Seven Quick Ages of Woman

Hans Baldung - The Seven Ages of Woman

The big hole in the script of midlife love is motive—we still want to get dressed up, but, biologically speaking, we have no place to go.

Though I have seen all the population tables and related scientific data, I have a hard time imagining what the world looked like, from a demographic point of view, 120 years ago. What was it like without aging, graying people? Who dispensed the wisdom, told the tales, transmitted the history, patiently endured the ignorance? (And what was it like hearing that so many babies did not live to see their fifth birthday; or that so many mothers died during childbirth?)

The time comes to life for me in this early sixteenth century painting, called The Seven Ages of Woman, by Hans Baldung, a student and friend of the great Albrecht Durer. Life expectancy then was in the mid-30s, and here you see it. The woman furthest to the right looks as if she could still be nursing. She has no wrinkles, and even her semi-scowl is that of a mother with a house full of children.

The next age after her, the figure in the back, seems to be her own specter: she’s dead. (Or else Baldung had such a hard time finding an appropriately aged model that he created a generic old person, wrapped the head, and left the body to the imagination—otherwise I am sure he would have rendered her as graphically as he did the jail bait.)

The seven ages went by very quickly; the one now the “middle” just wasn’t there.

8 thoughts on “Seven Quick Ages of Woman

  1. Since our ancestors started walking on two feet, grandmothers have been very adaptive. When a “Lucy” died in childbirth, who raised her other offspring? That fit, tough old broad with the great genes, that’s who. Even if Grandma was post-menopausal, she was probably only 30, and some male hominid would likely step up to provide for her brood. Men can be kind of dumb that way.
    And so on.

    • Do you think there were many Mr Mom-inids? There are a number of theories of altruism (which characterize it as an alternate way of promoting one’s own genes). But they are still only theories because the phenomenon is rare, difficult to isolate, out of basic human character. I would think that most male-inids were so taxed feeding and defending their own issue that they would have little energy for more; and it would be in their interest to let their competitors’ spawn die out.

      Which is not to say that men cannot be dumb that way (and other ways). But I’m sure that Lucy’s kids would be much better off turning for protection to granny than to Grok; and I’m sure they knew it.

      • Boy, I’d better clean up my writing. Mr. Grok parenting? Perish the thought. I meant that Granny took care of the children when her less robust daughters didn’t make it. Then & now. And that even at what passed for one foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel — maybe 20, 30? just guessing — she was attractive & resourceful enough to snare a male to feed & protect her gene pool, even if they didn’t carry his genes. I hope that makes sense!

        • Your prose was impeccable, as always. I was questioning whether there were many Mr. Groks available to care for Granny, since those gents who had ladies were likely pressed by providing for them and their joint issue. Taking on an old lady of 25 with two grandchildren would have been a magnanimous act–unless, I suppose, this was one of those Groks who couldn’t get laid in a harem. That may be unfair. Maybe there were a lot of nice guys around then, and some would have been pleased to contribute what they could so they had a family to enjoy.

          I have a wonderful friend who, in her 50s, is raising her two grandchildren, the second just a few months old. (The mother is unstable, and not allowed around them.) Though she gets occasional help, she is doing it largely on her own. This is certainly new to our age: a woman both supporting and mothering children almost 50 years her junior. And though it was a jolt at first, now she is happy about it (while hoping that the latest is the last of the brood).

          • Mr. Grok and Lucy might make a great sitcom….seriously, I think that there are many cultures past and present that accept that child raising is the responsibility of the extended family/community. Unfortunately, our government doesn’t acknowledge that, but fortunately, many people in our society just do it anyway.

          • It is a wonderful idea, and I have no reason to think that the Groks thought any less of it. But I imagine Grok’s situation as the equivalent of raising five children on a minimum-wage job, which often puts him on unpaid furlough. How much can he invest in the children of a widow who is no relation to him?

          • 25 year old g’mas can be quite seductive when they want something for the g’spawn, like a Tickle-Me Elmo, for instance. (Am I dating myself?) No, I think they can get their own man. Didn’t you know women can fake ovulation?!

          • You’re preaching to the choir on this one. No one can rock your socks quite like a grandmother–and I dare say, 25-year-old grandmothers could be the best of all.

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