On the Shortness of Life XX

When, therefore, you see a man often wear the purple robes of office, and hear his name often repeated in the forum, do not envy him: he gains these things by losing so much of his life.

Men throw away all their years in order to have one year named after them as consul: some lose their lives during the early part of the struggle, and never reach the height to which they aspired: some after having submitted to a thousand indignities in order to reach the crowning dignity, have the miserable reflection that the only result of their labours will be the inscription on their tombstone.

Some, while telling off extreme old age, like youth, for new aspirations, have found it fail from sheer weakness amid great and presumptuous enterprises.

It is a shameful ending, when a man’s breath deserts him in a court of justice, while, although well stricken in years, he is still striving to gain the sympathies of an ignorant audience for some obscure litigant: it is base to perish in the midst of one’s business, wearied with living sooner than with working; shameful, too, to die in the act of receiving payments, amid the laughter of one’s long-expectant heir.

I cannot pass over an instance which occurs to me: Turannius was an old man of the most painstaking exactitude, who after entering upon his ninetieth year, when he had by Gr. Caesar’s own act been relieved of his duties as collector of the revenue, ordered himself to be laid out on his bed and mourned for as though he were dead.

The whole house mourned for the leisure of its old master, and did not lay aside its mourning until his work was restored to him.

Can men find such pleasure in dying in harness?

Yet many are of the same mind: they retain their wish for labour longer than their capacity for it, and fight against their bodily weakness; they think old age an evil for no other reason than because it lays them on the shelf.

The law does not enroll a soldier after his fiftieth year, or require a senator’s attendance after his sixtieth: but men have more difficulty in obtaining their own consent than that of the law to a life of leisure.

Meanwhile, while they are plundering and being plundered, while one is disturbing another’s repose, and all are being made wretched alike, life remains without profit, without pleasure, without any intellectual progress: no one keeps death well before his eyes, no one refrains from far-reaching hopes.

Some even arrange things which lie beyond their own lives, such as huge sepulchral buildings, the dedication of public works, and exhibitions to be given at their funeral-pyre, and ostentatious processions: but, by Hercules, the funerals of such men ought to be conducted by the light of torches and wax tapers, [83] as though they had lived but a few days.