Monday, March 23, 2009
Contempt of Death - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XII.34
Meditation XII.34 - Contempt of Death - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
This reflection is most adapted to remove our contempt of death, that even those who think pleasure a good and pain an evil still have despised it.1
(1) In the Stoic universe (as well as the actual universe) death is according to nature. Death is unavoidable, inescapable and really inconsequential. Marcus is using scorn and sarcasm here in a very clever judicial way by drawing our attention to the example of those who live in opposition to nature. To be in contempt of death is to display disrespect for the rule of Nature, just as to be in contempt of court is to display disrespect for the rule of law. In fact, to deem death as vile, or to view it with contempt, reflects a profound ignorance of natural law. Such ignorance is endemic of course in those who view pleasure and pain as good or evil. Pleasures and pains are simply sensations of the body, and death merely the cessation of all bodily sensation. But sensations are ancillary affects of our life experiences - useful in that they inform us of our bodily states. But bodily sensations (or their terminations with death) occur to good and bad people with equal frequency and are therefore not good (or bad) in themselves. To view death with contempt would be to play into the mindset of those who think irrationally out of ignorance.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.