Saturday, 9 September 2017

Cicero on grumpy old men.



Grumpy old men –we all know some – have existed in every period of history. Cicero dwells on these characters in his De Senectute, a dialogue written about 44 BC, but set in 150 BC. The speakers are Cato Maior, Scipio Africanus and Laelius. The latter two are asking Cato – 83 at that moment – about old age. Cato is of course reflecting the opinions of Cicero. Cato – and thus Cicero – was not too harsh for grumpy old men and showed some understanding. Though not the youngest anymore, I try not to become grumpy. Might I however still become grumpy, let people around me read this passage.

Cicero, De Senectute:

[65] At sunt morosi et anxii et iracundi et difficiles senes. si quaerimus, etiam avari; sed haec morum vitia sunt, non senectutis. ac morositas tamen et ea vitia, quae dixi, habent aliquid excusationis, non illius quidem iustae, sed quae probari posse videatur: contemni se putant, despici, illudi; praeterea in fragili corpore odiosa omnis offensio est; quae tamen omnia dulciora fiunt et moribus bonis et artibus, idque cum in vita tum in scaena intellegi potest ex eis fratribus qui in Adelphis sunt. quanta in altero diritas, in altero comitas! Sic se res habet: ut enim non omne vinum, sic non omnis natura vetustate coacescit. severitatem in senectute probo, sed  eam, sicut alia, modicam; acerbitatem nullo modo; avaritia vero senilis quid sibi velit, non intellego. [66] Potest enim quicquam esse absurdius quam, quo viae minus restet, eo plus viatici quaerere?

morosus: peevish, morose, difficult
iracundus: irascible
quaero quaesivi quaesitum: to seek
avarus: avaricious 
morum vitia: faults of character
non illius quidem iusta: though not justified (illius is superfluous in translation, but is standard in Latin when quidem with concessive meaning is followed by sed.)
probo: to approve
posse videatur: note the careful formulation
despicio dispexi dispectum: to despise
illudo illusi illusum: to mock
odiosus: unpleasant, hateful
offensio (f.): offense, blow
dulciora: softer
moribus et artibus: by disposition and cultivation
scaena: stage
Adelphis: the Adelphi (`The Brothers’) is a play by Terence, friend of Scipio and Laelius. Two old man occur in this play of which one is characterized by diritas (f. `harshness), the other by comitas (f. `kindness’)
sic se res habet: the matter is thus
natura: character
coacesco coacescui: to become acid
vetustas vetustatis (f.): old age
severita severitatis (f.): austerity
modicus: not too much
acerbitas acerbitatis (f.): bitterness
avaritia: greed
senilis: of an old man
quid sibi velit: what use is it
quo viae minus restet, eo plus viatici quaerere: to seek the more of provision for a journey (viaticum), as the less of the way shall remain.

Translation by E. S. Shuckburgh (1909–14)

But, it will be said, old men are fretful, fidgety, ill-tempered, and disagreeable. If you come to that, they are also avaricious. But these are faults of character, not of the time of life. And, after all, fretfulness and the other faults I mentioned admit of some excuse—not, indeed, a complete one, but one that may possibly pass muster: they think themselves neglected, looked down upon, mocked. Besides, with bodily weakness every rub is a source of pain. Yet all these faults are softened both by good character and good education. Illustrations of this may be found in real life, as also on the stage in the case of the brothers in the Adelphi. What harshness in the one, what gracious manners in the other! The fact is that, just as it is not every wine, so it is not every life, that turns sour from keeping. Serious gravity I approve of in old age, but, as in other things, it must be within due limits: bitterness I can in no case approve. What the object of senile avarice may be I cannot conceive. For can there be anything more absurd than to seek more journey money, the less there remains of the journey?

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