Geras was known to the Romans as Senectus. As with the Greeks, his shrunken, frail body symbolized not only old age, but the human fear of painful aging and death. The Romans also painted Geras as a frail old man leaning on a staff. Geras is surely what the Sphynx had in mind when it asked: What goes on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs at night? (The answer: Man. He crawls on four legs as a baby, walks on two legs as an adult, and walks on three legs–with a cane or staff in the evening.)
Geras is seen most often in paintings on Greek vases alongside the famous hero Hercules. He is typically depicted in Greek artwork as an old man wearing a toga and leaning on a cane. He holds out a hand and looks up at Hercules as if asking for help. Sadly, the story behind these scenes has been lost to time.
The term “geras” also meant a kind of wisdom in ancient Greece. It was virtue and something men gained. The more “geras” or age a man had, the more courage and fame he had. The modern word “geriatric” is thought to have its root in Geras. “Geras” is also the term for honors bestowed upon the deceased during a funeral.
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