On a Life Well Spent by Cicero

Summary

  1. Cicero gives us some wisdom about how to age gracefully and live a life worth living so that when we’re older, we can look back and take joy in what we’ve done

Key Takeaways

  1. The best armor of old age is a well spent life preceding it; a life employed in the pursuit of useful knowledge, in honorable actions and the practice of virtue; in which he who labors to improve himself from his youth, will in age reap the happiest fruits of them; not only because these never leave a man, not even in the extremest of old age, but because a conscience bearing witness that our life was well spent, together with the remembrance of past good actions, yields an unspeakable comfort to the soul
  2. I have known several who have lived to be very old, without complaining at all; for they appeared not only easy, but pleased at their being delivered from the tyranny of their former youthful passions
  3. A calm contemplative life, or a life well and virtuously spent in the just discharge of one’s immediate duty in any station, will ever be attended with a serenity of mind
  4. How do the lawyers, the pontiffs, the augurs, and the philosophers, who live to a great age? Men will retain their understanding and abilities, while they continue their application and diligence
  5. And I must ever think, that all those who spend their time in improving others in knowledge, and teaching the nobler arts, when their natural strength of body fails them, are entitled to our highest regard and esteem
  6. We must prepare ourselves, my friends, against old age; and as it is advancing, endeavor by our diligence to mitigate and correct the natural infirmities that attend it: we must use proper preservatives, as we do against diseases; great care must, in the first place, be taken of our health; all bodily exercise must be moderate, and especially our diet; which out to be of such a kind, and in such proportion, as may refresh and strengthen nature, without oppressing it. Nor must our care be confined to our bodies only; for the mind requires much more, which without it will not only decay, but our understanding will as certainly die away in old age, as a lamp not duly supplied with oil. The body, we know, when overlabored, becomes heavy, and, as it were, jaded; but ’tis exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor
  7. I read much Greek and, agreeable to the Pythagorean Precept, the better to exercise my memory, I recollect at night what I have heard, said, or done in the day
  8. ‘Tis owned, that the most noble and excellent gift of heaven to man, is his reason: and ’tis as sure, that of all the enemies of reason has to engage with, pleasure is the most capital, and the most pernicious
  9. But I am now come to speak of the pleasure of a country life, with which I am infinitely delighted. To these, old age is never an obstruction. It is the life of nature, and appears to me the exactest plan of that which a wise man ought to lead. Here our whole business is with the earth, the common parent of us all, which is never found refractory, never denies what is required of it, nor fails to return back what is committed to it with advantage, sometimes indeed with less, but generally with a very large interest
  10. Yet in all I have said, I desired to be understood to mean the old age of such persons only, as have in their youth laid solid foundations for esteem in advancing years; for on no other terms ought we to expect it. And hence it was, that what I once said in a public speech, met with so general an applause, when I observed, that miserable was that man’s old age who needed the help of oratory to defend him. Grey hairs and wrinkles avail nothing to confer the authority I am here speaking of: it must be the result of a series of good actions, and nothing but a life honorably and virtuously led, thro’ all the advancing steps of it, can crown old age with this blessed harvest of its past labors
  11. We ought all to be content with the time and portion assigned to us. No man expects of any one actor on the theater that he should perform all the parts of the piece himself: one role only is committed to him, and whatever that be, if he acts it well, he is applauded. In the same manner, it is not the part of a wise man, to desire to be busy in these scenes to the last plaudit. A short term may be long enough to live it well and honorably; and if you hold it longer, when past the first stages, you ought no more to grieve that they are over, than the husbandman repines that the spring is past, and the summer heats come on; or after these, the more sickly autumn
  12. The best fruits of old age are the recollecting and feeding of the remembrance of that train and store of good and virtuous deeds, of which, in the course of life, we laid in a kind of provision
  13. Thus old people, for the little remainder of life that is left them, should stand loose and indifferent, neither anxious to have it prolonged, nor precipitantly or without just cause to shorten it; remembering the precept of Pythagoras, that no man should quit his post, but at the command of his general, that is, God himself. And in regard to those we are to leave behind us, tho’ some have commended Solon for saying – he wish’d not to die unadorned and unlamented by his friends; in which his sense doubtless was, that he desired while he lived to be loved and valued by them; yet I know not but that of Ennius is altogether as just, let none with tears or sighs my funeral grace: For his meaning was, that death crown’d with immortality, ought by no means to be lamented
  14. While we are closed in these mortal frames, our bodies, we are bound down to a law of necessity. But our minds are of a heavenly original, descended from the blissful seats above.
  15. When the mind is wholly freed from all corporeal mixture, and begins to be purified, and recover itself again; then, and then only, it becomes truly knowing and wise
  16. Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others

What I got out of it

  1. Live a life that when you’re on your deathbed looking back, you’re proud of. You have to do this proactively or else it’ll be too late. Be interested rather than interesting (as John Gardner would say), learn, meet new people, do things which excite you and add meaning to the world