly, for the purpose of this paper, this exemplum demonstrates the association between the struggle for empire (in dubioque fuere utrorum ad regna cadendum) and the struggle against death and annihilation. Lucretius's insistence on the future nonexistence of himself and his readers (ubi non erimus ... qui non erimus tum ...) creates the association of Carthage with death, in that both Carthage and death are defined as "not-us," as an absence of Rome, but an absence precisely conceptualized from within Rome. "Fear of death," which Lucretius attempts to rationalize away, becomes synonymous with "meaningful existence" for the Roman citizen; even when the source of fear has been physically removed, it remains necessary for it to be invoked in discourse.

Lacan's positioning of das Ding as both central and (therefore) excluded is suggestive here because of his use of topography, as well as temporality, to convey the paradox:
  Simply by writing it on the board and putting das Ding at the center,
  with the subjective world of the unconscious organized in a series of
  signifying relations around it, you can see the difficulty of
  topographical representation. The reason is that das Ding is at the
  center only in the sense that it is excluded. That is to say, in
  reality das Ding has to be posited as exterior, as the prehistoric
  Other that it is impossible to forget--the Other whose primacy of
  position Freud affirms in the form of something entfremdet, something
  strange to me, although it is at the heart of me, something that on
  the level of the unconscious only a representation can represent.
  (1992: 71) (6)

In terms of both space and temporality, Carthage occupies the ideal position from which to serve as such a representation. It is at the heart of the Roman imperialist drive insofar as its colonization is unthinkable. It preexists Rome as the enemy of Rome. It is impossible to forget (as Lucretius and most other Roman writers remind us) because its destruction is not accompanied by the loss of Roman desire for its destruction. Note how Pliny moves from delenda to deleta, from desire to aftermath of fulfillment of desire; the achievement of the Roman desire is precisely the least interesting feature of Carthage for the Romans. What survives as the aftermath, what I have referred to as Carthage and glossed as "the undead city," (7) appears as the objet petit a, or surplus-enjoyment. This apparition, moreover, comes about by means of the symbolization of Carthage within the Roman worldview. In that respect this irreducible element, which resists Roman symbolization but is required to frame and structure the Roman world, does not escape but rather is a product of that process of symbolization:
  '[T]he remainder' (what [Lacan] calls the objet petit a) is not
  simply the remainder of the Thing, but the remainder of the signifier
  itself which retroactively establishes the dimension of the Thing; it
  is not the remainder of some 'matter' that the signifier was incapable
  of 'transforming' into the symbolic, it is the remainder, the outcast,
  the 'spittle' of the self-referential dynamics of signifiers.
  (Zupancic 190-91; original emphases)

So the Romans have their Thing. But before moving on to Cato, I want to return briefly to the est, the present tense embedded in the irretrievable pastness of Carthago deleta est, and to place it next to my own easy assumption of the present tense in the paragraphs above (an assumption I share with many others working in the discipline of classical studies). There are many effects achieved by the use of the present tense (the construction of a continuum from here to antiquity, for example), but one effect is the consistent denial--at the semantic level and therefore at the heart of the matter--to see the Romans as dead. Our own relationship with Rome, in other words, is another matter that needs at some point to be explored; here I have space only for general questions about the place of Carthage in the imaginary of the classicist (or of moderns more generally). If Romans think about Carthage as a way to think, or to avoid thinking, about symbolic death, what is the fascination of Carthago delenda for modernity? (8) Does Carthage present us with the specter of our world without a Roman past, a specter in other words of our own impossibility, while we construct, through the figure of Cato, the historical necessity of our own existence?

See Fig 1

Cato corresponds to the Hegelian image of the "world-historical individual ... whose aims embody a universal concept." (9) Cato creates a set of conditions that seem to be only his interest, doing so with a single-mindedness that cannot be mistaken for narrow-mindedness, as Charles-Picard's assertion at the start of this paper attests. The opacity of Cato to historical understanding, however, arises from the apparent absence of any individual satisfaction to be gained from his actions:
   Up till that time, Cato had not been particularly fanatical in his
   anti-Punic views. He must therefore have seen something in Africa
   which led him to take up a radical and unyielding position. What was
   it? (Charles-Picard 289)

If we try to understand Cato's actions only according to criteria of "rationality" and "emotion," we may well remain perplexed, (10) just as we will never understand what he saw in Africa if we imagine that what Cato did see corresponded to a lived Carthaginian reality. But if we start from the supposition that Cato is both thinking within and transforming an ideological fantasy within which Carthage occupies a certain relationship to Rome, we can regain the capacity to analyze the logic, and the passion, of his responses.

What did Cato see in Africa? The rest of Charles-Picard's paragraph is taken up with a rather odd refutation:
   He must therefore have seen something in Africa which led him to take
   up a radical and unyielding position. What was it? He had admired the
   fertility of the estates, but this cannot have been a revelation to
   him: he was a disciple of that agricultural expert, Mago, and knew
   better than any how competent the Carthaginians were in this field.
   There does not seem to be any reason why the fear of competition from
   Carthaginian speculative agriculture should suddenly lead Cato to
   adopt such extremist views. (289)

Why does Charles-Picard bother to discount something that no historian would surely advance as a prime cause for Cato's hostility? Perhaps because the fertility and beauty of Carthage tend to appear in the ancient sources in the context of Cato's visit to the city--to the extent that in Appian's history (to which I will turn later) the envoys return to Rome anxiously protesting that it is fear, not jealousy, which motivates their strategic advice. (11) Plutarch's account of Cato's visit to Carthage focuses on these signs of prosperity, and suggests that Carthage is feared not merely as a military threat, but as a site of outrageous pleasure:
  But he found the city not, as the Romans supposed, in a distressed and
  poorly state, but abounding with many men in their prime, filled with
  great wealth, full of weapons of all types and warlike preparations
  and because of these not at all in low spirits. He thought that the
  Romans should not be taking care of the administration and arbitration
  of the affairs of Massinissa and the Numidians, but that if they did
  not repress this city which had been hostile and sullen towards them
  for all time and had increased in size beyond belief [or,
  suspiciously], they would be back in the same dangers as before. (Cat.
  Mai. 53.3)

The emphasis on how full Carthage is of all warlike paraphernalia represents it primarily as a military threat, but the conclusion--the dangerous pleasure that Carthage itself seems to take in its own plenitude--appears to strike Cato with particular force. And in a sense this notion of Carthage as a site of enjoyment informs Cato's choice of visual example, by which he attempts to convince the Romans of the need to destroy their rival. In a gesture as famous as his words, he produces figs from Carthage in the Roman Senate:
  Besides this, they say, Cato purposely dropped some Libyan figs in the
  Senate as he threw his toga over his shoulder, then when the senators
  wondered at their great size and beauty, he said that the land which
  had borne these was only three days' sail from Rome. But the next
  thing he did was more violent, namely, his practice when declaring his
  opinion on any subject at any time of saying in addition this: "And it
  seems to me that Carthage should not exist." (Cat. Mai. 54.1-2)

While the primary point of the figs is to convey the dangerous proximity of Carthage to Rome--that is, they operate as synecdoche--their first effect seems to be to symbolize the luxuriant growth of that city; that is, they operate as metaphor. (12) Like Carthage, the figs have grown to an incredible extent, so that their size and beauty affect the senators with admiration and wonder, perhaps too with pleasure. The extent to which the figs then symbolize not Carthage's proximity but its condition continues to resonate in Cato's famous gnome, so that he seems to be saying that Carthage should not exist because such pleasures should not exist.

Indeed, the choice of figs in this regard may reinforce the sense that Carthage represents excessive pleasure, since the fig, among ancient Romans, was associated with the female breast. The ficus Ruminalis, site of the suckling of Romulus and Remus, is perhaps the best-known instance of this juxtaposition, (13) but Cato's choice of a fig to stand for the incredible growth of Carthage seems to evoke similar resonances, especially when he brings about his disclosure of the figs by shaking them out of the folds of his toga. I will return later to the question of where the figs come from, but here their emergence from the bosom of Cato suggests that they represent a fetishized body part, one whose beauty and size are a source of wonder, but whose pleasure in its own existence is a cause for anxiety. Lacan's remarks on envy, in the context of the famous Augustine quotation, serves as a commentary on this passage as well:
    Such is true envy--the envy that makes the subject pale before the
    image of a completeness closed upon itself, before the idea that the
    petit a, the separated a from which he is hanging, may be for
    another the possession that gives satisfaction, Befriedigung.
    (1977a: 116)

So does the fig "establish the dimension" of the Thing? That is to say, does it here embody enjoyment? We can approach this by returning to the senators' reaction to the figs. The Senate is thaumasanton (struck with wonder), yet this reaction can be seen to approximate a fascinated horror, for what Cato shows them is presented in two stages and in two different states. Plutarch does not have Cato simply hold the figs up for the Senate to see; rather, Cato drops the ripe figs on the floor, simultaneously displaying the excessively perfect fruit and the mess of flesh smeared on the floor of the Curia. (14) Or, more precisely, the extent to which the figs stand for enjoyment deforms them in the eyes of the senators; even as they wonder at the size and beauty of the fruit, it is transformed into a disgusting substance that stains the surface of the Curia.

A Fold in History

It is important to emphasize that, whatever this fig may mean for the Carthaginians, for Cato it is not food; rather, it embodies an enjoyment in which Cato cannot (apparently) participate, and which seems to lie at the heart of his aggression towards Carthage. Lacan, when discussing this type of reaction, comments on it as "strange" and "odd" (indeed, as only communicable in German):
    [T]his register of a jouissance as that which is only accessible to
    the other is the only dimension in which we can locate the strange
    malaise that, if I'm not mistaken, only the German language has
    managed to point to ... with the word Lebensneid.
      Lebensneid is not an ordinary jealousy, it is the jealousy born in
    a subject in his relation to an other, insofar as this other is held
    to enjoy a certain form of jouissance or superabundant vitality
    that the subject perceives as something he cannot apprehend by means
    of even the most elementary of affective movements. Isn't it
    strange, very odd, that a being admits to being jealous of something
    in the other to the point of hatred and the need to destroy, jealous
    of something that he is incapable of apprehending in any way, by any
    intuitive path? The identification of this other virtually in the
    form of a concept may in itself suffice to provoke the movement of
    malaise concerned.... (1992: 237)

To explore how this oddity becomes articulated in the case of Cato, I want to look further into the folds of his toga from which the figs emerge. The gesture is normalized by one commentator, David Sansone, who assimilates them to the trouser pockets of modernity; (15) but the story remains fascinating, for the folds of classical drapery have an aesthetic resonance for us that trouser pockets do not. To discover that these elegant curves habitually bore the residue of everyday life is to mess up the clean narrative sweep of the classical past. That the folds of Cato's toga extrude something as beautiful and as horrifying as the Libyan fig (and its consequences) should cause us to turn back to the fold itself. Specifically, the link between the fig and the act of aggression towards the Carthaginians seems to gain further resonances by concentrating thus on where the fig comes from. The fold in the text, to use Derrida's formulation, partakes of both inside and outside; the fold in the toga creates a space within which both time and space seem to escape their usual regulation, and one sign of this is perhaps the emergence from the fold of enjoyment and its accompanying hatred.

Folds appear to multiply. The fold in Cato's toga at the "start" of the Third Punic War is doubled by the fold in a Roman envoy's toga at the start of the Second. This earlier fold played a role in the declaration of that war, which occurred in a peculiar (and unremarked on) fashion:
    Then the Roman, having made a fold in his toga, said: "In here I
    carry to you war and peace: take whichever you please." In reply to
    this speech there was a universal shout, no less fierce, that he
    should give whichever he wished. And when he, after shaking out the
    fold again, said that he gave them war, they all replied that they
    accepted it and that they would fight it in the same spirit in which
    they had accepted. (Livy 21.18.13-14)

Within the fold reside, for a moment, two irreconcilables: war and peace. This is the true either/or situation, for once the fold has gone, only one option will remain. But while the fold remains, the historical agents are suspended in a situation of expanded possibilities. (16) Yet when this opposition is presented to the Carthaginians, it appears as an instance of the "forced choice" and will be echoed by the later choice offered to them by the Roman Senate before the Third Punic War. Moreover, the creation of this fold by the unnamed Roman envoy indicates a self-consciousness about the process of history within which he acts; the Roman comments on the historical process of choosing between war and peace while remaining part of that process. The envoy, then, is "inside" the story, presenting the choice to the Carthaginians, and "outside" the story, presenting this choice as a momentary fold in the historical process.

If this seems to be an excessively textual reading of the fold in the envoy's toga, it is worth looking at Livy's source for this story--the Histories of Polybius--where the fold in the toga, holding peace and war, is replaced by an explicitly textual fold:
    I interrupted my narrative to enter on this digression at the point
    where the Roman ambassadors were at Carthage. After listening to the
    Carthaginians' statement of their case, they made no other reply but
    the following. The oldest member of the embassy, pointing to the
    bosom of his toga, told the Senate that it held both war and peace
    for them: therefore he would let fall from it and leave with them
    whichever of the two they bade him. The Carthaginian Suffete bade
    him let fall whichever the Romans chose, and when the envoy said he
    would let fall war, many of the senators cried out at once, "We
    accept it." The ambassadors and the Senate parted on these terms.
    (Polybius 3.33.1-4)

The reader might well ask where Livy got his fold in the toga, since Polybius refers merely to the envoy pointing to the bosom of his garment. Now, one could argue that the bosom of any toga must necessarily be made up of folds, but Livy emphatically gives us not merely the fold, but the action of folding (sinu ex toga facto). I think that Livy here is being a very clever reader of his very clever predecessor. Polybius presents us with two incompatible accounts of the envoys' exchange with the Carthaginian Senate, of which this is the second. The first begins thus at 3.20.6: "The Romans ... at once appointed ambassadors and sent them posthaste to Carthage, giving the Carthaginians the option of two alternatives, the one of which, if they accepted it, entailed disgrace and damage, while the other would give rise to extreme trouble and peril"; the passage continues with an extended account of the arguments on both sides. These two accounts, however, do not require reconciliation by the narrator because they exist on opposite sides of a digression that thus functions, like the fold, by encompassing incompatibles. Digressions are, of course, places where narrator and reader frequently display a heightened awareness of the interplay of externality and internality in texts. What Polybius does here is to turn that awareness into an analogy between the narrator and the historical agent about whom he narrates. Livy, in turn, conflates narrator and agent by having his envoy self-consciously make a fold, alluding to Polybius's digression, and then shake it out, thereby reentering the historical process. What the logic of the fold has to tell us is that the precisions of historical understanding--based on temporal structures, homological proof, and a chain of cause and effect--cannot fully account for the representation of war at the limit of its declaration.

The earlier fold, then, appears as a place created for incompatibles, but one from which an act of aggression emerges. Indeed, between the folds such distinctions as "later" and "earlier" are suspended. When Cato makes a fold in his toga, a number of temporal differences are elided: what lies between the Second and Third Punic Wars, between Cato's actions and the first response of the Senate, between Cato's words and their actualization by Scipio Africanus. This last conflation is in part effected by the first: Cato, by making a fold and mimicking the envoy at Carthage, acts as if he were declaring war, uttering words that will be fulfilled in acts. (17) What is strange and odd at the end of this exploration is that Cato's gesture is regarded by Plutarch as less violent than his words.

Show and Tell

What can Cato say that is "more violent" or "more forceful" than what he has already done? While the gesture of the fold allows for many interpretations, the strongest of which marks out Carthage as a place of perverse enjoyment, the soundbite asserts the absolute necessity of Carthage's nonexistence. (18) In another way, however, the soundbite is less explicit than the gesture; that is, if we see in the fig the remainder of the Thing, the bit of Real that constitutes the perverse enjoyment of Carthage, Cato's soundbite does not explicate the Thing but rather interposes in front of it the desire of destroying Carthage. As I argued above, this circuit of desire into which the Romans become locked survives (finds its "fulfillment" in) the destruction of Carthage. It is this desire that retrospectively establishes Carthage as das Ding. From this perspective, our question about Cato's words might be not "Why are they are more violent?" but "Towards whom are they more violent?"

This perspective can also illuminate Plutarch's elaboration of the debate between Cato and Scipio Nasica. The exchange barely earns the title of debate, for every time Cato's gnome is given voice, it is echoed in reverse by Scipio Nasica. Existing in a weird temporality, Scipio is said by Plutarch to have "always made a habit of" doing this, as if he has abandoned his individual self to become a negative image of Cato himself. The two figures, endlessly repeating the same gnomai, have a cartoon quality of nightmarish repetition to them:
    But the next thing [Cato] did was more violent, namely, his practice
    when declaring his opinion on any subject at any time of saying in
    addition this: "And it seems to me that Carthage should not exist."
    In opposition to this Publius Scipio Nasica always made a habit of
    declaring his position by saying: "It seems to me that Carthage
    should exist." (Cat. Mai. 54.1-2)

Perhaps the violence of Cato's practice consists in his reduction of himself and his opponent to automata, always and endlessly repeating their refrain. Yet Nasica is elaborated by Plutarch and other writers not as a mere echo of Cato but as the one who "got it right," the one whose fears for the fate of a successful Rome were spot on. Plutarch puts it thus:
    For, it seems, since he saw that the people were transgressing badly
    at this point because of arrogance [hubris], and because of their
    prosperity and insolence they were difficult for the Senate to
    control, and through their power [dunamis] they were dragging the
    whole city along with them wherever their passions led, he wanted
    that fear at least placed on them like a bridle, as a corrective to
    the audacity of the mob, thinking that the Carthaginians were not
    strong enough to prevail over the Romans but were too strong to be
    despised. (Cat. Mai. 54.3)

This is a well-known historical commonplace, where the fear of an external enemy inspires the Romans to virtue, its best-known occurrence in Sallust's history. This topos is projected onto Scipio Nasica almost every time he is mentioned. Just like Cato he appears as a transhistorical figure; Cato's words translate into actions and Nasica's operate as commentaries in advance of the consequences of those actions. Yet it would be too simple just to say "Nasica got it right," since this overlooks the weirdness of his new habit, of always saying the same thing, and since it also overlooks the continued extent of his dependence upon Cato's initial statement in order to formulate his position--that is, Cato has started Nasica thinking about the nonexistence of Carthage. (19)

But it is in Nasica's repetition of Cato that we are alerted to the main oddity of the soundbite. (20) Both speakers not only reorganize their rhetorical practice, but in one sense abandon rhetorical practice altogether. The soundbite does not vary in accordance to the context of, say, any senatorial response, or indeed of the specific speeches to which the soundbite is appended. Plutarch emphasizes this when he says that Cato "declaring his opinion on any subject at any time [peri pantos ou depote pragmatos]" would add these unchanging words.

We may for a moment compare this reported practice with another famous obsessive repetition in Roman politics: Cicero's repeated assertion that Catiline must die. Within the context of the four Catilinarian orations, we see this repetition elaborated, inverted, modified in the light of objections, and reframed in the context of whether Cicero is speaking in the Senate or before the popular assembly. In other words, the varied repetition conjures up for us the picture of a rich historical context, the development of arguments, the effect of changing circumstances, the requirements of different audiences. Cato's soundbite gives us nothing of this: it barely works as oratory, (21) either in the time in which it was given or for the historicist reader of the present. This too is what renders it disturbingly transhistorical.

Two points can be made in consequence of the above. The first is that the intransigence of the soundbite to the demands of context derives from its rendering of desire, the desire to destroy that the soundbite interposes between the senators and the Real of enjoyment. The second point requires that we (perversely, in the light of what I have just stated) contextualize the soundbite as a stage in Cato's rhetorical career, at least as it was charted in Plutarch. The importance of speech for Cato is stressed early in the biography:
    He acquired and honed his technique in speaking [ton de logon], as a
    second body [deuteron soma] and an instrument of good things,
    absolutely necessary to a man intending to lead a life which is
    neither lowly nor ineffectual. (Cat. Mai. 28.5)

I wish to emphasize here the formulation of public oratory as a second body. Within this formulation the intransigent soundbite, appended to but not incorporated within the speech, stands forth as a detachable, excessive extra body part, analogous to the fig that emerges from Cato's toga, like a female breast, an unnecessary addition to the male orator's body. But the removal or detachment of the soundbite from the speech, or of the "breast" from the body, also works perversely, since it is this surplus that remains while the speech/body disappears.

We have now two obsessives who have reorganized their rhetorical practices to include this repeated exchange as a habit. I use the term obsessive because behind each man or his actions there appears an anxiety that if they do not repeat the formula over and over again, something unspeakable might not happen. (22) Plutarch, in a sense, reassures them by skipping the attempted relocation of the city of Carthage (which was the first action to arise out of this debate); instead, he moves straight to the war and Scipio's fulfillment of Cato's words. But here let us take time out from Plutarch and look at the logic of the relocation.


Cato says, "Carthage must not exist"; Nasica, "Carthage must exist." The Senate's response to this in other sources might initially seem ridiculously inept, like Dilbert's pointy-haired boss who, presented with an incompatible either/or question, enthusiastically responds, "Let's do both!" Yet in another sense the Senate's decision to relocate Carthage shows an awareness of the further resonances of the CatoNasica debate. "Carthage must be allowed to exist," that is, the Carthaginian people should not be annihilated in the interests of world rule. The important point to make explicit here is that both sides of the Cato-Nasica debate are concerned with Rome's interests, Rome's desire. The most extensive discussion over relocating Carthage takes place in Appian's history of these wars, and the relation of Carthage to the desire of Rome is highlighted there in a passage all the more chilling for the fact that it is focalized through the Carthaginians:
   The Senate, who had long ago decided to make war and who were looking
   for a pretext, made this judgment: that the Carthaginians had not
   satisfactorily defended themselves in the eyes of the Romans. Once
   more, then, much distressed, the Carthaginians asked if they appeared
   to have made some error [hamartein], what they must undergo to redeem
   themselves from this accusation. The Senate replied thus in a phrase:
   "Do what is satisfactory [hikanon] for the Romans." ... Since the
   Carthaginians were at a loss, once more they sent to Rome and
   demanded to know precisely what was "satisfactory" for the Romans.
   And the answer was that the Carthaginians knew very well, and having
   answered thus they sent the Carthaginians away. (Pun. 74)

This repeated demand for satisfaction from the Romans articulates in abbreviated form their relation to the Carthaginians as the possessor of something they cannot apprehend. It is not that Rome expects Carthage to satisfy its demand--quite the opposite, for it expects Carthage to be never quite enough for them. This is their expression of how they do not apprehend Carthage's enjoyment.

What is interesting about this staging of the incident is the strong sense of Carthaginian perplexity (a disturbing glimpse into the life of one forced to play the other). The key moment here is when the Carthaginians ask what error they have made, what hamartia has been committed. The question innocently puts the Romans on the spot by asking "according to which symbolic system do you judge us?" To which the answer has already been given as Rhomaiois (to the Romans). (The key word in the response is not hikanon but Rhomaiois.) That the Carthaginians are presumed to know this is entirely congruent with their status in the Roman imaginary. The refusal of the Senate to state more clearly what would be "satisfactory" relates back to the dual demands with which this section began: Carthage must/must not be allowed to exist.

Relocation answers that demand, and the consul Censorinus, in Appian's account, defends the relocation to the Punic envoys with the words, "We considered you, not the ground, to be Carthage" (Appian, Pun. 89). At the same time, however, the Senate acknowledges Cato's demand, "Carthage must not be allowed to exist," that is, Carthage qua "Carthage," the horrific site of uncontainable enjoyment. Again, Censorinus's rationalization in Appian's account suggests that Carthage's relocation makes sense when viewed as Roman control of excessive pleasure, since he enjoins the Carthaginians to give up the delights of maritime life for the safer gains of agriculture. Given the primacy of Carthage in innovating agricultural methods at the time, we can find some ironies in this sermonizing:
   "Life inland, O Carthaginians, is more reliable, given over to
   agriculture and calm: perhaps the profits of agriculture are smaller
   than those of trade, but they are more certain and much less
   dangerous. On the whole it seems to me that a city based on the sea
   is more like a ship than like ground, having much unsteady tossing
   and overturning of its affairs, while a city inland reaps the fruits
   of safety on solid ground." (Pun. 87)

Censorinus is here recycling a passage from Plato's Laws, which emphasizes the moral necessity of a city being a reasonable distance from the sea. This use of Platonic philosophy adds moral and rational to physical force, and suggests, as Charles-Picard perceptively puts it, that the relocation "was intended to re-integrate [Carthage] into that order of things which conformed to the plans of Providence and to the laws of wisdom which Rome felt she had been called upon to establish." (23) For Carthage to be integrated into the Roman symbolic network, however, is for it to cease to be "Carthage," the irreducible alien. "Carthage," in that sense then, will no longer exist. The choice thus is "be destroyed or ... be destroyed," a "forced choice" more nakedly aggressive than that of the envoys before the Second Punic War who merely presented the choice of war and peace.

One final point about Censorinus's use of Plato is worth remarking. Censorinus emphasizes the distance that Carthage must move from the sea in order to survive (as Carthage) and to be destroyed (as "Carthage"): eighty stades. This is repeated at the end of the speech, just before his definition of what Carthage is, as quoted above: "We considered you, not the ground, to be Carthage" (Appian, Pun. 89). Censorinus then reminds the envoys that Rome itself is further than eighty stades from the sea. The comparison is made in order to point out how reasonable the Romans are being, how the new Carthaginians will not be so far from the sea after all. But if this claim too is mapped onto the Platonic paradigm from which it is derived, we are reminded that in Plato the ideal city must be further than eighty stades from the sea:
   As things are, however, there is consolation in the fact of those
   eighty stades. Still, it lies unduly near the sea, and the more so
   because, as you say, its harbors are good; that however, we must make
   the best of. (Leg. 704e)

Even the relocation of Carthage, then, will not redeem it from its mercantile decadence, since according to the Platonic model it just fails to make it to the finishing line, while Rome remains serenely within the boundary of the ideal city. The choice offered to the Carthaginians at this point had always seemed to be no choice: relocate or be destroyed. Now we see that even in the arguments for relocation the Carthaginians are bound to lose: relocate and escape your current decadent situation, placed too close to the sea; relocate instead to a new position, already prepared in advance for you as decadent, still just too close to the sea. The Romans retain the opt-out clause of being able to describe Carthage again as a site of excessive pleasure, and they turn the screw once more in their presentation of the choice as a choice.

Cicero's reworking of this passage of the Laws in his De republica makes explicit the aggressivity of the analogy. He has Scipio, speaking after the destruction of Carthage, using both Carthage and Corinth as examples of the decadent maritime city:
   There is, however, a sort of corruption and transformation of morals
   to be found in maritime cities; for they are intermingled with new
   languages and practices, and it is not just the trade of foreigners
   that gets imported, but their morals too, so that nothing of
   ancestral institutions can remain uninfluenced. Those who inhabit
   such cities do not stay settled but are taken far from home by
   speculation and unstable hopes, and even when they remain at home in
   body, still in spirit they are exiles and wanderers. Indeed, nothing
   was so influential in the downfall of Carthage and Corinth, both of
   which had been tottering for some time, than this instability and
   weakening of the civic body, because in their desire for trade and
   sailing they abandoned agriculture and warfare. [Again we can see the
   ironies of this.] To be sure, there are many temptations to luxury,
   very dangerous for city-states, which are supplied from the sea, and
   taken up or imported; and even the very pleasant location itself has
   its many allurements of extravagant or indolent desires. (Rep. 2.5-8)

Here again we see the dynamic to which I referred at the start of this paper, where from the post eventum perspective the city of Carthage is viewed as already holding the potential for its own destruction. The statement in particular--that the instability and decadence of the Carthaginians and Corinthians themselves caused the downfall of those cities--occludes not only the Roman acts of destruction but also the Roman construction of the cities as pleasure-grounds. We also see the relocation of Carthage from target audience of the philosophical argument in Appian to exemplum within the argument in Cicero. The final twist to Cicero's treatment of the topic is in Scipio's explicit citation of sources. While Cicero is working with a Platonic source, Scipio announces at the start of De republica 2 that he is working here from the example of his teacher and mentor, the elder Cato.

See Fig 2

Plutarch (50-120 C.E.) finds an astute reader in the elder Pliny (23-79 C.E.), who inserts the story of the Libyan figs into his disquisition on figs in general. In Pliny's account, Cato's use of fig itself effects the relocation of Carthage:
   But the fig called "Africana" by Cato at that time reminds me of an
   exceptional demonstration in which he made use of this fruit. When he
   was inflamed with a deadly hatred of Carthage and was worried about
   the safety of his descendants, and so was declaiming in every meeting
   of the Senate that Carthage must be destroyed, one particular day he
   brought into the Senate house a very ripe fig from that province, and
   displaying it to the senators he said: "Now, I ask you, when do you
   think this fruit was plucked from the tree?" When they all agreed
   that it was freshly plucked [recens], he said: "Actually you should
   know that it was picked the day before yesterday at Carthage: so
   close is the enemy to our walls!" At once they embarked on the Third
   Punic War, in which Carthage was destroyed, although Cato had died in
   the year after the war began. What should we marvel at first in this
   story, the foresight of this talented man or the use of chance
   opportunity, the swiftness of the outcome, or the forcefulness of the
   man himself? Above all else, what I think is the most marvellous,
   that so great a city, the one rival of Rome in the whole world for
   120 years, was ruined by the evidence of one piece of fruit, which
   not Trebia, not Trasimene, not Cannae with its entombing of the Roman
   name could effect, nor the Punic camp set up at the third milestone
   from Rome and Hannibal himself riding up to the Colline gate: so much
   closer did Cato bring Carthage by means of this fruit. (HN 15.74-76)

It is not merely the portability of the fig but also its use for enargeia that bring Carthage, so to speak, home to the Romans. Here the beauty and the pleasurability of the fig are implicit in its ripeness, which, however, conveys a message of more urgency to the senators: just as a ripe fig requires immediate consumption, so too Carthage must be destroyed before it "spoils." And here in the Pliny passage we see the immediacy of the move from Carthago delenda to Carthago deleta. In one sense, Pliny does not have to include the story of the attempted relocation, not only because it would undermine his point about enargeia, but also because Cato has, as I have suggested, already relocated Carthage by producing the fig in Rome; and that is the point of Pliny's conclusion. But it also suggests that the ripe fig here does not stand so much for the pleasures of Carthage (as it seems to do in the Plutarch passage) as for the pleasures of consuming Carthage and its pleasures. The beauty of the fig, here embodied in its ripeness, does not appear so much self-contained as directed outwards: the fig here as a commodity produced for the pleasure of others.

Now at first this may seem to tighten the stranglehold that the Roman ideological fantasy has upon the (now limited) lived reality of the Carthaginians. Just as Censorinus's use of the Platonic model circumscribes the Carthaginians within a definition of decadence wherever they may choose to live, so this gesture of the ripe fig encapsulates Carthage as "that which must be destroyed," whether it is decadent or not. Nevertheless, the flourishing here of the fig in the Senate, and the implicit injunction to consume, represent the pleasures of Carthage in the form of an importable commodity. The dubious pleasures of the maritime city are being brought home to Rome in every sense. Indeed, if it were not for the context of Cato's repeated warnings, his gesture here could be read as an encouragement to the Romans to make use of this ready supply of fresh fruit, a mere three days' sail from the city. The fig, moreover, can be grafted onto an Italian tree, and so even the more sober pleasures of agriculture, the art most cultivated by Cato himself, are prey to Punic infection. The context of Pliny's story, we remember, is the description of different strains of fig, and it is clear from this that the Africana has now become a native of Italy.

The use of the fig, therefore, rebounds upon Cato, as he brings Carthage up to the walls of Rome, not merely as a threat to be eradicated, but as a symbol of moral degeneration and dangerous pleasure which has already taken root. If, however, we follow the hypothesis of F. J. Meijer who argues that Cato's figs came from his own estates, we can see them as Italian produce standing (in) for Carthaginian. (24) What Cato is holding up, then, symbolizes Carthage as an integral kernel of his ideology, which at the same time resists being entirely absorbed into the Roman social imaginary. Hence the paradoxical "recentness" of the fig: the senators of Cato's day remark that this particular fig is recens, while Pliny earlier in his disquisition states that the African variety is a recent introduction to Italy (nuperrime transierit, HN 15.69). The inconsistency conveys the position of the irreducible Carthaginian, embedded in the Roman imaginary, as always already recent: semper ex Africa aliquid novi.


One final detail of the Pliny passage demands comment. The naming of the fig as Africana is ascribed also to Cato: a Catone appellata iam tum Africana. (Note that we are told that the fig is named by Cato before we are told what it is named.) This appellation is another place where the irreducibility of the fig is situated; it may flourish in Italy for centuries, but by its name it will always be marked as alien (and recently introduced). It also creates a curious congruence between the fig of Carthage and the eradicator of Carthage--the younger Scipio Africanus--whose actions, as the Plutarch quotation with which I started makes clear, stand as a fulfillment of Cato's words. Indeed, Cicero's Scipio at the start of De republica 2, which I mentioned earlier, acknowledges his debt to Cato as the educator of his youth: just as Cato raises African figs from Italian trees, so too he nurtures the mind of Scipio Africanus. But while the African name in the former instance denotes an ineradicable place of origin (no matter how long the figs are in Italy, they will always be Africanae), the name in the latter instance notoriously stands for an object destroyed by the one who then bears its name. And, more disturbingly, the distinction between these two uses of the name is nowhere to be seen in the form of the name itself. Both Africana and Africanus, moreover, are used by Cato as tools to destroy the city.

Scipio's actions in destroying Carthage are subordinated to Cato's will so that he is denied full agency in his own history. We are reminded of this towards the end of Plutarch's biography, when he recapitulates Scipio's role as fulfiller of Cato's words and links it with Scipio's character:
  So in this way Cato is said to have accomplished the third and last
  war against the Carthaginians, although he died before the war began,
  (25) having uttered an oracular statement about the man fated to
  fulfill the end of the war, who was at that time a young man, but as
  military tribune on campaign had displayed evidence of both his wisdom
  and his daring in battle. They say that Cato, hearing the accounts of
  him brought back to Rome, said: "Only he is wise, the others glide
  about as shades." And Scipio soon after confirmed this judgment. (Cat.
  Mai. 54.5-7)

I argued at the start of this paper that the temporality of Carthago delenda makes of Cato's speech an address to the future; here his words are explicitly taken as prophecy, and once more receive their fulfillment in Scipio. Ironically, Cato prophesies about Scipio by likening him to the prophet Teiresias, but I think his choice of quotation has a further resonance not only for Scipio but also for the other Romans. (26) The shades of the Odyssey are deprived of the capacity to speak until they have drunk the blood offered them by Odysseus. Cato appears to be consigning his fellow Romans to a shadow world where their only capacity to speak meaningfully is contingent upon a sacrifice. It is tempting to see the blood of the Carthaginians as the fuel of the Roman symbolic order, not only for Cato's time but in subsequent generations. Indeed, this brief and allusive commentary on the Romans by Cato could be read in conjunction with the Lucretius passage with which I began, in order to suggest other ways in which Rome might conceptualize its own symbolic death.

There are other points to make about the force of the quotation within Plutarch's biography as a whole. Nels Forde comments first on the irony of Cato's return to Homer, and then on how these final words replace the traditional deathbed utterance so beloved of Roman biographical subjects:
  Strange indeed that the last known statement from this famous old man,
  in the absence of any known details about his death, was a quotation
  from a Greek author in praise of an adopted Scipio--symbols he had
  fought all his life. (261) (27)

Cato, of course, can be seen here as fighting back by means of aggressive appropriation, (28) but I am more interested in Forde's suggestion that we read this in place of the final utterance with which a historical character is meant to sum up his life. I think this is interesting for two reasons. First, unlike the deathbed utterance, this statement does not sum up Cato's life; instead, it sums up Scipio's, but does so in advance, as a prophecy that Scipio soon after fulfils, as Plutarch tells us. (More on this in a moment.) The second reason is that it effectively consigns Cato's death to some other place. This is an important point for Pliny as well as for Plutarch, neither of whom narrates Cato's death. In both narratives the fact of Cato's death appears in a concessive clause, asserting his agency in the outbreak of war, although he died the year after the war began (as Pliny says) or although he died before the war began (as Plutarch says). The detail of when he died becomes less important than the fact that his death is irrelevant to the events his words have set in motion.

The prevalence of speech over death returns us to the place of the Underworld, which plays a particular role in framing Plutarch's view of Cato as a biographical character. At the beginning of Cato's "life," Plutarch recounts (Cat. Mai. 28.4) an epigram so as to illustrate Cato's pigmentary disposition; the epigram precisely denies to Cato any access to the Underworld:
  Red-headed, biting every hand, grey-eyed, not even when he's dead Does
  Persephone receive Porcius in Hades.

There is a paradoxical humor to "not even when dead," death being the main qualification for entry to the Underworld. But the main sting of the epigram, as Sansone notes (204), is in the assimilation of Cato to an animal, an assimilation that might be expected not in hell but at the gates of hell. But this "snapping at every hand" seems also to relate to Cato's caustic use of soundbites, which is exemplified throughout Plutarch's biography; as the biographer comments, words are more indicative of character than action. In this respect Cato's speech, as I argued at the beginning, sets him free from time and mortality, and it is perhaps as a reflection of this that both the anonymous epigram and the Homeric quotation hint at visits to the Underworld performed by still living beings. Yet for both Scipio and Cato, to be set free from time and mortality is precisely to be liberated also from the symbolic relation to Carthage, a relation that, as I have suggested throughout this paper, they are pivotal in forming. In particular Cato's soundbite, endlessly and unchangingly snapping at the Carthaginians, sets up a time-free space of implacable hostility; it is the problematic insertion of this hostility into the frame of the historical that confronts us with these provocative oddities. (29)


(1) On the history, or fictionality, of Cato's phrase as it is best known, see Thurlemann. See also the opening remarks of Dubuisson.

(2) This point was made to me by Robin Osborne.

(3) Purcell 131 argues that the destruction of these two cities together formed "a carefully considered statement." My analysis takes a different tack. I will explore the relationship between Carthage and Corinth further in my projected book on Roman fantasies of Carthage.

(4) Space permits here only a most generalized sketch of the complex relationships of Greeks, Romans, and Carthaginians during this period.

(5) Kenney 193.

(6) Slavoj Zizek, talking about national identification in more general terms, puts it thus: "The element which holds together a given community cannot be reduced to the point of symbolic identification: the bond linking together its members always implies a shared relationship toward a Thing, toward Enjoyment incarnated. This relationship toward the Thing, structured by means of fantasies, is what is at stake when we speak of the menace to our 'way of life' presented by the Other ..." (1993: 201).

(7) By conjuring up the image of the vampire here, I intend also to evoke the place of the vampire in the contemporary world, as articulated by Zizek 1991: 47: "The place of the 'living dead' is not somewhere between the dead and the living; it is precisely as the dead that they are 'more alive than life itself,' having access to the life-substance prior to its symbolic mortification."

(8) Although it should be added that, apart from perpetuating the notoriety of the soundbite that I am about to examine, our discipline tends to assume that the study of Carthage entails another resurrection of a city "as it was," external to its symbolization. Both Charles-Picard's and Lancel's books on Carthage, for example, construct a continuous narrative of the city from pre-Roman existence to its destruction. In so doing they miss another point, that Carthage qua Carthage exists only within Roman symbolization, where it appears of course as excluded and therefore central.

(9) Hegel 32.

(10) Just as Burian misses the point in his search for "sober" and "realistic" views of the Roman policy in Africa.

(11) Appian, Pun. 69. On "das Furchtmotif" in Roman policy, see Bellen; Welwei; and the insightful essay of Linderski.

(12) We could perhaps see in this the interpretative move from "Furchtmotif" to "Fruchtmotif" (with thanks to Synnova O'Gorman).

(13) Ogilvie 49 cites the various sources for religious associations of fig trees more generally with procreation.

(14) My thanks to Bob Fowler for teasing out the latent oddness of Cato's gesture in this passage.

(15) Sansone 233.

(16) What we seem to have here is a collapse into one of the later oppositions between Cato and Scipio Nasica--"Carthage must not exist/war" versus "Carthage must exist/peace"--which I will discuss in a moment.

(17) If the fig is the enjoyment of Carthage, we might allow that war is, in our eyes, the enjoyment of Rome. Cf. the fascinating analysis of Harris 53: "Roman imperialism was in large part the result of quite rational behavior on the part of the Romans, but it also had dark and irrational roots. One of the most striking features of Roman warfare is its regularity--almost every year the legions went out and did massive violence to someone--and this regularity gives the phenomenon a pathological character."

(18) I may mention in passing that what both the Greek and the Latin versions of this soundbite have in common is a coy refusal to name the agent of Carthage's destruction/nonexistence. This point came up during discussion of an oral version of this paper at Oxford.

(19) Another point we could make about the Cato-Nasica exchange is that it represents perhaps the most obviously self-sufficient short circuit of the message returned to the sender in its true, inverted form. That is, if we choose to read Cato's words as an expression of fear ("I fear that Carthage will continue to exist"), we can then see Nasica's response as "You fear that Carthage will not continue to exist"; cf. Lacan 1992: 64. But this formulation of the exchange sets up the relationship between the two senators rather differently.

(20) The following paragraphs arose out of discussion with Bob Fowler.

(21) This will be clearest if we compare the sort of repetition we are looking at here with some of the rhetorical figures that explicitly make use of partial repetition, e.g., the combination of antistrophe and epanaphora (conversio et repetitio) which appears in a phrase of Cato's quoted in the Rhetorica ad Herennium: "Who are they who have so often broken treaties? The Carthaginians. Who are they who have waged war most savagely? The Carthaginians. Who are they who have disfigured Italy? The Carthaginians. Who are they who ask for forgiveness? The Carthaginians. See then how satisfactory it is that they get what they ask for" (Rhet. Her. 4.20). As the rhetor comments, this is not a result of verbal poverty; indeed, the repetition aims for an accumulation of Carthaginian crimes that make their pardon all the more unsatisfactory. My point here is that this sort of repetition is not at all what we are dealing with in the case of Cato's gnome under discussion here.

(22) Lacan 1977a: 54: "[I]n obsessional neurosis, the object with relation to which the fundamental experience, the experience of pleasure, is organized, is an object which literally gives too much pleasure.... What in its various advances and many byways the behavior of the obsessional reveals and signifies is that he regulates his behavior so as to avoid what the subject often sees quite clearly as the goal and end of his desire."

(23) Charles-Picard 292.

(24) The quintessentially Catonian pursuit of agriculture, we may recall, was in part learnt from the writings of Mago, which were subsequently translated from Punic into Latin.

(25) The fact that Cato died before the destruction of Carthage is highly suggestive of a similarity between the Cato-Scipio relationship, as it appears in explanations of the Third Punic War, and the relationship between Hannibal and his father Hamilcar, which occupies an analogous position in explanations of the Second War. This clause in particular echoes Polybius's statement on Hamilcar (3.10.7), which I have discussed in detail elsewhere.

(26) The one other Homeric quotation ascribed to Cato is in the context of his teasing of Polybius, Scipio's pet historian (Plutarch, Cat. Mai. 36.3).

(27) The ironies of Cato's "adoption" of Scipio here relate not only to his feud with the elder Scipio Africanus but also to his shadowboxing with Scipio Nasica, as detailed earlier. One question we might ask here is which Scipio is the "true" adopted son of Cato.

(28) Gruen, chap. 2, has provided a significant revision of the image of Cato as anti-Hellenist.

(29) My thanks go first to Mark Buchan and Jim Porter for their invitation to write this paper and for their subsequent encouragement. I delivered versions of parts of this paper at the Oxford Philological Society in 2000 and at the Bristol Research Seminar in 2001. My thanks to all who participated in those debates.

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