- Old Age and Elders in Rome
- For a general discussion of old age in Greece and Rome, including
- the representation of elders in Roman comedy, see: T. Falkner and J.
- Luce. 1992. "A view from Antiquity: Greece, Rome, and Elders",
- of Humanities and Aging, ed. T. Cole, et al, Springer Publishing.
- For discussions of intergenerational relations, see: S. Bertman ed.
- 1976. The Conflict of Generations in Greece and Rome. Gruner.
- In any discussion of old age it is essential to distinguish between
- those characteristics which are the products of old age in general
- those characteristics which are the products of a particular individual's
- personality and life experiences. Thus, at the outset we must be careful
- recognize that many factors affect the experience of growing old: economic
- class, social class, status (free or slave, married or single), gender,
- health, individual personality. Cicero's de Senectute may suggest,
- example, what old age could be like for certain upper-class men who
- been active in public life, but that old age could not have been enjoyed
- old women. Most of our evidence for old age in ancient Rome comes from
- upper class; thus, while we have a good deal of information about growing
- old, we do not have a full picture of what the experience would have
- like for more than a tiny percentage of the population.
- In order to understand aging in Rome, we have to make a further
- distinction between the accounts of actual men and women and the literary
- tradition. Pliny's letters provide valuable portraits of elders,
- including his friend Spurinna, at 77, and 79-year-old Ummidia Quadratilla.
- Historians such as Tacitus include portraits of old women who exerted
- influence as Vestal Virgins and in their own families. Such sources
- suggest the opportunities for influence and the respect which male
- female elders might actually enjoy.
- The literary tradition, however, perhaps taking a cue from the
- pessimism of the Greek tradition, tends to represent old age as a grim
- of loss in which wisdom and serenity may be accompanied by vulnerability.
- At the very least, the Romans regarded old age with ambivalence. Elders
- come in for ridicule if they violate the rules of temptestivitas. The
- Romans tended to follow a system of age-grading; that is, they identified
- certain behaviors and activities as appropriate for particular ages.
- example, old men are ridiculed for their greed, for their timidity,
- above all for their inappropriate lust. Old women, too, may be ridiculed
- for their hopeless sexual appetite; indeed they are represented with
- particular viciousness for desiring to be sexually active. According
- tempestivitas, passion is the province of the young.
- When was a man or woman "old"? While the available evidence
- life expectancies in ancient Rome is neither unequivocal nor complete,
- appears that the median age of death for women was about 35, 45 for
- Romans tended to regard 70 as the normal life span. Women would have
- regarded as "old" after menopause, around 40, according to
- physicians. Traditionally, women are regarded as old earlier than
- Rome men would have been regarded as old by 50.
- While Rome was not a gerontocracy (that is, elders did not regard
- themselves as a class which ruled Rome), old men and women could exert
- considerable influence in private and public life. We know that male
- could remain active in public life. In the senate the first speaker
- recognized was the most senior patrician, and among the Augurs the
- men enjoyed the privilege of speaking first in debate. Post-menopausal
- women, while no longer valued for their fertility, might still exert
- considerable influence within their families. Unable to vote, hold
- or engage in those political activities which old men might still enjoy,
- Roman upper class women were not without influence, in part because
- greater freedom they enjoyed precisely because they were no longer
- bear children. On the other hand, laws and customs requiring children
- care for their aging parents remind us of the vulnerability of elders
- without social services to provide care if the family could or would
- Selected Bibliography:
- J. de Luce. 1996. "Aging and Mythology," in Encyclopedia
- Academic Press.
- ----------- 1994. Ed., "Reading Cicero on Aging"; author
- essay,"Continuity and Change: Four Disciplinary Perspectives on
- Cicero's De Senectute" (335-338), author of "Theme and Variations
in the De
- Senectute" (361-371) Journal of Aging Studies, 7, 333-381.
- ----------- 1993. "Ancient Images of Aging: Did Ageism Exist
- Antiquity?", in "Changing Perceptions of Aging and the Aged",
- 17, 41-45.
- ----------- 1993."Quod temptabam scribere versus erat: From the
Despair of Old
- Age to the Confidence of the Artist" in Creativity, Aging and
- Literature of the Life Cycle, ed. Anne Wyatt-Brown and Janice Rossen,
- University Press of Virginia.
- ----------- 1989. "Ovid as an Idiographic Study of Creativity
in Old Age" in
- Old Age in Greek and Latin Literature.
- T. Falkner and J. de Luce, eds. 1989. Old Age in Greek and Latin
- Literature. SUNY press. (includes an annotated bibliography)
- J. P. Hallett. 1984. Fathers and Daughters in Roman society: Women
- Elite Family. Princeton University Press.
- C. G. Harcum. 1914. "The Ages of Man: A Study Suggested by Horace,
- Poetica." Classical World, 7, 114-118.
- M. S. Haynes. 1963. "The Supposedly Golden Age for the Aged in
- Rome: A study of Literary Concepts of old Age." Gerontologist,
- K. Hopkins. 1966. "On the Probable Structure of the Roman Population."
- Population Studies, 20, 245-264.
- ----------- 1983. Death and Renewal. Cambridge University press.
- R. B. Kebric. 1983. "Aging in Pliny's Letters: A View from the
- Century A. D." Gerontologist, 23, 538-545.
- V. Rosivach. 1994 "Anus: Some Older Women in Latin Literature."
- World, 88,107-117
- D. Schaps. 1979. The Economic Rights of Women in Ancient Greece. Edinburgh
- University Press.