How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life

Cicero, Marcus Tullius, trans. and with an Introduction by Philip Freeman

Princeton University, 2016

p. 11

“Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it.  People can be so foolish and inconsistent.”

pp. 17, 21

Cultivate a calm and judicious life from the time you are young, Cicero says, and then let your life ripen.  If you have been mean or petty, old age will exaggerate these vices.  But if you have been generous and gracious, old age will expand these virtues.  You reap what you sow.  The recipe is to live in such a way that when you are old you will enjoy satisfying memories of your decency.

pp. 83, 85

Don’t bewail the loss of libido in old age, says Cicero.  It used to bind you.  It led you straight into mischief.  Let it go with thanks.  Remember that “in the kingdom of self-indulgence there is no room for decency.”  Sensual pleasure is a fleeting and unworthy god: “Old age has no extravagant banquets, no tables piled high, no wine cups filled again and again, but it also has no drunkenness, no indigestion, and no sleepless nights!”

pp. 67, 69

Following standard Stoic conviction, Cicero counsels us to fit ourselves into the natural scheme of things in which we are successively infants, juveniles, young adults, middle-aged, elderly, super old, and dead.  With awesome inevitability that’s the way life goes, and it’s folly to resist.  You can’t fight nature and hope to prevail.  The way of wisdom is to surrender and look for opportunities along the way: “Nature has but a single path and you travel it only once.  Each stage of life has its own appropriate qualities—weakness in childhood, boldness in youth, seriousness in middle age, and maturity in old age.  These are fruits that must be harvested in due season.”