Timeless wisdom on growing old gracefully from one of ancient Rome's greatest philosophers
Worried that old age will inevitably mean losing your libido, your health, and possibly your marbles too? Well, Cicero has some good news for you. In How to Grow Old, the great Roman orator and statesman eloquently describes how you can make the second half of life the best part of alland why you might discover that reading and gardening are actually far more pleasurable than sex ever was.
Filled with timeless wisdom and practical guidance, Cicero's brief, charming classicwritten in 44 BC and originally titled On Old Agehas delighted and inspired readers, from Saint Augustine to Thomas Jefferson, for more than two thousand years. Presented here in a lively new translation with an informative new introduction and the original Latin on facing pages, the book directly addresses the greatest fears of growing older and persuasively argues why these worries are greatly exaggeratedor altogether mistaken.
Montaigne said Cicero's book "gives one an appetite for growing old." The American founding father John Adams read it repeatedly in his later years. And today its lessons are more relevant than ever in a world obsessed with the futile pursuit of youth.
About the Author
Philip Freeman is the editor and translator of How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians and How to Run a Country: An Ancient Guide for Modern Leaders (both Princeton). He is the author of many books, including Oh My Gods: A Modern Retelling of Greek and Roman Myths, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar (all Simon & Schuster). He holds the Orlando W. Qualley Chair of Classical Languages at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.
Read an Excerpt
How to Grow Old
Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life
By Marcus Tullius Cicero, Philip Freeman
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2016 Philip Freeman
All rights reserved.
CATO MAIOR DE SENECTUTE
1. O Tite, si quid ego adiuero curamve levasso, quae nunc te coquit et versat in pectore fixa, ecquid erit praemi?
licet enim mihi versibus eisdem adfari te, Attice, quibus adfatur Flamininum
ille vir haud magna cum re, sed plenus fidei;
quamquam certo scio non, ut Flamininum
sollicitari te, Tite, sic noctesque diesque,
novi enim moderationem animi tui et aequitatem, teque non cognomen solum Athenis deportasse, sed humanitatem et prudentiam intellego. Et tamen te suspicor eisdem rebus quibus me ipsum interdum gravius commoveri, quarum consolatio et maior est et in aliud tempus differenda.
2. Nunc autem est mihi visum de senectute aliquid ad te conscribere. Hoc enim onere, quod mihi commune tecum est, aut iam urgentis aut certe adventantis senectutis et te et me etiam ipsum levari volo, etsi te quidem id modice ac sapienter, sicut omnia, et ferre et laturum esse certo scio; sed mihi, cum de senectute vellem aliquid scribere, tu occurrebas dignus eo munere quo uterque nostrum communiter uteretur. Mihi quidem ita iucunda huius libri confectio fuit ut non modo omnis absterserit senectutis molestias, sed effecerit mollem etiam et iucundam senectutem. Numquam igitur digne satis laudari philosophia poterit, cui qui pareat omne tempus aetatis sine molestia possit degere.
3. Sed de ceteris et diximus multa et saepe dicemus: hunc librum ad te de senectute misimus. Omnem autem sermonem tribuimus non Tithono, ut Aristo Ceus — parum enim esset auctoritatis in fabula — sed Marco Catoni seni, quo maiorem auctoritatem haberet oratio; apud quem Laelium et Scipionem facimus admirantis quod is tam facile senectutem ferat, eisque eum respondentem. Qui si eruditius videbitur disputare quam consuevit ipse in suis libris, attribuito litteris Graecis, quarum constat eum perstudiosum fuisse in senectute. Sed quid opus est plura? Iam enim ipsius Catonis sermo explicabit nostram omnem de senectute sententiam.
4. Scipio: Saepenumero admirari soleo cum hoc Gaio Laelio cum ceterarum rerum tuam excellentem, Marce Cato, perfectamque sapientiam, tum vel maxime quod numquam tibi senectutem gravem esse senserim, quae plerisque senibus sic odiosa est, ut onus se Aetna gravius dicant sustinere.
Cato: Rem haud sane difficilem, Scipio et Laeli, admirari videmini; quibus enim nihil est in ipsis opis ad bene beateque vivendum, eis omnis aetas gravis est; qui autem omnia bona a se ipsi petunt, eis nihil malum potest videri quod naturae necessitas adferat. Quo in genere est in primis senectus; quam ut adipiscantur omnes optant, eandem accusant adeptam: tanta est stultitiae inconstantia atque perversitas. Obrepere aiunt eam citius quam putassent. Primum quis coegit eos falsum putare? Qui enim citius adulescentiae senectus quam pueritiae adulescentia obrepit? Deinde qui minus gravis esset eis senectus, si octingentesimum annum agerent, quam si octogesimum? Praeterita enim aetas quamvis longa, cum effluxisset, nulla consolatione permulcere posset stultam senectutem.
5. Quocirca si sapientiam meam admirari soletis (quae utinam digna esset opinione vestra nostroque cognomine!), in hoc sumus sapientes, quod naturam optimam ducem tamquam deum sequimur eique paremus; a qua non veri simile est, cum ceterae partes aetatis bene descriptae sint, extremum actum tamquam ab inerti poeta esse neglectum. Sed tamen necesse fuit esse aliquid extremum, et tamquam in arborum bacis terraeque fructibus, maturitate tempestiva quasi vietum et caducum, quod ferundum est molliter sapienti. Quid est enim aliud Gigantum modo bellare cum dis, nisi naturae repugnare?
6. Laelius: Atqui, Cato, gratissimum nobis (ut etiam pro Scipione pollicear)feceris, si, quoniam speramus — volumus quidem certe senes fieri,multo ante a te didicerimus quibus facillime rationibus ingravescentem aetatem ferre possimus.
Cato: Faciam vero, Laeli, praesertim si utrique vestrum, ut dicis, gratum futurum est.
Laelius: Volumus sane nisi molestum est, Cato, tamquam longam aliquam viam confeceris, quam nobis quoque ingrediundum sit, istuc quo pervenisti videre quale sit.
7. Cato: Faciam ut potero, Laeli. Saepe enim interfui querelis aequalium meorum — pares autem, vetere proverbio cum paribus facillime congregantur. Quae Gaius Salinator, quae Spurius Albinus, homines consulares nostri fere aequales, deplorare solebant — tum quod voluptatibus carerent sine quibus vitam nullam putarent, tum quod spernerentur ab eis a quibus essent coli soliti. Qui mihi non id videbantur accusare quod esset accusandum; nam si id culpa senectutis accideret, eadem mihi usu venirent, reliquisque omnibus maioribus natu; quorum ego multorum cognovi senectutem sine querela, qui se et libidinum vinculis laxatos esse non moleste ferrent, nec a suis despicerentur. Sed omnium istius modi querelarum in moribus est culpa, non in aetate. Moderati enim et nec difficiles nec inhumani senes tolerabilem senectutem agunt, importunitas autem et inhumanitas omni aetati molesta est.
8. Laelius: Est, ut dicis, Cato; sed fortasse dixerit quispiam tibi propter opes et copias et dignitatem tuam tolerabiliorem senectutem videri, id autem non posse multis contingere.
Cato: Est istuc quidem, Laeli, aliquid, sed nequaquam in isto sunt omnia; ut Themistocles fertur Seriphio cuidam in iurgio respondisse, cum ille dixisset non eum sua, sed patriae gloria splendorem adsecutum: 'Nec hercule,' inquit, 'si ego Seriphius essem, nec tu, si Atheniensis clarus umquam fuisses.' Quod eodem modo de senectute dici potest: nec enim in summa inopia levis esse senectus potest ne sapienti quidem, nec insipienti etiam in summa copia non gravis.
9. Aptissima omnino sunt, Scipio et Laeli, arma senectutis artes exercitationesque virtutum; quae in omni aetate cultae, cum diu multumque vixeris, mirificos ecferunt fructus; non solum quia numquam deserunt ne extremo quidem tempore aetatis (quamquam id quidem maximum est), verum etiam quia conscientia bene actae vitae multorumque bene factorum recordatio iucundissima est.
10. Ego Quintus Maximum, eum qui Tarentum recepit, senem adulescens ita dilexi, ut aequalem; erat enim in illo viro comitate condita gravitas, nec senectus mores mutaverat. Quamquam eum colere coepi non admodum grandem natu, sed tamen iam aetate provectum. Anno enim post consul primum fuerat quam ego natus sum, cumque eo quartum consule adulescentulus miles ad Capuam profectus sum quintoque anno post ad Tarentum. Quaestor deinde quadriennio post factus sum, quem magistratum gessi consulibus Tuditano et Cethego, cum quidem ille admodum senex suasor legis Cinciae de donis et muneribus fuit. Hic et bella gerebat ut adulescens, cum plane grandis esset, et Hannibalem iuveniliter exsultantem patientia sua molliebat; de quo praeclare familiaris noster Ennius:
unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem,
non enim rumores ponebat ante salutem:
ergo plusque magisque viri nunc gloria claret.
11. Tarentum vero qua vigilantia, quo consilio recepit! cum quidem me audiente Salinatori, qui amisso oppido fugerat in arcem, glorianti atque ita dicenti; 'Mea opera, Quinte Fabi, Tarentum recepisti,' 'Certe,' inquit ridens, 'nam nisi tu amisisses numquam recepissem.' Nec vero in armis praestantior quam in toga; qui consul iterum Spurio Carvilio conlega quiescente Gaio Flaminio tribuno plebis, quoad potuit restitit agrum Picentem et Gallicum viritim contra senatus auctoritatem dividenti; augurque cum esset, dicere ausus est optimis auspiciis ea geri, quae pro rei publicae salute gererentur, quae contra rem publicam ferrentur, contra auspicia ferri.
12. Multa in eo viro praeclara cognovi, sed nihil admirabilius, quam quo modo ille mortem fili tulit clari viri et consularis; est in manibus laudatio, quam cum legimus, quem philosophum non contemnimus? Nec vero ille in luce modo atque in oculis civium magnus, sed intus domique praestantior: qui sermo, quae praecepta, quanta notitia antiquitatis, scientia iuris auguri! Multae etiam, ut in homine Romano litterae; omnia memoria tenebat, non domestica solum sed etiam externa bella. Cuius sermone ita tum cupide fruebar, quasi iam divinarem, id quod evenit, illo exstincto, fore unde discerem neminem.
HOW TO GROW OLD
Dedication to my friend Atticus
1. Oh Titus, if I can give you any help, if I can lighten the cares fixed in your breast that now roast you and turn you on a spit, what will be my reward?
And so, Atticus, may I address you in the same lines which
that man of little wealth but rich in loyalty
speaks to Flamininus — although I'm sure that you're not like Flamininus
who is tossed about by worry, Titus, day and night.
I know that you are a man of moderation and even temper, who brought home from Athens more than just a name! You brought back a cultured and prudent mind as well. Yet I suspect that you are troubled by the same political events of our day that are causing me such anxiety. But looking for comfort from such things is too difficult to do now and is a topic we'll have to put off until another time.
2. Instead, I would like to write something for you now about the subject of growing old. This burden is common to both of us — or at least it's quickly and unavoidably approaching — and I want to lighten the burden for you and me alike. I know that you of course are facing the prospect of aging calmly and wisely, and that you will continue to do so in the future, just as you approach everything in life. But still, when I was thinking about writing on the subject, you kept coming to mind. I would like this little book to be a worthy gift that we can enjoy together. In fact, I've so much enjoyed composing this work that writing it has wiped away all thoughts of the disadvantages of growing older and made it instead seem a pleasant and enjoyable prospect.
We truly can't praise the love and pursuit of wisdom enough, since it allows a person to enjoy every stage of life free from worry.
3. I've written a great deal on other matters and will again in the future, but, as I said, this book that I'm sending you now is about growing old. When Aristo of Ceos wrote about the subject, he made Tithonus his spokesman, but I think it's wrong to give a mythological character such authority. Instead, I have put my words into the mouth of the aged Marcus Cato so that they might be taken more seriously. I imagine Laelius and Scipio with him at his house, admiring how he is handling his age so well. If he seems to reply in a way that is more learned than he appears in his own writings, attribute it to the Greek literature he studied carefully in his later years.
But why should I say more? From here on, the words of Cato himself will unfold to you my thoughts on growing older.
The Conversation with Cato
4. Scipio: When Gaius Laelius and I are talking, Marcus Cato, we often admire your outstanding and perfect wisdom in general, but more particularly that growing old never seems to be a burden to you. This is quite different from the complaints of most older men, who claim that aging is a heavier load to bear than Mount Etna.
Cato: I think, my young friends, that you are admiring me for something that isn't so difficult. Those who lack within themselves the means for living a blessed and happy life will find any age painful. But for those who seek good things within themselves, nothing imposed on them by nature will seem troublesome. Growing older is a prime example of this. Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it. People can be so foolish and inconsistent.
They say that old age crept up on them much faster than they expected. But, first of all, who is to blame for such poor judgment? Does old age steal upon youth any faster than youth does on childhood? Would growing old really be less of a burden to them if they were approaching eight hundred rather than eighty? If old people are foolish, nothing can console them for time slipping away, no matter how long they live.
5. So if you compliment me on being wise — and I wish I were worthy of that estimate and my name — in this way alone do I deserve it: I follow nature as the best guide and obey her like a god. Since she has carefully planned the other parts of the drama of life, it's unlikely that she would be a bad playwright and neglect the final act. And this last act must take place, as surely as the fruits of trees and the earth must someday wither and fall. But a wise person knows this and accepts it with grace. Fighting against nature is as pointless as the battles of the giants against the gods.
6. Laelius: True, Cato, but we have a special request to make of you — and I think I speak for Scipio as well. We both hope to live long enough to become old someday, so we would be very grateful if you could teach us even now how we can most reasonably bear the weight of the approaching years.
Cato: It would be my pleasure, Laelius, if you would really like me to.
Laelius: We would indeed, if it's not too much trouble. You've already traveled far on the road we will follow, so we would like to learn about the journey from you.
7. Cato: I'll do my best. I have often heard the complaints of people my age — "like gathers with like," says the old proverb — especially Gaius Salinator and Spurius Albinus, my near-contemporaries and former consuls, who were constantly moaning about how age had snatched away the sensual pleasures of life, pleasures without which — at least to them — life was not worth living. Then they complained that they were being neglected by those who had once paid them attention. But in my view, their blame was misplaced. If aging were the real problem, then the same ills would have befallen me and every other old person. But I have known many people who have grown old without complaint, who don't miss the binding chains of sensual passion, and who aren't neglected by their friends. Again, the blame for all these sorts of complaints is a matter of character, not of age. Older people who are reasonable, good-tempered, and gracious will bear aging well. Those who are mean-spirited and irritable will be unhappy at every period of their lives.
8. Laelius: That is undoubtedly true, Cato. But what if someone were to say that your wealth, property, and social standing — advantages in life that few people possess — are what have made growing older so pleasant for you?
Cato: There is some truth in that, Laelius, but it isn't the whole story. Remember the tale of Themistocles and the man from Seriphos. The two were having an argument one day during which the Seriphian said that Themistocles was famous only because of the glory of his city, not his own achievements. "By Hercules, that's true," said Themistocles. "I would never have been famous if I was from Seriphos — nor you if you were from Athens." The same can be said of old age. It isn't a light burden if a person, even a wise man, is poor. But if someone is a fool, all the money in the world won't make aging easier.
9. My dear Scipio and Laelius, old age has its own appropriate defenses, namely, the study and practice of wise and decent living. If you cultivate these in every period of your life, then when you grow old they will yield a rich harvest. Not only will they produce wondrous fruit even at the very end of life — a key point in our discussion — but you will be satisfied to know that you have lived your life well and have many happy memories of these good deeds.
10. When I was young, I was fond of Quintus Maximus, who recaptured Tarentum, as if we were the same age, although he was an old man and I just a lad. He was a man of dignity seasoned with friendliness, and age had not changed him. When I first began to get to know him, he was not yet of great old age but certainly growing advanced in years. He had first become a consul the year after I was born. In his fourth term as consul, I was a young soldier marching with him to Capua, then five years later to Tarentum. Four years after that, when Tuditanus and Cethegus were consuls, I became a quaestor. At that same time Quintus Maximus was giving speeches in favor of the Cincian Law on gifts and rewards, though he was quite elderly by then.
Even though he was old, he waged war like a young man, and wore down Hannibal's youthful exuberance by his persistence. My friend Ennius spoke splendidly about him:
One man, by delaying, saved our country.
He refused to put his reputation above the safety of Rome,
so that now his glory grows ever brighter.
11. Such vigilance and skill he displayed in recapturing Tarentum! I myself heard Salinator — the Roman commander who had lost the town and fled to the citadel — boast to him, "Quintus Fabius, you owe the retaking of Tarentum to me." The general laughed and said in reply, "That's certainly true, since I wouldn't have had to recapture it if you hadn't lost it in the first place."
Nor was Fabius more distinguished as a soldier than as a statesman. When he was consul the second time, the tribune Gaius Flaminius was trying to parcel out Picene and Gallic land against the express will of the Senate. Even though his colleague Spurius Carvilius kept silent, Fabius made every effort to oppose Flaminius. And when he was an augur, he dared to say that the auspices favored whatever was for the good of the state and that what was bad for the state was against the auspices.
12. I can assure you from personal observation that there were many admirable qualities in that man, but nothing was more striking than how he bore the death of his son, a distinguished former consul. His funeral oration is available for us to read, and when we do, what philosopher is not put to shame? But Fabius wasn't just commendable in public while under the gaze of his fellow citizens. He was even more admirable in the privacy of his own home. His conversation, his moral advice, his knowledge of history, his expertise in the laws of augury — all were astonishing! He was very well read for a Roman, and knew everything not only about our own wars but also about foreign conflicts. I was eager to listen to him at the time, as if I foresaw, as indeed happened, that when he was gone I would have no one else to learn from.
Excerpted from How to Grow Old by Marcus Tullius Cicero, Philip Freeman. Copyright © 2016 Philip Freeman. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
How to Grow Old 1
Further Reading 195
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"A lively translation of a splendid work."Stephen Harrison, University of Oxford