Cicero, de Senectute, general question

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hlawson38
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Cicero, de Senectute, general question

Post by hlawson38 » Sun Aug 14, 2016 7:52 pm

I'm well into my second (or third?) reading of de Senectute, and a question of interpretation keeps nagging at me: is this supposed to be funny?

At times I want to believe that the the main speaker, an old man, Cato, is meant to exhibit some of the flaws of old men, while being wise enough to transcend his age group (and mine). On the surface, he defends old age against the accusations made against it, and presents a sort of consolation of philosophy for the fact of aging, but I feel Cicero may be poking fun a little at his mouthpiece.

Item: old men are said to be garrulous, especially about themselves. In the first few pages, at least twice, Cato, after citing authorities, says, "But getting back to me."

Item: old men may be mocked for voyeurism, in that many have reduced sexual competence, while at the same time they haven't lost all interest in stories about this, and in representations of it. In some of Cato's talk about this, I want to suspect some ribaldry, a wicked glint in Cato's eye, and some "You old rascal you" silent interjections by his imagined audience.

scotistic
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Re: Cicero, de Senectute, general question

Post by scotistic » Mon Aug 15, 2016 3:47 pm

Tone can be really hard to judge in ancient languages! I'm reading some of Lucian's dialogues in Greek, and a few times in the last couple of days I found myself stopping with the exact same question -- is this supposed to be funny? I think so -- but it's hard to say!

Sorry that this doesn't directly address your question. I haven't read De senectute in years. I did, however, reread De amicitiae last month and didn't find it funny at all, if that's relevant. At the moment I'm halfway through De divinatione for the first time; it definitely seems to have some sarcasm.

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Re: Cicero, de Senectute, general question

Post by Hylander » Mon Aug 15, 2016 8:08 pm

I have to say I found de Senectute humorless and platitudinous.

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Re: Cicero, de Senectute, general question

Post by hlawson38 » Tue Aug 16, 2016 1:03 am

Maybe I'm trying too hard. ;-)

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Re: Cicero, de Senectute, general question

Post by hlawson38 » Sun Aug 21, 2016 8:54 pm

Cicero, de Senectute, ch. 62
sed in omni oratione mementote eam me senectutem laudare, quae fundamentis adulescentiae constituta sit. ex quo efficitur id, quod ego magno quondam cum assensu omnium dixi, miseram esse senectutem quae se oratione defenderet. non cani nec rugae repente auctoritatem arripere possunt, sed honeste acta superior aetas fructus capit auctoritatis extremos.
Translation: But in this whole discourse, you [ i.e., "you all"] should recall that I'm praising the sort of old age whose foundation is laid down in young manhood. From this it follows, as I once said with the approval of everybody, it is a miserable old age that has to defend itself in speech. White hair and wrinkles cannot snatch away [ an man's] influence, but old age takes the last fruits of influence, won by earlier noble deeds.

My calls:
superior aetas: the last age of life
extremos: agrees with fructus

So what is Cato meant to say here? Perhaps his point is that noble deeds accomplished in youth leave the old with no need to defend old age. But the old who must defend themselves with words, are miserable, because they have no record of noble deeds in earlier times.

This is the only way I can save Cato from unintentional self-mockery, since his entire program is to defend old age against the charges laid against it.

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Re: Cicero, de Senectute, general question

Post by Hylander » Mon Aug 22, 2016 3:07 am

I have to admit I'm at a loss to explain honeste acta, but it can't be in agreement with fructus.

Is it an ablative absolute with understood auctoritate?

Does it refer to superior aetas? "if old age has been conducted with integrity, it harvests the ultimate fruits of respect"?

Or maybe superior aetas means one's previous life: if one's previous life has been conducted with integrity, it harvests the fruits of authority/respect at the very end." I think I like this best.

"superior aetas takes the last fruits of influence," better something like "superior aetas harvests the last fruits of authority". "Authority" or maybe "respect" would probably a better translation than "influence."

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Re: Cicero, de Senectute, general question

Post by hlawson38 » Mon Aug 22, 2016 12:08 pm

sed honeste acta superior aetas fructus capit auctoritatis extremos.
Here is another effort at a translation, after reading Hylander.

but in fact, the last stage of life, decently conducted, harvests the highest [extremos] fruits of authority.

How does this parsing look?

superior aetas: the last age of life
honeste acta: decently conducted
honeste: adverb,modifies acta
acta: perfect participle used adjectivally, modifies aetas, as Hylander suggested.
capit: harvests, as Hylander proposed
fructus: the fruits, direct object of capit
extremos: modifies fructus

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Re: Cicero, de Senectute, general question

Post by Hylander » Mon Aug 22, 2016 1:50 pm

Your analysis looks good.

I still think that superior aetas here means "previous life," not "the last stage of life." Ironically, Lewis and Short would allow either meaning:
B Trop.
1 Of time or order of succession, former, past, previous, preceding: superiores solis defectiones, Cic. Rep. 1, 16, 25: quid proxima, quid superiore nocte egeris, id. Cat. 1, 1, 1: refecto ponte, quem superioribus diebus hostes resciderant, Caes. B. G. 7, 58: superioribus aestivis, Hirt. B. G. 8, 46: superioribus temporibus, Cic. Fam. 5, 17, 1: tempus (opp. posterius), id. Dom. 37, 99: tempora (opp. inferiora), Suet. Claud. 41: annus, Cic. Verr. 2, 3, 18, § 47: anno superiore, id. Har. Resp. 8, 15: superioris anni acta, Suet. Caes. 23: in superiore vitā, Cic. Sen. 8, 26: milites superioribus proeliis exercitati,Caes. B. G. 2, 20: testimonium conveniens superiori facto, Hirt. B. G. 8, 53: superius facinus novo scelere vincere, Cic. Verr. 2, 5, 44, § 116: superioris more crudelitatis uti, Nep. Thras. 3, 1: superius genus, mentioned previously, Plin. 13, 25, 48, § 146: nuptiae, former marriage, Cic. Clu. 6, 15: vir, first husband, id. Caecin. 6, 17.—

b Esp., of age, time of life, etc., older, elder, senior, more advanced, former: omnis juventus omnesque superioris aetatis, Caes. B. C. 2, 5: aetate superiores, Varr. R. R. 2, 10, 1: superior Africanus, the Elder, Cic. Verr. 2, 5, 10, § 25; id. Off. 1, 33, 121: Dionysius, id. ib. 2, 7, 25; Nep. Dion, 1, 1; cf.: quid est aetas hominis, nisi memoria rerum veterum cum superiorum aetate contexitur, Cic. Or. 34, 120.—
But "previous", "former" fits the meaning better here. Note that in sec. 26 of de Sen. the meaning is "previous":

sed videtis, ut senectus non modo languida atque iners non sit, verum etiam sit operosa et semper agens aliquid et moliens, tale scilicet, quale cuiusque studium in superiore vita fuit.

Again, sec. 76:

sunt etiam eius aetatis: ne ea quidem quaeruntur in senectute. sunt extrema quaedam studia senectutis: ergo, ut superiorum aetatum studia occidunt, sic occidunt etiam senectutis; quod cum evenit, satietas vitae tempus maturum mortis affert.

In both of these passages, senectus is contrasted with superior vita, superiorum aetatum. I think this clinches it: superior aetas in sec. 62, the passage under consideration, must mean "previous life", not "the last age of life."

extremos probably means "last, final, in the last stage of life".

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Re: Cicero, de Senectute, general question

Post by hlawson38 » Mon Aug 22, 2016 3:20 pm

Hylander:
I still think that superior aetas here means "previous life," not "the last stage of life." Ironically, Lewis and Short would allow either meaning. . . . But "previous", "former" fits the meaning better here.
I like that too, Hylander. It seems to be the sense of the passage that somehow young manhood can store up authority, or respect, that old age may enjoy. All the translations and commentaries I found seem to have it that way.

Sometimes I wonder if translations have become established by a sort of brute force, in order to render the passage in an agreeable way.

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