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Cicero on Old Age

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Source: Introduction to Cicero De Senectute (On Old Age), translated with an Introduction and Notes by Andrew P. Peabody (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1887).


After the death of Julius Caesar, and before the conflict with Antony, Cicero spent two years in retirement, principally at his Tusculan villa. It was the most fruitful season of his life, as regards philosophy. To this period (B. C. 45 or 44) the authorship of the De Senectute is commonly assigned. In his De Divinatione, in enumerating his philosophical works, he speaks of this treatise on Old Age as “lately thrown in among them,”1 and as meriting a place in the list. In the De Amicitia, dedicated also to Atticus, he says: “In the Cato Major, the book on Old Age inscribed to you, I introduced the aged Cato as leading in the discussion, because no person seemed better fitted to speak on the subject than one who both had been an old man so long, and in old age had still maintained his preeminence. . . . . In reading that book of mine, I am sometimes so moved that it seems to me as if, not I, but Cato were talking. . . . . I then wrote about old age, as an old man to an old man.”1 Again, Laelius, who is the chief speaker in the De Amicitia, is introduced as saying, “Old age is not burdensome, as I remember hearing Cato say in a conversation with me and Scipio, the year before he died.” Cicero repeatedly refers to this book in his Letters to Atticus. In the stress of apprehension about Antony’s plans and movements he writes: “I ought to read very often the Cato Major which I sent to you; for old age is making me more bitter. Everything puts me out of temper.” At a later time he writes, “By saying that O Tite, si quid ego,2 delights you more and more, you increase my readiness to write.” And again, “I rejoice that O Tite2 is doing you good.”

In his philosophical and ethical writings, Cicero lays no claim to originality; nor, indeed, did the Romans of his age, or even of a much later time, regard themes of this kind as properly their own. Philosophy was an exotic which it was glory enough for them to prize and cultivate. This fame appertains pre-eminently to Cicero, equally for his comprehensive scholarship, for his keenness of critical discernment, and for his generous eclecticism. Were it not for his explicit statement, we might not learn from his writings to what sect he accounted himself as belonging. Though he disclaimed the Stoic school, he evidently felt a strong gravitation toward it, and we could ask for no better expositor of its doctrines than we find in him. Indeed, I can discover no reason for his adherence to the New Academy, except the liberty which it left to its disciples to doubt its own dogmas, and to acknowledge a certain measure of probability in the dogmas of other schools.

In this treatise Cicero doubtless borrowed something from Aristo of Chios, a Stoic, to whose work on Old Age — no longer extant — he refers, and he quotes largely from Xenophon and Plato. At the same time, thick-sown tokens of profound conviction and deep feeling show that the work, if not shaped from his experience, was the genuine utterance of his aspirations. What had been his life was forever closed.1 He was weary and sad. His home was desolate, and could never again be otherwise. His daughter — dearer to him than any other human being had ever been — had recently died, and he had still more recently repudiated her young step-mother for lack of sympathy with him in his sorrow. His only son was giving him great solicitude and grief by his waywardness and profligacy. The republic to which he had consecrated his warm devotion and loyal service had ceased to be, and gave faint hope of renewed vitality. The Senate-house, the popular assembly, and the courts were closed for him, and might never be reopened. He had courted publicity, and had delighted in office, leadership, and influence; but there was now little likelihood that any party that might come into power would replace him, where he felt that he had a right to be, among the guiding and controlling spirits of his time.

Old age with him is just beginning, and it may last long. He is conscious of no failure in bodily or mental vigor, — in the capacity of work or of enjoyment. Yet in all that had contributed to his fame and his happiness, he has passed the culminating point; he is on the westward declivity of his life-way; decrease and decline are inevitable. But shall he succumb to the inevitable in sullen despondency, or shall he explore its resources for a contented and enjoyable life, and put them to the test of experience? He chooses the latter alternative, and it is not as the mere rehearsal of what he has read in Greek books, but with the glow of fresh discovery, and in the spirit of one who is mapping out the ground of which he means to take possession, that he describes what old age has been, what it may still be, and what he yearns to make it for himself. He grows strong, cheerful, and hopeful as he writes, and in coming times of distress and peril he unrolls this little volume for his own support and consolation.

In imitation of the Platonic pattern, followed by him in several previous treatises, he adopts the form of dialogue; but after the interchange of a few sentences the dialogue becomes monologue, and Cato talks on without interruption to the end. Cato is chosen as the principal interlocutor, because he was the typical old man of Roman history, having probably retained his foremost place in the public eye, and his oratorical power in the Senate and at the bar, to a later age than any other person on record. In his part in this dialogue there is a singular commingling of fact, truth, and myth. The actual details of his life are gracefully interwreathed with the discussion, and the incidental notices of his elders and coevals are precisely such as might have fallen from his lips had he been of a more genial temperament. There is dramatic truth, too, in Cato’s senile way of talking, with the garrulity, repetition, prolixity, and occasional confusion of names, to which old men are liable, and in which Cicero merges his own precision and accuracy in the character which for the time he assumes. But as regards the kindly, the aesthetic, and the spiritual traits that make this work so very charming, its Cato is a mythical creation, utterly unlike the coarse, hard, stern, crabbed ex-Censor, who was guiltless equally of taste and of sentiment.

Cicero’s reasoning in this treatise is based, in great part, on what old age may be, rather than on what it generally is; and yet I cannot but believe that, were its cautions heeded, its advice followed, and its spirit inbreathed, the number of those who find in the weight of many years no heavy burden would be largely multiplied. Yet there would remain not a few cases of hopeless inanity and helpless suffering. We are here told, and with truth, that it is often the follies and sins of early life that embitter the declining years; yet infirmity sometimes overtakes lives that have been blameless and exemplary, nor does the strictest hygienic regimen always arrest the failure of body and of mind. Undoubtedly the worst thing that an old man can do is to cease from labor and to cast off responsibility. The powers suffered to repose lapse from inaction into inability; while they will in most cases continue to meet the drafts made upon them, if those drafts recur with wonted frequency and urgency. Yet there is always danger that, as in the case of the Archbishop in Gil Blas, the old man who insists on doing his full tale of work will be mistaken in thinking that undiminished quantity implies unimpaired quality.

But apart from the continued life-work, Cicero indicates resources of old age which are as genuine and as precious now as they were two thousand years ago. While the zest of highly seasoned convivial enjoyment, especially of such as abuts upon the disputed border-ground between sobriety and excess, is exhaled, there is fully as much to be enjoyed in society as in earlier years. Perhaps even more; for as friends grow few, those that remain are all the dearer, and in the company of those in early or middle life, the old man finds himself an eager learner as to the rapidly fleeting present, and imagines himself a not unwelcome teacher as to what deserves commemoration in the obsolescent and outgrown past. The tokens of deference and honor uniformly rendered in society to old age that has not forfeited its title to respect are a source of pleasure. They are, indeed, in great part, conventional; but for this very reason they only mean and express the more, inasmuch as they betoken, not individual feeling, but the general sentiment of regard and reverence for those whose long life-record is unblotted.

Rural pursuits and recreations, also, as Cicero says, are of incalculable worth to the aged. The love of nature increases with added years. In the outward universe there is an infinity of beauty and of loveliness. The Creator englobes his own attributes in all his works. What we get from them is finite, solely because the taste and feeling that apprehend them are finite. But our receptivity grows with the growth of character, and our revenue of delight from field and garden, orchard and forest, brook and stream, sunset clouds and star-gemmed skies, is in full proportion to our receptivity, and is never so rich and so gladdening as in the later years of life. Cicero evidently felt this. There is hardly anything in all his works so beautiful as the sections of this treatise in which he describes the growth of the corn and the vine, and the simple joys of a country home. Indeed, this is almost a unique passage. The literature of nature is, for the most part, of modern birth. The classic writers give now and then, in a single phrase or sentence, a vivid word-picture of scenery or of some phenomenon in the outward world; but they seldom dwell on such themes. Even pastoral poetry sings of the flocks and their keepers, rather than of their material surroundings. But here we have proof that Cicero had grown into an appreciation of the wealth of beauty lying around his villa, far beyond what would have been possible for him when he sought its quiet as a refuge from the turmoil and conflicts of his more active days.

Cicero is right, too, in regarding the presence of old men in the state as essential to its safety and well-being. True, their office is, for the most part, that of brakemen; but on a roadway never smooth, and passing over frequent declivities, this duty often demands more strength and skill than are required to light the fires and run the engine. It is only by a conservatism both wise and firm that progress can be made continuous and reform permanent. Nor is there any imminent probability that old age will furnish a larger array of conservative force than the world needs. If in the advancement of physical and moral hygiene the time should come when the hoary head shall be in due season the normal crown of every man, and, according to the Hebrew hyperbole, “the child shall die an hundred years old,” society will have attained a summit-level at which there will be need neither of engineers nor of brakemen.

Meanwhile, it is well for mankind that old men are so few. Were they more numerous, and at the same time worthy to retain the confidence of their fellow-men, the young would lack the exercise and discipline of their powers which alone could fit them for an honorable and useful old age. Death oils all the wheels of life. It is always throwing heavy responsibility on those who do not seek it, but accept it as a necessity, and gird themselves to bear it faithfully and nobly. As in a well-trained army the reserved forces rush in to fill the places of the fallen, so in the battle of life the ranks of the dying are recruited by those who are biding their time. Death is the ripener of manly force and efficient virtue, which would droop under the dense shadow of thoroughly matured and still active service, but are stimulated into full vitality and working power as the spaces around them are made void. The very bereavements which are most dreaded and deplored as utterly irreparable, are the most certain to be repaired, and often by those who before neither knew themselves nor were known to be capable of such momentous charge and duty. Elijah wears his mantle till he goes to heaven, and there is no other on earth like it; but when he ascends he drops the mantle, and his spirit enters into the man who picks it up. Death is, indeed, looked upon as a calamity by many whose faith should have taught them better. The death which closes an undevout and worthless life may well be dreaded; yet even in such a case continued life is perhaps to be still more dreaded. But in the order designed by Infinite Wisdom, and destined to progressive and ultimate establishment, death bears a supremely beneficent part, and is an event only to be welcomed in its appointed season by him who has brought his own life into conformity with the Divine order.

But death can be regarded with complacency only when it is looked upon, — as Cicero represents it, — as not an end, but a way, — as not a ceasing to live, but a beginning to live. The jubilant strains in which the assurance of immortality is here voiced are hardly surpassed in grandeur by St. Paul’s words of triumph when the crown of martyrdom hung close within his reach. Yet there is a difference. Cicero’s faith transcended, and in great part created, his reasons for it, and it failed him in the very crises in which he most needed it; St. Paul “knew in whom he had believed,” and his faith was sightlike when death seemed nearest. It is of no little worth to us that Socrates and Plato, Cicero and Plutarch, felt so intensely the pulse-beat of the undying life within. Of inestimably greater evidential value is it, that he whose peerless beauty of holiness made his humanity divine ever spoke of the eternal life as the one reality of human being. But there are for us emergencies of sore need and of heavy trial, times when we go down to the margin of the death-river with those dear to us as our own souls, critical moments when we ourselves are passing under the shadow of death; and at such seasons we can rest on no reasoning, we can be satisfied with no unbuttressed testimony; but our faith can repose in undoubting security on the broken sepulchre, on the risen Saviour, on those words spoken for all time, “Because I live, ye shall live also.”


Titus Pomponius, as he was originally named, on his adoption by his uncle prefixed that uncle’s name, Quintus Caecilius, to his own, and subsequently, in consequence of his long residence in Athens, assumed, or received and accepted, the surname of Atticus, by which he is known in history. He was born in Rome, 109 B. C., and was Cicero’s senior by three years. He belonged to an old Equestrian family, not eminent, but of high respectability. His father was a man of culture and of literary tastes, and gave his son a liberal education. The civil war between the factions of Marius and Sulla broke out in the son’s early manhood, and he hardly escaped being a victim of Sulla’s proscription. He determined to insure safety by voluntary exile, and, his father being dead, he betook himself with the movable portion of his ample patrimony to Athens, where he lived for twenty years.

He called himself an Epicurean, and, though not deeply versed in philosophy, he probably realized more nearly than any man whose history we know the ethical ideal of Epicurus himself. Supremely, but judiciously selfish; covetous of pleasure, yet with an aesthetic sense which found pleasure only in things decent, tasteful, and becoming; a persistent and loyal friend, so far as friendship demanded neither conflict nor sacrifice; sedulously avoiding pain, annoyance, and trouble; plucking roses all along his lifeway so carefully as never to incur a thorn-prick, — he must have derived as large a revenue of enjoyment from his seventy-seven years in this world as ever accrued to any man whose aims were all self-centred and self-terminated.

He was fond of money, frugal while elegant in his mode of living, with no vices so far as we know, certainly with no costly vices. He was married only late in life, and had but one child to provide for. His uncle — a usurer of ignoble reputation — left him an estate five times as large as that received from his father. This he increased by the remunerative purchase of extensive tracts of land in Epeirus and elsewhere, by loans to individuals, corporations, and cities, by traffic in slaves and gladiators, and, as a publisher, by multiplying, for high prices, through the numerous copyists whom he owned, transcripts of Cicero’s works and of other writings of friends who sought to reach the public by his agency. At the same time, he made a judicious investment of charities far within his income, in loans without interest and public benefactions to the city of Athens, in loans and gifts to those within the circle of his intimacy, and in gratuities to persons straitened or suffering through stress of political convulsions and perils.

He belonged, by sympathy and in his private correspondence, to the Marian, and then to the Pompeian party, and had a strong antipathy to the course and policy of Julius Caesar, his race and kind; but he publicly identified himself with no party, refrained from political activity of every sort, and refused contributions in aid even of movements that had his full approval and his best wishes. He was always ready to relieve the distressed members of both and of all parties. He held friendly relations equally with Julius Caesar and Pompey, Cassius and Antony, Brutus and Caesar Augustus.

He had the most winning and attractive manners, a voice of rare sweetness and melody, and conversational powers unsurpassed, if equalled, by any man of his time. He was hospitable, yet without extravagance or ostentation, and his entertainments, first in Athens, and then in Rome, were remarkable as reunions of all that there was of learning, genius, wit, and grace. He loved to maintain peaceful and harmonious relations among his wonted guests, and was persevering in his endeavors to reconcile differences, soothe jealousies, and prevent rivals from becoming enemies. It was wholly due to their common friend and host that Cicero and Hortensius, as alike candidates for the palm of eloquence, preserved at least the show of friendship.

Atticus was also a man of large and varied learning, was equally versed in Greek and in Roman literature, and used either tongue in speech and in writing as if he had never known any other. He was a thorough grammarian and a careful critic. His friends were in the habit of sending their works to him for a last revision, and it is by no means improbable that some of the delicate touches of Cicero’s rhetoric may be due to his consummate taste and skill. He was himself an author, and wrote among other things an epitome of Roman history from the earliest time to his own. He was a ready and fluent letter-writer. But none of his writings are extant, except such few scraps of his epistles as are preserved in Cicero’s answers to them.

The friendship between Cicero and Atticus began in their early boyhood. When Cicero first went to Athens — shortly after his defence of Roscius, and not improbably to escape the vengeance of Sulla — he found Atticus already established there, and for six months they, with Cicero’s brother Quintus, who married the sister of Atticus, were constantly associated in study and in recreation. From that time Atticus was Cicero’s closest and dearest friend, entering with the most vivid interest into all his plans and pursuits, lending him money, advising him in business, taking care of his property during his absences, and rendering counsel and aid in connection with the successive divorces of Terentia and Publilia. The correspondence between them now extant commenced only three years before Atticus returned to Rome, though it is hardly possible that they should not have exchanged letters previously. On Cicero’s side the epistles are of the most familiar character, giving us a minute narrative of incident, occupation, thought, and sentiment, day by day, and furnishing more ample and more authentic materials for his biography than are derived from all other sources. They include equally such references to the details of the life of Atticus, and to all his peculiarities of habit, opinion, and taste, that we feel hardly less intimately acquainted with him than with his illustrious correspondent. He became to Cicero as another self, an admirer of his genius, a participant in all his ambitions, and in many matters of practical life by far the wiser of the two. That he knew the worth, prized the privilege, and undoubtedly anticipated the enduring fame of such a friendship, is the best title that remains on record to the place which he would have claimed in the list of genuine philosophers.


Marcus Porcius Cato Censorius was born at Tusculum in Latium, probably B. C. 234, and died at the age of at least eighty-five years. Livy and Plutarch both say that he passed his ninetieth year. He was of plebeian birth, and the founder of his own illustrious family. Porcius was the family name, and Cato was a name either given to him in childhood with foresight of his shrewdness and practical wisdom, or else bestowed on him and accepted by him after his peculiar traits of character were well known and distinctly recognized. It denotes wisdom of an entirely terrestrial, and even feline type, and is on the whole more appropriate to him than the surname Sapiens, which attached itself to him in his later years. He had great virtues, but defects as great. In not one of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount could he have claimed a part, nor would he have deigned to claim it, unless, in the almost numberless suits at law in which he was his own advocate, he might have regarded himself as “persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” He was rigidly truthful, sternly and ferociously upright, intensely courageous, and devotedly patriotic, — kind, too, to his wives and children. But he was mean and miserly, an exacting and tyrannical master, an implacable enemy, and his lower appetites were not governed by principle, but kept in check only so far as prudence required. He probably seemed a better man in Cicero’s time than in his own, and this for two reasons; namely, that his peculiar virtues had almost died out of the Roman commonwealth, and that, when a man transmits to posterity any valid title to fame, time enhances his merits and extenuates his faults, so that the generation which “builds the sepulchres of the prophets” always idealizes the busts that surmount them.

As regards versatility of endowment, number and diversity of official trusts, ability and faithfulness as a servant of the public, and influence — unspent by death — over the Senate and the people, Cato had no equal in the history of Rome. The impress of his life and character on the ages that looked back on his career from the interval of centuries, may best be seen from Livy’s panegyric, of which we give a literal translation. After enumerating the long list of competitors for the office of Censor, he says: —

“Marcus Porcius [Cato] stood in the canvass far before all the patricians and plebeians of the most noble families. In this man there was so great force of mind and genius, that, whatever might have been his position by birth, he seemed destined to be the artificer of his own fortune. He lacked no skill in the management of either private or public interests. He was equally versed in the affairs of the city and of the country. Some have attained the highest honors by virtue of legal science, some by eloquence, some by military fame; he had a genius so capable of excelling in all, that whatever he had in hand you would say that he was expressly born for it. In war he was the bravest of soldiers, renowned in many signal conflicts; after he rose to high honors, a consummate general; in peace, if you asked legal advice, the wisest of counsellors; if you had a cause to be argued, the most eloquent of advocates. Nor was he one whose fame as an orator, flourishing while he lived, left no memorial of itself behind him. His eloquence still lives, consecrated by writings of every description. There are extant many of his speeches for himself, and for others, and against others; for he harassed his opponents equally by accusing them and by pleading his own cause. An excessive number of enmities were cherished against him, and cherished by him; nor was it easy to say whether the nobles were the more earnest to put him down, or he to annoy them. He was, undoubtedly, of a harsh temper, and of a bitter and an inordinately free tongue, but of a soul unconquered by sensual appetites, of rigid integrity, a despiser of adulation and of bribes. In frugal living, in endurance of labor and of danger, he was of an iron constitution of body and mind; nor could old age, which enfeebles all things, break him. In his eighty-sixth year he had a case in court, pleaded his own cause, and continued to write, and in his ninetieth year he brought Servius Galba to trial before the people.”

Cato inherited a small farm in the Sabine territory, where he spent his boyhood and such portions of his subsequent life as were free from public service. Here he lived with the utmost simplicity, worked on his farm, and associated on familiar terms with his rustic neighbors. At the age of seventeen he made his first campaign as a soldier, and three years later reached the dignity of a military Tribune under Fabius Maximus, whose friendship he enjoyed. B. C. 205, he went to Sicily as military Quaestor under the elder Africanus. In due time he became Aedile, and the next year Praetor, having Sardinia for his province, with a considerable military command. In this office he renounced the wonted pomp of his predecessors, walked on his circuits, cut down to the lowest point all public expenses, waged war against usury, and visited usurers with condign punishment. Chosen Consul B. C. 195, he sustained during his term of office the only signal defeat in his whole career. Twenty years previously, in the stress of the Punic war, a severe sumptuary law had been passed, limiting the amount of gold which women might possess, forbidding them to wear many-colored garments, and prohibiting their use of carriages for short distances in the city. The women absolutely mobbed the Senators, imploring the repeal of restrictions no longer needed. Cato opposed them to the last; but they by importunity won the day, and celebrated their victory by a procession, in which they made ample show of the late-proscribed finery. As soon as this domestic war was over, Cato set sail for his allotted province, Hither Spain (Hispania Citerior). Here there were rebel and recalcitrant tribes to be reduced to submission, and Cato in the conduct of this campaign displayed at once the highest military ability and the most wanton and savage cruelty. He was rewarded with a triumph; but returned to encounter the enmity of the elder Scipio Africanus, toward whom he had previously stood in unfriendly relations. He successfully defended himself against the charges urged against him, which seem to have related, in part at least, to the pecuniary administration of his province, in which Cato was able, by producing his accounts, to show himself, as in these matters he always was, not only above suspicion, but minutely exact, and as parsimonious in public office as he was in his own private affairs. He subsequently served under Glabrio, probably as Legatus, or lieutenant-general, in the war with Antiochus the Great, and the battle of Thermopylae, which crippled Antiochus, was brought to a successful issue confessedly by the prowess, energy, and strategic skill of Cato.

B. C. 184, Cato was chosen Censor, and applied himself at once with characteristic vigor and acrimony to the duties of his office. He made the most stringent provisions against luxury. He put the aqueducts, sewers, and other public works in order, and arrested all the modes in which public property had been perverted to private uses, such as the drawing off of water from the reservoirs for the special supply of houses and gardens. He brought farmers of the revenue and contractors of every class to strict account, and regulated all contracts by his own perhaps too low estimate of the actual worth of the work done or the service rendered. He degraded from the Senate and from their Equestrian privileges a very considerable number of men of previously high standing, most of them for grave and sufficient reasons, — some, it must be confessed, on very frivolous pretexts. He laid up by his censorial career a stock of enmities which lasted him for the rest of his life, during which he held no public office, but appeared constantly in the courts, in the Senate, and before the people, retaining to the last his clearness and vigor of intellect, and much of his oratorical power. He was during his lifetime prosecuted before the tribunals forty-four times, and failed of successful defence but once. He was still oftener a public accuser, and generally procured the conviction of the defendant. In the case of Servius Galba, recorded by Livy as his last, he lost the cause, though a righteous one, by the wonted resource of an appeal by weeping children to the pity of the judges.

Cato, though not a profligate or a sot, was not consistently pure nor uniformly temperate. He dealt with his slaves as with cattle, treating them as merchantable chattels, punishing them with wanton severity, and sometimes condemning them to death for trivial offences. His whole life must have been coarse, in many aspects even brutal, and the aesthetic faculty seems to have been entirely wanting in him.

Yet his literary culture must have been of a high order. He learned Greek in his old age, after despising the language and its writers during the whole of his earlier life. He was a friend and patron of the poet Ennius, and brought him to Rome, though manifestly without any generous provision for his subsistence; for Ennius led in Rome as poor and straitened a life as he could have left in Sardinia, where Cato found him. Of Cato’s orations, letters, and great historical work, we have only fragments extant. His De Re Rustica exists, probably unchanged in substance, though modernized in form. It is not so much a treatise as a miscellaneous compend of materials relating to agriculture and rural affairs, and it undoubtedly presents the most genuine picture that has been preserved to our time of rustic life in Italy two thousand years ago.


Caius Laelius Sapiens, of a distinguished patrician family, was born in Rome, B. C. 186. His surname was given to him for his prudence in retracting certain agrarian measures in which he would have shared with the Gracchi the intensest enmity of the whole patrician body. He was vacillating in his political opinions and proclivities, feeling strong sympathy with the popular cause, yet unwilling to forfeit the friendship and esteem of his own native caste. Though he was not a great man, he filled reputably several high public trusts, both civil and military, and was regarded as the most learned and acute of jurists in augural law, which was largely made up of authority and precedent, and abounded in intricacies and subtilties, while yet it constantly had grave complications with the most important affairs of state.

He was a man of large and varied erudition, was well versed in philosophy, and as a pupil of Diogenes of Babylon, and then of Panaetius, was among the earliest Roman disciples of the Stoic school.

His social qualities won for him many and warm friends. He had an even temper, genial manners, fine conversational powers, ready wit and affluent humor. In the De Senectute he is fitly associated with the younger Scipio Africanus, with whom he lived in the closest intimacy, as his father had with the elder Africanus. Thoroughly amiable in his domestic relations, he seems to have almost anticipated the home life of modern Christendom, and we have accounts of games not unlike our blindman’s-buff, in which he and Scipio dropped all dignity and became boys again. Many of his facetious sayings lingered long in the popular memory, and some still survive. The best of them is his reply to an impertinent man, who reproached him with not being worthy of his ancestors, — “But you are worthy of yours.”

Of his writings — chiefly orations — nothing remains except a few titles. He was regarded as singularly smooth and elegant in his style; but the Latin tongue was by no means in his day the subtle and flexible organ of thought which Cicero both found and made it, and some of the later grammarians resorted to Laelius for specimens of archaic words and idioms.


Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Minor was a son of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, and was adopted by his cousin, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, the son of the elder Africanus. He was born in the same year with Laelius. He has his place in history as the most able and successful military commander of his age. He first gained celebrity in Spain as military Tribune under Lucius Lucullus, whom he eclipsed in fame, equally as to courage, integrity, and humanity. At the beginning of the third Punic war he still served as Tribune; but by his valor and skill he so won the suffrages of the army and the confidence of the people, that he was made Consul before the legal age, and was thus placed in supreme command. The war, under his energetic conduct, issued in the capture and destruction of Carthage. He was subsequently chosen Consul a second time, with a view to his service as commander in Spain, where the war had been prolonged for many years, and with repeated disasters for the Roman army. Scipio laid siege to Numantia, and, after the most obstinate resistance on the part of the Spaniards, took the city, levelled it with the ground, reserved fifty of its inhabitants to grace his triumph, and sold the rest of them as slaves.

He was Censor for a year in the interval between his two consulships, and in that office he chose Cato for his model, employed the utmost severity in the repression of extravagance, luxury, and licentiousness, and made some strong and bitter enemies. He was always and consistently an aristocrat, and an opposer of all agrarian measures, and of the self-constituted leaders of the popular or plebeian party; and as his death occurred suddenly and mysteriously, it was supposed that he had been murdered by some one of his political antagonists, probably by Papirius Carbo, who had been unsparing in denunciations and invectives against him as the enemy of the Roman people.

Scipio was one of the most learned and accomplished men of his age, a friend of Polybius and Panaetius, a patron of the poets Lucilius and Terence, and, it was said, — probably on no sufficient evidence, — a collaborator with Terence, or at least a reviser of some of his comedies.

In my translation I have uniformly followed the text of Otto. Few of the various readings are of any importance; and where there is a difference worthy of notice, I find that, so far as I can remember without an exception, Lahmeyer and Sommerbrodt, whose editions I have constantly consulted, coincide with Otto.

[1 ]Interjectus est etiam nuper. The chief ground for doubt as to the time of its composition is that Cicero seems to speak of this book as “thrown in among” the six Books of the De Republica, written during his consulate; while he sometimes gives a very broad sense to nuper, as when he writes, nuper, id est paucis ante seculis. But between his mention of the De Republica and that of the De Senectute he names the Consolatio, which was written in B. C. 45, after the death of his daughter. Interjectus, as I suppose, refers, not to the date, but to the brevity of the treatise, and by virtue of the etiam applies equally to the Consolatio. “While I have written, earlier or later, the longer works that I have named, I have thrown in among them these smaller treatises.”

[1 ]Cicero and Atticus were not old men when the De Republica was written.

[2 ]The first words of the De Senectute.

[2 ]The first words of the De Senectute.

[1 ]Mihi quidem βεβίωται, — “Life is indeed over with me.” Letters to Atticus, XIV. 21.

Last modified April 10, 2014