History of Old Age: From Antiquity to the Renaissance

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University of Chicago Press, 1989 M11 28 - 343 pages
History of Old Age is the first major study of the ways in which old age has been perceived in western culture throughout history. Georges Minois paints a vast fresco, starting with the first old man to relate his own story—an Egyptian scribe some 4500 years ago—and ending with the deaths of Elizabeth I and Henry IV in the sixteenth century. Tracing the changing conceptions of the nature, value, and burden of the old, Minois argues that western history during this period is marked by great fluctuation in the social and political role of the aged.

Minois shows how, in ancient Greece, the cult of youth and beauty on the one hand, and the reverence for the figure of the Homeric sage, on the other, created an ambivalent attitude toward the aged. This ambiguity appears again in the contrast between the active role that older citizens played in Roman politics and their depiction in satirical literature of the period. Christian literature in the Middle Ages also played a large part in defining society's perception of the old, both in the image of the revered holy sage and in the total condemnation of the aged sinner.

Drawing on literary texts throughout, Minois considers the interrelation of literary, religious, medical, and political factors in determining the social fate of the elderly and their relationship to society. This book will be of great interest to social and cultural historians, as well as to general readers interested in the subject of the aged in society today.

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Contents

From Patriarch to Old
25
Sad Old
43
The Old Mans Grandeur and Decadence
77
The Old Man as a Symbol
113
Indifference to
133
The Social
156
Old People Assert
209
Humanists and Courtiers versus
249
The Real Weight of Old People
288
Conclusion
303
Bibliography
330
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About the author (1989)

Georges Minois is a member of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris, where he specializes in medieval studies.

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