Petrarch, On His Own Ignorance and the Ignorance of Others (III):
And alas, my friend! What suffering does an extended life not bring upon us? Whose prosperity was ever so firm that it did not occasionally change and, so to speak, grow old throughout their life? People grow old, their fortunes grow old, their reputations grow old – in short, all human things grow old. I never believed it, but in the end even our souls grow old, and the Cordovan poet’s line comes true: ‘A longer life destroys great souls.’ This is not because death follows the old age of the soul – its departure and loosening from the body, which we see and which is commonly called death, is certainly just the death of the body, not the soul.
Behold, my soul has bristled and grown old! Now I experience as an old man what, as an inexperienced youth I spoke of singing my pastorals: ‘What does long life bring to a person?’ With what soul would I have born this a few years earlier! With what efforts would I have resisted it? Believe me, it would have been a difficult war between my ignorance and the ignorance of my enemies. But to enter the contest now is as much more disgraceful as it is safer. I raise my hand, and my ignorance yields to theirs.
To be sure, I never read (perhaps conjecturing what remained to me) that story of Laberius without a certain compassion. When he had conducted his entire life in honest military service, he was led onto the stage by Julius Caesar’s prayers and flattery (which come forth armed from the mouths of princes), and he was degraded from a knight to an actor. He did not bear it in silence, but among his many other complaints, he lamented in these words: ‘I having lived sixty years without a fault, left my home a knight and will return an actor; indeed, I have lived longer than I should have by this one day.’
Et heu! amice, quid non mali affert vita longior? Cui unquam tam firma prosperitas fuit, ut non quandoque variaverit et quasi vivendo senuerit? Senescunt homines, senescunt fortune, senescunt fame hominum, senescunt denique humana omnia; quodque aliquando non credidi, ad extremum animi senescunt, quamvis immortales, verumque fit illud Cordubensis: «Longius evum destruit ingentes animos». Non quod animi senium mors sequatur, sed discessus a corpore resolutioque illa, quam cernimus et que vulgo mors dicitur, et est mors corporis profecto, non animi. Senuit ecce refrixitque animus meus. Nunc experior senex quod iuvenis inexpertus et pastorium canens dixi: «Quid vivere longum fert homini?». Quo enim ante hos non multos annos hec tulissem animo? quibus nisibus obstitissem? Crede michi, bellum grave inter ignorantiam et ignorantiam fuisset. Nunc senem invadere eo turpius quo tutius; tollo manum, et mea illorum cedit ignorantie. Certe ego, quasi presagiens quid michi restaret, nunquam sine compassione quadam Laberii historiam legi; qui, cum vitam omnem honesta militia exegisset, sexagenarius ad extremum, Iulii Cesaris blanditiis ac precibus, que de ore principum armate prodeunt, productus in scenam, de romano equite factus est mimus. Quam iniuriam ipse quidem non tacitus tulit, imo multis interque alia his questus est verbis: «Ergo, bis tricenis annis actis sine nota, eques romanus lare egressus meo, domum revertar mimusque: nimirum hoc die uno plus vixi, michi quam vivendum fuit!».
2 thoughts on “Living Too Long”
Wow. this passage is really just amazing. I imagine it being written near dusk with the Tuscan hills fading in a distant sunset…but I may be dramatizing and romanticizing there….
I wonder whether there’s room out there for a historical novel about Petrarch…