THE ART OF LIVING LONG by Luigi Cornaro
Secrets of a Long Life
The First Discourse (1 of 4)
Written At the Age of 83 – Large Print
Possibly the One of the Best Sets of Health Discourses
On Longevity and Healing
his is the first of probably one of the most important set of discourses ever written on the subject of regaining health from serious illness. The message is not popular, for it proposes a seemingly harsh regimen of careful abstinence. This is most difficult for the majority of people despite the fact that recovery consequences can be life saving when other modalities of healing have failed. We will present a full summary of Cornaro’s methods for those who do not wish to read through the discourses.
Luigi Cornaro was a highborn Venetian in the 1400′s, who grew very sickly almost to the point of death at the untimely age of 35 when he discovered a "secret" method of diet that not only brought him to full health within a year, but gave him a joyous, energetic and illness free lifestyle until his late 90′s. His full manuscripts follow.
Against diseases known, the strongest fence
LUIGI CORNARO – THE FIRST DISCOURSE (1 of 4)
WRITTEN AT THE AGE OF EIGHTY-THREE
Wherein the author details the method by which he corrected his infirm condition, strengthened his naturally weak constitution, and thenceforth continued in the enjoyment of perfect health
IT is certain that habit, in man, eventually becomes second nature, compelling him to practice that to which he has become accustomed, regardless of whether such a thing be beneficial or injurious to him. Moreover, we see in many instances – and no one can call this into question – that the force of habit will triumph even over reason. Indeed, if a man of good morals frequents the company of a bad man, it very often happens that he will change from good to bad. Yet sometimes the contrary is equally true; namely, that while good habits often change readily for the worse, so also do bad habits change to good ones; since a wicked man who has once been good may still, by frequenting the society of the good, return to the better ways which he had formerly followed. All these changes must be attributed solely to the force of habit, which is truly very great.
It is in consequence of this powerful force of habit, that of late, – indeed during my own lifetime and memory, – three evil customs have gradually gained a foothold in our own Italy. The first of these is adulation and ceremony, the second is heresy, and the third is intemperance. These three vices, cruel monsters of human life as they truly are, have, in our day, prevailed so universally as to have impaired the sincerity of social life, the religion of the soul, and the health of the body.
Having long reflected on this unfortunate condition, I have now determined to treat of the last of these vices – intemperance; and, in order to accomplish all I can toward abolishing it, I shall prove that it is an abuse. With regard to the two other obnoxious habits, I feel certain that, ere long, some noble mind will undertake the task of condemning them and removing them from among us. Thus do I firmly hope that I shall, before I leave this world, see these three abuses conquered and crushed out of Italy, and, consequently, witness the return of my country to her wise and beautiful customs of yore.
Coming, then, to that evil concerning which I propose to speak, – the vice of intemperance, – I declare that it is a wicked thing that it should prevail to such an extent as to greatly lower, nay, almost abolish, the temperate life. For though it is well known by all that intemperance proceeds from the vice of gluttony, and temperance from the virtue of restraint, nevertheless the former is exalted as a virtuous thing and even as a mark of distinction, while temperance is stigmatized and scorned as dishonorable, and as befitting the miserly alone.
These false notions are due entirely to the force of habit, bred by men’s senses and uncontrolled appetites. It is this craving to gratify the appetites which has allured and inebriated men to such a degree that, abandoning the path of virtue, they have taken to following the one of vice – a road which leads them, though they see it not, to strange and fatal chronic infirmities through which they grow prematurely old. Before they reach the age of forty their health has been completely worn out – just the reverse of what the temperate life once did for them. For this, before it was banished by the deadly habit of intemperance, invariably kept all its followers strong and healthy, even to the age of fourscore and upward.
0 wretched and unhappy Italy, canst thou not see that intemperance kills every year amongst thy people as great a number as would perish during the time of a most dreadful pestilence, or by the sword or fire of many bloody wars! And these truly immoral banquets of thine, now so commonly the custom, – feasts so great and intolerable that the tables are never found large enough to accommodate the innumerable dishes set upon them, so that they must be heaped, one upon another, almost mountain high, – must we not brand them as so many destructive battles! Who could ever live amid such a multitude of disorders and excesses!
Oh, for the love of God, I conjure you to apply a remedy to this unholy condition! for I am certain there is no vice more displeasing to His Divine Majesty than this fatal one of intemperance. Let this new death, worse than any pestilence ever known, be driven out of Italy; as was the case with that other epidemic, which, though it once caused so much misery, nowadays does but very little harm, – indeed, scarcely any, – thanks to the improved state of affairs brought about by good sanitary regulations.
For there is a remedy by which we may banish this fatal vice of intemperance – an easy remedy, and one of which every man may avail himself if he will; that is, to live in accordance with the simplicity of Nature, which teaches us to be satisfied with little, to follow the ways of holy self-control and divine reason, and to accustom ourselves to eat nothing but that which is necessary to sustain life.
We should bear in mind that anything more than this will surely be followed by infirmity and death; and that while intemperance is merely a gratification of the palate, – a pleasure that vanishes in a moment, – yet, for a long time afterward, it causes the body much suffering and damage, and finally destroys it together with the soul.
I have seen many of my dearest friends and associates, men endowed with splendid gifts of intellect and noble qualities of heart, fall, in the prime of life, victims of this dread tyrant; men who, were they yet living, would be ornaments to the world, while their friendship and company would add to my enjoyment in the same proportion as I was caused sorrow by their loss.
Therefore, to prevent so great an evil for the future, I have decided to point out, in this brief treatise, what a fatal abuse is the vice of intemperance, and how easily it may be removed and replaced by the temperate habits of life which were formerly universal. And this I undertake all the more willingly, since I have been pressed thereunto by a number of young men of the brightest intellect, who are well aware that intemperance is a fatal vice; for they have seen their fathers die from its effects in the flower of manhood, while, on the other hand, they behold me still hale and flourishing at my great age of eighty-three years.
Now, Nature does not deny us the power of living many years. Indeed, old age, as a matter of fact, is the time of life to be most coveted, as it is then that prudence is best exercised, and the fruits of all the other virtues are enjoyed with the least opposition; because, by that time, the passions are subdued, and man gives himself up wholly to reason.
Hence, being desirous that they likewise may attain old age, these young people have besought me that I may be pleased to tell them the means by which I have been able to reach this advanced age. And since I perceive them full of so honest a desire, and as I heartily wish to benefit not only them, but those others also who may wish to read this brief treatise of mine, I shall now set forth, in writing, the cause which induced me to abandon my intemperate habits, and to embrace the orderly and temperate life. I shall likewise relate the manner in which I went about this reform, and the good results I afterward experienced through it; whence it will be clearly seen how easy a matter it is to overcome the habit of excess. And I shall demonstrate, in conclusion, how much that is good and advantageous is to be derived, from the temperate life.
I say, then, that the dire infirmities from which I constantly suffered, and which had not only invaded my system, but had gained such headway as to have become most serious, were the cause of my renouncing the errors of intemperance to which I had been very much addicted.
The excesses of my past life, together with my bad constitution, – my stomach being very cold and moist, – had caused me to fall a prey to various ailments, such as pains in the stomach, frequent pains in the side, symptoms of gout, and, still worse, a low fever that was almost continuous; but I suffered especially from disorder of the stomach, and from an unquenchable thirst. This evil – nay, worse than evil – condition left me nothing to hope for myself, except that death should terminate my troubles and the weariness of my life – a life as yet far removed from its natural end, though brought near to a close by my wrong manner of living.
After every known means of cure had been tried, without affording me any relief, I was, between my thirty-fifth and fortieth years, reduced to so infirm a condition that my physicians declared there was but one remedy left for my ills – a remedy which would surely conquer them, provided I would make up my mind to apply it and persevere patiently in its use.
That remedy was the temperate and orderly life, which, they assured me, possessed as great strength and efficacy for the accomplishment of good results, as that other, which was completely its opposite in every way, – I mean an intemperate and disorderly life, – possessed for doing harm. And of the power of these two opposite manners of living I should entertain no doubt; both by reason of the fact that my infirmities had been caused by disorder, – though, indeed, I was not yet reduced to such extremity that I might not be wholly freed from them by the temperate life, which counteracts the effects of an intemperate one, – and because it is obvious that this regular and orderly life preserves in health even persons of feeble constitution and decrepit age, as long as they observe it. It is equally manifest that the opposite life, an irregular and disorderly one, has the power to ruin, while in the strength of early manhood, the constitutions of men endowed with robustness, and to keep them sick for a great length of time. All this is in accordance with the natural law which ordains that contrary ways of living must necessarily produce contrary effects. Art itself, imitating in this the processes of nature, will gradually correct natural defects and imperfections- a principle we find clearly exemplified in agriculture and other similar things.
My physicians warned me, in conclusion, that if I neglected to apply this remedy, in a short time it would be too late to derive any benefit from it; for, in a few months, I should certainly die.
I, who was very sad at the thought of dying at so early an age and yet was continually tormented by sickness, having heard these good and plausible reasons, grew thoroughly convinced that from order and from disorder must of necessity proceed the contrary effects which I have mentioned; and, fired with hope, I resolved that, in order to escape death and, at the same time, to be delivered from my sufferings, I would embrace the orderly life.
Having been instructed by my physicians as to the method I was to adopt, I understood that I was not to partake of any foods, either solid or liquid, save such as are prescribed for invalids; and, of these, in small quantities only. To tell the truth, diet had been prescribed for me before; but it had been at a time, when, preferring to live as I pleased and being weary of such foods, I did not refrain from gratifying myself by eating freely of all those things which were to my taste. And being consumed, as it were, by fever, I did not hesitate to continue drinking, and in large quantities, the wines which pleased my palate. Of all this, of course, after the fashion of invalids, I never breathed a word to my physicians.
After I had once taken a firm resolution that I would henceforth live temperately and rationally, and had realized, as I did, that to do so was not only an easy matter, but, indeed, the duty of every man, I entered upon my new course so heartily that I never afterward swerved from it, nor ever committed the slightest excess in any direction. Within a few days I began to realize that this new life suited my health excellently; and, persevering in it, in less than a year – though the fact may seem incredible to some – I found myself entirely cured of all my complaints.
Now that I was in perfect health, I began to consider seriously the power and virtue of order; and I said to myself that, as it had been able to overcome so many and such great ills as mine, it would surely be even more efficacious to preserve me in health, to assist my unfortunate constitution, and to strengthen my extremely weak stomach.
Accordingly, I began to observe very diligently what kinds of food agreed with me. I determined, in the first place, to experiment with those which were most agreeable to my palate, in order that I might learn if they were suited to my stomach and constitution. The proverb, "Whatever tastes good trill nourish and strengthen" is generally regarded as embodying a truth, and is invoked, as a first principle, by those who are sensually inclined. In it I had hitherto firmly believed; but now I was resolved to test the matter, and find to what extent, if any, it was true.
My experience, however, proved this saying to "be false. For instance, dry and very cold wine was agreeable to my taste; as were also melons; and, among Other garden produce, raw salads; also fish, pork, tarts, vegetable soups, pastries, and other similar articles. All of these, I say, suited my taste exactly, and yet I found they were hurtful to me. Thus having, by my own experience, proved the proverb in question to be erroneous, I ever after looked upon it as such, and gave up the use of that kind of food and of that kind of wine, as well as cold drinking. Instead, I chose only such wines as agreed with my stomach, taking of them only such a quantity as I knew it could easily digest; and I observed the same rule with regard to my food, exercising care both as to the quantity and the quality. In this manner, I accustomed myself to the habit of never fully satisfying my appetite, either with eating or drinking – always leaving the table well able to take more. In this I acted according to the proverb: "Not to satiate one’s self with food is the science of health.
Being thus rid, for the reasons and in the manner I have given, of intemperance and disorder, I devoted myself entirely to the sober and regular life. This had such a beneficial effect upon me that, in less than a year as I have just said, I was entirely freed from all the ills which had been so deeply rooted in my system as to have become almost incurable.
Another excellent result which this new life effected in me was that I no longer fell sick every year – as I had always previously done while following my former sensual manner of life – of a strange fever, which at times had brought me near to death’s door; but, under my new regimen, from this also was I delivered.
In.a word, I grew most healthy; and I have remained so from that time to this day, and for no other reason than that of my constant fidelity to the orderly life. The unbounded virtue of this is, that that which I eat and drink, – always being such as agrees with my constitution and, in quantity, such as it should be, – after it has imparted its invigorating elements to my body, leaves it without any difficulty and without ever generating within it any bad humors. Whence, following this rule, as I have already said, I have constantly been, and am now – thank God! – most healthy.
It is true, however, that besides these two very important rules which I have always so carefully observed, relative to eating and drinking, – namely, to take only the quantity which my stomach can easily digest and only the kinds that agree with it, – I have also been careful to guard against great heat and cold, as well as extreme fatigue or excesses of any nature; I have never allowed my accustomed sleep and rest to be interfered with; I have avoided remaining for any length of time in places poorly ventilated; and have been careful not to expose myself too much to the wind or the sun; for these things, too, are great disorders. Yet it is not a very difficult matter to avoid them; for, in a being endowed with reason, the desire of life and health possesses greater I weight than the mere pleasure of doing things which are known to be hurtful.
I have also preserved myself, as far as I have been able, from those other disorders from which it is more difficult to be exempt; I mean melancholy, hatred, and the other passions of the soul, which all appear greatly to affect the body. However, my efforts in this direction have not been so successful as to preserve me wholly; since, on more than one occasion, I have been subject to either one or the other of these disturbances, not to say all of them. Yet even this fact has proved useful to me; for my experience has convinced me that, in reality, these disorders have not much power over, nor can they do much harm to, the bodies of those whose lives are governed by the two rules I have already mentioned relative to eating and drinking. So I can say, with truth, that whosoever observes these two principal rules can suffer but little from any disorder.
Galen,* the famous physician, bore testimony to this truth long before my time. He asserts that all other disorders caused him but very little harm, because he had learned to guard against those of excessive eating and drinking; and that, for this reason, he was never indisposed for more than a day. That this is indeed true, I can bear living testimony, corroborated by the statement of everybody who knows me; for my friends, well aware that I have often suffered exposure to cold, heat, and other similar disorders, have also seen me disturbed in mind on account of various misfortunes that have befallen me at different times. Nevertheless, they know that these troubles of mine have harmed me but little; but they can testify to the considerable damage which these very things have brought to others who were not followers of the temperate and regular life.
Among these I may number a brother of mine, and several other near relatives; who, trusting to their good constitutions, did not follow the temperate life – a fact which was the cause of grave harm to them. Their perturbations of mind exercised great influence over their bodies; and such was the anxiety and melancholy with which they were overwhelmed when they saw me involved in certain highly important lawsuits brought against me by men of power and position, and so great was their fear that I should lose, that they were seized with the humor of melancholy, of which the bodies of those who live irregularly are always full. This humor so embittered their lives, and grew upon them to such a degree, that it brought them to the grave before their time.
Yet I suffered nothing throughout it all; for, in me, • See Note Q this humor was not excessive. On the contrary, encouraging myself, I tried to believe that God had permitted those lawsuits to be brought against me in order that my own strength and courage might better be made known, and that I should win them to my own advantage and honor; as in fact I eventually did, gaining a glorious and profitable victory. And the very great consolation of soul I then experienced had, in its turn, no power to harm me.
It is thus clear that neither melancholy nor any other disorder can seriously injure bodies governed by the orderly and temperate life. Nay, I shall go still further, and assert that even accidents have the power to do but little harm, or cause but little pain, to the followers of such a life.
The truth of this statement I learned by my own experience at the age of seventy. It happened, one day, while driving at a high rate of speed, I met with an accident. My carriage was overturned, and was dragged quite a distance before the horses could be stopped. Being unable to extricate myself, I was very badly hurt. My head and the rest of my body were painfully bruised, while one of my arms and one of my legs received especially severe injuries.
I was brought home, and my family sent immediately for the doctors; who, when they had come and found me at my advanced age so shaken and in so bad a plight, could not help giving their opinion that I would die within three days.
They suggested two things, however, as their only hopes for my recovery: one was bleeding, the other was purging; in order, as they said, to cleanse my system and thus prevent the alteration of the humors, which they expected at any moment to become so much disturbed as to produce high fever. I, nevertheless, convinced that the regular life I had led for many years had united, equalized, and disposed of all my humors so well that they could not possibly be subject to so great alteration, refused either to be bled or to take any medicine. I merely had my arm and leg straightened, and permitted my body to be rubbed with certain oils which were recommended by the physicians as appropriate under the circumstances. It followed that, without using any other kind of remedy and without suffering any further ill or change for the worse, I entirely recovered – a thing, which, while fulfilling my own expectations, seemed to my doctors nothing less than miraculous.
The unavoidable conclusion to be drawn from this is, that any man who leads the regular and temperate life, not swerving from it in the least degree where his nourishment is concerned, can be but little affected by other disorders or incidental mishaps. Whereas, on the other hand, I truly conclude that disorderly habits of living are those which are fatal.
By a recent experience of mine – that is, as late as four years ago – this was proved to me unmistakably. Having been induced by the advice of my physicians, the admonitions of my friends and their loving exhortations, to make a change in my manner of living, I found this change – consisting in an increase in the ordinary quantity of food – to be, in reality, a disorder of much greater importance than might have been expected; since it brought on me a most severe illness. As the whole event is appropriate here, and because the knowledge of it may be of advantage to others, I shall now relate it in all its particulars.
My dearest relatives and friends, who love and cherish me devotedly and are inspired by warm and true affection, observed how very little I ate, and, in unison with my physicians, told me that the food I took could not possibly be sufficient to sustain a man of an age so advanced as mine. They argued that I should not only preserve, but rather aim to increase, my strength and vigor. And as this could only be done by means of nourishment, it was absolutely necessary, they said, that I should eat rather more abundantly.
I, on the other hand, brought forward my reasons to the contrary; namely, that nature is satisfied with little; that my spare diet had been found sufficient to preserve me in health all these many years; and that, with me, this abstemious habit had long since become second nature. I maintained, furthermore, that it was in harmony with reason that, as my age increased and my strength lessened, I should diminish, rather than increase, the quantity of my food. This was true; since the digestive powers of the stomach were also growing weaker in the same proportion as my vigor became impaired. Wherefore I could see no reason why I should increase my diet .
To strengthen my argument, I quoted those two natural and obviously true proverbs: the one, that "Whosoever wishes to eat much must eat Utile" -which means simply that the eating of little lengthens a man’s life, and by living a long time he is enabled to eat a great deal; the other, that "The food from which a man abstains, after he has eaten heartily, is of more benefit to him than that which he has eaten."
However, neither of these wise sayings, nor any other argument I could offer, proved effectual; for my friends only pressed me the harder. Now, I did not like to appear obstinate or as though I considered myself more of a doctor than the very doctors themselves; moreover, I especially wished to please my family, who desired it very earnestly, believing, as they did, that such an increase in my ordinary allowance would be beneficial to my strength. So I at last yielded, and consented to add to the quantity of my food. This increase, however, was by only two ounces in weight; so that, while, with bread, the yolk of an egg, a little meat, and some soup, I had formerly eaten as much as would weigh – ^ in all exactly twelve ounces, I now went so far as to raise the amount to fourteen ounces; and, while I had formerly drunk but fourteen ounces of wine, I now began to take sixteen ounces.
The disorder of this increase had, at the end of ten days, begun to affect me so much, that, instead of being cheerful, as I had ever been, I became melancholy and choleric; everything annoyed me; and my mood was so . wayward that I neither knew what to say to others nor what to do with myself. At the end of twelve days I was seized with a most violent pain in the side, which continued twenty-two hours. This was followed by a terrible fever, which lasted thirty-five days and as many nights without a moment’s interruption; although, to tell the truth, it kept constantly diminishing after the fifteenth day. Notwithstanding such abatement, however, during all that period I was never able to sleep for even half of a quarter of an hour; hence, everybody believed that I would surely die. However, I recovered -God be praised! -solely by returning to my former rule of life; although I was then seventy-eight years of age, and it was just in the heart of the coldest season of a very cold year, and I as frail in body as could be.
I am firmly convinced that nothing rescued me from death but the orderly life which I had observed for so many years; in all of which time no kind of sickness had ever visited me, unless I may call by that name some slight indisposition lasting a day or two only. The steady rule of life I had so long observed had not, as I have already said, allowed the generation of any evil or excessive humors in my body; or, if any had been formed, it had not permitted them to acquire strength or to become malignant, as is the case in the bodies of old persons who live without restraint. Consequently, as in my system there was none of that chronic viciousness of humors which kills men, but only that new condition brought about by my recent irregularity, this attack of illness – although indeed very serious -was not able to cause my death.
This, and nothing else, was the means of my recovery; whence we may judge how great are the power and virtue of order, and how great is the power of disorder -the latter having been able, in a few days, to bring upon me a sickness which proved to be so terrible; whereas the regular and temperate life had maintained me in perfect health during so many years. And it seems to me most reasonable that, if the world is maintained by order, and if our life is nothing else – so far as the body is concerned – but the harmony and order of the four elements, it must follow that only through this same order can our life be sustained; while, on the other hand, it is ruined by sickness or dissolved by death, according as this order is not observed. It is through order that the sciences are more easily mastered; it is order that gives the victory to armies; and, finally, it is due to order that the stability of families, of cities, and even of governments, is maintained.
Therefore I conclude that orderly living is the most positive law and foundation of a long and healthy life. We may say it is the true and only medicine; and whoever considers all this deliberately must declare it is indeed so.
When a physician pays a visit to a sick man, he prescribes this as the very first condition of recovery, urging him, above all things, to live the orderly life. In like manner, when he bids good-bye to his patient upon his recovery, he recommends, as a means of preserving restored health, that he continue this orderly life. And there is no doubt that if the one so advised were to act accordingly, he would avoid all sickness in the future; because a well-regulated life removes the causes of disease. Thus, for the remainder of his days, he would have no further need either of doctors or of medicines.
Moreover, by applying his mind to this matter which should so deeply concern him, he would become his own physician, and, indeed, the only perfect one he could have; for it is true that "A. man cannot he a perfect physician of any one save of himself alone."
The reason of this is that any man may, by dint of experimenting, acquire a perfect knowledge of his own constitution and of its most hidden qualities, and find out what food and what drink, and what quantities of each, will agree with his stomach. It is impossible to have equally accurate knowledge of these things in another person; since it is only with difficulty that we may discover them in ourselves. And to learn them in our own cases, great attention, considerable time, and much study are required. Nor must we overlook the fact that various experiments are absolutely necessary; for there is not so great a variety of features as there is diversity of temperaments and stomachs among men.
Who would believe, for instance, that wine over a year old would be hurtful to my stomach, while new wine would be suitable to it? and that pepper, which is commonly considered a heating spice, would not act upon me as such, but that cinnamon would warm and help me? What physician could have informed me of these two hidden qualities of my nature; since I myself, after a long course of observation, have barely been able to note and find them?
Therefore, I say again, from all these reasons it follows that it is impossible for anyone to be a perfect physician of another. Since, then, a man can have no better doctor than himself, and no better medicine than the temperate life, he should by all means embrace that life.
I do not mean to say, however, that in the knowledge and treatment of the diseases incurred by those who do not lead orderly lives, there is no need of the physician, or that he should not be valued highly. For, if a friend brings comfort when he comes to us in time of sickness, – though his visit be merely to manifest sympathy in our suffering and to encourage us to hope for recovery, -how much the more ought we to appreciate the physician who is a friend visiting us that he may be of service, and who promises to restore our health? Yet, when it comes to a question of preserving health, my opinion is that we should take, as our proper physician, the regular and temperate life. For, as we have seen, it is the true medicine of nature and best suited to man; it keeps him in health, even though he be of an unfortunate constitution; it enables him to retain his strength to the age of a hundred years or more; and, finally, it does not suffer him to pass away through sickness or by any alteration of the humors, but simply by the coming to an end of the radical moisture, which is exhausted at the last. Learned men have often asserted that similar effects could be obtained by means of drinkable gold or the "elixir of life"; yet, though they have thus been sought by many, who have found them?
Let us be truthful. Men are, as a rule, very sensual and intemperate, and wish to gratify their appetites and give themselves up to the commission of innumerable disorders. When, seeing that they cannot escape suffering the unavoidable consequence of such intemperance as often as they are guilty of it, they say -by way of excuse -that it is preferable to live ten years less and to enjoy one’s life. They do not pause to consider what immense importance ten years more of life, and especially of healthy life, possess when we have reached mature age, the time, indeed, at which men appear to the best advantage in learning and virtue – two things which can never reach their perfection except with time. To mention nothing else at present, I shall only say that, in literature and in the sciences, the majority of the best and most celebrated works we possess were written when their authors had attained ripe age, and during those same ten latter years for which some men, in order that they may gratify their appetites, say they do not care.
Be this as it may, I have not chosen to imitate them; on the contrary, I have chosen to live these ten years. Had I not done so, I should never have written the treatises, which, as I have been alive and well, I have been able to write during the last ten years; and that they will prove useful I have no doubt.
Furthermore, the aforesaid followers of sensuality will tell you that the temperate and orderly life is an impossible one. To which I answer: Galen, great as a physician, led it, and chose it as the best medicine. So, likewise, did Plato, Cicero, Isocrates, and many other famous men in times past; whose names, lest I grow tedious, I shall forbear to mention. In our own time, we have seen Pope Paul Farnese [1468-1549] and Cardinal Bembo [1470-1547] lead this life, and for this reason attain great age; the same may be said of our two Doges,* Lando [1462-1545] and Donato [1468-1553]. Besides these, we might mention many others in humbler states and conditions, not only in the cities, but in the country also; for in every place there are to be found those who follow the temperate life, and always to their own considerable advantage.
Seeing, therefore, that it has been practiced in the past, and that many are now practicing it, the temperate life is clearly proved to be one easily followed; and all the more so by reason of the fact that it does not call for any great exertion. Indeed -as is stated by the abovementioned Cicero and by all who follow it -the only difficulty, if any there be, consists in making a beginning.
Plato, himself living the temperate life, nevertheless declares that a man in the service of the State cannot lead it; because he is often compelled to suffer heat and cold and fatigues of various kinds, as well as other hardships, all contrary to the temperate life, and in themselves disorders. Yet, I repeat the assertion I have already made, that these disorders are not of any great consequence, and are powerless to cause grievous sickness or death, provided he who is obliged to suffer them leads an abstemious life, and is never guilty of any excess in eating or drinking. Excess is a thing which any man, even one who is in the service of the State, can very well avoid, and must, indeed, necessarily avoid; since by so doing he may rest assured, either that he will never incur those ills into which it would otherwise be easy for him to fall while committing disorders which are brought upon him in the discharge of his duties, or that he will be able the more easily and quickly to free himself of those ills, should he, perchance, be overtaken by them.
* See Note H
Here one might object -as some actually do -that a man accustomed to lead the temperate life, having always, while in sound health, partaken of food proper for sick persons, and in small quantities only, has nothing left to fall back upon in time of sickness.
To this objection I shall answer, in the first place, that Nature, being desirous to preserve man as long as| possible, teaches him what rule to follow in time of illness; for she immediately deprives the sick of their appetite in order that they may eat but little -for with little, as it has already been said, Nature is content. Consequently, whether the sick man, up to the time of his illness, has led the orderly or disorderly life, it is necessary that he should then partake of such food only as is suited to his condition, and, in quantity, less of it than he was wont to take when in health. Should he, when ill, continue to eat the same amount as when in health, he would surely die; while, were he to eat more, he would die all the sooner. For his natural powers, already oppressed with sickness, would thereby be burdened beyond endurance, having had forced upon them a quantity of food greater than they could support under the circumstances. A reduced quantity is, in my opinion, all that is required to sustain the invalid.
Another answer to this objection -and a better one -is, that he who leads the temperate life can never fall sick, or at least can do so only rarely; and his indisposition lasts but a very short while. For, by living temperately, he removes all the causes of illness; and, having removed these, he thereby removes the effects. So the man who lives the orderly life should have no fear of sickness; for surely he has no reason to fear an effect, the cause of which is under his own control.
Now, since the orderly life is, as we have seen, so useful, so potent, so beautiful, and so holy, it should be embraced and followed by every rational being; and this all the more from the fact that it is a life very easy to lead, and one that does not conflict with the career of any condition of man.
No one need feel obliged to confine himself to the small quantity to which I limit myself; nor to abstain from fruity fish, and other things which I do not take. For I eat but little; and my reason in doing so is that I find a little sufficient for my small and weak stomach. Moreover, as fruit, fish, and similar foods disagree with me, I do not use them. Persons, however, with whom these do agree may -nay, should -partake of them; for to such they are by no means forbidden. That which is forbidden to them and to everybody else, is to partake of food, even though it be of the kind suited to them, in a quantity so large that it cannot be easily digested; and the same is true with regard to drink. But should there be a man to whom no kind of food is harmful, he, obviously, would not be subject to the rule of quality, but must needs regard only that of quantity -an observance which becomes a very easy matter.
I do not wish to be told here that among those who lead the most irregular lives there are men, who, in spite of this fact, reach, healthy and robust, those furthest limits of life attained by the temperate; for this argument is grounded upon a position uncertain and dangerous, and upon a fact, moreover, which is of so rare occurrence that, when it does occur, it appears more a miracle than a natural result. Hence it should not persuade us to live disorderly lives; for Nature was merely unwontedly liberal to those irregular livers, and very few of us can, or should, hope that she will be as bountiful to us.
He who, trusting to his youth or his strong constitution and perfect stomach, will not take proper care of himself, loses a great deal, and every day is exposed, in consequence of his intemperate life, to sickness and even death. For this reason I maintain that an old man who lives regularly and temperately, even though he be of poor constitution, is more likely to live than is a young man of perfect health if addicted to disorderly habits.
There is no doubt, of course, that a man blessed with a strong constitution will be able to preserve himself longer by living the temperate life than he who has a poor one; and it is also true that God and Nature can cause men to be brought into the world with so perfect constitutions that they will live for many years in health, without observing this strict rule of life. A case of this kind is that of the Procurator* Thomas Contarini of Venice [1454-1554], and another is that of the Knight Anthony Capodivacca of Padua [1465?-1555]. But such instances are so rare that, it is safe to say, there is not more than one man in a hundred thousand of whom it will prove true.
The universal rule is that they who wish not only constantly to enjoy perfect health and to attain their full limit of life, but finally to pass away without pain or difficulty and of mere exhaustion of the radical moisture, must lead the temperate life; for upon this condition, and no other, will they enjoy the fruits of such a life -fruits almost innumerable, and each one to be infinitely prized. For as sobriety keeps the humors of the body pure and mild, so, likewise, does it prevent fumes from arising from the stomach to the head; and the brain of him who lives in this manner is, as a result, constantly in a clear condition, permitting him to maintain entire the use of reason. Thus, to his own extreme comfort and contentment, is he enabled to rise above the low and mean considerations of this world to the high and beautiful contemplation of things divine. In this manner he considers, knows, and understands, as he never would have otherwise done, how great are the power, the wisdom, and the goodness of God. Descending thence to the realms of Nature, he recognizes in her the daughter of the same God; and he sees and touches that which at any other age of his life, or with a less purified mind, he could never have seen or touched.
Then, indeed, does he fully realize the ugliness of vice, into which those persons fall who have not learned to control their passions or to bridle those three importunate desires which seem, all three together, to be born with us in order to keep us forever troubled and disturbed- the desires of carnal pleasures, of honors, and of worldly possessions. These lusts appear to increase with age in those who are not followers of the temperate life; because, when passing through the years of earlier manhood, they did not relinquish, as they should have done, either sensuality or appetite, to embrace in their stead reason and self-control – virtues which followers of the temperate life never abandoned in their years of strength.
On the contrary, these more fortunate men, well knowing that such passions and desires are irrational, and having given themselves wholly to reason, were freed both of their tyranny and at the same time of all other vices, and drawn, instead, to virtue and good works. By this means, from the vicious men they had once been, they became true and upright. At length, in process of time and owing to extreme age, their dissolution and close of life are near at hand. Yet, conscious that they have, through God’s special grace, abandoned the ways of vice and ever afterward followed those of virtue, and firmly hoping, moreover, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Kedeemer, to die in His grace, they are not saddened by the thought of the approach of death, which they know to be unavoidable.
This is especially the case when, loaded with honors and satiated with life, they perceive they have reached that age which scarcely any man – among the many thousands born into this world – who follows a different mode of living, ever attains. And the inevitable approach of death grieves them so much the less in that it does not come suddenly or unexpectedly, with a troublesome and bitter alteration of the humors, and with sharp pains and cruel fever; but it comes most quietly and mildly. For, in them, the end is caused merely by the failure of the radical moisture; which, consumed by degrees, finally becomes completely exhausted, after the manner of a lamp which gradually fails. Hence they pass away peacefully, and without any kind of sickness, from this earthly and mortal life to the heavenly and eternal one.
0 holy and truly happy Temperate Life, most worthy to be looked upon as such by all men! even as the other, disorderly and so contrary to thee, is sinful and wretched – as those who will but stop to reflect upon the opposite effects of both must clearly see. Thy lovely name alone should be sufficient to bring men to a knowledge of thee; for thy name, The Orderly and Temperate Life, is beautiful to speak; while how offensive are the words disorder and intemperance! Indeed, between the very mention of these two opposites lies the same difference as between those other two, angel and devil.
I have so far given the reasons for which I abandoned disorder and devoted myself wholly to the temperate life; also the manner in which I went about it that I might accomplish my end; together with the subsequent effects of this change; and, finally, I have attempted to describe the advantages and blessings which the temperate life bestows on those who follow it.
And now, since some sensual and unreasonable men pretend that long life is not a blessing or a thing to be desired, but that the existence of a man after he has passed the age of sixty-five cannot any longer be called a living life, but rather should be termed a dead one, I shall plainly show they are much mistaken; for I have an ardent desire that every man should strive to attain my age, in order that he may enjoy what I have found – and what others, too, will find – to be the most beautiful period of life.
For this purpose I wish to speak here of the pastimes and pleasures which I enjoy at this advanced season of life. I desire, in this manner, openly to bear witness to all mankind – and every person who knows me will testify to the truth of what I say – that the life which I am now living is a most vital one, and by no means a dead one; and that it is deemed, by many, a life as full of happiness as this world can give.
Those who know me well will give this testimony, in the first place, because they see, and not without the greatest admiration and amazement, how strong I am; that I am able to mount my horse without assistance; and with what ease and agility I can not only ascend a flight of stairs, but also climb a whole hill on foot. They also see how I am ever cheerful, happy, and contented – free from all perturbations of the soul and from every vexatious thought; instead of these, joy and peace have fixed their abode in my heart, and never depart from it. Moreover, my friends know how I spend my time, and that it is always in such a manner that life does not grow tedious to me; they see that there is no single hour of it that I am not able to pass with the greatest possible delight and pleasure.
Frequently I have the opportunity to converse with many honorable gentlemen; among them, a number who are renowned for their intellect and refinement, and distinguished by their literary attainments, or are of excellence in some other way. When their conversation fails me, I enjoy the time in reading some good book. Having read as much as I care to, I write; endeavoring in this, as in what other manner soever I may, to be of assistance to others, as far as is in my power.
All these things I do with the greatest ease and at my leisure, at their proper seasons, in my own residence; which, besides being situated in the most beautiful quarter of this noble and learned city of Padua, is, in itself, really handsome and worthy of praise – truly a home, the like of which is no longer built in our day. It is so arranged that in one part of it I am protected against the great heat of summer, and in the other part against the extreme cold of winter; for I built the house according to the principles of architecture, which teach us how that should be done. In addition to the mansion, I enjoy my various gardens, beautified by running streams – retreats wherein I always find some pleasant occupation for my time.
I have, besides this, another mode of recreating myself. Every year, in April and May, as well as in September and October, I spend a few days at a countryseat of mine, situated in the most desirable part of the Euganean Hills.* It is adorned with beautiful gardens and fountains; and I especially delight in its extremely comfortable and fine dwelling. In this spot I also take part, at times, in some easy and pleasant hunting, such as is suited to my age.
For as many days again, I enjoy my villa in the plain. It is very beautiful, both on account of its fine streets converging into a large and handsome square,- in the center of which stands the church, a structure well befitting the place and much honored, – as also because it is divided by a large and rapid branch of the river Brenta, on either side of which spread large tracts of land, all laid out in fertile and carefully cultivated fields. This district is now – God be praised! – exceedingly well populated; for it is, indeed, a very different place from what it was formerly, having once been marshy and of unwholesome atmosphere – a home fit rather for snakes than for human beings. But, after I had drained off the waters, the air became healthful and people flocked thither from every direction; the number of the inhabitants began to multiply exceedingly; and the country was brought to the perfect condition in which it is to-day. Hence I can say, with truth, that in this place I have given to God an altar, a temple, and souls to adore Him. All these are things which afford me infinite pleasure, solace, and contentment every time I return thither to see and enjoy them.
At those same times every year, I go, as well, to revisit some of the neighboring cities, in order that I may enjoy the society of those of my friends whom I find there; for I derive great pleasure from conversing with them. I meet, in their company, men distinguished for their intellect – architects, painters, sculptors, musicians, and agriculturists; for our times have certainly produced a considerable number of these. I behold, for the first time, their more recent works, and see again their former ones; and I always learn things which it is agreeable and pleasing to me to know. I see the palaces, the gardens, the antiquities, and, together with these, the squares, the churches, and the fortresses; for I endeavor to omit nothing from which I can derive either delight or information.
My greatest enjoyment, in the course of my journeys going and returning, is the contemplation of the beauty of the country and of the places through which I travel. Some of these are in the plains; others on the hills, near rivers or fountains; and all are made still more beautiful by the presence of many charming dwellings surrounded by delightful gardens.
Nor are these my diversions and pleasures rendered less sweet and less precious through the failing of my sight or my hearing, or because any one of my senses is not perfect; for they are all – thank God! – most perfect. This is true especially of my sense of taste; for I now find more true relish in the simple food I eat, wheresoever I may chance to be, than I formerly found in the most delicate dishes at the time of my intemperate life. Neither does the change of bed affect me in the slightest degree; for I always sleep soundly and quietly in what place soever I may happen to be – nothing disturbs me, so that my dreams are always happy and pleasant.
With the greatest delight and satisfaction, also, do I behold the success of an undertaking highly important to our State; namely, the fitting for cultivation of its waste tracts of country, numerous as they were. This improvement was commenced at my suggestion; yet I had scarcely ventured to hope that I should live to see it, knowing, as I do, that republics are slow to begin enterprises of great importance. Nevertheless, I have lived to see it. And I was myself present with the members of the committee appointed to superintend the work, for two whole months, at the season of the greatest heat of summer, in those swampy places; nor was I ever disturbed either by fatigue or by any hardship I was obliged to incur. So great is the power of the orderly life which accompanies me wheresoever I may go!
Furthermore, I cherish a firm hope that I shall live to witness not only the beginning, but also the completion, of another enterprise, the success of which is no less important to our beloved Venice; namely, the protection of our estuary, or lagoon, that strongest and most wonderful bulwark of my dear country. The preservation of this – and be it said not through self-complacency, but wholly and purely for truth’s sake – has been advised by me repeatedly, both by word of mouth and by carefully written reports to our Republic; for as I owe to her, by right, the fullest means of assistance and benefit that I can give, so also do I most fondly desire to see her enjoy prolonged and enduring happiness, and to know that her security is assured.
These are the true and important recreations, these the comforts and pastimes, of my old age, which is much more to be prized than the old age or even the youth of other men; since it is free, by the grace of God, from all the perturbations of the soul and the infirmities of the body, and is not subject to any of those troubles which woefully torment so many young men and so many languid and utterly worn-out old men.
If to great and momentous things it be proper to compare lesser ones, or rather those, I should say, which are by many considered as hardly worthy of notice, I shall mention, as another fruit which I have gathered from the temperate life, that at my present age of eightythree I have been able to compose a delightful comedy, full of innocent mirth and pleasant sayings – a manner of poem, which, as we all know, is usually the fruit and production of youth only, just as tragedy is the work of old age; the former, because of its grace and joyousness, is more in harmony with the early years of life, while the melancholy character of the latter is better suited to old age. Now, if that good old man, a Greek and a poet [Sophocles], was so highly commended for having written a tragedy at the age of seventy-three, and was, by reason of this deed, regarded as vigorous and sound minded,- although tragedy, as I have just said, is a sad and melancholy form of poetry, – why should I be deemed less fortunate or less hale than he, when I have, at an age greater than his by ten years, written a comedy, which, as everybody knows, is a cheerful and witty kind of composition? Assuredly, if I am not an unfair judge of myself, I must believe that I am now more vigorous and more cheerful than was that poet when burdened with ten years less of life.
In order that nothing be wanting to the fullness of my consolation, to render my great age less irksome, or to increase my happiness, I am given the additional comfort of a species of immortality in the succession of my descendants. For, as often as I return home, I find awaiting me not one or two, but eleven, grandchildren, all the offspring of one father and mother, and all blessed with perfect health; the eldest is eighteen years of age, the youngest, two; and, as far as can now be judged, all are fond of study and inclined to good habits. Among the younger ones, I always enjoy some one as my little jester; for, truly, between the ages of three and five, the little folks are natural merrymakers. The older children I look upon as, in a certain way, my companions; and, as Nature has blessed them with perfect voices, I am delighted with their singing, and with their playing on various instruments. Indeed, I often join in their singing; for my voice is now better, clearer, and more sonorous than it ever was before.
Such, then, are the pastimes of my old age; and from these it may readily be seen that the life I am leading is alive and not dead, as those persons say who are ignorant of what they are speaking. To whom, in order that I may make it clearly understood how I regard other people’s manner of living, I truly declare that I would not be willing to exchange either my life or my great age with that of any young man, though he be of excellent constitution, who leads a sensual life; for I well know that such a one is, as I have already stated, exposed every day – nay, every hour – to a thousand kinds of infirmity and death.
This is a fact so obviously clear that it has no need of proof; for I remember right well what I used to do when I was like them. I know how very thoughtless that age is wont to be, and how young men, incited by their inward fire, are inclined to be daring and confident of themselves in their actions, and how hopeful they are in every circumstance; as much on account of the little experience they have of things past, as because of the certainty they feel of living long in the future. Thus it is that they boldy expose themselves to every kind of peril. Putting aside reason, and giving up the ruling of themselves to sensuality, they seek with eagerness for means by which to gratify every one of their appetites, without perceiving – unfortunate wretches! – that they are bringing upon themselves the very things which are most unwelcome: not only sickness, as I have said many times, but also death.
Of these evils, sickness is grievous and troublesome to suffer; and the other, which is death, is altogether unbearable and frightful – certainly to any man who has given himself up a prey to sensuality, and especially to young people, to whom it seems that they lose too much in dying before their time. And it is indeed frightful to those who reflect upon the errors with which this mortal life of ours is filled, and upon the vengeance which the justice of God is liable to take in the eternal punishment of the wicked.
I, on the contrary, old as I am, find myself – thanks always to Almighty God! – entirely free of both the one and the other of these two cares: of the one, sickness, because I know to a certainty I cannot ever fall sick, the holy medicine of the temperate life having removed from me forever all the causes of illness; and of the other, namely, of death, because I have learned, through a practice of many years, to give full play to reason. Wherefore I not only deem it wrong to fear that which cannot be avoided, but I also firmly hope that, when the hour of my passing away is come, I shall feel the consoling power of the grace of Jesus Christ.
Moreover, although I am fully aware that I, like everybody else, must come to that end which is inevitable, yet it is still so far away that I cannot discern it. For I am certain there is no death in store for me save that of mere dissolution; since the regular method of my life has closed all other avenues to the approach of death, and has prevented the humors of my body from waging against me any other war than that arising from the elements of which my body was originally formed.
I am not so unwise as not to know that, having been born, I must die. Yet beautiful and desirable, indeed, is that death which Nature provides for us by way of the dissolution of the elements; both because she herself, having formed the bond of life, finds more easily the way to loose it, and also because she delays the end longer than would the violence of disease. Such is the death, which, without playing the poet, alone deserves the name of death, as arising from Nature’s laws. It cannot be otherwise; for it comes only after a very long span of life, and then solely as the result of extreme weakness. Little by little, very slowly, men are reduced to such a state that they find themselves no longer able to walk, and scarcely to reason; moreover, they become blind, deaf, and bent, and afflicted with every other kind of infirmity. But, so far as I am concerned, I feel certain that not only will my end, by the blessing of God, be very different, but also that my soul, which has so agreeable a habitation in my body, – where it finds nothing but peace, love, and harmony, not only between the humors, but also between the senses and reason, – rejoices and abides in it in a state of such complete contentment, that it is only reasonable to believe it will require much time and the weight of many years to force it to leave. Wherefore I may fairly conclude there is yet in store for me a long continuance of perfect health and strength, wherein I may enjoy this beautiful world, which is indeed beautiful to those who know how to make it so for themselves, as I have done. And I treasure the hope that, through the grace of God, I shall also be able to enjoy the other world beyond. All this is solely by means of virtue, and of the holy life of order which I adopted when I became the friend of reason and the enemy of sensuality and appetite – an adoption which may easily be made by any man who wishes to live as becomes a man.
Now, if the temperate life is such a happy one, if its name is so beautiful and lovable, if the possession of it is so certain and so secure, there is nothing left for me to do except to entreat – since by oratorical persuasion I cannot attain my desire – every man endowed with gentle soul and gifted with rational faculties, to embrace this the richest treasure of life; for as it surpasses all the other riches and treasures of this world by giving us a long and healthy life, so it deserves to be loved, sought after, and preserved always by all.
Divine Sobriety, pleasing to God, the friend of nature, the daughter of reason, the sister of virtue, the companion of temperate living; modest, agreeable, contented with little, orderly and refined in all her operations! From her, as from a root, spring life, health, cheerfulness, industry, studiousness, and all those actions which are worthy of a true and noble soul. All laws, both divine and human, favor her. From her presence flee – as so many clouds from the sunshine – reveling, disorders, gluttony, excessive humors, indispositions, fevers, pains, and the dangers of death. Her beauty attracts every noble mind. Her security promises to all her followers a graceful and enduring life. Her happiness invites each one, with but little trouble, to the acquisition of her victories. And, finally, she pledges herself to be a kind and benevolent guardian of the life of every human being – of the rich as well as of the poor; of man as of woman; of the old as of the young. To the rich she teaches modesty, to the poor thrift; to man continence, to woman chastity; to the old how to guard against death, and to the young how to hope more firmly and more securely for length of days. Sobriety purifies the senses; lightens the body; quickens the intellect; cheers the mind; makes the memory tenacious, the motions swift, the actions ready and prompt. Through her, the soul, almost delivered of its earthly burden, enjoys to a great extent its liberty; the vital spirits move softly in the arteries; the blood courses through the veins; the heat of the body, always mild and temperate, produces mild and temperate effects; and, finally, all our faculties preserve, with most beautiful order, a joyous and pleasing harmony.
O most holy and most innocent Sobriety, the sole refreshment of nature, the loving mother of human life, the true medicine both of the soul and of the body; how much should men praise and thank thee for thy courteous gifts! Thou givest them the means of preserving life in health, that blessing than which it did not please God we should have a greater in this world – life and existence, so naturally prized, so willingly guarded by every living creature!
As it is not my intention to make, at this time, a panegyric on this rare and excellent virtue, and in order that I may be moderate, even in its regard, I shall bring this treatise to a close; not that infinitely more might not yet be said in its behalf than I have said already, but because it is my wish to postpone the remainder of its praises to another occasion.
Luigi Cornaro: Pronounced, Loo-ee’jee Kor-nah’ro. Ancient Venetian, Alvise; modern Italian, Luigi, Lodovico, or Ludovico; French, Louis; English, Lewis. "La Vita Sobria": Pronounced, Lah Vee’tah So’bree-ah.
January 17, 2011 | Author: Best Raw Organic : )