Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cicero and the Roman Art of Facing Death

Marcus Tullius Cicero January 3, 106 BC – December 7, 43 BC

Cicero is generally perceived to be one of the most versatile minds of ancient Rome. He introduced the Romans to the chief schools of Greek philosophy and created a Latin philosophical vocabulary, distinguishing himself as a linguist, translator, and philosopher. An impressive orator and successful lawyer, Cicero probably thought his political career his most important achievement. Today, he is appreciated primarily for his humanism and philosophical and political writings. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cicero

The quote below is an extract from an essay he wrote for his son, Marcus, while he was in enforced exile. The subject was the beauty of growing old and this particular excerpt deals with facing mortality without fear.

And yet, for goodness' sake, what in the whole human condition lasts for any length of time? Think of the longest of all possible lives; let us imagine we shall attain the age of that king of Tartesessus- I have been reading about Arganthonius of Gades who reigned for eighty years and lived for a hundred and twenty. Even so, I suggest that nothing can be called long if it has an end. For when the end comes, then all that has gone before has vanished. Only one thing remains- the credit you have gained by your good and right actions. Hours, days, months, and years go by: once they have passed they never come again. And what is to come in the future we cannot tell, So whatever life is allotted us, we ought to be content.

And actor need not remain on the stage until the very end of the play: if he wins applause in those acts in which he appears, he will have done well enough. In life, too a man can perform his part wisely without staying on the stage until the play is finished. However short your life may be, it will still be long enough to live honestly and decently. If, on the other hand, its duration is extended, there need be no more sorrow than a farmer feels when the pleasant springtime has passed and summer and autumn have arrived. For spring, the season of youth, gives promise of fruits to come, but the later seasons are those that reap the harvests and gather them in. And the particular harvest of old age, I repeat, is it abundant recollection of blessings acquired in earlier years.

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