Posted by: Bystander PJ9 SEP 2010
Most pharmacists must be aware of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s motto, “Habenda ratio valetudinis”, which is usually translated loosely as “We must look after our health” (or, more accurately, as “taking account of health”).
What most pharmacists probably do not know is that the motto is taken from an anti-ageist essay by Marcus Tullius Cicero, the Roman statesman and philosopher.
Cicero wrote his treatise in April 44BC, when he was 62. He seems to have penned it during a period of personal trouble, since he recorded that setting out his argument had given him comfort. At the time, he was grieving for a dead daughter and was also disheartened that Roman political life had not improved after Julius Caesar’s assassination on 15 March that year.
Cicero’s dissertation is called “Cato maior de senectute” (“Cato the Elder on old age”). Like most of his philosophical writings, it takes the form of a dialogue — a common rhetorical device at the time. It presents a fictitious conversation between the Roman statesman Marcus Porcius Cato and two much younger men. It is set in 150BC, when Cato was 83.
The bulk of the essay is a refutation of four charges commonly made against old age:
(i) that it withdraws one from active life
(ii) that it weakens the physical powers
(iii) that it takes away capacity for enjoyment
(iv) that it involves anticipation of death
In rebutting the second charge, Cicero wrote that the elderly could avoid weakened physical powers by adopting a regimen of health, by practising moderate exercise and by taking just enough food and drink to maintain health and not to overburden it.
In his own words: “… habenda ratio valetudinis; utendum exercitationibus modicis; tantum cibi et potionis adhibenum ut reficiantur vires non opprimantur.”
We do not know how the Society’s founders came to choose Cicero’s three words as a motto. But it was an excellent choice. The advice holds true today — and not just for the older person.