Cicero On Growing Old And “Eyebrows Of Longevity”

” Cicero On Growing Old.” Notable & Quotable, The Wall Street Journal, 4/6/2016. (From a new translation by Philip Freeman.)

Cicero is quoting Cato’s fictional reply to a complement from Scipio on how well he accepts his aging:

Cato: Those who lack within themselves the means for a blessed and happy life will find any age painful. . . . Everyone hopes to reach old age, but when it comes, most of us complain about it. . . . They say that old age crept up on them much faster than they expected. . . . Would growing older really be less of a burden to them if they were approaching 800 rather than 80? If old people are foolish, nothing can console them for time slipping away, no matter how long they live.

I follow nature as the best guide and obey her like a god. Since she has carefully planned the other parts of the drama of life, it is unlikely that she would be a bad playwright and neglect the final act. And this last act must take place. . . . But a wise person knows this and accepts it with grace. Fighting against nature is as pointless as the battles of the giants against the gods.


[Here is a relevant posting of 12/8/2005 that I am reproducing because the original is so old. I was surprised myself when it ended with a tribute to our classmate, Marel Harlow, who died well after graduation, but still young. Besides, it is one of my favorites.]


I was recently reading an excerpt from the Chinese “Book of Odes” written about 1000 B.C.  The odes read very much like Psalms, at least in translation.

The author was presenting a food offering to his ancestor.  He said he hoped his ancestor  would “. . . bestow on me eyebrows of longevity; gray hair and wrinkles in abundance.”

That hit home.  For quite a few years my eyebrows have become “eyebrows of longevity,” long white strands like Andy Rooney’s.  Why after a certain age does hair stop growing on men’s heads but grows wildly in our eyebrows and out our noses and ears?

This is why I reject the theory of Intelligent Design.  Nothing is intelligent about that.

I cut my own hair and do my eyebrows at the same time with the same clippers.  I like to keep life simple.  Only occasionally does someone notice the length of both are curiously the same.

But long eyebrows, gray hair, and wrinkles are blessings.  Three thousand years ago, people were praying for them, and now I have them.

I wish you could have gotten them, too, Marel.  I’ve missed you many times over the years.  I know we and our spouses would have all been great friends, telling stories about old classmates and each year exchanging Christmas cards containing proud pictures of our growing half-Asian children, not even noticing the increasing gray hair and wrinkles in each other.


About Roger Walck

My reasons for writing this blog are spelled out in the posting of 10/1/2012, Montaigne's Essays. They are probably not what you think.
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