Excerpts on Old Age

Pleasure and charm of conversation
For, let me tell you, Socrates, that the more the pleasures of the body fade away, the greater to me is the pleasure and charm of conversation.

Life is no longer life
Men of my age flock together, we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says; and at our meetings the tale of my acquaintance commonly is – I cannot eat, I cannot drink; the pleasures of youth and love are fled away. There was a good time once, but now that is gone, and life is no longer life.

Some complain of the slights which are put upon them by relations, and they will tell you sadly of how many evils their old age is the cause.

But to me, Socrates, these complainers seem to blame that which is not really in fault. For, if old age were the cause, I too being old, and every other old man, would have felt as they do. But this is not my own experience, nor that of others whom I have known.

When passions are gone
For old age has a great sense of calm and freedom when the passions relax their hold, then we are freed from the grasp of not one mad master only but of many. The truth is, Socrates, that these regrets and also the complaints about relations, are to be atrributed to the same cause, which is not old age, but men's characters and tempers. For he who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition, youth and age are equally a burden.

No laughing matter: Tales of the Underworld
When a man thinks himself to be near death, fears and cares enter into his mind which he never had before. The tales of a world below, and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here, were once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented with the thought that they may be true.

Either from weakness of age or because he is now drawing nearer to that other place, he has a clearer view of these things. Suspicions and alarms crowd thickly upon him, and he begins to reflect and consider what wrongs he has done to others.

And when he finds that the sum of his transgressions is great, he will many a times like a child, start up in his sleep for fear, and he is filled with dark forebodings.

Sweet hope, the nurse of age
To him who is conscious of no sin, sweet hope is the kind nurse of his age:

Hope cherishes the soul of him who lives in justice and holiness,
and is the nurse of his age and the companion of his journey
Hope which is mightest to sway the restless soul of man.

– Republic I, Cephalus, on old age, to Socrates


An adamantine faith
A man must take with him into the world below an adamantine faith in truth and right, that there too he may be undazzled by the desire of wealth or the other allurements of evil, lest coming upon tyrannies and similar villainies, he do irremediable wrongs to others and suffer yet worse himself. But let him know how to choose the mean and avoid the extremes on either side, as far as possble, not only in this life but in all that which is to come.

For this is the way of happiness.

– Republic X, Choosing our next life


Contents