Advice in old age…

Inspired by Diana McPherson’s blog post about badly attributed quotes, I searched for Cicero quotes and found this first, on “brainyquote.com“:

Advice in old age is foolish; for what can be more absurd than to increase our provisions for the road the nearer we approach to our journey’s end.

Quite apart from the lack of correct punctuation at the end, it struck me as a clever quote, but a bit odd. It’s not very like Cicero to speak against advice – effectively against intellectual discourse. I wondered where it was from. Was he quoting someone else? Did he even say it?

So I searched. It wasn’t easy, as brainyquote.com don’t let you copy and paste their quotes. And they use a translation that nobody else seems to use. But eventually I found this on the University of Chicago website:

As for avariciousness in the old, what purpose it can serve I do not understand, for can anything be more absurd in the traveller than to increase his luggage as he nears his journey’s end?

Which is quite different. For some reason the internet has seen fit to change the quotation so that it advises against advice, rather than greediness (which makes more sense in the context).

It is also from a text called Cato Maior de Senectute, so purportedly Cicero writing what Cato the Elder might have said. But I understand that it is generally accepted that this text can be taken to represent Cicero’s real views, and Cato was used largely to add authority in the model of Plato’s dialogues.

The moral? Don’t trust these cod wisdom quotes websites. And avarice in old age is foolish!

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