back

Lucian : Long Lives (Macrobii)


Although this short essay was included in the manuscripts of the collected works of Lucian, it is generally agreed that it cannot have been written by him. Lucian was famous for his wit, and is unlikely to have produced such a dry list of facts. Nevertheless it does contain some valuable information, culled from ancient Greek historians, about men who were famous for their longevity.

Because it is not considered to be genuine, "Long Lives" was not included in the translation of Lucian's works by H.W. & F.G.Fowler, which is available on the sacred-texts website. This translation is by A.M.Harmon (1913). See key to translations for an explanation of the format.


[1] At the behest of a dream, illustrious Quintillus, I make you a present of the "Long Lives." I had the dream and told my friends of it long since, when you were christening your second child. At the time, however, not being able to understand what the god meant by commanding me to "present you the long lives," I merely offered a prayer that you and your children might live very long, thinking that this would benefit not only the whole human race but, more than anyone else, me in person and all my kin; for I too, it seemed, had a blessing predicted for me by the god. [2] But as I thought the matter over by myself, I hit upon the idea that very likely in giving such an order to a literary man, the gods were commanding him to present you something from his profession. Therefore, on this your birthday, which I thought the most auspicious occasion, I give you the men who are related to have attained great age with a sound mind and a perfect body. Some profit may accrue to you from the treatise in two ways: on the one hand, encouragement and good hopes of being able to live long yourself, and on the other hand, instruction by examples, if you observe that it is the men who have paid most attention to body and mind that have reached an advanced age in full health. [3] Nestor, you know, the wisest of the Achaeans, outlasted three generations, Homer says [ Il_1'250 ]: and he tells us that he was splendidly trained in mind and in body. Likewise Teiresias the seer outlasted six generations, tragedy says: and one may well believe that a man consecrated to the gods, following a simpler diet, lives very long.

[4] Moreover, it is related that, owing to their diet, whole castes of men live long like the so-called scribes in Egypt, the story-tellers in Syria and Arabia, and the so-called Brahmins in India, men scrupulously attentive to philosophy. Also the so-called Magi, a prophetic caste consecrated to the gods, dwelling among the Persians, the Parthians, the Bactrians, the Chorasmians, the Arians, the Sacae, the Medes and many other barbarian peoples, are strong and long-lived, on account of practising magic, for they diet very scrupulously. [5] Indeed, there are even whole nations that are very long-lived, like the Seres, who are said to live three hundred years: some attribute their old age to the climate, others to the soil and still others to their diet, for they say that this entire nation drinks nothing but water. The people of Athos are also said to live a hundred and thirty years, and it is reported that the Chaldaeans live more than a hundred, using barley bread to preserve the sharpness of their eyesight. They say, too, that on account of this diet their other faculties are more vigorous than those of the rest of mankind.

[6] But this must suffice in regard to the long-lived castes and nations who are said to exist for a very long period either on account of their soil and climate, or of their diet, or of both. I can fittingly show you that your good hopes are of easy attainment by recounting that on every soil and in every clime men who observe the proper exercise and the diet most suitable for health have been long-lived. [7] I shall base the principal division of my treatise on their pursuits, and shall first tell you of the kings and the generals, one of whom the gracious dispensation of a great and godlike emperor has brought to the highest rank, thereby conferring a mighty boon upon the emperor's world. In this way it will be possible for you, observing your similarity to these long-lived men in condition and fortune, to have better expectations of a healthy and protracted old age, and by imitating them in your way of living to make your life at once long and healthy in a high degree.

[8] Numa Pompilius, most fortunate of the kings of Rome and most devoted to the worship of the gods, is said to have lived more than eighty years. Servius Tullius, also a king of Rome, is likewise related to have lived more than eighty years. Tarquinius, the last king of Rome, who was driven into exile and dwelt at Cumae, is said to have lived more than ninety years in the most sturdy health. [9] These are the kings of Rome, to whom I shall join such other kings as have attained great age, and after them others arranged according to their various walks of life. In conclusion I shall record for you the other Romans who have attained the greatest age, adding also those who have lived longest in the rest of Italy. The list will be a competent refutation of those who attempt to malign our climate here; and so we may have better hopes for the fulfilment of our prayers that the lord of every land and sea may reach a great and peaceful age, sufficing unto the demands of his world even in advanced years.

[10] Arganthonius, king of the Tartessians, lived a hundred and fifty years according to Herodotus the historian [ 1.163 ] and Anacreon the song-writer, but some consider this a fable. Agathocles, tyrant of Sicily, died at ninety, as Demochares and Timaeus tell us. Hieron, tyrant of Syracuse, died of an illness at the age of ninety-two, after having been ruler for seventy years, as Demetrius of Callatia and others say. Ateas, king of the Scythians, fell in battle against Philippus near the river Danube at an age of more than ninety years. Bardylis, king of the Illyrians, is said to have fought on horseback in the war against Philippus in his ninetieth year. Teres, king of the Odrysians, from what Theopompus says, died at ninety-two. [11] Antigonus One-eye, son of Philippus, and king of Macedonia, died in Phrygia in battle against Seleucus and Lysimachus, with many wounds, at eighty-one: so we are told by Hieronymus, who made the campaign with him. Lysimachus, king of Macedonia, also lost his life in the battle with Seleucus in his eightieth year, as the same Hieronymus says. There was also an Antigonus who was son of Demetrius and grandson of Antigonus One-eye: he was king of Macedonia for forty-four years and lived eighty, as Medeius and other writers say. So too Antipater, son of Iolaus, who had great power and was regent for many kings of Macedonia, was over eighty when he died. [12] Ptolemaeus, son of Lagus, the most fortunate of the kings of his day, ruled over Egypt, and at the age of eighty-four, two years before his death, abdicated in favour of his son Ptolemaeus, called Philadelphus, who succeeded to his father's throne (?) in lieu of his elder brothers. Philetaerus, an eunuch, secured and kept the throne of Pergamum, and closed his life at eighty. Attalus, called Philadelphus, also king of Pergamum, to whom the Roman general Scipio paid a visit, ended his life at the age of eighty-two. [13] Mithridates, king of Pontus, called the Founder, exiled by Antigonus One-eye, died in Pontus at eighty-four, as Hieronymus and other writers say. Ariarathes, king of Cappadocia, lived eighty-two years, as Hieronymus says: perhaps he would have lived longer if he had not been captured in the battle with Perdiccas and crucified.

[14] Cyrus, king of the Persians in olden times, according to the Persian and Assyrian annals (with which Onesicritus, who wrote a history of Alexander, seems to agree) at the age of a hundred asked for all his friends by name and learned that most of them had been put to death by his son Cambyses. When Cambyses asserted that he had done this by order of Cyrus, he died of a broken heart, partly because he had been slandered for his son's cruelty, partly because he accused himself of being feeble-minded. [15] Artaxerxes, called Mnemon, against whom Cyrus, his brother, made the expedition, was king of Persia when he died of illness at the age of eighty-six (according to Dinon ninety-four). Another Artaxerxes, king of Persia, who according to the historian Isidorus of Charax, occupied the throne in the time of Isidorus' fathers, was assassinated at the age of ninety-three through the machinations of his brother Gosithras. Sinatroces, king of Parthia, was restored to his country in his eightieth year by the Sacauracian Scyths, assumed the throne and held it seven years. Tigranes, king of Armenia, with whom Lucullus warred, died of illness at the age of eighty-five. [16] Hyspausines, king of Charax and the country on the Red Sea, fell ill and died at eighty-five. Tiraeus, the second successor of Hyspausines on the throne, died of illness at the age of ninety-two. Artabazus, the sixth successor of Tiraeus on the throne of Charax, was reinstated by the Parthians and became king at the age of eighty-six. Camnascires, king of the Parthians, lived ninety-six years. [17] Masinissa, king of the Moors, lived ninety years. Asander, who, after being ethnarch, was proclaimed king of Bosporus by the divine Augustus, at about ninety years proved himself a match for anyone in fighting from horseback or on foot; but when he saw his subjects going over to Scribonius on the eve of battle, he starved himself to death at the age of ninety-three. According to Isidorus of Charax, Goaesus, who was king of spice-bearing Omania in Isidorus' time, died of illness at one hundred and fifteen years. These are the kings who have been recorded as long-lived by our predecessors.

[18] Since philosophers and literary men in general, doubtless because they too take good care of themselves, have attained old age, I shall put down those whom there is record of, beginning with the philosophers. Democritus of Abdera starved himself to death at the age of one hundred and four. Xenophilus the musician, we are told by Aristoxenus, adopted the philosophical system of Pythagoras, and lived in Athens more than one hundred and five years. Solon, Thales, and Pittacus, who were of the so-called seven wise men, each lived a hundred years, [19] and Zenon, the head of the Stoic school, ninety-eight. They say that when Zenon stumbled in entering the assembly, he cried out: "Why do you call me?" and then, returning home, starved himself to death. Cleanthes, the pupil and successor of Zenon, was ninety-nine when he got a tumour on his lip. He was fasting when letters from certain of his friends arrived, but he had food brought him, did what his friends had requested, and then fasted anew until he passed away. [20] Xenophanes, son of Dexinus and disciple of Archelaus the physicist, lived ninety-one years; Xenocrates, the disciple of Plato, eighty-four; Carneades, the head of the New Academy, eighty-five; Chrysippus, eighty-one; Diogenes of Seleuceia on the Tigris, a Stoic philosopher, eighty-eight; Poseidonius of Apameia in Syria, naturalised in Rhodes, who was at once a philosopher and a historian, eighty-four; Critolaus, the Peripatetic, more than eighty-two: [21] Plato the divine, eighty-one. Athenodorus, son of Sandon, of Tarsus, a Stoic, tutor of Caesar Augustus the divine, through whose influence the city of Tarsus was relieved of taxation, died in his native land at the age of eighty-two, and the people of Tarsus pay him honour each year as a hero. Nestor, the Stoic from Tarsus, the tutor of Tiberius Caesar, lived ninety-two years, and Xenophon, son of Gryllus, more than ninety. These are the noteworthy philosophers.

[22] Of the historians, Ctesibius died at the age of one hundred and four while taking a walk, according to Apollodorus in his Chronology. Hieronymus, who went to war and stood much toil and many wounds, lived one hundred and four years, as Agatharchides says in the ninth book of his History of Asia; and he expresses his amazement at the man, because up to his last day he was still vigorous in his marital relations and in all his faculties, lacking none of the symptoms of health. Hellanicus of Lesbos was eighty-five, Pherecydes of Syros eighty-five also, Timaeus of Tauromenium ninety-six. Aristobulus of Cassandreia is said to have lived more than ninety years. He began to write his history in his eighty- fourth year, for he says so himself in the beginning of the work. Polybius, son of Lycortas, of Megalopolis, while coming in from his farm to the city, was thrown from his horse, fell ill as a result of it, and died at eighty-two. Hypsicrates of Amisenum, the historian, who mastered many sciences, lived to be ninety-two.

[23] Of the orators, Gorgias, whom some call a sophist, lived to be one hundred and eight, and starved himself to death. They say that when he was asked the reason for his great age, sound in all his faculties, he replied that he had never accepted other peoples invitations to dinner! Isocrates wrote his Panegyric at ninety-six; and at the age of ninety-nine, when he learned that the Athenians had been beaten by Philippus in the battle of Chaeroneia, he groaned and uttered the line of Euripides:
  "When Cadmus, long ago, quit Sidon town,"
alluding to himself; then, adding, "Greece will lose her liberty," he quitted life. Apollodorus of Pergamum, the rhetorician who was tutor to Caesar Augustus the divine and helped Athenodorus, the philosopher of Tarsus, to educate him, lived eighty-two years, like Athenodorus. Potamon, a rhetorician of considerable repute, lived ninety years.

[24] Sophocles the tragedian swallowed a grape and choked to death at ninety-five. Brought to trial by his son Iophon toward the close of his life on a charge of feeble-mindedness, he read the jurors his Oedipus at Colonus, proving by the play that he was sound of mind, so that the jury applauded him to the echo and convicted the son himself of insanity. [25] Cratinus, the comic poet, lived ninety-seven years, and toward the end of his life he produced The Flask and won the prize, dying not long thereafter. Philemon, the comic poet, was ninety-seven like Cratinus, and was lying on a couch resting. When he saw a donkey eating the figs that had been prepared for his own consumption, he burst into a fit of laughter; calling his servant and telling him, along with a great and hearty laugh, to give the donkey also a sup of wine, he choked with his laughter and died. Epicharmus, the comic poet, is also said to have lived ninety-seven years. [26] Anacreon, the lyric poet, lived eighty-five years; Stesichorus, the lyric poet, the same, and Simonides of Ceos more than ninety.

[27] Of the grammarians, Eratosthenes, son of Aglaus, of Cyrene, who was not only a grammarian but might also be called a poet, a philosopher and a geometrician, lived eighty-two years. [28] Lycurgus, the Spartan lawgiver, is said to have lived eighty-five years.

[29] These are the kings and the literary men whose names I have been able to collect. As I have promised to record some of the Romans and the Italians who lived to a great age, I will set them forth for you, saintly Quintillus, in another treatise, if it be the will of the gods.


Attalus' home page   |   28.02.14   |   Any comments?