|Good Morning, my fellow Examiners.|
Have you felt lately that you might be getting old?
Maybe your knees crack a little more than they used to? Maybe you find yourself getting tired without much strain?
Perhaps you consider yourself to be young, but you fear growing old.
Whatever the case, this is a very serious topic to examine in one’s life.
We have discussed in The Examined Life, several individuals who did some of their best work in their old age–Frost, Whitman, Demosthenes, Monet. Though, when turning to the ancient masters for advice on such a topic, there are few more qualified to offer us insight than Cicero.
He was the greatest orator that Rome ever saw, growing to prominence in the mid-1st century BCE. He was an avid consumer of history and one of the greatest prose writers of all time. Cicero managed to survive several civil wars in Rome and died at the ripe old age of 63–which was pretty impressive considering the life expectancy in Rome at the time was around 35. He was killed at the command of Mark Antony–hardly ‘natural causes’, but commonplace nonetheless.
Cicero discusses the notion (that he believes to be false) that one’s mental capability decreases with age.
He recounts the story of Sophocles, an Athenian playwright from the 5th century BCE, famous for writing the play Oedipus Rex. (We now have our old guy writing about an even older guy!)
In this story, Cicero talks about how Sophocles’ own sons took him to court and tried to sue him for his money on the grounds that Sophocles had grown senile in his own age (he would have been around 87 at this time). In his defence, Sophocles presented the latest play he had been working on.
Read Cicero’s words from De Senectute–On Old Age, below:
|Those, therefore, those who allege that old age is devoid of useful activity are like those who would say that the pilot does nothing in the sailing of his ship, because, while others are climbing the masts, or running about the gangways, or working at the pumps, he sits quietly in the stern and simply holds the tiller. He may not be doing what younger members of the crew are doing, but what he does is better and much more important. It is not by muscle, speed, or physical dexterity that great things are achieved, but by reflection, force of character, and judgement; in these qualities old age is usually not only not poorer, but is even richer.|
And how is it with aged lawyers, pontiffs, augurs1, and philosophers? What a multitude of things they remember! Old men retain their mental faculties, provided their interest and application continue; and this is true, not only of men in exalted public station, but likewise of those in the quiet of private life. Sophocles composed tragedies to extreme old age. When his sons summoned him to court in order to secure a verdict removing him from the control of his property on the ground of imbecility, it is said the old man read to the jury his play, Oedipus at Colonus, which he had just written and inquired: “Does that poem seem to you to be the work of an imbecile?” When he had finished he was acquitted by the verdict of the jury. Do you think, then, that old age forced him to abandon his calling, or that it silenced Homer, Hesiod, Simonides, Stesichorus, or Socrates, and Gorgias or any of those princes of philosophy: Pythagoras, Democritus, Plato, and Xenocrates? Rather, did not activity in their several pursuits continue with all of them as long as life itself?
|Cicero’s words here are very true; as long as our interests and our application to them continue, we may find that in old age, not only have we not grown poorer in mental quality, but have become altogether richer!|
Hold these words close dear Examiner, and when the sparrow of time pecks at the window of your soul reminding you of your days gone by, remember that what you do in your old age is better and much more important than what you do in your youth.
|Good day Examiners, |
The Golden Scribe
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates