Last weekend I have been walking with 2 friends; something we do yearly around this time of the year. We are now all in our fifties and inevitably the topic `age’ pops up now and then. Indeed: our consumption of alcohol during those weekends has dropped, we go to bed earlier and we walk less kilometres than some years before, mostly around 14 daily nowadays. But in our perception we are still young men, certainly when we compare ourselves with the pensioners at the camping we stayed at. They live in large caravans with a shed next to it, narrowly packed together with meticulously cut hedges between the plots. All so sterile that it reminded us of a burial place. At night the camping was lit to such an extent that we didn’t dare to pee next to the small log cabin we had rented lest an angry old man or woman would show its head out of the window and shout at us youngsters for this disgraceful deed, so we duly walked to the toilet building some 80 meters away.
Thinking of old age, Cicero’s Cato Maior de Senectute came into my mind. In this dialogue Cato the Elder is discussing old age with his friends Scipio and Laelius. Cicero wrote this dialogue for his friend Atticus in 44 BC, when he was about 62 and Atticus 65. Both were growing old now and Cicero consoles his friend with pointing to the advantages of old age. He gives various examples of old men doing well and one of them is Masinissa, king of the Massylians (in North Africa), who joined Scipio Africanus in his war against the Carthaginians. He died in 148 BC at the age of 90 and as this age is explicitly mentioned, the dialogue is set in this year. Cato the Elder (234-149 BC) was at that time 82. He was the prototype of the diehard Roman, upholder of ancient Roman values and long-time enemy of Carthage (et ceteram censeo….). Scipio Aemilianus (185-129) destroyed Carthage in 148 BC. He was adopted by the son of Scipio Africanus (235- 183), famous for defeating Hannibal at the battle of Zama in 202 BC. Little is known about Laelius Sapiens (ca. 188 BC -?) and he is best known for his friendship with Scipio Aemilianus, with whom he shared a deep interest in Greek literature.
Cato is speaking and tells his younger friends to resist the cultural idea of being old and to use all the powers you still have.
As the age of retirement will be increased here in the Netherlands in the coming decennium, this dialogue of Cicero should be read by everyone! In the meantime I and my friends will continue walking and resist old age.
Cicero, Cato Maior de Senectute, 34- 36 (first line)
34. Audire te arbitror, Scipio, hospes tuus avitus Masinissa quae faciat hodie nonaginta natus annos; cum ingressus iter pedibus sit, in equum omnino non ascendere; cum autem equo, ex equo non descendere; nullo imbri, nullo frigore adduci ut capite operto sit, summam esse in eo siccitatem corporis, itaque omnia exsequi regis officia et munera. Potest igitur exercitatio et temperantia etiam in senectute conservare aliquid pristini roboris. “Non sunt in senectute vires”. Ne postulantur quidem vires a senectute. Ergo et legibus et institutis vacat aetas nostra muneribus eis, quae non possunt sine viribus sustineri. Itaque non modo, quod non possumus, sed ne quantum possumus quidem cogimur.
Audire te arbitror, Scipio, hospes tuus avitus Masinissa quae faciat hodie nonaginta natus annos = audire te arbitror, Scipio, (ea), quae hospes tuus avitus – hodie nonaginta natus annos – faciat.
arbitror arbitratus sum: to think, be of opinion that
hospes avitus: guest friend of your grandfather (avus)
cum…sit: subjunctive because it is reported speech (i.e. something is told which is not seen by the speaker himself.)
ingredior ingressus sum: to begin
iter itineris (n.): journey (for those who wonder where the n comes from: the paradigm is a mixture of the stems iter and itiner.)
omnino non: not at all
cum autem equo (iter ingressus sit)
imber imbris (m.): heavy rain
adduco adduxi adductum: to lead to, bring to
operio operui opertum: to cover
siccitas – atis (f.): dryness (it refers to the idea that evil juices harm the body,)
exsequor exsecutus sum: to perform
offiica et munera: duties and functions (munus muneris (n.)
exercitatio –onis (f.): exercise, discipline
pristinus: former, original, pristine
“Non sunt in senectute vires” (it is said) “there is no strength in old age”.
ne: granted that
postulo: to ask, demand
et legibus et institutis vacat aetas nostra muneribus eis: and by law and by customs our age is free from those services (for instance men of 60 were exempt from military service.)
non modo…. quidem cogimur: in English an extra not must be supplied: not only are we not forced to do etc.
sed ne quantum: but not even the little
35. At multi ita sunt imbecilli senes, ut nullum offici aut omnino vitae munus exsequi possint. At id quidem non proprium senectutis vitium est, sed commune valetudinis. Quam fuit imbecillus P. Africani filius, is qui te adoptavit, quam tenui aut nulla potius valetudine! Quod ni ita fuisset, alterum illud exstitisset lumen civitatis; ad paternam enim magnitudinem animi doctrina uberior accesserat. Quid mirium igitur in senibus si infirmi sint aliquando, cum id ne adulescentes quidem effugere possint? Resistendum, Laeli et Scipio, senectuti est, eiusque vitia diligentia compensanda sunt, pugnandum tamquam contra morbum sic contra senectutem; 36. habenda ratio valetudinis, utendum exercitationibus modicis, tantum cibi et potionis adhibendum ut reficiantur vires, non opprimantur
imbecillus: weak, feeble (not imbecilic!)
imbecilli: predicate (there are many elderly men who are so weak)
omnimo: at all
proprium vitium: peculiar fault
valitudo -inis (f.): condition of the body (often it means `heath, strength’, but not here of course.)
adoptavit: adoption was quite common in case one had not an own heir to secure the continuation of the family.
tenui…nulla valitudine: abl. of description
Quod ni ita fuisset: if that would not have been the case
Illud for ille because of attraction to the gender of lumen.
alterum lumen civitatis: the first lumen civitatis was Scipio the Elder, because he defeated Hannibal and so finished the Second Punic War.
doctrina uberior accesserat: a greater learning came to (accedo). In English we would say: He added a greater learning to the greatness of mind of his father.
Quid mirium igitur in senibus si infirmi sint aliquando, cum id ne adulescentes quidem effugere possint?: What wonder therefore that there are sometimes feeble persons amongst the elderly, when not even youngsters cannot indeed escape this (feebleness)? (Cato is apparently referring to the bad health of Scipio’s father.)
diligentia: care, perseverance, diligence (diligentia is abl: its vices must be compensated with)
resistendum…pugnandum…habenda …utendum…adhibendum: gerundives `we must resist…fight…adopt..use (utor + abl!)… stick to
ratio valetudinis: regimen of health
tantum cibi et potionis: just enough of food and drink
reficio refeci refectum: to restore
opprimo oppressi oppressum: to press down, `destroy’