Friday, 22 March 2013

Renaissance treatises on ‘successful ageing’

an article by Chris Gilleard (Unit of Mental Health Sciences, University College London, UK) published in Ageing and Society Volume 33 Issue 2 (February 2013)


Numerous treatises on ‘successful ageing’ were published during the late Renaissance. Zerbi’s Gerontocomia and Cornaro’s Trattato della Vita Sobria, in particular, have been considered as early precursors of modern gerontology.

In this paper I revisit these two treatises, outline their content and common themes, and set them in the context of other literature written about ageing in this period.

The rise of civic humanism, increased access to classical texts on health and hygiene, and the emergence of environmental and public health concerns, particularly in the Italian city states, are some of the factors that influenced this writing.

The powerful yet insecure position of older men in the upper ranks of Italian society gave the topic of ‘seniority’ added relevance. While their roots in the scholastic tradition prevent them from serving as forerunners of scientific gerontology, their humanist concern with ‘lifestyle’ succeeds in making them the prototypes of the ‘do-it-yourself’ manuals for successful ageing that now proliferate in our late modernity.

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