The Art of Living Long

by Fernando Perfas

| Photo by Lucas Van Oort on Unsplash

Luigi Cornaro was a Venetian centenarian who lived from 1464 through 1566. His longevity was remarkable, considering that, in his own account, he was a man of weak constitution. He was near death from an ailment that befell him in his forties, which became a turning point in his life. His physician gave him a poor prognosis, convinced of his eventual death. Desperate for a cure, Cornaro did something extraordinary. He made a radical change in his lifestyle from indulgence to one that was “temperate and orderly.”

His journey to a life of longevity was documented in three treatises entitled La Vita Sobria or The Sober Life. He wrote these at an advanced age. Mind you, he literally wrote them himself. The first was when he was eighty-three, the second at eighty-six, and finally, he was ninety-five. The translated version from Italian to English was first published in the U.S. in 1908 by William F. Butler’s The Art of Living Long.

Cornaro’s treatises had an overarching theme that revolved around the idea of living a temperate and orderly life. He attributed his miraculous recovery from a near-fatal illness to living by this maxim. The paradigm shift in his thinking and outlook made him a completely changed man from his eating habits, daily routine, interests, personal relations to his faith, including his attitude towards the vicissitudes of life. Early on, he suffered some financial setbacks, a misfortune he never allowed to deter him from practicing right living. He also believed that diet and exercise were essential to good health and promoted longevity.

“What does living a ‘temperate and orderly life’ mean?” One may ask. I have come to understand the phrase to mean the practice of moderation and living a wholesome lifestyle. These are highly subjective concepts whose definitions or interpretations are determined by such variables as individual preferences or cultural influences. For example, what may be considered moderation in one culture or by one person might be considered indulgence in another culture or person.

“I believe that making sense of these concepts and practicing them will require some level of self-realization or a good understanding of oneself. A highly self-aware person knows when he is over-indulging or has crossed the threshold of what he considers acceptable behavior.”

“What wholesome lifestyle constitutes,” is yet another that begs definition. It may mean a life of luxury and comfort to one person or a simple, carefree life to another. How do we settle this? I believe that making sense of these concepts and practicing them will require some level of self-realization or a good understanding of oneself. A highly self-aware person knows when he is over-indulging or has crossed the threshold of what he considers acceptable behavior. At the heart of Cornaro’s philosophy is the practice of moderation, which is also the centerpiece of Lord Gautama Buddha’s teachings or the Christian’s virtue of temperance.

What is outstanding about Cornaro’s insight, based on his personal observations of himself, is that he lived five centuries ago when science was very much in its infancy. The crux of his philosophy resonates in modern health and fitness practices. His life and writings are a validation of the enduring principle of moderation. When practiced, this principle pervades a person’s life that includes his outlook, moral beliefs, habits, and relations with others. It is living in accordance with the laws of nature, based on the person’s personal insight and understanding of his human body and himself.

Although he did not dwell on religion itself when advocating living a temperate and orderly life, Cornaro references his faith and how the lifestyle he was preaching could make a man feel closer to his god and fellowmen. In his third and final treatise, one can discern that he had achieved a high level of personal detachment from ordinary worldly concerns. He was able to go through life with all its unexpected twists and turns with great equanimity.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at fbperfas@gmail.com.

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1 comment

Thelma Valle-Serrano August 26, 2021 - 1:27 pm

Thank you, Ferdie. It is a positive, hopeful outlook.

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