Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Embracing Death - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XII.31

Meditation XII.31 - Embracing Death - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

What do you wish? to continue to exist?1 Well, do you wish to have sensation? movement? growth? and then again to cease to grow? to use your speech? to think?2 What is there of all these things which seems to you worth desiring?3 But if it is easy to set little value on all these things, turn to that which remains, which is to follow reason and nature.4 But it is inconsistent with honoring reason and nature to be troubled because by death you will be deprived of the other things.5


(1) Marcus sets up the meditation with an existential challenge: he confronts us with a fundamental question about the meaning of existence.

(2) This covers all the bases. Existence is experienced through the body and the mind as a set of physical and emotional sensations and actions and transformations. Each of these experiences is however limited and transient and self-directed.

(3) This is a meditation, not a structured argument. We need to infer from the language that the logical analysis that we might bring to this question would invariably lead us to the conclusion that an endless repetition of sensations of any kind would be tedious, and consequently not something we would eternally desire.

(4) In discovering that experience has its limits, Marcus exhorts us to turn to reason and nature for guidance. In doing this and in examining nature, reason will show us that nothing endures, and that life is a series of transformations leading inexorably to dissolution and death.

(5) Marcus concludes that, if anything, death will at last release us all from the tedium of existence, and therefore something we ought to embrace.

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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


jnickerson1977 said...

Thank you for elaborating on these meditations. I've tried to read them time and time again. However, the translations use such archaic language that I only come away with part of the meaning.

Russell McNeil said...

You do realize that this translations have been completely rewritten in contemporary English?