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June 29, 2008


Hmm. Well, it was certainly true of my maternal gradfather, who had had a bit of a temper when young. My paternal grandfather stayed gloomy and grouchy to the end. But what about aged women? Is there any difference? To me, they seem to accept aging with much more grace, and with much more of their intellectual curiosity still intact, on average.

I think temperament is more indicative than gender of how gracefully one will age. Women may have some advantage in valuing and maintaining friendships among themselves, especially since they usually outlive men. Also women have not, traditionally anyway, tended tp define themselves by their work, which can be a problem with some men when they retire.

Anyway, interesting post, Beth. Funny that we think we're so different from the ancients. This seems as relevant today as then.

I would like to know what your father-in-law would have to say about that. I suspect it would be something illuminating and sublime.

I regard them as travelers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go... —I wasn't aware this was to be found among Plato's works, but I did realise the truth of it a long time ago when I was lucky to count as a good friend a man in his 80s. I have an aunt in her 80s now, too, and her temperament is inspirational. Sadly, I've known, and know of, others who are just the opposite. As for Dave's question, perhaps any answer would have to be so qualified — for example, by identifying the culture in which the person grows old — that a generalisation about men and women would be almost meaningless. I guess the last paragraph of the excerpt makes that point pretty clearly.

The prospect of being older than any of your friends could be scary. Thinking of it like this — as a journey; as an opportunity to go somewhere ahead of your friends and show them the way — seems to make it far more appealing. Well, to me at least... ;^)

Wonderful reading, I've come back to reread this a couple of times. I'd agree with Leslee and Pohaninapete that temperament is the most important factor in how well one accepts and carries old age. I think I'm getting grouchier... yet would like to be one of those inspirational elders like your f-i-l.

That's a great passage, all right. I do wish Plato weren't translated quite so mustily; in Greek he's much more conversational and vivid. For instance, where the translator has "Some complain of the slights which are put upon them by relations," the Greek rendered as "slights" is propēlakiseis, which is derived from a word for 'mud, mire' (and thus uses the same metaphor as our "mud-slinging"); when (old!) Tiresias is delivering his magisterial takedown of Oedipus in response to the latter's threats and insults, he finishes his peroration with:

pros tauta kai Kreonta kai toumon stoma
propēlakize. Sou gar ouk estin brotōn
kakion hostis ektribēsetai pote.

Which Robert Fagles renders:

"There. Now smear us with insults—Creon, myself
and every word I've said. No man will ever
be rooted from the earth as brutally as you."

(I've bolded the word in question.) Plato was particularly fond of the word, and a punchier translation than "slight" should be used!

Thanks, all. Yes, women do seem to do this a bit differently in general, but I've known grouchy, bitter old women and sweet, accepting old men. One thing I've observed for sure is that no one wants to visit the crotchety bitter elders who talk about themselves constantly and complain about life, while people who stay interested in other people and engaged with life are often sought out for their wisdom - so people kind of reap what they sow, even in old age.

Pete - yes, your aunt is inspirational! And my FIL would agree with you that one of the great sadnesses of old age is outliving all your friends, mainly because there is no one to reminisce with about the things that he wants to remember.

Hat - thanks for the further quotes and notes on translation - I've got Liddell & Scott open and am exploring the words in question - pretty colorful stuff, in the Greek! (the original verb: "to cover with mud: to treat with indignity, to abuse foully; also to throw in one's teeth, reproach with -- and then, good old Oxford translates the noun as "contumelious treatment" !) I like Fagles' "smear." But what an expressive language ancient Greek was. This re-reading is really reminding me of that, even in the stuffy Pelican translation I've got.

This post comes at a good time for me. George Carlin died last week and I have been watching again all of his old HBO specials, have been rereading some interviews with him and have been watching and reading the comments about his life. Carlin said in 1 interview that if some people were not walking out during his performances he was not doing his job. I am not sure what Carlinhas to do with Socrates but it resonated with me.

I suspect Socrates felt the same way. (At the end, it escalated to "if people aren't giving me hemlock, I'm not doing my job.)

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.