How to Grow Old by Marcus Tillius Cicero

Quick Review: “How to Grow Old” by Cicero

“How to Grow Old” hold timeless wisdom on growing old gracefully from one of ancient Rome’s greatest philosophers. Worried that old age will inevitably mean losing your libido, your health, and possibly your sexual appetite? Well, Cicero has some good news for you. In How to Grow Old, the great Roman orator and statesman eloquently describes how you can make the second half of life the best part of all—and why you might discover that reading and gardening are actually far more enjoyable than the pleasure of the flesh.

Video Review of Cicero’s How to Grow Old

Video Review of How to Grow Old by Cicero

Who was Cicero?

But first we need some context. Who was Cicero? And why should we listen to him about old age?
Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero) was an ancient Roman statesman, orator, and philosopher who lived from 106 BC to 43 BC. He is considered one of the most significant figures in Roman history for several reasons:

– He was a legendary orator a master of rhetoric.
– He is famous for his political career. He played a crucial role in the political life of the late Roman Republic.
– Cicero was a prolific writer on philosophy and is known for his synthesis of Greek philosophical ideas into Roman thought. He introduced Greek philosophy to the Roman world and helped shape the intellectual landscape of his time.

Cicero was influenced by the philosophical schools of the Stoics and the Plato’s Academy and studied studied under the philosophers of his time. Philosophers who represented different schools of though.

📚 About the book

The story of Cicero and How to Grow Old

“Forty-five BC was a bad year for Marcus Tullius Cicero” reads the introduction by Philip Freeman. He was just divorced, for the second time, and his beloved daughter Tullia had died earlier that year. The Roman Empire was in turmoil after Julius Caesar had crossed the Rubico a few years earlier– and Cicero was no fan of Caesar. Cicero had retired to the countryside when he wrote this book. 63 Years old. As a style choice for his writing, Cicero puts his thoughts on old age in the mouth of Cato the Elder (who is supposed to be eighty-fourth year old in the book).  The original roman title of the book is Cato Maior de Senectute translates to “Cato the Elder on Old Age”. 

“How to Grow Old” inspired many prominent figures of history

The discourse in the book is between this fictive version of Cato and two youngsters who express their admiration at the wonderful ease with which he still bares the burden of life, despite his old age. In the “How to Grow Old” Cicero gives a hopeful view of growing old. He admits the limitations it puts in the human body, but not that old age is worse than youth. Just like nature has its seasons, so is it with life. And each season has its own fruits. Throughout the ages, ever since the Middle Ages, people have been inspired by this book. The French essayist Montaigne remarked that the book made him look forward to old age. One of the founding fathers of USA, John Adams, reread this book over and over again. Benjamin Franklin, the famous polymath, was so impressed by the book that he printed a translation of it — one of the first classical books to be printed in America.

Notes and Highlights

📝 A Good Old Age Atarts in Youth.

Cicero says that the values and qualities that makes old age great needs to be cultivated in youth“Miserable young people won’t get any happier as they grow older.”, Cicero writes. Moderation, enjoyment of what life has to offer, clear thinking, and wisdom are lifelong habits that needs to be established early because they will sustain us during our later years. You might not be able to outrun a 20-year-old in a footrace in your second half of life, but there are plenty of joys to be had and to cultivate. Cicero himself studied the Ancient Greek literature and became a key player in reintroducing the classic greek works to Rome. Cicero remarks that “there is no greater satisfaction to be had in life than a leisurely old age devoted to knowledge and learning”

📝 Cicero one up’s the youth!

The book can also be humorous at time. Cicero points out that the old possess something that the young desire: “What youth longs for, old age has attained. A young person hopes to have a long life but an old man has already had one.”

Lessons from “How to Grow Old”

My main takeaway from this book is that old age in it self is not a bad thing. Even though many tent to blame age for all sorts of ailments. “Foolish people blame old age for their own faults and shortcomings.” Cicero explains. We can all prepare for old age but cultivating a good character, staying curious about the world, and take up hobbies and projects. Age is not, in most cases, an obstacle for enjoyment and a productive life. It’s more of a desert — a delicious and natural end to a great meal. 

How to Grow Old by Marcus Tillius Cicero
How to Grow Old by Marcus Tillius Cicero

Book Verdict:

Is How to Grow Old worth reading?

The is something soothing about reading old books that reflects on timeless questions. These questions that we all ponder, or at least I do, have been thought about for thousands of years. Abraham Lincoln once stated that “books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new after all.” A feeling I recognize when I read How to Grow Old.

What is surprising is that the answers the ancient provide are quite in line with the most recent science and research. A positive outlook, healthy friendships,  moderation in diet, and continued challenges for mind and intellect are all solid strategies for reaching and enjoying old age. 
It’s a lovely little book! Even if Cicero spend a bit too much time on talking about the delights of life on a farm. A detour that didn’t really add much value to the book.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ out of 5 stars

📚 Further reading

On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

Another ancient Roman that reflected on these thing was Seneca. But his angle was different. In his essay “On The Shortness of Life” he asks a different question: “Is life too short?”. Sencea concludes that life is long enough if we know how to use it. Unfortunately most people waste most of their lives only to wake up one day and wonder where all their time went. It’s a short, but delightful read. I’ve read it several times already, and I will read it again. It made it to my Great books List, actually. I made a short video review of The Shortness of Life a while back. Check it out!

Find more great books to read on my the Great Books List
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