Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Aesop on Ageing Gracefully

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient and Modern: Aesop on Ageing Gracefully

Article excerpt

A drug has been invented to halt what is known as middle-aged spread. But it would be so much better if there was no such thing as middle age in the first place. After all, the Greeks had no such concept: why should we?

The people one feels sorry for here are the early Sumerian kings (modern Iraq). En Men Lu Anna apparently died at 43,200. Nor was it all rosy with the biblical patriarchs. Adam made it to 930 before Methuselah, grandfather of Noah, pipped him to the record at 969, dying seven days before the Great Flood. Only then did God thoughtfully cut the natural span to 120.

But for Greeks, childbirth, disease, diet and war meant that death rates peaked at birth, early childhood and the twenties. If one made it to the thirties, one might then expect another 15 to 20 years. Relatively few got beyond that: perhaps 5 per cent made it to 60, 1 per cent to 80. As a result, middle age seems to have been squeezed out entirely.

Pythagoras set the bar pretty high, dividing life up into four stages: 0-20 childhood; 20-40 adolescence; 40-60 youth; 60-80 old age. …

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