search of an authentic old age, American philosopher and
writer Daniel Klein takes a library of his favourite
philosophers to the Greek island of Hydra, where he plans to
observe other septuagenarians and octogenarians.
The adventure is sparked by a visit to his dentist who tells
him his lower teeth need to be removed and replaced with
implants, or a denture plate, which would leave him with the
clunky smile of an old man. He signs up for the implants,
which will require a year's worth of visits to the dentist
and a lot of pain and money.
But when he gets home he has second thoughts. Is it better to
spend a precious year trying to extend the prime of his life
or to live an authentic old age, goofy grin and all. After
all, he is in his 70s. He realises he was getting swept up in
the trend of trying to extend the prime of life well into
years that used to be called ''old age''. If he did that he
would miss out on a significant and valuable stage of life,
going straight from a protracted prime into old old age when
infirmity and senility set in.
Why Epicurus? He was an ancient Greek philosopher from whom
the word epicurean comes. But rather than taking particular
pleasure in fine food and drink as today's epicures do,
Epicurus believed a tranquil old age was the pinnacle of
The way to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterised by
peace, freedom from fear and the absence of pain, was to be
found by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends,
to be happy with what you have, and enjoy simple pleasures
rather than wanting what you do not have. Scale down and
enjoy the leisurely pleasures of old age, Klein explains.
He contemplates these and other ideas, muses on the
tranquillity of life on Hydra without motorised transport,
enjoys the simple pleasures of a walk to the tavern, watching
the sun set from the terrace and talking to friends as the
other old people do on the island.
It is a charming read, sincere and yet humorous,
contemplating the joys of retirement before old old age and
disability set in, if only we can let go of the contemporary
idea of striving to be forever young.
Charmian Smith is a Dunedin writer.