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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.
The Library of the World’s Best Literature. An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Honored Old Age

By Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 B.C.)

From the ‘Dialogue on Old Age

BUT in my whole discourse remember that I am praising that old age which is established on the foundations of youth: from which this is effected which I once asserted with the great approbation of all present,—that wretched was the old age which had to defend itself by speaking. Neither gray hairs nor wrinkles can suddenly catch respect; but the former part of life honorably spent, reaps the fruits of authority at the close. For these very observances which seem light and common are marks of honor—to be saluted, to be sought after, to receive precedence, to have persons rising up to you, to be attended on the way, to be escorted home, to be consulted; points which, both among us and in other States, in proportion as they are the most excellent in their morals, are the most scrupulously observed. They say that Lysander the Lacedæmonian, whom I mentioned a little above, was accustomed to remark that Lacedæmon was the most honorable abode for old age; for nowhere is so much conceded to that time of life, nowhere is old age more respected. Nay, further: it is recorded that when at Athens during the games a certain elderly person had entered the theatre, a place was nowhere offered him in that large assembly by his own townsmen; but when he had approached the Lacedæmonians, who, as they were ambassadors, had taken their seats together in a particular place, they all rose up and invited the old man to a seat; and when reiterated applause had been bestowed upon them by the whole assembly, one of them remarked that the Athenians knew what was right, but were unwilling to do it. There are many excellent rules in our college, but this of which I am treating especially, that in proportion as each man has the advantage in age, so he takes precedence in giving his opinion; and older augurs are preferred not only to those who are higher in office, but even to such as are in actual command. What pleasures, then, of the body can be compared with the privileges of authority? which they who have nobly employed seem to me to have consummated the drama of life, and not like inexpert performers to have broken down in the last act. Still, old men are peevish, and fretful, and passionate, and unmanageable,—nay, if we seek for such, also covetous: but these are the faults of their characters, not of their old age. And yet that peevishness and those faults which I have mentioned have some excuse, not quite satisfactory indeed, but such as may be admitted. They fancy that they are neglected, despised, made a jest of; besides, in a weak state of body every offense is irritating. All which defects however are extenuated by good dispositions and qualities; and this may be discovered not only in real life, but on the stage, from the two brothers that are represented in ‘The Brothers’; how much austerity in the one, and how much gentleness in the other! Such is the fact: for as it is not every wine, so it is not every man’s life, that grows sour from old age. I approve of gravity in old age, but this in a moderate degree, like everything else; harshness by no means. What avarice in an old man can propose to itself I cannot conceive: for can anything be more absurd than, in proportion as less of our journey remains, to seek a greater supply of provisions?