Quotations about   old age

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Old women will often bear the lack of food for two or three days. But take food from an athlete for a single day, he will implore the very Olympian Jupiter for whose honor he is in training, and will cry that he cannot bear it. Great is the power of habit.

[Aniculae saepe inediam biduum aut triduum ferunt; subduc cibum unum diem athletae: Iovem, Iovem Olympium, eum ipsum, cui se exercebit, implorabit, ferre non posse clamabit.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Tusculan Disputations [Tusculanae Disputationes], Book 2, ch. 17 / sec. 40 (45 BC) [tr. Peabody (1886)]
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Original Latin. Alternate translations:

Weak old Women oftentimes go without eating two or three days together; do but with-hold Meat one day from a Wrestler, he will cry out upon Olympian Jupiter; the same to whose Honor he shall exercise himself. He will cry he cannot bear it. Great is the Power of Custom.
[tr. Wase (1643)]

You may often hear of diminutive old women living without victuals three or four days; but take away a wrestler's provision for but one day, he will implore Jupiter Olympus, the very god for whom he exercises himself: he will cry out, It is intolerable. Great is the force of custom!
[tr. Main (1824)]

Tender old women often support a fast of two or three days. Withdraw his rations for one day from a wrestler; he will appeal to that Olympic Jove himself, for whom he exercises; he will cry out it impossible to bear it. Great is the force of habit.
[tr. Otis (1839)]

You may often hear of old women living without victuals for three or four days: but take away a wrestler's provisions but for one day, and he will implore the aid of Jupiter Olympius, the very God for whom he exercises himself: he will cry out that he cannot endure it. Great is the force of custom!
[tr. Yonge (1853)]

Feeble old women often endure hunger for two or three days. Take food away from an athlete for just one day. He will appeal to Jupiter, that Olympian Jupiter, the very one for whom he will be doing this training -- he will cry out that he can't bear it. Practice has great power.
[tr. Douglas (1990)]

Little old ladies often bear a two or three day period of fasting; but take away an athlete’s food for a day, and he will beg for relief from Jove! Olympian Jove, the one for whom he exercises! And he’ll tell you that he simply cannot bear it.
[tr. @sentantiq (2015)]

Old women regularly endure a lack of food for a period of three or four days; take from an athlete his food for a single day and he will appeal to olympian Jupiter, the very god in whose honor he trains, he will cry out that he can't bear it. The force of habit is considerable.
[tr. Davie (2017)]

Added on 7-Jun-21 | Last updated 7-Jun-21
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Therefore, when the young die I am reminded of a strong flame extinguished by a torrent; but when old men die it is as if a fire had gone out without the use of force and of its own accord, after the fuel had been consumed; and, just as apples when they are green are with difficulty plucked from the tree, but when ripe and mellow fall of themselves, so, with the young, death comes as a result of force, while with the old it is the result of ripeness. To me, indeed, the thought of this “ripeness” for death is so pleasant, that the nearer I approach death the more I feel like one who is in sight of land at last and is about to anchor in his home port after a long voyage.

[Itaque adulescentes mihi mori sic videntur, ut cum aquae multitudine flammae vis opprimitur, senes autem sic, ut cum sua sponte nulla adhibita vi consumptus ignis exstinguitur; et quasi poma ex arboribus, cruda si sunt, vix evelluntur, si matura et cocta, decidunt, sic vitam adulescentibus vis aufert, senibus maturitas; quae quidem mihi tam iucunda est, ut, quo propius ad mortem accedam, quasi terram videre videar aliquandoque in portum ex longa navigatione esse venturus.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
Cato Maior de Senectute [Discourse on Old Age], ch. 19 / sec. 71 (44 BC) [tr. Falconer (1923)]
    (Source)

Original Latin. Alt. trans.

Therefore a young man seemeth to me to die like fire put out with water, but old men like fire which being put out by no force, is quietly consumed of it selfe; and as apples on trees being not ripe, are plucked of by violence, but being ripe they fall of themselves: so force taketh away the life of young men, but ripenesse of age the life of old men: which consideration is so pleasant to me, that I seem to behold the earth, as a quiet port, whither after a long and troublesome navigation I shall arrive.
[tr. Austin (17th C), ch. 21]

For Young Men seem to be forced from Life, as Fires are extinguished by great Quantities of Water thrown on them; when on the contrary, Old Men expire of themselves, like a Flame when all its Fuel is spent. And as unripe Fruit requires some Force to part it from its native Bough; but when come to full Maturity, it drops of itself, without any Hand to touch it: So Young People die by something violent or unnatural; but the Old by mere Ripeness. The Thoughts of which to me are now become so agreeable, that the nearer I draw to my End, it seems like discovering the Land at Sea, that, after the Tossings of a tedious and stormy Voyage, will yield me a safe and quiet Harbour.
[tr. Logan (1734)]

In the latter instance [youth]; the privation of life may be resembled to a fire forcibly extinguished by a deluge of water; in the former [an old man], to a fire spontaneously and gradually going out from a total consumption of its fuel. Or, to have recourse to another illustration; as fruit before it is ripe cannot, without some degree of force, be separated from the stalk, but drops of itself when perfectly mature; so the disunion of the soul and body is effected in the young by dint of violence, but is wrought in the old by a mere fullness and completion of years. This ripeness for death I perceive in myself with much satisfaction; and I look forward to my dissolution as to a secure haven, where I shall at length find a happy repose from the fatigues of a long voyage.
[tr. Melmoth (<1820)]

To them it comes
It seems to me, as when a fire is quenched
By streams of water: to the old it comes
As when a fire dies slowly down itself:
Just so the apples, when unripe, are torn
With violence from the boughs: if ripe with age
They gently fall: and so the life of youth
Is taken by some violent attack;
The old man's troublous age comes gently to an end.
To me this seems so pleasant, that I feel
The nearer that I draw towards the end,
I sight the land, and see before my eyes
The harbour waiting to receive the bark
Which long as voyaged on the toilsome sea.
[tr. Allison (1916)]

Death at an early age seems to me like a fire that has suddenly been swamped by a bucket of water; but death in old age is like a fire that has not been extinguished but has gone out of its own accord, because it has used up all its fuel. When an apple is not yet ripe, it takes some work to tug it off the branch; but when it is fully ripe, it simply falls to the ground. In the same way, though some act of violence may snatch life from the young, the old are ready to die. And that to me is a pleasant thought -- so much so that the nearer I get to death, the more I feel like a sailor who, after a long voyage, has made landfall and is about to tie up in his home port.
[tr. Cobbold (2012)]

A young person dying reminds me of a fire extinguished by a deluge. But when an old person dies, it is like a flame that diminishes gradually and flickers away of its own accord with no force applied after its fuel has been used up. In the same way, green apples are hard to pick from a tree, but when ripe and ready they fall to the ground by themselves. So death comes to the young with force, but to the old when the time is right. To me there is great comfort in this idea, so that as death grows nearer, the more I feel like a traveler who at last sees the land of his home port after a long voyage.
[tr. Freeman (2016)]
Added on 7-Dec-20 | Last updated 7-Dec-20
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I want to tell people approaching and perhaps fearing old age that it is a time of discovery. If they say, “Of what?” I can only answer, “We must find out for ourselves, otherwise it wouldn’t be discovery.”

Florida Scott-Maxwell (1883-1979) American-British playwright, author, psychologist
(Attributed)
Added on 30-Nov-20 | Last updated 30-Nov-20
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You do not play then at whist, sir! Alas, what a sad old age you are preparing for yourself!

[Vous ne jouez donc pas le whist, monsieur? Hélas! quelle triste vieilesse vous vous préparez!]

Charles Maurice, Prince de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754-1838) French statesman
(Attributed)

In Amédée Pichot, Souvenirs Intimes sur M. de Talleyrand, "Le Pour et le Contre" (1870).
Added on 17-Dec-15 | Last updated 17-Dec-15
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The latter part of a wise man’s life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Various Subjects” (1706)
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Added on 3-Sep-15 | Last updated 3-Sep-15
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People who live long, who will drink of the cup of live to the very bottom, must expect to meet with some of the usual dregs.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist, philosopher
Letter to M. Le Veillard (15 Apr 1787)
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Added on 24-Dec-14 | Last updated 24-Dec-14
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Autumn is really the best of the seasons: and I’m not sure that old age isn’t the best part of life. But of course, like Autumn, it doesn’t last.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
Letter to Miss Jane Douglass (31 Oct 1963)

In W. H. Lewis, ed., The Letters of C. S. Lewis (1966), final letter.
Added on 15-Oct-14 | Last updated 15-Oct-14
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The problem with aging is not that it’s one damn thing after another — it’s every damn thing, all at once, all the time.

John Scalzi (b. 1969) American writer
Old Man’s War, ch. 1 (2005)
Added on 13-Aug-14 | Last updated 13-Aug-14
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That sign of old age, extolling the past at the expense of the present.

Sydney Smith (1771-1845) English clergyman, essayist, wit
Lady Holland’s Memoir, Vol. 1, ch. 11 (1855)
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Added on 6-Mar-09 | Last updated 10-Jul-14
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Life is one long process of getting tired.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler (1912)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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