Friday, March 27, 2009
Pride - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XII.27
Meditation XII.27 - Pride - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Constantly bring to your recollection those who have complained greatly about anything, those who have been most conspicuous by the greatest fame or misfortunes or enmities or fortunes of any kind: then think where are they all now? Smoke and ash and a tale, or not even a tale.1 And let there be present to your mind also everything of this sort, immense how Fabius Catullinus lived in the country, and Lucius Lupus in his gardens, and Stertinius at Baiae, and Tiberius at Capreae and Velius Rufus (or Rufus at Velia);2 and in fine think of the eager pursuit of anything conjoined with pride; and how worthless everything is after which men and women violently strain; and how much more philosophical it is in the opportunities presented to you to show yourself just, temperate, obedient to the gods, and to do this with all simplicity: for the pride which is proud of its want of pride is the most intolerable of all.3
(1) Stoicism maintains that virtuous actions directed outwardly toward others will make us happy. Self-directed and self-serving actions will make us unhappy in the long term.
(2) In naming names, just as a modern analyst might present a list of contemporary tyrants, fraudsters, or business criminals, Marcus asks us to notice what has come of these prideful men. In the end they are gone and forgotten, "smoke and ash and a tale, or not even a tale."
(3) Pride is a product of ignorant thinking (contrary to nature) and engenders self-serving behavior, and in the end leaves us with nothing but despair. Meditation (philosophy) leads to other directed actions, virtuous actions (just, temperate, obedient to the gods), because through philosophy we become aware of our role in nature.
Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing. The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book. The published selections are referenced in this Blog by page number and section.