Why then do I spend so many words on the subject of pleasure? Why, because, far from being a charge against old age, that it does not much feel the want of any pleasures, it is its highest praise. But, you will say, it is deprived of the pleasures of the table, the heaped up board, the rapid passing of the wine-cup. Well, then, it is also free from headache, disordered digestion, broken sleep. But if we must grant pleasure something, since we do not find it easy to resist its charms, — for Plato, with happy inspiration, calls pleasure “vice’s bait,” because of course men are caught by it as fish by a hook, — yet, although old age has to abstain from extravagant banquets, it is still capable of enjoying modest festivities.
[Quorsum igitur tam multa de voluptate? Quia non modo vituperatio nulla, sed etiam summa laus senectutis est, quod ea voluptates nullas magno opere desiderat. Caret epulis exstructisque mensis et frequentibus poculis. Caret ergo etiam vinulentia et cruditate et insomniis. Sed si aliquid dandum est voluptati, quoniam eius blanditiis non facile obsistimus, divine enim Plato “escam malorum” appellat voluptatem quod ea videlicet homines capiantur ut pisces, quamquam immoderatis epulis caret senectus, modicis tamen conviviis delectari potest.]
De Senectute [Cato Maior; On Old Age], ch. 13 / sec. 44 (13.44) (44 BC) [tr. Shuckburgh (1895)]
The reference to Plato is to Timaeus, 69D: "κακοῦ δέλεαρ".
(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:
Therfor thene ye may aske and demaunde why I haue said so many thynges of flesshely delyte and of lecherye, wherfor I answere you that the blame and the shame is not onely ynoughe. But namely it is the grete lawde and praysyng of olde age that it desyreth but lytle flesshely delectacyons. Olde age chargith nevir of dyetes nor of dyvers deynty metys nor of tables richely and dyversly arrayde nor of many dyners drynkys. Olde age wille not be fulle of wyn often for doubte of sekenes. Olde age wille not suffre the akyng of the bely as is the colyk or of the stone or costyfnes whiche comyth of takyng so muche mete and so often that it abideth rawe within the stomake. Olde age desyrith not wakyng in the tyme that nature hath ordeyned to slepe. Albeit an aged man is gretly disposed to wake ayenst his will forsoth the philosopher Platon whiche spake dyversly in a mater that delectacyon at∣tempted by euill disposed men that leyen the baite & the snare to delite aged men in repleccion of lustis & metys not helefull to them & bycause that men be taken & decevued by the baite sett in the hoke or angle as the bird is taken in the snare how be it that olde age wolde have no metys ne his etyngys excessiuely. Algatys they may delite in deynte metys and in smale feedyngys and temperate dyete.
[tr. Worcester/Worcester/Scrope (1481)]
But to what purpose do we speak so much of pleasure? Verily, to the intent that hereby it may be seen and proved, how that it cannot only not be objected to old age for any vituperation and dispraise, but rather for a singular praise and commendation; because old-age doth not esteem nor care for these pleasures. But some other will say: It lacketh sumptuous fare, costly dishes, delicate viands, and drinks of all sorts. Hereto I answer tihat, therefore, it lacketh also drunkenness, crudity, or indigestion, fantastical dreams, and ridiculous apparitions. But if we must any whit yield to to pleasure because we cannot easily resist the blandishments and allurements thereof (for the divine philosopher Plato calleth pleasure the bait of all mischief, because men therewith are caught and snared even as fishes are with the hook), I say, that although old age be not endangered nor given to superfluous and immoderate banqueting, and at unseasonable hours, yet in temperate and moderate feasting it may be solaced and comfortably recreated.
[tr. Newton (1569)]
But to what end speak we so much of pleasure? because that you may see that no blame, but much praise is to be given to age, because it doth not lust after pleasure, which is so dangerous a thing. Age wanteth banquetting, gluttony, and quaffing; it is also without surfeting, drunkennesse, or dreaming; but yet if we may any wayes take some pleasure, because we do not easily resist her flatteries (for divine Plato calleth pleasure the bait of evils, because men are caught ther∣with as fishes with a hook) tho age despiseth immoderate banquets, yet may it be delighted with moderate meetings.
[tr. Austin (1648), ch. 12-13]
Then to our age (when not to pleasures bent)
This seems an honour, not disparagement.
We, not all pleasures like the Stoicks hate;
But love and seek those which are moderate.
(Though Divine Plato thus of pleasures thought,
They us, with hooks and baits, like fishes caught.)
[tr. Denham (1669)]
I have dwelt the longer on this Topick of bodily Pleasures, to shew, it is so far from being a Disparagement to our Age, to be deprived of these Enjoyments, that it is its greatest Praise and Commendation, that it even takes off our Inclinations from the violent Pursuit of them. Though we may not indulge our selves so freely in our Cups, though we do not relish the Pleasures of the most luxurious Provisions, will not our being freed from the fatal Consequences of Indigestion, and a disordered Imagination, make us ample amends? But if we must make some Allowances for Pleasure, and submit to its Blandishments (which Plato calls the Bait of humane Miseries, with which like Fishes we are tempted to the Hook). Though we are deprived of the Pleasure of immoderate Feasting, yet can we still relish the Charms of an agreeable and chearful Entertainment; which arises not from the Delicacy or Variety of Courses, but from the Conversation of the Company.
[tr. Hemming (1716)]
And why all this of Pleasure? Because not only to over-rule the Objection, but to shew that it is the greatest Encomium on Old Age, that he never ardently desires what we call Pleasure. Doth Age want Banquets, great Tables, and frequent Use of Wine? Confequently it is free from Drunkenness, Surfeits, and watchful Nights. But if we are any ways to give ourselves up to Pleasure, because we cannot altogether attend her Invitations, as Plato says, who calls it "a Bait for Evil, and that Men are taken with it as Fishes with a Hook," yet Old Age will abstain from Revelling, and take Delight only in moderate Entertainments.
[tr. J. D. (1744)]
Thus I judged it necessary to be the more full on this Head of Pleasure, and shew the Dangers of it, to the end you might clearly see, it is so far from being a Disadvantage to Old-Age, its Palling our Inclinations to Pleasure, that on the contrary it is rather a great and valuable Blessing. For if it is in a good Measure dead to the Enjoyments others find in Banqueting, sumptuous Feasts and Carousings, it is freed at the same time from all the troublesome Effects of these; as Fumes, Crudities, uneasy Sleep, or the want of it; with divers other such like Disorders. Yet as Nature has so ordered it, that Pleasure should have a very strong Hold of us, and the Inclination to it appears deeply founded in our very Composition, (and 'tis with too much Justice that the divine Plato calls it the Bait of Evil, by which Men are caught as Fish with a Hook) therefore, though Age is not taken, nor can well bear, with those splendid sumptuous Feastings and Revels, yet we are not so insensible to the Pleasures of Life, but that we can indulge ourselves, and take a real Delight in sober and temperate Entertainments with our Friends.
[tr. Logan (1744)]
I have dwelt the longer upon this article, in order to convince you, that the little relish which old age leaves us for enjoyments of the sensual kind, is so far from being a just imputation on this period of life, that on the contrary it very considerably raises its value. If age render us incapable of taking an equal share in the flowing cups, and luxuriant dishes of splendid tables, it secures us too from their unhappy consequences -- from painful indigestions, restless nights, and disordered reason. Accordingly, the divine Plato justly represents pleasure as the bait by which vice ensnares and captivates her deluded votaries. But if this enticement cannot always be resisted, if the palate must sometimes be indulged, I do not scruple to say that an old man, although his years will guard him from excess, is by no means excluded from enjoying, in a moderate degree, the convivial gratifications.
[tr. Melmoth (1773)]
With what view then do I say so much about pleasure? Because not only is it no ground of censure, but even the highest praise of old age, that it desires no pleasures very much. But is old age without feasts, and loaded tables, and frequent cups? Therefore it is without drunkenness, and indigestion and troubled sleep. But if something must be given to pleasure, since we do not easily withstand its blandishments, (for divinely Plato calls pleasure the bait of evils, because evidently men are taken by it as fishes by a hook,) though old age is debarred immoderate feasts, yet, it may be gratified with temperate socialities.
[Cornish Bros. ed. (1847)]
To what end then have I said so many things about pleasure? Because it is so far from being any disparagement, that it is even the highest praise to old age, that it has no great desire for any pleasures. It lacks banquets, and piled up boards, and fast-coming goblets; it is therefore also free from drunkenness and indigestion and sleeplessness. But if something must be conceded to pleasure (since we do not easily withstand its allurements, for Plato beautifully calls pleasure the bait of evils, inasmuch as, by it, in fact, men are caught as fishes with a hook), although old age has nothing to do with extravagant banquets, yet in reasonable entertainments it can experience pleasure.
[tr. Edmonds (1874)]
But to what purpose am I saying so much about pleasure? Because it is not only no reproach to old age, but even its highest merit, that it does not severely feel the loss of bodily pleasures. But, you may say, it must dispense with sumptuous feasts, and loaded tables, and oft-drained cups. True, but it equally dispenses with sottishness, and indigestion, and troubled dreams. But if any license is to be given to pleasure, seeing that we do not easily resist its allurements, -- insomuch that Plato calls pleasure the bait of evil, because, forsooth, men are caught by it as fishes by the hook, -- old age, while it dispenses with excessive feasting, yet can find delight in moderate conviviality.
[tr. Peabody (1884)]
But why so much of pleasure? Why, you see,
Not only is it no disgrace to age,
But ev'n its greatest merit that it longs
No more for pleasure, cares no more for feasts
With loaded tables and o'er-flowing wine.
It misses too the headache, and the night
Of sickness and of sleeplessness that comes.
If something we must grant to pleasure's claim:
(It is not easy to resist its charm:
The godlike Plato thinks it is a bait
To catch the foolish, just as fish are caught:)
Though we cannot indulge in gorgeous feasts,
A modest dinner we can still enjoy.
[tr. Allison (1916)]
Why then, do I dwell at such length on pleasure? Because the fact that old age feels little longing for sensual pleasures not only is no cause for reproach, but rather is ground for the highest praise. Old age lacks the heavy banquet, the loaded table, and the oft-filled cup; therefore it also lacks drunkenness, indigestion, and loss of sleep. But if some concession must be made to pleasure, since her allurements are difficult to resist, and she is, as Plato happily says, “the bait of sin,” -- evidently because men are caught therewith like fish -- then I admit that old age, though it lacks immoderate banquets, may find delight in temperate repasts.
[tr. Falconer (1923)]
Why then do I have so much to say about pleasures of this kind? Because the weakening of temptation to indulge in them, far from supplying a pretext to reproach old age, is a reason for offering it the most cordial complements. Age has no banquets, no tables piled high, no cups filled again and again. So it avoids drunkenness, and indigestion, and sleepless nights! However, the allurements of pleasure are admittedly hard to resist; they are "the bait of sin," as Plato brilliantly calls them, which catch men like fish. If, then, we have to make them some concession, there is no reason why old age, though spared extravagant feasting, should not gratify itself with entertainments of a more modest nature.
[tr. Grant (1960, 1971 ed.)]
Why am I dwelling at such length on pleasure? Because it is not only no condemnation of old age, but rather its highest recommendation, that it feels no overwhelming desire for pleasure. The old do not share in banquets, in tables piled high with food, and in endless toasts; as a consequence, they do not share in drunkenness, in indigestion, and in sleeplessness. But if we must make some concession to pleasure, since we do not easily resist its blandishments (in a moment of inspiration Plato called pleasure “the bait of evil” -- obviously because men are caught by it like fish) -- even though the old do not share in unrestrained high life, still they can derive pleasure from moderate conviviality.
[tr. Copley (1967)]
Why do I go on so much about pleasure? As old men, we should not so much resent our age as praise it in the most glowing terms, because now we cannot feel any more interest in sensual temptations. As old men, we no longer attend formal banquets at tables loaded down with delicious food and wine; but on the other hand we no longer suffer from hangovers and indigestion and insomnia. But even so it may be hard to resist temptation completely. Plato cleverly referred to pleasure as “sin-bait,” because men are caught by it like fishes. There is, then, in our old age, nothing wrong with spending a convivial evening with friends, although we will not indulge ourselves to excess.
[tr. Cobbold (2012)]
So why am I going on and on about pleasure? Because I want to impress upon you how the fact that old age is less subject to the passions for pleasure is not an indictment of this stage of life, but actually one of its greatest advantages. If it lacks allnight parties, or tables heaped hy with rich food and powerful dirnk, it also lacks drunkenness, indigestion, insomnia, and "the morning after." It is not that old age lacks pleasures, it is that they change. And they are healthier. Gone are the overindulgent feasts and in their place we take pleasure in delightful dinner parties.
[tr. Gerberding (2014)]
So why do I tarry on pleasure’s enticement?
The fact that old age has no longing for it
Not only can’t be taken as a demerit,
But on the contrary is the best of credits.
Freedom from decked tables, from banquets
And also from frequent potations
Means freedom from drunkenness,
From insomnia and indigestions.
But we’re bound to make some concessions
To better resist pleasure’s alluring snares
Which Plato calls the bait of transgressions,
By which like fish men are caught unawares.
Although old age sumptuous banquets must shun
In light repasts it finds indeed some fun.
[tr. Bozzi (2015)]
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Added on 17-Nov-23 | Last updated 17-Nov-23
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