Professor Francesca D’Alessandro Behr, Associate Professor of Classics and Italian Studies at UH, spoke about the historical figure Cato the Younger and how he fit into history on Tuesday during a lecture at the Honors commons.
Behr was recently awarded the 2010 Ross M. Lence Teaching Award. This award is given to the teacher who shows excellence in all aspects of teaching in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.
In a brief introduction, Richard Armstrong, Associate Professor of Classical Studies in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, praised Behr for her work.
“(The award) is not just a tribute to her hard work in the classroom: she has been involved in many programs with her work with the Honors College and Women’s Studies, but it is also a tribute to my genius for making sure that she got hired,” he said, drawing laughter from those in attendance.
In a lecture titled “Remembering Liberty: Cato the Younger in Lucan, Dante and Addison,” Behr went into great detail about the life of Cato the Younger and how he was viewed by future historical figures such as Cicero, Dante, Addison and George Washington as a defender of the Republic.
Once Pompeii was killed, Cato was the leader of the republican army. He fought against Caesar coming into Rome to start the civil war, but in the end, he was defeated. The republic perished and Cato decided to take his own life. He did not want to live with the new political situation in Rome.
Yet it is not his defeat that stands out in the minds of historians, rather the fact that he stood up to Caesar and held true to his ideals.
“The picture of Cato is not complete without a mention of Stoicism,” Behr said. “The man who is just and good is the one who can best control himself. Once he has obtained that control over himself, he can lead his life in whatever direction he chooses.”
This is the philosophy that many historical figures admired in Cato. Behr said his steadfastness in his ideals make him a primary reference in that regard.
“He is this solid rock,” she said. “He is this light which has its own splendor.”
Behr also spoke about Cato in Dante’s Divine Comedy and Joseph Addison’s Cato, and of George Washington and how he was a great admirer of Cato’s.
“After the revolt of Newburgh, he employed Cato’s words to convince his officers, who had not been paid and wanted to separate themselves from the war, to join back into the war,” she said.
She also said Washington staged a production of Joseph Addison’s Cato during the winter of 1777 in Valley Forge.
“I always wondered why Washington would stage Cato,” Behr said. “This is a tragedy about defeat of the republic. Not exactly the best play to lift soldier’s morale. But I feel that Washington felt particularly close to this hero and knew he was fighting for a good cause.
“Perhaps he wanted to send the message to his soldiers that ultimately, results do not matter if you want to fight for the best possible cause,” she said.