Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hard Reality - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XII.24

Meditation XII.24 - Hard Reality - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

These three principles you must have in readiness.1 In the things which you do, do nothing either inconsiderately or otherwise than as justice herself would act;2 but with respect to what may happen to you from without, consider that it happens either by chance or according to Providence, and you must neither blame chance nor accuse Providence.3 Second, consider what every being is from the seed to the time of its receiving a soul, and from the reception of a soul to the giving back of the same, and of what things every being is compounded and into what things it is resolved.4 Third, if you should suddenly be raised up above the earth, and should look down on human things, and observe the variety of them how great it is, and at the same time also should see at a glance how great is the number of beings who dwell around in the air and the aether,5 consider that as often as you should be raised up, you would see the same things, sameness of form and shortness of duration.6 Are these things to be proud of?7


(1) In short the three principles are: justice, knowledge and wisdom.

(2) In other words never act without thinking carefully about consequences.

(3) A large measure of what happens to us is in Stoic terms Providential. In other words it was meant to be. This refers particularly to what we are and the talents or apparent deficits we may have. These we are expected to accept with grace and gratitude. Most other things that happen to us happen by chance and are always beyond our control.

(4) We cannot live in ignorance of what we or others are. This principle requires a close study of the nature, role and place of each and every being.

(5) This is a humbling exercise - not possible in ancient times, but familiar to moderns with access to tools such as Google Earth! The reference to beings "in the aether" might be a reference to the possibility of sentient life beyond Earth or on other worlds, something the Stoics would not have dismissed.

(6) In other words, human sense experience is limited. The notion is designed to defuse the Stoic from the desire to repeatedly seek pleasure. It is also designed to teach us that life is necessarily short and the pursuit of immortality unnecessary.

(7) We may act as if the joys and pleasures of life are things with inordinate value and we may accumulate the trappings of wealth to repeatedly experience these sensations, but as this meditation reminds us, there is a certain futility in this.

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 referened in this Blog by page number and section.

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