The Difference between Retirement and Vacations

Dio Chrysostom, 20th Discourse, on Retirement

“What then do we call retirement and what people is it right to call retired? Should we call those people retiring who have stepped away from their appropriate work and actions? For example, if someone is Athenian and it is necessary that he join the army to defend the country when the Spartans are invading Attica or because Philip or other enemies are coming but he leaves for Megara or Aigina because he does not want to join the army or risk his life—should this person be called retired?

Or if someone who has acquired great wealth leaves the city in order to avoid paying taxes? Or what if someone who is capable of healing the sick, when his friends and neighbors are ill, leaves them and goes to some other country so that he might avoid getting ill and having the work of assisting them?

Or, if some other person, when it is necessary that he perform a duty for the city, to govern, or help the governors, or to act as a guard, does not want to lose sleep but, so that he will be exempt from all of them and no one will rebuke him or stop him from drinking and sleeping and taking it easy, he goes somewhere else too. Should this person be called retired? No, it is clear that these people are fleeing and running, and there is no excuse or forgiveness for this kind of leisure and vacation.

Instead, then, perhaps we must call “retiring” those who leave unprofitable matters or wastes of time which are not their concern and who provide themselves some kind of leisure from annoying frivolity. And yet, were that the case, the person who moves from one city to another or from one place to another should to be said to “retire”. For wherever this person goes there will be many obstacles which prevent proper accomplishment.

The truth is that being around someone too much either drinking or playing games or wasting time in the kinds of harmful and disadvantageous pastimes people find everywhere are these kinds of things—hanging around every person you meet chatting on and listening to worthless ideas, blathering on about the emperor’s concerns or those of that terrible person whoever he is. For the fool is not in control of his own mind, but he is bounced and led easily around by any random excuse or meeting.”

Τί γάρ ποτε τὸ τῆς ἀναχωρήσεώς ἐστι καὶ τίνας χρὴ τιθέναι τοὺς ἀναχωροῦντας; ἆρά γε τοὺς ἀπὸ τῶν προσηκόντων ἔργων αὐτοῖς καὶ πράξεων ἀφισταμένους, τούτους χρὴ φάσκειν ἀναχωρεῖν; οἷον εἴ τις Ἀθηναῖος ὤν, δέον αὐτὸν στρατεύεσθαι ὑπὲρ τῆς πατρίδος Λακεδαιμονίων εἰσβεβληκότων εἰς τὴν Ἀττικὴν ἢ Φιλίππου ἐπιόντος ἢ ἄλλων πολεμίων, ὁ δὲ ἀναχωρήσειεν εἰς Μέγαρα ἢ Αἴγιναν ἕνεκα τοῦ μὴ στρατεύεσθαι μηδὲ κινδυνεύειν, οὖτος ἂν ἀνακεχωρηκέναι λέγοιτο; ἢ εἴ τις συχνὴν οὐσίαν κεκτημένος ἕνεκα τοῦ διαφυγεῖν τὰς λειτουργίας ἀπέλθοι ἐκ τῆς πόλεως; ἢ εἴ τις ἰᾶσθαι τοὺς νοσοῦντας ἱκανὸς ὤν, καὶ φίλων δὴ καὶ ἐπιτηδείων αὐτῷ καμνόντων, ὅπως μὴ κακοπαθῇ καὶ πράγματα ἔχῃ τούτους θεραπεύων, ἀπολίποι τε αὐτοὺς καὶ ἀποδημήσειεν εἰς ἕτερον τόπον; ἢ εἴ τις ἄλλος, ἐν πόλει δέον ἐξετάζεσθαι καὶ αὐτόν, ἄρχειν καὶ ἀρχαῖς ὑπηρετεῖν καὶ φυλακάς τινας φυλάττειν, ἀγρυπνῶν μὴ βούλοιτο, ἀλλ᾿ ὅπως τούτων ἀπηλλαγμένος ἁπάντων ἔσται καὶ μηδὲ εἷς αὐτὸν ἐξελέγξει μηδὲ κωλύσει πίνοντα καὶ καθεύδοντα καὶ ῥᾳθυμοῦντα, ἑτέρωσε ἀποχωροῖ ποι—ἆρα τούτους ἀναχωρεῖν ῥητέον; ἀλλ᾿ οὗτοι μὲν δῆλον ὅτι φεύγουσί τε καὶ δραπετεύουσι, καὶ οὐκ ἂν εἴη πρόφασις αὐτοῖς οὐδὲ συγγνώμη τῆς τοιαύτης σχολῆς τε καὶ ἀποδράσεως.

Μὴ οὖν τοὺς ἀπὸ τῶν ἀνωφελῶν πραγμάτων καὶ τῶν οὐ προσηκουσῶν αὐτοῖς ἀσχολιῶν ἀπιόντας καὶ σχολήν τινα πορίζοντας αὑτοῖς ἀπὸ τῶν ἐνοχλούντων μάτην ῥητέον ὡς ἀναχωροῦντας. ἀλλ᾿ οὕτως μέν, οὐχ ὁ μεταβὰς ἐκ πόλεώς τινος εἰς ἑτέραν πόλιν ἢ ἐκ τόπου εἰς ἕτερον τόπον ἀναχωρεῖν λέγοιτ᾿ ἄν· ὅπου γὰρ ἂν ἀφίκηται, πολλὰ ἂν εἴη τὰ ἐμποδὼν αὐτῷ γιγνόμενα καὶ οὐκ ἐῶντα τὰ προσήκοντα ποιεῖν. καὶ γὰρ τὸ ἐπὶ πολύ τῳ ξυνεῖναι καὶ τὸ πίνοντα ἢ κυβεύοντα ἢ ἄλλο τι τῶν βλαβερῶν καὶ ἀσυμφόρων πράττοντα διατελεῖν, πανταχοῦ τοιαῦτά ἐστιν, καὶ τὸ συνδιατρίβειν ἀεὶ τῷ ἐντυχόντι ἀδολεσχοῦντα καὶ ἀκούοντα λόγων οὐδὲν χρησίμων ἢ περὶ τὰ βασιλέως πράγματα διατρίβειν ἢ τὰ τοῦ δεῖνος, ὡς ἔφη τις. οὐ γάρ ἐστιν ἀνόητος τῆς αὑτοῦ ψυχῆς κύριος, ἀλλὰ ῥεμβόμενός τε καὶ ἀγόμενος ῥᾳδίως ὑπὸ τῆς τυχούσης προφάσεως καὶ ὁμιλίας.

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After the Body, The Mind Fades Away

Seneca, Moral Epistle 26.1-3

“I was recently explaining to you that I am in sight of my old age—but now I fear that I have put old age behind me! There is some different word better fit to these years, or at least to this body, since old age seems to be a tired time, not a broken one. Count me among the weary and those just touching the end.

Despite all this, I still am grateful to myself, with you to witness it. For I do not sense harm to my mind from age even though I feel it in my body. Only my weaknesses—and their tools—have become senile. My mind is vigorous and it rejoices that it depends upon the body for little. It has disposed of the greater portion of its burden. It celebrates and argues with me about old age. It says that this is its flowering. Let’s believe it, let it enjoy its own good.

My mind commands that I enter into contemplation and I think about what debt I owe to wisdom for this tranquility and modesty of ways and what portion is due to my age. It asks that I think about what I am incapable of doing in contrast to what I do not wish to do, whether I am happy because I don’t want something or I don’t want something because I lack the ability to pursue it.

For, what complaint is there or what problem is it if something which was supposed to end has ended? “But,” you interject, “it is the worst inconvenience to wear out, to be diminished, or, if I can say it properly, to dissolve. For we are not suddenly struck down and dead, we are picked away at! Each individual day subtracts something from our strength!”

But, look, is there a better way to end than to drift off to your proper exit as nature itself releases you? There is nothing too bad in a sudden strike which takes life away immediately, but this way is easy, to be led off slowly.”

Modo dicebam tibi, in conspectu esse me senectutis; iam vereor, ne senectutem post me reliquerim. Aliud iam his annis, certe huic corpori, vocabulum convenit, quoniam quidem senectus lassae aetatis, non fractae, nomen est; inter decrepitos me numera et extrema tangentis.

Gratias tamen mihi apud te ago; non sentio in animo aetatis iniuriam, cum sentiam in corpore. Tantum vitia et vitiorum ministeria senuerunt; viget animus et gaudet non multum sibi esse cum corpore. Magnam partem oneris sui posuit. Exultat et mihi facit controversiam de senectute. Hunc ait esse florem suum. Credamus illi; bono suo utatur. Ire in cogitationem iubet et dispicere, quid ex hac tranquillitate ac modestia morum sapientiae debeam, quid aetati, et diligenter excutere, quae non possim facere, quae nolim †prodesse habiturus ad qui si nolim quidquid non posse me gaudeo.† Quae enim querella est, quod incommodum, si quidquid debebat desinere, defecit? “Incommodum summum est,” inquis, “minui et deperire et, ut proprie dicam, liquescere. Non enim subito inpulsi ac prostrati sumus; carpimur. Singuli dies aliquid subtrahunt viribus.”

Ecquis exitus est melior quam in finem suum natura solvente dilabi? Non quia aliquid mali est ictus et e vita repentinus excessus, sed quia lenis haec est via, subduci.

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Pliny’s Guidelines for A Retirement Well-Spent

Pliny, Letters 3.1 to Calvisius Rufus

“I am incapable of recalling a time I spent as pleasantly as I just did when I went to see Spurinna—and, in fact, I cannot imagine anyone I would rather imitate more in my old age, should I be allowed to grow old. For no way of living is better designed than his. A well-planned life pleases me as much as the circuit of the stars. This is especially true when it comes to the old—for while a limited amount of chaos and excitement is not inappropriate for the young, a completely calm and ordered life is better for the elderly. Their public service is over and any aims for advancement is perverse at this point.

Spurinna insistently follows this rule and even in small things—minor if they did not happen daily—he follows a plan as if an orbiting body. He lies abed a bit every morning but then asks for his shoes in the second hour and takes a three-mile walk to exercise his mind no less than his body. If his friends are present, they have the most earnest conversations. If they are not there, he has a book read—something he also does at times when his friends are there if it will not annoy them too much. Then, once he sits down, the book is read again or, even better, the conversation continues. Then he climbs into his carriage and takes his wife—a model of her gender—or some friend—recently, me!—along with him.

How fine it is, how sweet a secret! How much of the past one finds there—what deeds and what heroes you hear of! What principles you absorb! He bows to his own modesty, however, and does not seem to give orders. After he has been driven seven miles or so, he walks another mile, and then returns to sit again or he goes back to his writing. For then he writes the most learned lyric lines in both Latin and Greek—they are amazingly sweet and impressive as well for their charm, humor, and grace which the taste of the one who writes them only increases.”

Nescio an ullum iucundius tempus exegerim, quam quo nuper apud Spurinnam fui, adeo quidem ut neminem magis in senectute, si modo senescere datum est, aemulari velim; nihil est enim illo vitae genere distinctius. Me autem ut certus siderum cursus ita vita hominum disposita delectat. Senum praesertim: nam iuvenes confusa adhuc quaedam et quasi turbata non indecent, senibus placida omnia et ordinata conveniunt, quibus industria sera turpis ambitio est.

Hanc regulam Spurinna constantissime servat; quin etiam parva haec—parva si non cotidie fiant—ordine quodam et velut orbe circumagit. Mane lectulo continetur, hora secunda calceos poscit, ambulat milia passuum tria nec minus animum quam corpus exercet. Si adsunt amici, honestissimi sermones explicantur; si non, liber legitur, interdum etiam praesentibus amicis, si tamen illi non gravantur. Deinde considit, et liber rursus aut sermo libro potior; mox vehiculum ascendit, adsumit uxorem singularis exempli vel aliquem amicorum, ut me  proxime. Quam pulchrum illud, quam dulce secretum! quantum ibi antiquitatis! quae facta, quos viros audias! quibus praeceptis imbuare! quamvis ille hoc temperamentum modestiae suae indixerit, ne  praecipere videatur. Peractis septem milibus passuum iterum ambulat mille, iterum residit vel se cubiculo ac stilo reddit. Scribit enim et quidem utraque lingua lyrica doctissima; mira illis dulcedo. mira suavitas, mira hilaritas, cuius gratiam cumulat sanctitas scribentis.

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A Routine for Managing Old Age from Cicero

Cicero, De Senectute 35-36

“Laelius and Scipio, we must resist old age and counteract its weaknesses with care. We must fight against it as we would a disease. A heath regimen must be established. We need moderate exercise and only as much food and drink as is needed to replenish our abilities but not to overcome them. And we should not attend to the body alone: but much greater service is owed to the mind and soul.

For these parts flicker out from old age just as a lamps unfilled with oil waver and dim. The body, moreover, grows worn out from excessive exercise, but our minds are unburdened by working out. For, the men Caecilius calls “the comic old fools” are those he means to mark out as credulous, forgetful, and discombobulated. These are not the faults of old age altogether, but of a lazy, careless, and sleepy old age. Just as petulance and lust are more often traits of young men than old ones, yet are not present in all young men but only the corruptible ones, so too is that aged foolishness which people usually call senility a mark of those who have weak minds, not of all old men.”

Resistendum, Laeli et Scipio, senectuti est eiusque vitia diligentia compensanda sunt, pugnandum tamquam contra morbum sic contra senectutem, habenda  ratio valetudinis, utendum exercitationibus modicis, tantum cibi et potionis adhibendum, ut reficiantur vires, non opprimantur. Nec vero corpori solum subveniendum est, sed menti atque animo multo magis. Nam haec quoque, nisi tamquam lumini oleum instilles, exstinguuntur senectute. Et corpora quidem exercitationum defetigatione ingravescunt, animi autem exercitando levantur. Nam quos ait Caecilius “comicos stultos senes,” hos significat credulos obliviosos dissolutos, quae vitia sunt non senectutis, sed inertis ignavae somniculosae senectutis. Ut petulantia, ut libido magis est adulescentium quam senum, nec tamen omnium adulescentium, sed non proborum, sic ista senilis stultitia, quae deliratio appellari solet, senum levium est, non omnium.

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A Few, Random Passages on Aging

Crates fr. 33, from Zenobius 3.15

“Give an aging horse shorter laps.”

ἵππῳ γηράσκοντι τὰ μείονα κύκλ᾿ ἐπίβαλλε

Martial, 4.78.9-10

“Let young men do these things in the open: Afer,
There is no more hideous a sight than an aged busybody”

haec faciant sane iuvenes: deformius, Afer,
omnino nihil est ardalione sene.

Plutarch, Table Talk III 656b-c

“Therefore, we eagerly welcomed the new-fangled arguments of young men because they did not take recourse to those obvious points of logic but had a wealth of their own attempts. However, there are matters ready and easy to understand: heaviness of the sweet wine, as Aristotle says, smashes through the stomach and there is a great deal of gas and moisture mixed together. On of these, drives through and escapes; the other naturally makes the wine weaker. But aging gives it more power as the water is separated. And the wine, though less in measure, is more forceful in strength.”

Σφόδρ᾿ οὖν ἀπεδεξάμεθα τὴν εὑρησιλογίαν τῶν νεανίσκων, ὅτι τοῖς ἐμποδὼν οὐκ ἐπιπεσόντες ἰδίων ηὐπόρησαν ἐπιχειρημάτων. ἐπεὶ τά γε πρόχειρα καὶ ῥᾴδια λαβεῖν ἥ τε βαρύτης ἐστὶ τοῦ γλεύκους, ὡς Ἀριστοτέλης φησίν, ἡ διακόπτουσα τὴν κοιλίαν, καὶ τὸ πολὺ συμμεμιγμένον πνευματῶδες καὶ ὑδατῶδες· ὧν τὸ μὲν εὐθὺς ἐκπίπτει βιαζόμενον, τὸ δὲ πέφυκε ἀμβλύτερον ποιεῖν τὸν οἶνον· παλαίωσις δ᾿ ἐπίτασιν ποιεῖ, ἐκκρινομένου τοῦ ὑδατώδους· καὶ γίγνεται μέτρῳ μὲν ἐλάττων ὁ οἶνος δυνάμει δὲ σφοδρότερος.

Historia Augusta, Tacitus 5

And then these shouts came from the senate: “Trajan came to rule as an old man too” they cried ten times. “Hadrian also came to rule as an old man,” they cried ten times. “Antoninus, too, came to power as an old man,” they cried ten times. Then they shouted ten times, “You have also read yourself: “the gray beard of a roman king! Can anyone rule better than an old man?” They asked ten times. “We are making you emperor, not soldier!” They said twenty times, “You order, let soldiers fight.” Then they yelled thirty times, “You have wisdom and a good brother.” Then they said twenty times, “Severus says the head rules, not the feet!” Then they said thirty times, “We are selecting your mind not your body.” And the added twenty times, “Tacitus Augustus, May the gods preserve you!”

Post haec adclamationes senatus haec fuerunt: “Et Traianus ad imperium senex venit.” dixerunt decies. “Et Hadrianus ad imperium senex venit.” dixerunt decies. “Et Antoninus ad imperium senex venit.” dixerunt decies. “Et tu legisti: ‘Incanaque menta regis Romani.’” dixerunt decies. “Ecquis melius quam seneximperat?” dixerunt decies. “Imperatorem te, non militem facimus. dixerunt vicies. “Tu iube, milites pugnent.” dixerunt tricies. “Habes prudentiam et bonum fratrem.” dixerunt decies. “Severus dixit caput imperare non pedes.” dixerunt tricies. “Animum tuum, non corpus eligimus.” dixerunt vicies. “Tacite Auguste, di te servent!”


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Youth, Brief as a Dream–Two Fragments from Mimnermus

Mimnermus fr. 1

“What life and what pleasure is there without golden Aphrodite?
May I die when I no longer care about these things—
Secrets sex, persuasive gifts, and bed—
The kinds of youthful flowers that bewitch
Men and women. When grievous old age press on
It makes a man equal ugly and foul
And dark worries always wear on his thoughts—
He can’t even take pleasure in seeing the rays of the sun.
But he is hateful to young men, and dishonored by women.
So hard did the god make old age.”

τίς δὲ βίος, τί δὲ τερπνὸν ἄτερ χρυσῆς ᾿Αφροδίτης;
τεθναίην, ὅτε μοι μηκέτι ταῦτα μέλοι,
κρυπταδίη φιλότης καὶ μείλιχα δῶρα καὶ εὐνή,
οἷ’ ἥβης ἄνθεα γίνεται ἁρπαλέα
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξίν· ἐπεὶ δ’ ὀδυνηρὸν ἐπέλθηι
γῆρας, ὅ τ’ αἰσχρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ κακὸν ἄνδρα τιθεῖ,
αἰεί μιν φρένας ἀμφὶ κακαὶ τείρουσι μέριμναι,
οὐδ’ αὐγὰς προσορῶν τέρπεται ἠελίου,
ἀλλ’ ἐχθρὸς μὲν παισίν, ἀτίμαστος δὲ γυναιξίν·
οὕτως ἀργαλέον γῆρας ἔθηκε θεός.

Mimnermus, fr. 5

“Honored youth is brief as a dream
Old age is hard and ugly old age
Drapes over your head,
As hateful as it is dishonored—and it makes a man
Unrecognizable—it harms your eyes and shadows your mind”

ἀλλ᾿ ὀλιγοχρόνιον γίνεται ὥσπερ ὄναρ
ἥβη τιμήεσσα· τὸ δ᾿ ἀργαλέον καί ἄμορφον
γῆρας ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς αὐτίχ᾿ ὑπερκρέμεται,
ἐχθρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ ἄτιμον, ὅ τ᾿ ἄγνωστον τιθεῖ ἄνδρα,
βλάπτει δ᾿ ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ νόον ἀμφιχυθέν


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“Learn As Long As You Are Ignorant”: Seneca on What He Has to Teach

Seneca, Moral Epistles 76.3-5

“People of every age enter this classroom. “Do we grow old only to follow the young?” When I go into the theater as an old man and I am drawn to the racetrack and no fight is finished without me, shall I be embarrassed to go to a philosopher? You must learn as long as you are ignorant—if we may trust the proverb. And nothing is more fit to the present than this: as long as you live you must learn how to live. Nevertheless, there is still something which I teach there. You ask, what may I teach? That an old man must learn too.

But the human race still shames me every time I enter the school. Near to that theater of the Neapolitans, I have to pass that house of Metronax. There, the place is packed too as with a burning desire they judge who is the best flute player. The Greek horn and a herald bring a crowd. But in the place where we seek what a good man is, where how to be a good man may be learned, the smallest audience sits and they seem to most people to be up to no good in their pursuit. They are called useless and lazy. May such derision touch me. For the insults of the ignorant should be heard with a gentle mind. Contempt itself must be held in contempt as we journey toward better things.”

Omnis aetatis homines haec schola admittit. “In hoc senescamus, ut iuvenes sequamur?” In theatrum senex ibo et in circum deferar et nullum par sine me depugnabit ad philosophum ire erubescam?

Tamdiu discendum est, quamdiu nescias; si proverbio credimus, quamdiu vivas. Nec ulli hoc rei magis convenit quam huic: tamdiu discendum est, quemadmodum vivas, quamdiu vivas. Ego tamen illic aliquid et doceo. Quaeris, quid doceam? Etiam seni esse discendum. Pudet autem me generis humani, quotiens scholam intravi. Praeter ipsum theatrum Neapolitanorum, ut scis, transeundum est Metronactis petenti domum. Illud quidem fartum est et ingenti studio, quis sit pythaules bonus, iudicatur; habet tubicen quoque Graecus et praeco concursum. At in illo loco, in quo vir bonus quaeritur, in quo vir bonus discitur, paucissimi sedent, et hi plerisque videntur nihil boni negotii habere quod agant; inepti et inertes vocantur. Mihi contingat iste derisus; aequo animo audienda sunt inperitorum convicia et ad honesta vadenti contemnendus est ipse contemptus.


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