Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Seneca, letter 12: and suddenly you are old...

Last weekend I had my traditional autumn walking weekend with 3 friends. Like last year, the weather was glorious for the time of the year. Also like last year we noticed that we are getting older: earlier to bed and less boozing. One of us posted a picture on facebook with me making coffee in the morning and remarked: `with the climbing of years earlier to bed and earlier up.’
Seneca would not have been Seneca if he had not said something about old age in his letters to Lucilius. And indeed, he did! I immediately confess that I haven’t read all his letters or forgot about what I have read, but typing `Seneca old age’ gave me letter 12. In the opening parts of this letter he  describes a scene in which he after a long time is coming to one of his villas. Looking around he sees that things are rather old: the villa needs repair; the trees are no longer fresh and so on. And then he realizes that the villa has flourished under him and that he has planted the trees with his own hands….
Of course at the end he reassures Lucilius that men (and women) should not constrain themselves by fear of old age and death.
After last years’ walking weekend I wrote about the same topic with a post on Cicero’s De Senectute, and recently I posted something about the same book, so it may appear that it worries me. Well sixty is nowadays the new forty, so I am now 36 – no age to be troubled about such trivial things as old age. You girls in your twenties and thirties: here I come!

Seneca Epistulae Morales 12 1-3


[1] Quocumque me verti, argumenta senectutis meae video. Veneram in suburbanum meum et querebar de impensis aedificii dilabentis. Ait vilicus mihi non esse neglegentiae suae vitium, omnia se facere, sed villam veterem esse. Haec villa inter manus meas crevit: quid mihi futurum est, si tam putria sunt aetatis meae saxa? [2] Iratus illi, proximam occasionem stomachandi arripio. 'Apparet' inquam 'has platanos neglegi: nullas habent frondes. Quam nodosi sunt et retorridi rami, quam tristes et squalidi trunci! Hoc non accideret si quis has circumfoderet, si irrigaret.' Iurat per genium meum se omnia facere, in nulla re cessare curam suam, sed illas vetulas esse. Quod intra nos sit, ego illas posueram, ego illarum primum videram folium. [3] Conversus ad ianuam 'quis est iste?' inquam 'iste decrepitus et merito ad ostium admotus? foras enim spectat. Unde istunc nanctus es ? quid te delectavit alienum mortuum tollere?' At ille 'non cognoscis me?' inquit: 'ego sum Felicio, cui solebas sigillaria afferre; ego sum Philositi vilici filius, deliciolum tuum'. 'Perfecte' inquam 'iste delirat: pupulus etiam delicium meum factus est? Prorsus potest fieri: dentes illi cum maxime cadunt.'

quocumque: wherever
verto verti vertum: to turn
suburbanum: a villa near the city
queror questus sum: to complain
impensa: cost (The penny-pincher! Seneca was the richest man in his days! Ah yes, this is an imagined situation.)
dilabor dilapsus sum: to fall asunder
vilicus: steward
cresco crevi cretum: to grow, prosper
puter putris: rotten
occasionem arripio: to seize the opportunity
stomachor stomachatus sum: to be angry, irritated
platanus (f!): platane tree
frons frondis (f.): foliage
nodosus: full of knots
retorridus: parched, dried up
squalidus: stiff, rough
circumfodio: to dig around
genius: guardian deity
cesso: to cease
vetulus: somewhat old
illas posueram: I planted them   
ianua: door
decrepitus: very old
'quis est iste?:  who is that man? (It was custom to place the corps on a bier with his face towards the door (ad ostium), so that it faced outward (foras spectat).
nanciscor nanctus sum: to obtain, stumble on
alienum mortuum tollere: to put a corps from elsewhere on a bier
sigillaria: puppets made of clay
deliciolum: favourite little boy (diminutive of delicium)
perfecte delirat: he is completely mad
pupulus: little boy (predicate to delicium. Has my favourite little slave become a young boy again? This is explained in the next sentence: like small children lose their teeth, so this grown up man is losing his teeth due to old age.)
prorsus: certainly

Translation by Richard M. Gummere (1917)

1. Wherever I turn, I see evidences of my advancing years. I visited lately my country-place, and protested against the money which was spent on the tumble-down building. My bailiff maintained that the flaws were not due to his own carelessness; "he was doing everything possible, but the house was old." And this was the house which grew under my own hands! What has the future in store for me, if stones of my own age are already crumbling? 2. I was angry, and I embraced the first opportunity to vent my spleen in the bailiff's presence. "It is clear," I cried, "that these plane-trees are neglected; they have no leaves. Their branches are so gnarled and shrivelled; the boles are so rough and unkempt! This would not happen, if someone loosened the earth at their feet, and watered them." The bailiff swore by my protecting deity that "he was doing everything possible, and never relaxed his efforts, but those trees were old." Between you and me, I had planted those trees myself, I had seen them in their first leaf. 3. Then I turned to the door and asked: "Who is that broken-down dotard? You have done well to place him at the entrance; for he is outward bound. Where did you get him? What pleasure did it give you to take up for burial some other man's dead?" But the slave said: "Don't you know me, sir? I am Felicio; you used to bring me little images. My father was Philositus the steward, and I am your pet slave." "The man is clean crazy," I remarked. "Has my pet slave become a little boy again? But it is quite possible; his teeth are just dropping out."

No comments:

Post a Comment