8409: Marble head of an old woman from a free-standing statue or a relief. Roman copy (Hellenistic original 3rd or 2nd century BC). British Museum, London.
"Leave the thorn and pluck the rose,
you go in search of grief.
Old Age will creep up on you
when your heart does not expect it." (Bernadetto Pamphili).
"Not to be born at all is best, far best that can befall. Next best, when born, with least delay to trace the backward way. For when youth passes with its giddy train, troubles on troubles follow, toils on toils … Last comes the worst and most abhorred stage of unregarded Old Age, joyless, companionless and slow, of woes the crowning woe." (Citizens of Colonus. Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 1225).
"For the gods alone there comes no old age, nay nor even death; but all other things are confounded by all-mastering time …" (Oedipus to Theseus. Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus 607).
"… And in the scorn of his miserable old age
he ponders how little he enjoyed the years…
And he ponders how Prudence deceived him;
and how he always trusted her—what a folly!—
that liar who said: 'Tomorrow. There is ample time.'" (Constantine Cavafy).
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face. (William Butler Yeats, 1865-1939, When you are Old).
"How morose and sullen in its countenance is man's Old Age!" (Agave 2 to Cadmus. Euripides, Bacchanals 1255).
"You aged friends, the joys of life are few; so take heed that you pass through it as gladly as you may, without a thought of sorrow from morning until night; for time takes little heed of preserving our hopes; and, when he has busied himself on his own business, away he flies." (Amphitryon. Euripides, Heracles 505).
Geras is Old Age, a child of Nyx (Night), or of Erebus
(Darkness of the Underworld) and Nyx. Geras may be seen at
the entrance of the Underworld (Vir.Aen.6.275) where the abode of Grief,
Anxiety, and Diseases is. Also Fear, Hunger, Death,
Agony, and Hypnos dwell
in this place, where the Elm with the clinging
False Dreams stands.
No defence against Geras
To the gods alone Old Age and Death never come, but
it does come to everything else. And so too the
strength of the human body fails through Old Age.
Mortals have no defence against Old Age (though
some have believed that Aphrodite was able to postpone it). Still some assert that when the universe stops revolving forwards, and instead revolves backwards, all things are reversed and thus Old Age turns into Youth:. During such periods, the dead come out of the earth, going from death into Old Age, and then into youth and childhood until they disappear (see AUTOCHTHONOUS).
Also immortality is useless and becomes a torment if agelessness does not come with it. For Eos' lover Tithonus 1who was granted immortality, but not youthnever ends to babble, and is unable to lift his limbs. And so Deathwho for him would be a blessingcannot reach him, and he must forever remain in the grip of Old Age (Hom.Aph.5.218). Yet regular Old Age, some say, introduces the least grievous death, with more pleasure than pain, whereas the death coming from disease or wounds is painful and violent.
Old Age deserted
Old Age, going its way on triple feet, is a
heavy burden, gloomy and deadly, a dream that is
mostly dreamed by day, since Old Age allows but
little sleep. Because of Old Age the limbs cannot
be moved or lifted, and that is why it is often
deserted and despised by the young, who in turn are
opposed by Old Age in many respects, especially in
their desires of lovers. With Old Age comes
weakness and the need for help, and it is said that
just as every chariot has to wait for outside help
to lighten it, so does the step of Old Age. But the
gods respect Old Age, for they wish to receive
honors from all, and they do not exclude anybody. Because Old Age is known for being deserted, Marpessa 1 chose Idas 2 (the man who killed Castor 1, one of the DIOSCURI)
before Apollo as husband;
for she feared that the god would abandon her in
her Old Age.
Similarly, Aphrodite warned her
mortal lover Anchises 1, father of Aeneas:
"Yet if you
could live on such as now you are in look and in
form, and be called my husband, sorrow would no
then enfold my heart. But as it is, harsh Old Age
will soon enshroud you, ruthless, wearying and
deadly age which stands some day at the side of
every man." (Aphrodite to Anchises 1 when they
first met at Mount Ida. Homeric
Hymn to Aphrodite 245).
Old Age is not seldom revered through giving
birth to children, because they are thought to take
care and be the healers of Old Age, repaying all
anxious cares in rearing them. For this reason,
many regard childless Old Age to be an even worse
that I am, on the farthest edge of Old Age! But how
did the only son of my only son perish?" (Peleus hearing of
his grandson Neoptolemus' death.
Euripides, Andromache 1081).
For it is bitter not to be able to count on
"It was all in
vain, I see, that I brought you up, all in vain
that I labored and was wracked with toils, enduring
harsh pains in childbirth. Truly, many were the
hopes that I, poor fool, once had in you, that you
would tend me in my old age." (Medea to her children.
Euripides, Medea 1030).
And meeting Jason, the
father of her children whom she killed, she tells
Medea: Go home! Bury your
Jason: Yes, bereft of my two sons, I
Medea: Your mourning has yet to begin.
Wait until Old Age.
(Euripides, Medea 1394).
Besides being beautiful, rich, and healthy, many
think that it is a blessing, after providing a
funeral for the deceased parents, to be splendidly
buried by his own offspring. For when the contrary
occur it is experienced with great grief, made even
greater by Old Age. Says Queen Hecabe 1 of Troy:
Old Age. Drawing by C. Parada (1981).
"Ah! ah! Whose
slave shall I become in my Old Age?" (Hecabe 1.
of Troy 190).
And seeing her children dead after the sack of Troy, she adds:
"But now I am
not to be buried by you, but you, the younger one,
a wretched corpse, are buried by me, on whom Old
Age has come with loss of home and children." (Hecabe 1.
of Troy 1185).
Some believe that it was Zeus who put mortal men in trouble by sending women and Old Age to them. For (they reason) if they avoid marriage and the sorrows that women cause them, they will reach Old Age with no one to tend their years; and if they marry they might have mischievous children, who will fill them with unceasing grief that cannot be healed. Despite the burden that Old Age puts upon
mortals, some believe there are also good things:
child, it is not all evil that attends Old Age; but
experience has something to say wiser than
youth." (Jocasta to her son Eteocles 1. Euripides, Phoenician
But others know that good sense cannot be
expected by the mere arrival of Old Age.
Since Old Age and Death come to all men,
some believe there is no point in nurturing an
inglorious Old Age in the darkness, by never
attempting any fine deeds. For they think that out
of the toils which are undertaken with the aid of
youth and justice, a gentle life results at the
approach of Old Age, even when it makes us spend
most of our time at home. And still others have
seen in Old Age a reliable resource in destroying
tyrannies, for if any harm comes out of doing this,
it is not great because losing Old Age is not at