This article explores the early history of Roman exemplary literature through the case study of the elder Cato’s account of his imitation of the parsimony and self-sufficiency of M’. Curius Dentatus. I reconstruct from Cicero, Plutarch, and other sources a Catonian prose text that unified the exemplary narrative of Curius’ refusal of a bribe from Samnite emissaries with an evocative location at the hearth of a humble Sabine farmstead, an approving “audience” in Cato himself, and a model for the replication of Curius’ virtue. The narrative itself served as the monumentum for the exemplum, and its details are often evoked in place of the exemplary deed itself. I argue that this narrative is both a very early instance of exemplary literature and a self-conscious reflection on the power of literature to transcend temporal and spatial limitations and to extend cultural models for the familial replication of elite virtues to a broader audience.
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