Thursday, January 04, 2018
"How To Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom For The Second Half Of Life"
As the old year gives way to the new, some of us (ahem) remain in the "old" category. We can't seem to shake advancing age. Now, thanks to translator Philip Freeman, we have an opportunity to examine some old words by an old man, one who saw the weight of years not as a burden but as the fruit of one's character.
Freeman teaches classical languages at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, but he holds his learning lightly in a fizzy new version of a book by the Roman orator Marcus Tullius Cicero. "How To Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom For The Second Half Of Life" ($16.95 in hardcover from Princeton University Press; also for Amazon Kindle) was written "just before Caesar's murder on the Ides of March in 44 BC."
Cicero "was in his early sixties and alone." His daughter had died the previous year and, not able to support Julius Caesar, he "had retired to his country estate. There he remained, far from Rome, an old man in his own mind useless to the world."
But just as Cicero's last act seemed over, he began to write a series of treatises that endure today, including one on old age. His fictional dialogue featured the aged Roman leader Cato "from the previous century" in which "Cato shows how old age can be the best phase of life for those who apply themselves to living wisely."
The Latin text in Freeman's book is followed by his translation (with notes identifying all the names), and he summarizes Cicero's points in the introduction. Key: "A good old age begins in youth," Freeman writes, with habits of "moderation, wisdom, clear thinking, enjoying all that life has to offer."
"Cato" tells his young questioners that "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." He's realistic. "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."
Words that will never grow old.