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Geras (Old Age)

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 1—who was granted immortality, but not youth—never ends to babble, and is unable to lift his limbs. And so Death—who for him would be a blessing—cannot 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 disgrace:

"Unhappy man 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 one's children:

"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 him:

Medea: Go home! Bury your wife!
Jason: Yes, bereft of my two sons, I go.
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. Euripides, Daughters 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. Euripides, Daughters 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:

"Eteocles, my 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 Women 529).

But others know that good sense cannot be expected by the mere arrival of Old Age.

Fine Deeds

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 great loss.


Parentage (two versions)


Nyx.- (By herself)


Erebus & Nyx

Erebus is the Darkness of the Underworld.

Related sections

"Notes about Youth" at Hebe
Thanatos (Death)


Hes.The.225; Hyg.Pre.