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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Old Age and Contentment

"As soon as he saw me, Cephalus welcomed me and said: Socrates, you don’t come down to the Piraeus to see us as often as you should. If it were still easy for me to walk to town, you wouldn’t have to come here; we’d come to you. But, as it is, you ought to come here more often, for you should know that as the physical pleasures wither away, my desire for conversation and its pleasures grows. So do as I say: Stay with these young men now, but come regularly to see us, just as you would to friends or relatives.

Indeed, Cephalus, I replied, I enjoy talking with the very old, for we should ask them, as we might ask those who have travelled a road that we too will probably have to follow, what kind of road it is, whether rough and difficult or smooth and easy. And I’d gladly find out from you what you think about this, as you have reached the point in life the poets call “the threshold of old age.” Is it a difficult time? What is your report about it?

By god, Socrates, I’ll tell you exactly what I think. A number of us, who are more or less the same age, often get together in accordance with the old saying. When we meet, the majority complain about the lost pleasures they remember from their youth, those of sex, drinking parties, feasts, and the other things that go along with them, and they get angry as if they had been deprived of important things and had lived well then but are now hardly living at all. Some others moan about the abuse heaped on old people by their relatives, and because of this they repeat over and over that old age is the cause of many evils. But I don’t think they blame the real cause, Socrates, for if old age were really the cause, I should have suffered in the same way and so should everyone else of my age. But as it is, I’ve met some who don’t feel like that in the least. Indeed, I was once present when someone asked the poet Sophocles: “How are you as far as sex goes, Sophocles? Can you still make love with a woman?” “Quiet, man,” the poet replied, “I am very glad to have escaped from all that, like a slave who has escaped from a savage and tyrannical master.” I thought at the time that he was right, and I still do, for old age brings peace and freedom from all such things. When the appetites relax and cease to importune us, everything Sophocles said comes to pass, and we escape from many mad masters. In these matters and in those concerning relatives, the real cause isn’t old age, Socrates, but the way people live. If they are moderate and contented, old age, too, is only moderately onerous; if they aren’t, both old age and youth are hard to bear."

--- The Republic (Book I) / Plato
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