If at its worst a Roman magnate's life was one of stupid sensuality, at its best it
represented an almost ideal refinement and cultivated leisure. Pliny's friend here
described must have been a most charming companion Very pleasant, indeed, might life be
during the early Empire - if one belonged to the favored classes.
I do not think I have ever spent a more delightful time than during my recent visit to
Spurinna's house; indeed I enjoyed myself so much that if it is my fortune to grow old,
there is no one whom I should prefer to take as my model in old age, as there is nothing
more methodical than that time of life. Personally I like to see men map out their lives
with the regularity of the fixed courses of the stars, and especially old men. For while
one is young a little disorder and rush---so to speak---is not unbecoming; but for old
folks, whose days of exertion are past, and in whom personal ambition is disgraceful, a
placid and well-ordered life is highly suitable. That is the principle upon which Spurinna
acts most religiously; even trifles, or what would be trifles were they not of daily
occurrence, he goes through in fixed order, and, as it were, orbit.
In the morning he keeps his couch; at the second hour he calls for his shoes and walks
three miles, exercising mind as well as body. If he has friends with him, the time is
passed in conversation on the noblest of themes, otherwise a book is read aloud, and
sometimes this is done even when his friends are present, but never in such a way as to
bore them. Then he sits down, and there is more talk for preference; afterward he enters
his carriage, taking with him either his wife---who is a pattern lady--or one of his
friends, a distinction I recently enjoyed. How delightful, how charming that privacy is!
What glimpses of old times one gets! What noble deeds and noble men he tells you of! What
lessons you drink in! Yet at the same time it is his wont to so blend his learning with
modesty, that he never seems to be playing the schoolmaster.
After riding seven miles he walks another mile, then resumes his seat, or betakes
himself to his room and his pen; for he composes, both in Latin and Greek, the most
scholarly lyrics. They have a wonderful grace, wonderful sweetness and wonderful humor,
and the chastity of the writer enhances its charm. When he is told that the bathing hour
has come---which is the ninth hour in winter and the eighth in summer---he takes a walk
naked in the sun, if there is no wind. Then he plays at ball for a long spell, throwing
himself heartily into the game, for it is by means of this kind of active exercise that he
battles with old age.
After his bath he lies down and waits a little while before taking food, listening in
the meantime to the reading of some light and pleasant book. All this time his friends are
at perfect liberty to imitate his example or do anything else they prefer. Then dinner is
served, the table being as bright as it is modest, and the silver plain and old-fashioned:
he has also some Corinthian vases in use, for which he has a taste but not a mania. The
dinner is often relieved by actors of comedy, so that the pleasures of the table may have
a seasoning of letters. Even in the summer the meal lasts well into the night, but no one
finds it long, for it has kept up with such good humor and charm. The consequence is that,
though he has passed his seventy-seventh year, his hearing and eyesight are as good as
ever, his body is still active and alert, and the only symptom of his age is his wisdom.
This is the sort of life that I have vowed and determined to forestall, and I shall enter
upon it with zest, as soon as my age justifies me in beating a retreat.
From: William Stearns Davis, ed., Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts
from the Sources, 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-13), Vol. II: Rome and the
Scanned by: J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton. Prof. Arkenberg
has modernized the text.