Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cicero, on Old Age

Our copy of the CCPA Monitor arrived in the mail yesterday. Among the many worthwhile articles was a quote from Cicero on Old Age. I am including it here without fear of violating copyright, for Marcus Tullus Cicero, great orator of the Roman Republic, lived from 106 B.C. to 43 B.C.

In this excerpt on Old Age, Cicero refers to "old men", and uses the pronoun "he" throughout. It would be inaccurate to say, in this instance, that "men" implies the inclusion of women and that Cicero is really writing about "human beings", since women in the Roman Republic had no civil rights.

We in the 20th century, however, can take his positive comments about old men and think "old people."

"Those who say that old men can do nothing useful completely miss the point - for all the world like those who think the pilot has no part in the sailing of the ship. For he sits quietly in the stern, merely holding the tiller, while other men are climbing the masts, running about the gangways or manning the pumps. He may not be doing the work of the young men, but what he does is more important. The big things are not done by muscle or speed or physical dexterity but by careful thought, force of character and sound judgment. In thse qualities old age is usually not only not lacking but even better equipped.

"Old men retain their mental faculties provided their interest and application continue, and this is true not only of men in exalted public stations, but also of those in the quiet of private life. I can point out to you Roman farmers in the Sabine country,friends and neighbours of my own, who are hardly ever absent from the fields when the farming operations are going on, such as sowing, reaping and harvesting the crops. Although their interest in the annual crops is less remarkable, for no one is so old as to think he cannot live one more year - yet these same men labour at things which they know will never bring any profit to them.

"Life's course is fixed. Nature has but one simple path and that path is run but once. To every part of life is given that which is fitting, and thus the weakness of the little child, the untamed courage of the young man, the seriousness of middle age, and the maturity of old age, all bear some of Nature's fruit, which must be garnered in its own season."

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