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WHETHER AN AGED MAN OUGHT TO MEDDLE IN STATE AFFAIRS. - Plutarch, The Morals, vol. 5 
Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878). Vol. 5.
Part of: Plutarch’s Morals, 5 vols.
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WHETHER AN AGED MAN OUGHT TO MEDDLE IN STATE AFFAIRS.
1.We are not ignorant, O Euphanes, that you, being an extoller of Pindar, have often in your mouth this saying of his, as a thing well and to the purpose spoken by him:
But since sloth and effeminacy towards civil affairs, having many pretences, do for the last, as if it were drawn from the sacred line, tender to us old age, and thinking by this chiefly to abate and cool our honorable desire, allege that there is a certain decent dissolution, not only of the athletical, but also of the political period, or that there is in the revolution of our years a certain set and limited time, after which it is no more proper for us to employ ourselves in the conduct of the state than in the corporeal and robust exercises of youth; I esteem myself obliged to communicate also to you those sentiments of mine concerning old men’s intermeddling with public matters, which I am ever and anon ruminating on by myself; so that neither of us may desert that long course we have to this day held together, nor rejecting the political life, which has been (as it were) an intimate friend of our own years, change it for another to which we are absolute strangers, and with which we have not time to become acquainted and familiar, but that we may persist in what we had chosen and have been inured to from the beginning, putting the same conclusion to our life and our living honorably; unless we would, by the short space of life we have remaining, disgrace that longer time we have already lived, as having been spent idly and in nothing that is commendable. For tyranny is not an honorable sepulchre, as one told Dionysius, whose monarchy, obtained by and administered with injustice, did by its long continuance bring on him but a more perfect calamity; as Diogenes afterwards let his son know, when, seeing him at Corinth, of a tyrant become a private person, he said to him: “How unworthy of thyself, Dionysius, thou actest! For thou oughtest not to live here at liberty and fearless with us, but to spend thy life, as thy father did, even to old age, immured within a tyrannical fortress.” But the popular and legal government of a man accustomed to show himself no less profitable in obeying than in commanding is an honorable monument, which really adds to death the glory accruing from life. For this thing, as Simonides says, “goes last under the ground;” unless it be in those in whom humanity and the love of honor die first, and whose zeal for goodness sooner decays than their covetousness after temporal necessaries; as if the soul had its active and divine parts weaker than those that are passive and corporeal; which it were neither honest to say, nor yet to admit from those who affirm that only of gaining we are never weary. But we ought to turn to a better purpose the saying of Thucydides, and believe that it is not the desire of honor only that never grows old,* but much more also the inclinations to society and affection to the state, which continue even in ants and bees to the very last. For never did any one know a bee to become by age a drone, as some think it requisite of statesmen, of whom they expect that, when the vigor of their youth is past, they should retire and sit mouldy at home, suffering their active virtue to be consumed by idleness, as iron is by rust. For Cato excellently well said, that we ought not willingly to add the shame proceeding from vice to those many afflictions which old age has of its own. For of the many vices everywhere abounding, there is none which more disgraces an old man than sloth, delicacy, and effeminateness, when, retiring from the court and council, he mews himself up at home like a woman, or getting into the country oversees his reapers and gleaners; for of such a one we may say,
Where’s Oedipus, and all his famous riddles?
But as for him who should in his old age, and not before, begin to meddle with public matters, — as they say of Epimenides, that having fallen asleep while he was a young man, he awakened fifty years after, — and shaking off so long and so close-sticking a repose, should thrust himself, being unaccustomed and unexercised, into difficult and laborious employs, without having been experienced in civil affairs, or inured to the conversations of men, such a man may perhaps give occasion to one that would reprehend him, to say with the prophetess Pythia:
Thou com’st too late,
seeking to govern in the state and rule the people, and at an unfit hour knocking at the palace gate, like an ill-bred guest coming late to a banquet, or a stranger, thou wouldst change, not thy place or region, but thy life for one of which thou hast made no trial. For that saying of Simonides,
The state instructs a man,
is true in those who apply themselves to the business of the commonweal whilst they have yet time to be taught, and to learn a science which is scarce attained with much labor through many strugglings and negotiations, even when it timely meets with a nature that can easily undergo toil and difficulty. These things seem not to be impertinently spoken against him who in his old age begins to act in the management of the state.
2. And yet, on the contrary, we see how young men and those of unripe years are by persons of judgment diverted from meddling in public matters; and the laws also testify the same, when by the crier in the assemblies they summon not first the men like Alcibiades and Pytheas to come to the desk, but those who have passed the age of fifty years, to make speeches and consult together for the good of the people. For the being unused to boldness and the want of experience are not so much to every soldier. . . .
[Here is a defect in the original.]
But Cato, when above eighty years of age he was to plead his own cause, said, that it was a difficult thing for a man to make his apology and justify his life before others than those with whom he had lived and been conversant.
All men indeed confess, that the actions of Augustus Caesar, when he had defeated Antony, were no less royal and useful to the public towards the end of his life, than any he had done before. And himself severely reprehending the dissoluteness of young men by establishing good customs and laws, when they raised an uproar, he only said to them: Young men, refuse not to hear an old man, to whom old men not unwillingly gave ear when he was young. The government also of Pericles exerted itself with most vigor in his old age, when he both persuaded the Athenians to make war, and at another time, when they were eagerly bent unseasonably to go forth and fight sixty thousand armed men withstood and hindered them, sealing up in a manner the arms of the people and the keys of the gates. Now as for what Xenophon has written of Agesilaus, it is fit it should be set down in his own words. “What youth,” says he, “was ever so gallant but that his old age surpassed it? Who was ever so terrible to his enemies in the very flower of his virility, as Agesilaus in the declension of his days? At whose death were adversaries ever seen more joyful than at that of Agesilaus, though he departed not this life till he was stooping under the burden of his years? Who more emboldened his confederates than Agesilaus, though being at the utmost period of his life? What young man was ever missed more by his friends than Agesilaus, who died not till he was very old?”
3. Age then hindered not these men from performing such gallant actions; and yet we, forsooth, being at our ease in states which have neither tyranny, war, nor siege to molest them, are afraid of such bloodless debates and emulations, as are for the most part terminated with justice only by law and words; confessing ourselves by this not only worse than those ancient generals and statesmen, but even than poets, sophisters, and players. Since Simonides in his old age gained the victory by his choral songs, as the epigram testifies in these concluding verses:
And it is said of Sophocles, that, to avoid being condemned of dotage at the instance of his children, he repeated the entrance song of the Chorus in his tragedy of Oedipus in Colonus, which begins thus:
and that, this song appearing admirable, he was dismissed from the court, as from the theatre, with the applause and acclamations of all that were present. And this short verse is acknowledged to be written of him:
Philemon also the comedian and Alexis were snatched away by death, whilst they were acting on the stage and crowned with garlands. And as for Polus the tragedian, Eratosthenes and Philochorus related of him that, being seventy years of age, he a little before his death acted in four days eight tragedies.
4. Is it not then a shame, that those who have grown old in councils and courts of judicature should appear less generous than such as have spent their years on the stage, and forsaking those exercises which are really sacred, cast off the person of the statesman, to put on instead of it I know not what other? For to descend from the state of a prince to that of a ploughman is all over base and mean. For since Demosthenes says that the Paralus, being a sacred galley, was unworthily used in being employed to carry timber, pales, and cattle to Midias; would not a man who should, after his having quitted the office of superintendent at the public solemnities, governor of Boeotia, or president in the council of the Amphictyons, be seen measuring of corn, weighing of raisins, and bargaining about fleeces and wool-fells, — would not such a one, I say, wholly seem to have brought on himself, as the proverb has it, the old age of a horse, without any one’s necessitating him to it? For to set one’s self to mechanical employments and trafficking, after one has borne office in the state, is the same as if one should strip a well-bred virtuous gentlewoman out of her matron-like attire, and thrust her with an apron tied about her into a public victualling-house. For the dignity and greatness of political virtue is overthrown, when it is debased to such mean administrations and traffics for gain. But if (which is the only thing remaining) they shall, by giving effeminacies and voluptuousness the name of living at quiet and enjoying one’s self, exhort a statesman leisurely to waste away and grow old in them, I know not to which of the two shameful pictures his life will seem to have the greater resemblance, — whether to the mariners who, leaving their ship for the future not in the harbor but under sail, spend all their time in celebrating the feasts of Venus; or to Hercules, whom some painters merrily but yet ridiculously represent wearing in Omphale’s palace a yellow petticoat, and giving himself up to be boxed and combed by the Lydian damsels. So shall we, stripping a statesman of his lion’s-skin, and seating him at a luxurious table, there be always cloying his palate with delicacies, and filling his ears with effeminate songs and music; being not a whit put to the blush by the saying of Pompey the Great to Lucullus, who after his public services both in camp and council, addicted himself to bathing, feasting, conversing with women in the day, and much other dissoluteness, even to the raising and extravagantly furnishing of sumptuous buildings, and who, once upbraiding Pompey with an ambition and desire of rule unsuitable to his age, was by him answered, that it was more misbecoming an old man to live voluptuously than to govern? The same Pompey, when in his sickness his physician had prescribed him the eating of a thrush, which was then hard to be got, as being out of season, being told that Lucullus bred great store of such birds, would not send to him for one, but said: What! Cannot Pompey live, unless Lucullus be luxurious?
5. For though Nature seeks by all means to delight and rejoice herself, yet the bodies of old men are incapacitated for all pleasures, except a few that are absolutely necessary. For not only
Venus to old men is averse,*
as Euripides has it; but their appetite also to their meat and drink is for the most part dull, and as one would say, toothless; so that they have but little gust and relish in them.
They ought therefore to furnish themselves with pleasures of the mind, not ungenerous or illiberal, like those of Simonides, who said to those who reproached him with covetousness, that being by his years deprived of other pleasures, he recreated his old age with the only delight which remained, that of heaping up riches. But political life has in it pleasures exceeding great, and no less honorable, being such as it is probable the very Gods do only or at least chiefly enjoy themselves in; and these are the delights which proceed from doing good and performing what is honest and laudable. For if Nicias the painter took such pleasure in the work of his hands, that he often was fain to ask his servants whether he had washed or dined; and if Archimedes was so intent upon the table in which he drew his geometrical figures, that his attendants were obliged by force to pluck him from it and strip him of his clothes that they might anoint him, whilst he in the mean time drew new schemes on his anointed body; and if Canus the piper, whom you also know, was wont to say that men knew not how much more he delighted himself with his playing than he did others, for that then his hearers would rather demand of him than give him a reward; do we not thence conceive how great pleasures the virtues afford to those who practise them, from their honest actions and public-spirited works tending to the benefit of human society? They do not tickle or weaken, as do such sweet and gentle motions as are made on the flesh; for these indeed have a furious and unconstant itching, mixed with a feverish inflammation; whereas those which accompany such gallant actions as he who rightly administers the state is worker of, not like the golden plumes of Euripides, but like those celestial wings of Plato, elevate the soul which has received a greatness of courage and wisdom accompanied with joy.
6. Call to mind a little, I entreat you, those things you have so often heard. For Epaminondas indeed, being asked what was the most pleasant thing that ever befell him, answered, his having gained the victory at Leuctra whilst his father and mother were yet living. And Sylla, when, having freed Italy from civil wars, he came to Rome, could not the first night fetch the least wink of sleep, having his soul transported with excessive joy and content, as with a strong and mighty wind; and this he himself has written in his Commentaries. For be it indeed so, as Xenophon says, that there is no sound more pleasing than one’s own praises; yet there is no sight, remembrance, or consideration which gives a man so much satisfaction as the contemplation of his own actions, performed by him in offices of magistracy, and management of the state, in eminent and public places.
It is moreover true, that the courteous thanks attending as a witness on such virtuous acts, and the emulous praise conferred on them, which is as a guide conducting us in the way of just benevolence, add a certain lustre and shining gloss to the joy of virtue. Neither ought a man negligently to suffer his glory to wither in his old age, like a wrestler’s garland; but, by adding always something new and fresh, he should awaken, meliorate, and confirm the grace of his former actions. For as those workmen on whom was incumbent the charge of keeping in repair the Delian ship, by supplying and putting into the place of the decayed planks and timber others that were new and sound, seem to have preserved it from ancient times, as if it were eternal and incorruptible; so the preserving and upholding of one’s glory is as the keeping in of a fire, a work of no difficulty, as requiring only to be supplied with a little fuel, but when either of them is wholly extinct and suppressed, one cannot without great labor rekindle it again. Lampis, the sea commander, being asked how he got his wealth, answered: “My greatest estate I gained easily enough, but the smaller slowly and with much labor.” In like manner, it is not easy at the beginning to acquire reputation and power in the state; but to augment and conserve it, when it is grown great, is not at all hard for those who have obtained it. For neither does a friend, when he is once had, require many and great services that he may so continue, but assiduity does by small signs preserve his good-will; nor do the friendship and confidence of the people expect to have a man always bestowing largesses, defending their causes, or executing of magistracy, but they are maintained by a readiness, and by not failing or being weary of carefulness and solicitude for the public. For even wars themselves have not alway conflicts, fights, and sieges; but there sometimes intervene sacrifices and parleys, and abundance of leisure for sports and pastimes. Whence then comes it, that the administration of the commonwealth should be feared as inconsolable, laborious, and unsupportable, where theatres, processions, largesses, music, joy, and at every turn the service and festival of some God or other, unbending the brows of every council and senate, yield a manifold pleasure and delight?
7. As for envy, which is the greatest evil attending the management of public affairs, it least attacks old age. For dogs indeed, as Heraclitus has it, bark at a stranger whom they do not know; and envy opposes him who is a beginner on the very steps of the tribune, hindering his access, but she meekly bears an accustomed and familiar glory, and not churlishly or difficultly. Wherefore some resemble envy to smoke; for it arises thick at first, when the fire begins to burn; but when the flame grows clear, it vanishes away. Now men usually quarrel and contend about other excellences, as virtue, nobility, and honor, as if they were of opinion that they took from themselves as much as they give to others; but the precedency of time, which is properly called by the Greeks Πϱεσβεῖον (or the honor of old age), is free from jealousy, and willingly granted by men to their companions. For to no honor is it so incident to grace the honorer more than the honored, as to that which is given to persons in years. Moreover, all men do not expect to gain themselves authority from wealth, eloquence, or wisdom; but as for the reverence and glory to which old age brings men, there is not any one of those who act in the management of the state but hopes to attain it.
He therefore who, having a long time contended against envy, shall when it ceases and is appeased withdraw himself from the state, and together with public actions desert communities and societies, differs nothing from that pilot who, having kept his ship out at sea when in danger of being overwhelmed by contrary and tempestuous waves and winds, seeks to put into harbor as soon as ever the weather is grown calm and favorable. For the longer time there has been, the more friends and companions he has made; all which he cannot carry out with him, as a singing-master does his choir, nor is it just to leave them. But as it is not easy to root up old trees, so neither is it to extirpate a long-continued practice in the management of the state, which having many roots is involved in a tangled mass of affairs, which create more troubles and vexations to those who retire from them than to those who continue in them. And if there is any remainder of envy and emulation against old men from former contentions about civil affairs, they should rather extinguish it by authority, than turn their backs on it and go away naked and disarmed. For envious persons do not so much assail those who contend against them, as they do by contempt insult over such as retire.
8. And to this bears witness that saying of the great Epaminondas to the Thebans, when in the winter the Arcadians requested them to come into their city and dwell in their houses, — which he would not permit, but said to them: Now the Arcadians admire you, seeing you exercise yourselves, and wrestle in your armor; but if they shall behold you sitting by the fire and pounding of beans, they will think you to differ nothing from themselves. So an old man speaking to the people, acting in the state, and honored, is a venerable spectacle; but he who wastes away his days in his bed, or sits discoursing of trivial matters and wiping his nose in the corner of a gallery, easily renders himself an object of contempt. And this indeed Homer himself teaches those who hear him aright. For Nestor, who fought before Troy, was highly venerated and esteemed; whilst Peleus and Laertes, who stayed at home, were slighted and despised. For the habit of prudence does not continue the same in those who give themselves to their ease; but by little and little diminishes and is dissolved by sloth, as always requiring some exercise of the thought to rouse up and purify the rational, active faculty of the soul. For,
Like glittering brass, by being used it shines.*
For the infirmity of the body does not so much incommode the administrations of those who, almost spent with age, go to the tribune or to the council of war, as they are advantageous by the caution and prudence which attend their years, and keep them from thrusting themselves precipitately into affairs, abused partly by want of experience and partly by vain-glory, and hurrying the people along with them by violence, like a sea agitated by the winds; causing them mildly and moderately to manage those with whom they have to do.
Whence cities, when they are in adversity and fear, desire the government of grave and ancient personages; and often having drawn out of his field some old man who had not so much as the least thought of it, have compelled him, though unwilling, to put his hand to the helm, and conduct the ship of the state into the haven of security, rejecting generals and orators, who not only knew how to speak loud and make long harangues without drawing their breath, but were able also valiantly to march forth and fight their enemies. So when the orators one day at Athens, before Timotheus and Iphicrates uncovering Chares the son of Theochares, a vigorous and stout-bodied young man, said they were of opinion that the general of the Athenians ought to be such a one; Not so, by all the Gods, answered Timotheus, but such a one he should be that is to carry the general’s bedding; but the general himself ought to be such a one as can at the same time see both forwards and backwards, and will suffer not his reasonings about things convenient to be disturbed by any passion.
Sophocles indeed said, he was glad that he was got free from the tyranny of wanton love, as being a furious and raging master; but in the administrations of state, we are not to avoid this one only master, the love of women or boys, but many who are madder than he, such as obstinacy in contending ambition, and a desire of being always the first and greatest, which is a disease most fruitful in bringing forth envy, jealousy, and conspiracies; some of which vices old age abates and dulls, while it wholly extinguishes and cools the others, not so much detracting from the practical impulse of the mind, as repressing its impetuous and over-hot passions, that it may apply a sober and settled reasoning to its considerations about the management of affairs.
9. Nevertheless let this speech of the poet,
Lie still at ease, poor wretch, in thy own bed,*
both be and seem to be spoken for the dissuading of him who shall, when he is now grown gray with age, begin to play the youth; and for the restraining an old man who, rising from a long administration of his domestic affairs, as from a lingering disease, shall set himself to lead an army to the field, or perform the office of secretary of state.
But altogether senseless, and nothing like to this, is he who will not suffer one that has spent his whole time in political administrations, and been thoroughly beaten to them, to go on to his funeral torch and the conclusion of his life, but shall call him back, and command him (as it were) to turn out of the long road he has been travelling in. He who, to draw off from his design an old fellow who is crowned and is perfuming himself to go a wooing, should say to him, as was heretofore said to Philoctetes,
would not be at all absurd, since even old men break many such jests upon themselves, and say,
I, old fool, know, I for my neighbors wed;
but he who should think, that a man which has long co-habited and lived irreprehensibly with his wife ought, because he is grown old, to dismiss her and live alone, or take a concubine in her place, would have attained the utmost excess of perverseness. So he would not act altogether unreasonably, that should admonish an old man who is making his first approaches to the people, whether he be such a one as Chlidon the farmer, or Lampon the mariner, or some old dreaming philosopher of the garden, and advise him to continue in his accustomed unconcernedness for the public; but he who, taking hold of Phocion, Cato, or Pericles, should say to him, My Athenian or Roman friend, who art come to thy withered old age, make a divorce, and henceforth quit the state; and dismissing all conversations and cares about either council or camp, retire into the country, there with an old maid-servant looking after thy husbandry, or spending the remainder of thy time in managing thy domestic affairs and taking thy accounts, — would persuade a statesman to do things misbeseeming him and unacceptable.
10. What then! may some one say; do we not hear the soldier in the comedy affirming,
Henceforth my gray hairs exempt me from wars?
Yes indeed, my friend, it is altogether so; for it becomes the servants of Mars to be young and vigorous, as managing
War, and war’s toilsome works;*
in which, though an helmet may also hide the old man’s gray hairs,
Yet inwardly his limbs are all decayed,†
and his strength falls short of his good-will. But from the ministers of Jupiter, the counsellor, orator, and patron of cities, we expect not the works of feet and hands, but those of counsel, providence, and reason, — not such as raises a noise and shouting amongst the people, but such as has it in understanding, prudent solicitousness, and safety; by which the derided hoariness and wrinkles appear as witnesses of his experience, and add to him the help of persuasion, and the glory of ingenuity. For youth is made to follow and be persuaded, age to guide and direct; and that city is most secure, where the counsels of the old and the prowess of the young bear sway. And this of Homer,‡
is wonderfully commended. Wherefore the Pythian Apollo called the aristocracy or council of noblemen in Lacedaemon, joined as assistants to their kings, Πϱεσβυγενεῖς (or the ancients), and Lycurgus named it plainly Γέϱοντες (or the council of old men); and even to this day the council of the Romans is called the senate (from senium, signifying old age). And as the law places the diadem and crown, so does Nature the hoariness of the head, as an honorable sign of princely dignity. And I am of opinion, that γέϱας (signifying an honorable reward) and γεϱαίϱειν (signifying to honor) continue still in use amongst the Greeks, being made venerable from the respect paid to old men, not because they wash in warm water and sleep on softer beds than others, but because they have as it were a king-like esteem in states for their prudence, from which, as from a late-bearing tree, Nature scarcely in old age brings forth its proper and perfect good. Therefore none of those martial and magnanimous Achaeans blamed that king of kings, Agamemnon, for praying thus to the Gods,
but they all granted, that not in policy only, but in war also, old age has great influence;
and one rational and persuasive sentence effects the bravest and greatest of public exploits.
11. Moreover, the regal dignity, which is the perfectest and greatest of all political governments, has exceeding many cares, labors, and difficulties; insomuch that Seleucus is reported ever and anon to have said: If men knew how laborious are only the writing and reading of so many epistles, they would not so much as stoop to take up a diadem thrown on the ground. And Philip, when, being about to pitch his camp in a fair and commodious place, he was told that there was not there forage for his regiments, cried out: O Hercules, what a life is ours, if we must live for the conveniency of asses! It is then time to persuade a king, when he is now grown into years, to lay aside his diadem and purple, and putting on a coarse coat, with a crook in his hand, to betake himself to a country life, lest he should seem to act superfluously and unseasonably by reigning in his old age. But if the very mentioning such a thing to an Agesilaus, a Numa, or a Darius would be an indignity; let us not, because they are in years, either drive away Solon from the council of the Areopagus, or remove Cato out of the senate; nor yet let us advise Pericles to abandon the democracy. For it is besides altogether unreasonable and absurd, that he who has in his youth leaped into the tribunal should, after he has discharged all his furious ambitions and impetuous passions on the public, when he is come to that maturity of years which by experience brings prudence, desert and abandon the commonwealth, having abused it as if it were a woman.
12. Aesop’s fox indeed would not permit the hedge-hog, who offered it, to take from him the ticks that fed upon his body. For, said he, if thou remov’st those that are full, other hungry ones will succeed them. So it is of necessity, that a commonwealth which is always casting off those who grow old must be replenished with young men, thirsting after glory and power, and void of understanding in state affairs. For whence, I pray, should they have it, if they shall have been neither disciples nor spectators of any ancient statesman? For if treatises of navigation cannot make those skilful pilots who have not often in the stern been spectators of the conflicts against the waves, winds, and pitchy darkness of the night,
how should a raw young man take in hand the government of a city, and rightly advise both the senate and the people, having only read a book or written an exercise in the Lyceum concerning policy, though he has seldom or never stood by the reins or helm, when grave statesmen and old commanders have in debating alleged both their experiences and fortunes, whilst he was wavering on both sides, that so he might with dangers and transacting of affairs gain instruction? This is not to be said. But if it were for nothing else, yet ought an old man to manage in public affairs, that he may instruct and teach those who are young. For as those who teach children reading and music do, by pronouncing and by singing notes and tunes before them, lead and bring on their scholars; so an old statesman, not by speaking and dictating exteriorly, but by acting and administering public affairs, directs and breeds up a young one, who is by his deeds joined with his words interiorly formed and fashioned. For he who is exercised after this manner, not amongst the disputes of nimble tongued sophisters, as in the wrestling-schools and anointings, where there is not the least appearance of any danger, but really, and as it were in the Olympian and Pythian games, will tread in his teacher’s steps,
Like a young colt, which runs by th’ horse’s side, —
as Simonides has it. Thus Aristides followed Clisthenes, Cimon Aristides, Phocion Chabrias, Cato Fabius Maximus, Pompey Sylla, and Polybius Philopoemen; for these, when they were young, joining themselves with their elders, and afterwards as it were flourishing and growing up by their administrations and actions, gained experience, and were inured to the management of public affairs with reputation and power.
13. Aeschines therefore the Academic, being charged by certain sophisters that he pretended himself a disciple of Carneades when he was not so, said: I was then a hearer of Carneades, when his discourse, having dismissed contention and noise by reason of his old age, contracted itself to what was useful and fit to be communicated. Now an aged man’s government being not only in words but in deeds far remote from all ostentation and vain-glory, — as they say of the bird ibis, that when she is grown old, having exhaled all her venomous and stinking savor, she sends forth a most sweet and aromatical one, — so in men grown into years, there is no opinion or counsel disturbed, but all grave and settled. Wherefore, even for the young men’s sake, as has been said, ought an old man to act in the government of the state; that, (as Plato said of wine allayed with water, that the furious God was made wise, being chastised by another who was sober) so the caution of old age, mixed among the people with the fervency of youth, transported by glory and ambition, may take off that which is furious and over-violent.
14. But besides all this, they are under a mistake who think that, as sailing and going to the wars, so also acting in the state is done for a certain end, and ceases when that is obtained. For the managing of state affairs is not a ministry which has profit for its end; but the life of gentle, civil, and sociable animals, framed by nature to live civilly, honestly, and for the benefit of mankind. Wherefore it is fit he should be such a one as that it may be said of him, he is employed in state affairs, and not he has been so employed; as also, that he is true, and not he has been true; he acts justly, and not he has acted justly; and that he loves his country and fellow-citizens, and not he has loved them. For to these things does Nature direct, and these voices does she sound to those who are not totally corrupted with sloth and effeminacy:
15. Now as for those who pretend weakness and impotency, they accuse rather sickness and infirmity of body than old age; for there are many young men sickly, and many old ones lusty; so that we are not to remove from the administration of the state aged, but impotent persons; nor call to it such as are young, but such as are able. For Aridaeus was young, and Antigonus old; and yet the latter conquered in a manner all Asia, whereas the former, as if he had only been to make a dumb show with his guards upon a stage, was but the bare name of a king, a puppet always mocked by those who were in power. As therefore he would be a very fool that should think Prodicus the sophister and Philetas the poet — men indeed young, but withal weak, sickly, and almost always confined by their infirmity to their beds — fit to be concerned in the management of the state; so he would be no less absurd that should hinder such vigorous old men as were Phocion, Masinissa the Libyan, and Cato the Roman, from governing or leading forth of armies. For Phocion, when the Athenians were at an unseasonable time hurrying to war, made proclamation that all who were not above sixty years of age should take up arms and follow him; and when they were offended at it, he said, There is no hardship put upon you, for I, who am above fourscore years old, will be your general. And Polybius relates, that Masinissa, dying at the age of ninety years, left behind him a young son of his own begetting, not above four years old; and that, having a little before been in a great fight, he was the next day seen at the door of his tent eating a dirty piece of bread, and that he said to those who wondered at it, that he did this. . . .
as Sophocles has it; we all say the same of that light and lustre of the soul, by which we reason, remember, and think.
16. Wherefore also they say, that kings become better in wars and military expeditions than when they live at ease. Attalus therefore, the brother of Eumenes, being enervated with long idleness and peace, was with little skill managed by Philopoemen, one of his favorites, who fattened him like a hog in the sty; so that the Romans were wont in derision to ask those who came out of Asia, whether the king had any power with Philopoemen. Now one cannot find amongst the Romans many stouter generals than Lucullus, as long as he applied his mind to action; but when he gave himself up to an unactive life, to a continuing lazily at home, and an unconcernedness for the public, being dulled and mortified, like sponges in calm weather, and then delivering his old age to be dieted and ordered by Callisthenes one of his freedmen, he seemed bewitched by him with philters and other incantations; till such time as his brother Marcus, having driven away this fellow, did himself govern and conduct the remainder of his life, which was not very long. But Darius, father of Xerxes, said, that by difficulties he grew wiser than himself. And the Scythian Ateas affirmed, that he thought there was no difference between himself and his horsekeepers, when he was idle. And Dionysius the Elder, when one asked him whether he was at leisure, answered, May that never befall me. For a bow, they say, will break, if over-bent; and a soul, if too much slackened. For even musicians, if they over-long omit to hear accords, geometricians, if they leave off demonstrating their propositions, and arithmeticians, if they discontinue their casting up of accounts, do, together with the actions, impair by their progress in age the habits, though they are not practical but speculative arts; but the habit of statesmen — being wise counsel, discretion, and justice, and besides these, experience which seizes upon the right opportunities and words, the very faculty which works persuasion — is maintained by frequent speaking, acting, reasoning, and judging. And a hard thing it would be, if by avoiding to do these things it should suffer such and so great virtues to run out of the soul. For it is probable also that humanity, friendly society, and beneficence will then also decay, of which there ought to be no end or limit.
17. If then you had Tithonus to your father, who was indeed immortal, but yet by reason of his old age stood perpetually in need of much attendance, I do think you would shun or be weary of looking to him, discoursing with him, and helping him, as having a long time done him service. Now our fatherland (or, as the Cretans call it, our motherland), being older and having greater rights than our parents, is indeed long lasting, yet neither free from the inconveniences of old age nor self-sufficient; but standing always in need of a serious regard, succor, and vigilance, she pulls to her and takes hold of a statesman,
And with strong hand restrains him, who would go.*
And you indeed know that I have these many Pythiads served the Pythian Apollo; but yet you would not say to me: Thou hast sufficiently, O Plutarch, sacrificed, gone in procession, and led dances in honor of the Gods; it is now time that, being in years, thou shouldst in favor of thy old age lay aside the garland and leave the oracle. Therefore neither do you think that you, who are the chief priest and interpreter of religious ceremonies in the state, may leave the service of Jupiter, the protector of cities and governor of assemblies, for the performance of which you were long since consecrated.
18. But leaving, if you please, this discourse about withdrawing old men from performing their duties to the state, let us make it a little the subject of our consideration and philosophy, how we may enjoin them no exercise unfitting or grievous to their years, the administration of a commonwealth having many parts beseeming and suitable for such persons. For as, if we were obliged to persevere in the practice of singing to the end of our days, it would behoove us, being now grown old, of the many tones and tensions there are of the voice, which the musicians call harmonies, not to aim at the highest and shrillest, but to make choice of that in which there is an easiness joined with a decent suitableness; so, since it is more natural for men to act and speak even to the end of their lives, than for swans to sing, we must not reject action, like a harp that is set too high, but rather let it a little down, accommodating it to such employs in the state as are easy, moderate, and fitting for men in years. For neither do we suffer our bodies to be altogether motionless and unexercised because we cannot any longer make use of spades and plummets, nor yet throw quoits or skirmish in armor, as we have formerly done; but some of us do by swinging and walking, others by playing gently at ball, and some again by discoursing, stir up our spirits and revive our natural heat. Therefore neither let us permit ourselves to be wholly chilled and frozen by idleness, nor yet on the contrary let us, by burthening ourselves with every office or intermeddling with every public business, force on old age, convinced of its disability, to break forth into these exclamations:
Since even that man is not commended who, in the vigor and strength of his years, imposing all public affairs in general on himself, and unwilling to leave any thing for another (as the Stoics say of Jupiter), thrusts himself into all employs, and intermeddles in every business, through an insatiable desire of glory, or through envy against those who are in some measure partakers of honor and authority in the state. But to an old man, though you should free him from the infamy, yet painful and miserable would be an ambition always laying wait at every election of magistrates, a curiosity attending for every opportunity of judicature or assembling in counsel, and a humor of vain-glory catching at every embassy and patronage. For the doing of these things, even with the favor and good liking of every one, is too heavy for that age. And yet the contrary to this happens; for they are hated by the young men, as leaving them no occasions of action, nor suffering them to put themselves forth; and their ambitious desire of primacy and rule is no less odious to others than the covetousness and voluptuousness of other old men.
19. Therefore, as Alexander, unwilling to tire his Bucephalus when he now began to grow old, did before the fight ride on other horses, to view his army and draw it up for battle, and then, after the signal was given, mounting this, marched forth and charged the enemy; so a statesman, if he is wise, moderating himself when he finds years coming on, will abstain from intermeddling in unnecessary affairs, and suffering the state to make use of younger persons in smaller matters, will readily exercise himself in such as are of great importance. For champions indeed keep their bodies untouched and unemployed in necessary matters, that they may be in a readiness for unprofitable engagements; but let us on the contrary, letting pass what is little and frivolous, carefully preserve ourselves for worthy and gallant actions. For all things perhaps, as Homer says, equally become a young man;* all men now esteem and love him; so that for undertaking frequently little and many businesses, they say he is laborious and a good commonwealths-man; and for enterprising none but splendid and noble actions, they style him generous and magnanimous; nay, there are also some occurrences when even contention and rashness have a certain seasonableness and grace, becoming such men. But an old man’s undertaking in a state such servile employs as the farming out of the customs, and the looking after the havens and market-place, or else his running on embassies and journeys to princes and potentates when there are no necessary or honorable affairs to be treated of, but only compliments and a maintaining of correspondence, — such management, dear friend, seems to me a thing miserable and not to be imitated, but to others, perhaps, odious and intolerable.
20. For it is not even seasonable for such men to be employed in magistracies, unless it be such as bear somewhat of grandeur and dignity; such is the presidency in the council of Areopagus, which you now exercise, and such also, by Jove, is the excellency of the Amphictyonic office, which your country has conferred on you for your life, having an easy labor and pleasant pains. And yet old men ought not ambitiously to affect even these honors, but accept them with refusal, not seeking but being sought; nor as taking government on themselves, but bestowing themselves on government. For it is not, as Tiberius Caesar said, a shame for those that are above threescore years old to reach forth their hands to the physician; but it far more misbeseems them to hold up their hands to the people, to beg their votes or suffrages for the obtaining offices; for this is ungenerous and mean, whereas the contrary has a certain majesty and comeliness, when, his country choosing, inviting, and expecting him, he comes down with honor and courtesy to welcome and receive the present, truly befitting his old age and acceptance.
21. After the same manner also ought he that is grown old to use his speech in assemblies, not ever and anon climbing up to the desk to make harangues, nor always, like a cock, crowing against those that speak, nor letting go the reins of the young men’s respect to him by contending against them and provoking them, nor breeding in them a desire and custom of disobedience and unwillingness to hear him; but he should sometimes pass them by, and let them strut and brave it against his opinion, neither being present nor concerning himself much at it, as long as there is no great danger to the public safety nor any offence against what is honest and decent. But in such cases, on the contrary, he ought, though nobody call him, to run beyond his strength, or to deliver himself to be led or carried in a chair, as historians report of Appius Claudius in Rome. For he having understood that the senate, after their army had been in a great fight worsted by Pyrrhus, were debating about receiving proposals of peace and alliance, could not bear it, but, although he had lost both his eyes, caused himself to be carried through the common place straight to the senate house, where entering among them and standing in the midst, he said, that he had formerly indeed been troubled at his being deprived of his sight, but that he now wished he had also lost his ears, rather than to have heard that the Roman senators were consulting and acting things so ungenerous and dishonorable. And then partly reprehending, and partly teaching and exalting them, he persuaded them to betake themselves presently to their arms, and fight with Pyrrhus for the dominion of Italy. And Solon, when the popularity of Pisistratus was discovered to be only a plot for the obtaining of a tyranny, none daring to oppose or impeach it, did himself bring forth his arms, and setting them before the doors of his house, called out to the people to assist him; and when Pisistratus sent to ask him what gave him the confidence to act in that manner, “My old age,” answered he.
22. For matters that are so necessary as these inflame and rouse up old men who are in a manner extinct, so that they have but any breath yet left them; but in other occurrences, an old man, as has been said, should be careful to avoid mean and servile offices, and such in which the trouble to those who manage them exceeds the advantage and profit for which they are done. Sometimes by expecting also till the citizens call and desire and fetch him out of house, he is thought more worthy of credit by those who request him. And even when he is present, let him for the most part silently permit the younger men to speak, as if he were an arbitrator, judging to whom the reward and honor of this their debate about public matters ought to be given; but if any thing should exceed a due mediocrity, let him mildly reprehend it, and with sweetness cut off all obstinate contentions, all injurious and choleric expressions, directing and teaching without reproof him that errs in his opinions, boldly praising him that is in the right, and often willingly suffering himself to be overcome, persuaded, and brought to their side, that he may hearten and encourage them; and sometimes with commendations supplying what has been omitted, not unlike to Nestor, whom Homer makes to speak in this manner:
23. And it were yet more civil and politic, not only in reprehending them openly and in the face of the people, to forbear that sharpness of speech which exceedingly dashes a young man and puts him out of countenance, but rather, wholly abstaining from all such public reproofs, privately to instruct such as have a good genius for the managing of state affairs, drawing them on by setting gently before them useful counsels and political precepts, inciting them to commendable actions, enlightening their understanding, and showing them, as those do who teach to ride, how at their beginning to render the people tractable and mild, and if any young man chances to fall, not to suffer him to lie gasping and panting on the ground, but to help him up and comfort him, as Aristides dealt by Cimon, and Mnesiphilus by Themistocles; whom they raised up and encouraged, though at first they were harshly received and ill spoken of in the city, as audacious and intemperate. It is said also, that Demosthenes being rejected by the people and taking it to heart, there came to him a certain old man, who had in former years been an hearer of Pericles, and told him, that he naturally resembled that great man, and did unjustly cast down himself. In like manner Euripides exhorted Timotheus, when he was hissed at for introducing of novelty, and thought to transgress against the law of music, to be of good courage, for that he should in a short time have all the theatres subject to him.
24. In brief, as in Rome the Vestal virgins have their time divided into three parts, in one of which they are to learn what belong to the ceremonies of their religion, in the second to execute what they have learned, and in the third to teach the younger; and as in like manner they call every one of those who are consecrated to the service of Diana in Ephesus, first Mell-hiere (one that is to be a priestess), then Hiere (priestess), and thirdly Par-hiere (or one that has been a priestess), so he that is a perfect statesman is at first a learner in the management of public affairs, then a practitioner, and at last a teacher and instructor in the mysteries of government. For in leed he who is to oversee others that are performing their exercise or fighting for prizes cannot judge at the same exercise and fight himself. Thus he who instructs a young man in public affairs and negotiations of the state, and prepares him
Both to speak well and act heroicly*
for the service of his country, is in no small or mean degree useful to the commonwealth, but in that at which Lycurgus chiefly and principally aimed himself, when he accustomed young men to persist in obedience to every one that was elder, as if he were a lawgiver. For to what, think you, had Lysander respect, when he said that in Lacedaemon men most honorably grew old? Was it because old men could most honorably grow old there enjoying idleness, putting out money to use, sitting together at tables, and after their game taking a cheerful cup? You will not, I believe, say any such thing. But it was because all such men, being after some sort in the place of magistrates, fatherly governors, or tutors of youth, inspected not only the public affairs, but also made inquiry — and that not slightly — into every action of the younger men, both as concerning their exercises, recreations, and diet, being terrible indeed to offenders, but venerable and desirable to the good. For young men indeed always venerate and follow those who increase and cherish the neatness and generosity of their disposition without any envy.
25. For this vice, though beseeming no age, is nevertheless in young men veiled with specious names being styled emulation, zeal, and desire of honor; but in old men, it is altogether unseasonable, savage, and unmanly. Therefore a statesman that is in years must be very far from being envious, and not act like those old trees and stocks which, as with a certain charm, manifestly withdraw the nutritive juice from such young plants as grow near them or spring up under them, and hinder their growth; but he should kindly admit and even offer himself to those that apply themselves to him and seek to converse with him, directing, leading, and educating them, not only by good instructions and counsels, but also by affording them the means of administering such public affairs as may bring them honor and repute, and executing such unprejudicial commissions as will be pleasing and acceptable to the multitude. But for such things as, being untoward and difficult, do like medicines at first gripe and molest, but afterwards yield honor and profit, — upon these things he ought not to put young men, nor expose those who are inexperienced to the mutinous clamors of the rude and ill-natured multitude, but he should rather take the odium upon himself for such things as (though harsh and unpleasing) may yet prove beneficial to the commonwealth; for this will render the young men both more affectionate to him, and more cheerful in the undertaking other services.
26. But besides all this, we are to keep in mind, that to be a statesman is not only to bear offices, go on embassies, talk loud in public meetings, and thunder on the tribune, speaking and writing such things in which the vulgar think the art of government to consist; as they also think that those only philosophize who dispute from a chair and spend their leisure time in books, while the policy and philosophy which is continually exercised in works and conspicuous in actions is nowise known to them. For they say, as Dicaearchus affirmed, that they who fetch turns to and fro in galleries walk, but not they who go into the country or to visit a friend. But the being a statesman is like the being a philosopher. Wherefore Socrates did philosophize, not only when he neither placed benches nor seated himself in his chair, nor kept the hour of conference and walking appointed for his disciples, but also when, as it happened, he played, drank, went to war with some, bargained, finally, even when he was imprisoned and drank the poison; having first shown that man’s life does at all times, in every part, and universally in all passions and actions, admit of philosophy. The same also we are to understand of civil government, to wit, that fools do not administer the state, even when they lead forth armies, write dispatches and edicts, or make speeches to the people; but that they either endeavor to insinuate themselves into the favor of the vulgar and become popular, seek applause by their harangues, raise seditions and disturbances, or at the best perform some service, as compelled by necessity. But he that seeks the public good, loves his country and fellow-citizens, has a serious regard to the welfare of the state, and is a true commonwealthsman, such a one, though he never puts on the military garment or senatorial robe, is yet always employed in the administration of the state, by inciting to action those who are able, guiding and instructing those that want it, assisting and advising those that ask counsel, deterring and reclaiming those that are ill-given, and confirming and encouraging those that are well-minded; so that it is manifest, he does not for fashion’s sake apply himself to the public affairs, nor go then to the theatre or council when there is any haste or when he is sent for by name, that he may have the first place there, being otherwise present only for his recreation, as when he goes to some show or a concert of music; but on the contrary, though absent in body, yet is he present in mind, and being informed of what is done, approves some things and disapproves others.
27. For neither did Aristides amongst the Athenians, nor Cato amongst the Romans often execute the office of magistrate; and yet both the one and the other employed their whole lives perpetually in the service of their country. And Epaminondas indeed, being general, performed many and great actions; but yet there is related an exploit of his, not inferior to any of them, performed about Thessaly when he had neither command in the army nor office in the state. For, when the commanders, having through inadvertency drawn a squadron into a difficult and disadvantageous ground, were in amaze, for that the enemies pressed hard upon them, galling them with their arrows, he, being called up from amongst the heavyarmed foot, first by his encouraging them dissipated the trouble and fright of the army, and then, having ranged and brought into order that squadron whose ranks had been broken, he easily disengaged them out of those straits, and placed them in front against their enemies, who, thereupon changing their resolutions, marched off. Also when Agis, king of Sparta, was leading on his army, already put in good order for fight, against the enemies, a certain old Spartan called out aloud to him, and said, that he thought to cure one evil by another; meaning that he was desirous the present unseasonable promptness to fight should salve the disgrace of their over-hasty departure from before Argos, as Thucydides says. Now Agis, hearing him, took his advice, and at that present retreated; but afterwards got the victory. And there was every day a chair set for him before the doors of the government house, and the Ephori, often rising from their consistory and going to him, asked his advice and consulted him about the greatest and most important affairs; for he was esteemed very prudent, and is recorded to have been a man of great sense. And therefore, having now wholly exhausted the strength of his body, and being for the most part tied to his bed, when the Ephori sent for him to the common hall of the city, he strove to get up and go to them; but walking heavily and with great difficulty, and meeting by the way certain boys, he asked them whether they knew any thing stronger than the necessity of obeying their master; and they answering him that inability was of greater force, he, supposing that this ought to be the limit of his service, turned back again homewards. For a readiness and good will to serve the public ought not to fail, whilst ability lasts; but when that is once gone, it is no longer to be forced. And indeed Scipio, both in war and peace, always used Caius Laelius for a counsellor; insomuch that some said, Scipio was the actor of those noble exploits, and Caius the poet or author. And Cicero himself confessed, that the honorablest and greatest of his counsels, by the right performance of which he in his consulship preserved his country, were concerted with Publius Nigidius the philosopher.
28. Thus is there nothing that in any manner of government hinders old men from helping the public by the best things, to wit, by their reason, sentences, freedom of speech, and solicitous care, as the poets term it. For not only our hands, feet, and corporeal strength are the possession and share of the commonwealth; but chiefly our soul, and the beauties of our soul, justice, temperance, and prudence; which receiving their perfection late and slowly, it were absurd that men should remain in charge of house and land and other wealth, and yet not be beneficial to their common country and fellow-citizens by reason of their age, which does not so much detract from their ministerial abilities as it adds to their directive and political. And this is the reason why they portrayed the Mercuries of old without hands and feet, but having their natural parts stiff, enigmatically representing that there is no great need of old men’s corporeal services, if they have but their reason (as is convenient) active and fruitful.
[* ]Thuc. II. 44.
[* ]Soph. Oed. Colon. 668.
[* ]Eurip. Aeolus, Frag. 23.
[* ]Sophocles, Frag. 779.
[* ]Eurip. Orestes, 258.
[* ]Il. VIII. 453.
[† ]Il. XIX. 165.
[‡ ]Il. II. 53.
[* ]Il. II. 372.
[† ]Eurip. Antiope, Frag. 220.
[* ]Sophocles, Frag. 779.
[* ]Il. XVI. 9.
[* ]Il. XXII. 71.
[* ]Il. IX. 55.
[* ]Il. IX. 443.