Aging Wisdom from Ancient Rome

By Trussell, Tait | The Saturday Evening Post, July/August 2004 | Go to article overview

Aging Wisdom from Ancient Rome


Trussell, Tait, The Saturday Evening Post


Seniors should take to heart this 2,000-year-old advice on coping with the inevitable changes that come with old age.

As the nation ages, but strives to stop the aging clock, we should look back to the wisdom of a philosopher who brilliantly defined the advantages and realities of growing old. It's advice that all seniors should take to heart.

More than 2,000 years ago, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman and writer, set forth a long essay on old age. I plucked out some silver threads of his profundity for this article. He expresses realities many seniors today seem to dismiss. Remarkably, he also states what today's physicians, nutritionists, and philosophers now are telling us-as if it all were as new as morning dew.

At age 63, Cicero wrote: "I have never perceived old age as burdensome, which to most men is so disagreeable." For "those who have no resource in themselves for living well and happily, every age is burdensome. [Old] age all men wish to attain, and yet they complain of it when they have attained it. . . .

"Old age cannot be easy in extreme poverty, not even to a wise man; nor to a foolish man, even in the greatest plenty. . . . The practices of virtues can, if cultivated at every period of life, produce wonderful fruits when you have lived to a great age."

Cicero then cited four causes why advancing age is thought by many to be miserable: "It calls us away from" our jobs. "It renders the body more feeble. It deprives us of almost all pleasures." And "it is not very far from death."

But Cicero reminds those of us in our later years, "Great actions are not achieved by exertions of strength or speed, but by talent, authority, and judgment." The memory may be impaired "unless you keep it in practice." The old "remember all things that they care about. The intellectual powers remain in the old (person), provided study and application be kept up."

"Exercise and temperance preserve some vigor," he wrote. "So feeble are many old men that they cannot execute any task or duty. …

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