Such as compare Cato the Censor with the younger Cato, who killed himself, compare two beautiful natures, much resembling one another. The first acquired his reputation several ways, and excels in military exploits and the utility of his public employments; but the virtue of the younger, besides that it were blasphemy to compare any to it in vigour, was much more pure and unblemished. For who could absolve that of the Censor from envy and ambition, having dared to attack the honour of Scipio, a man in goodness and all other excellent qualities infinitely beyond him or any other of his time?
That which they, report of him, amongst other things, that in his extreme old age he put himself upon learning the Greek tongue with so greedy an appetite, as if to quench a long thirst, does not seem to me to make much for his honour; it being properly what we call falling into second childhood. All things have their seasons, even good ones, and I may say my Paternoster out of time; as they accused T. Quintus Flaminius, that being general of an army, he was seen praying apart in the time of a battle that he won.
Imponit finem sapiens et rebus honestis.
[“The wise man limits even honest things.”—Juvenal, vi. 444]
Eudemonidas, seeing Xenocrates when very old, still very intent upon his school lectures: “When will this man be wise,” said he, “if he is yet learning?” And Philopaemen, to those who extolled King Ptolemy for every day inuring his person to the exercise of arms: “It is not,” said he, “commendable in a king of his age to exercise himself in these things; he ought now really to employ them.” The young are to make their preparations, the old to enjoy them, say the sages: and the greatest vice they observe in us is that our desires incessantly grow young again; we are always re-beginning to live.
Our studies and desires should sometime be sensible of age; yet we have one foot in the grave and still our appetites and pursuits spring every day anew within us:
Tu secanda Marmora Locas sub ipsum funus, et, sepulcri Immemor, struis domos.
[“You against the time of death have marble cut for use, and, forgetful of the tomb, build houses.”—Horace, Od., ii. 18, 17.]
The longest of my designs is not of above a year’s extent; I think of nothing now but ending; rid myself of all new hopes and enterprises; take my last leave of every place I depart from, and every day dispossess myself of what I have.
Olim jam nec perit quicquam mihi, nec acquiritur…. plus superest viatici quam viae.
[“Henceforward I will neither lose, nor expect to get: I have more wherewith to defray my journey, than I have way to go.”]
“Hitherto nothing of me has been lost or gained; more remains to pay the way than there is way.”—Seneca, Ep., 77. (The sense seems to be that so far he had met his expenses, but that for the future he was likely to have more than he required.)]
Vixi, et, quem dederat cursum fortuna, peregi.
[“I have lived and finished the career Fortune placed before me.”—AEneid, iv. 653.]
’Tis indeed the only comfort I find in my old age, that it mortifies in me several cares and desires wherewith my life has been disturbed; the care how the world goes, the care of riches, of grandeur, of knowledge, of health, of myself. There are men who are learning to speak at a time when they should learn to be silent for ever. A man may always study, but he must not always go to school: what a contemptible thing is an old Abecedarian!—[Seneca, Ep. 36]
Diversos diversa juvant; non omnibus annis Omnia conveniunt.
[“Various things delight various men; all things are not for all ages.”—Gall., Eleg., i. 104.]
If we must study, let us study what is suitable to our present condition, that we may answer as he did, who being asked to what end he studied in his decrepit age, “that I may go out better,” said he, “and at greater ease.” Such a study was that of the younger Cato, feeling his end approach, and which he met with in Plato’s Discourse of the Eternity of the Soul: not, as we are to believe, that he was not long before furnished with all sorts of provision for such a departure; for of assurance, an established will and instruction, he had more than Plato had in all his writings; his knowledge and courage were in this respect above philosophy; he applied himself to this study, not for the service of his death; but, as a man whose sleeps were never disturbed in the importance of such a deliberation, he also, without choice or change, continued his studies with the other accustomary actions of his life. The night that he was denied the praetorship he spent in play; that wherein he was to die he spent in reading. The loss either of life or of office was all one to him.
The hardest conviction to get into the mind of a beginner is that the education upon which he is engaged is not a college course...but a life course, for which the work of a few years under teachers is but a preparation.
These pedants of ours... are, of all men, they who most pretend to be useful to mankind, and who alone, of all men, not only do not better and improve that which is committed to them, as a carpenter or a mason would do, but make them much worse, and make us pay them for making them worse, to boot.
Quotidiana is an online anthology of "classical" essays, from antiquity to the early twentieth century. All essays and images are in the public domain. Commentaries are copyrighted, but may be used with proper attribution. Special thanks to the BYU College of Humanities and English Department for funding, and to Joey Franklin and Lara Burton, for tireless research assisting.