Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

HOW agreeable to see the ancient pop singer Mick Jagger on stage again, bringing tears of nostalgia to all eyes with his touching re-enactments of those quaint Sixties rituals. Cicero, at one level, would have been proud of him, as he explains in his essay `On Old Age' (44 Bc).

The main speaker in this imaginary conversation staged at Rome in 150 BC is the Elder Cato (who would have been 84 at the time). In general, he argues that if you have lived a decent, enlightened life, in old age `the harvest you reap will be astonishing', and then goes on to tackle four specific problems of age: removal from active work, weakening of the body, deprivation of most physical pleasures and closeness to death.

Of the first, Cato points out that the old are debarred only from work demanding youth and strength. But, as he also points out, great deeds require rather `thought, character and judgment', in which the old excel. As for physical pleasures, they decline naturally and men do not miss what they do not want. Further, when `sex, ambition, rivalry, quarrelling and all the other passions are ended, the human spirit returns to live within itself - and is well off . `Why,' says Cato, 'I myself am currently learning Greek, with the greed of a man trying to satisfy a long-endured thirst. …

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