Thursday, January 03, 2008

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to Cicero, who was born on this day in 106 B.C. Why not take the time today to read some of Cicero's letters to his friends and family, which give a very personal insight into his life, or perhaps some of philosophical writings, which still show a great mind and great insight. If you like you could even read some of my previous posts on Cicero.

One of my favourite works of Cicero is De Senectute (On Old Age). Cicero lived to be 63, not a bad effort in Roman times, and would have lived even longer had he not fallen foul of Marc Antony who had him killed. Here is the opening to De Senectute, framed as a conversation between Marcus Porcius Cato, Scipio Amelianus and Gaius Laelius:

Scipio: Saepe numero admirari soleo cum hoc C. Laelio cum ceterarum rerum tuam excellentem, M. Cato, perfectamque sapientiam, tum vel maxime quod numquam tibi senectutem gravem esse senserim, quae plerisque senibus sic odiosa est, ut onus se Aetna gravius dicant sustinere.

Rem haud sane difficilem, Scipio et Laeli, admirari videmini. Quibus enim nihil est in ipsis opis ad bene beateque vivendum, eis omnis aetas gravis est; qui autem omnia bona a se ipsi petunt, eis nihil malum potest videri quod naturae necessitas adferat. Quo in genere est in primis senectus, quam ut adipiscantur omnes optant, eandem accusant adeptam; tanta est stultitiae inconstantia atque perversitas. Obrepere aiunt eam citius, quam putassent. Primum quis coegit eos falsum putare? Qui enim citius adulescentiae senectus quam pueritiae adulescentia obrepit? Deinde qui minus gravis esset eis senectus, si octingentesimum annum agerent quam si octogesimum?

Laelius and I often express admiration for you Cato. Your wisdom seems to us outstanding, indeed flawless. But what strikes me particularly is this. I have never noticed that you find it wearisome to be old. That is very different from most other old men, who claim to find their old age a heavier burden than Mount Etna itself.

You are praising me for something which, in my opinion, has not been a very difficult achievement. A personwho lacks the means within himself, to live a good and happy life will find any period of his existene wearisome. But rely for life's blessings on your own resources, and you will not take a gloomy view of any of the inevitable consequence's of nature's laws. Everyone hopes to attain an advanced age; yet when it comes they all complain! So foolishly inconsistent and perverse can people be.

Old age, they protest, crept up on them more rapidly than they had expected. But, to begin with, who was to blame for their mistaken forecast? For age does not steal upon adults any faster than adulthood steals upon children. Besides if they were approaching eight hundred instead of eighty, they would complain of the burden just as loudly!

(Cicero, De Senectute, 4)

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