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13. Older men and those who have passed their prime have in most cases characters opposite to those of the young. For, owing to their having lived many years and having been more often deceived by others or made more mistakes themselves, and since most human things turn out badly, they are positive about nothing, and in everything they show an excessive lack of energy. [2] They always “think,” but “know” nothing; and in their hesitation they always add “perhaps,” or “maybe”; all their
statements are of this kind, never unqualified. [3] They are malicious; for malice consists in looking upon the worse side of everything. Further, they are always suspicious owing to mistrust, and mistrustful owing to experience. [4] And neither their love nor their hatred is strong for the same reasons; but, according to the precept of Bias,1 they love as if they would one day hate, and hate as if they would one day love. [5] And they are little-minded, because they have been humbled by life; for they desire nothing great or uncommon, but only the necessaries of life. [6] They are not generous, for property is one of these necessaries, and at the same time, they know from experience how hard it is to get and how easy to lose. [7] And they are cowardly and inclined to anticipate evil, for their state of mind is the opposite of that of the young; they are chilled, whereas the young are hot, so that old age paves the way for cowardice, for fear is a kind of chill. [8] And they are fond of life, especially in their last days, because desire is directed towards that which is absent and men especially desire what they lack. [9] And they are unduly selfish, for this also is littleness of mind. And they live not for the noble, but for the useful, more than they ought, because they are selfish;
for the useful is a good for the individual, whereas the noble is good absolutely.

[10] And they are rather shameless than modest; for since they do not care for the noble so much as for the useful, they pay little attention to what people think. [11] And they are little given to hope owing to their experience, for things that happen are mostly bad and at all events generally turn out for the worse, and also owing to their cowardice. [12] They live in memory rather than in hope; for the life that remains to them is short, but that which is past is long, and hope belongs to the future, memory to the past. This is the reason of their loquacity; for they are incessantly talking of the past, because they take pleasure in recollection. [13] Their outbursts of anger are violent, but feeble; of their desires some have ceased, while others are weak, so that they neither feel them nor act in accordance with them, but only from motives of gain. Hence men of this age are regarded as self-controlled, for their desires have slackened, and they are slaves to gain. [14] In their manner of life there is more calculation than moral character, for calculation is concerned with that which is useful, moral character with virtue. If they commit acts of injustice it is due to vice rather than to insolence. [15] The old, like the young, are inclined to pity, but not for the same reason; the latter show pity
from humanity, the former from weakness, because they think that they are on the point of suffering all kinds of misfortunes, and this is one of the reasons that incline men to pity. That is why the old are querulous, and neither witty nor fond of laughter; for a querulous disposition is the opposite of a love of laughter. [16] Such are the characters of the young and older men. Wherefore, since all men are willing to listen to speeches which harmonize with their own character and to speakers who resemble them,2 it is easy to see what language we must employ so that both ourselves and our speeches may appear to be of such and such a character.

1 One of the Seven Wise Men of Greece.

2 Or, “speeches which resemble (or reflect) it” (their character).

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  • Commentary references to this page (3):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Oedipus at Colonus, 1429
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Oedipus at Colonus, 614
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Ajax, 679
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