By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Old Cicero Makes Sense

The Young Cicero Reading, 1464 fresco, now at ...Image via Wikipedia
The young Cicero reading.
Mention Cicero, and I bet many roll their eyes as a way of asking what could that windbag in a toga say that is relevant to my life. Well, I recently read his two dialogues on friendship and old age. Here are a few relevant things:

On Friendship:

"[F]riendship adds a brighter radiance to prosperity and lessens the burden of adversity by dividing and sharing it" (p. 133)

Friendship "projects the bright ray of hope into the future, and does not suffer the spirit to grow faint or fall" (133).

"[A]ll that I can do is to urge you to put friendship before all things human; for nothing is so conformable to nature and nothing so adaptable to our fortunes whether they be favourable or adverse. This, however, I do feel first of all--that friendship cannot exist except among good men" (127).

The last point--that friendship can exist only among the good--makes sense if you consider that friendship is by its nature disinterested and seeks only the good of the other. In friendship, there can be no element of exploitation. That basic truth is why many relationships, including romantic ones, are not really at all about the love of friendship and hence are so disappointing. The true friend does not calculate what he or she can gain. In the subset of romantic relationships, the lover (the romantic friend) is ready to commit all now and does not pursue the transient, exploitive, and ambiguous route so common today.

On Old Age:

"[T]he most suitable defences of old age are the principles and practice of the virtues, which, if cultivated in every period of life, bring wonderful fruits at the close of a long and busy career, not only because they never fail you even at the very end of life--although that is a matter of highest moment--but also because it is most delightful to have the consciousness of a life well spent and the memory of many deeds worthily performed" (19).

"I am profoundly grateful to old age, which has increased my eagerness for conversation, and taken away that for food and drink" (57).

"But theirs [that is, belonging to those who flourished in old age] was a zeal for learning, and this zeal, at least in the case of wise and well-trained men, advances in even pace with age" (61).

I would submit that the foundation for a delightful old age is friendship with its conversations and with its common and mutual pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

So we come full circle: pursue the good of authentic friendship--which can only exist among the good--and you take care of the rest, even old age. Youthful virtue, as pictured above, is the foundation of a flourishing old age. So get virtue and understanding as soon as possible. It is never too late.

(All page references are to the Loeb Classical Library edition, Cicero vol. XX, no. 154).