On his fifty-sixth birthday, Terry Teachout laments that “56 is a thoroughly uninteresting number”. Au contraire: it is quite significant as a birthday, perhaps the most significant birthday of all.
Solon was the first (or one of the first) to write on the ‘Ages of Man’ theme, best known to English-speakers from Jacques’ “All the world’s a stage” monologue in As You Like It, II.7. Where Shakespeare distinguished seven ages with no specific lengths in years, Solon had divided the life of man into ten ‘hebdomads’ or periods of seven years each. I quoted the whole passage (Fragment 27, in M. L. West’s English translation) without comment on my fifty-sixth birthday. The most important part for Terry is lines 13-18:
With seven hebdomads and eight – fourteen more years -
wisdom and eloquence are at their peak,
while in the ninth, though he’s still capable, his tongue
and expertise have lost some of their force.
For the mathematically-impaired, that means that one’s mental peak (or perhaps plateau, given its extent) is from the 42nd to the 56th birthday, and after that it’s all downhill. Welcome to the downhill slope, Terry.
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