Sunday, March 22, 2009
Death is Just - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XII.35
Meditation XII.35 - Death is Just - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
If it is good to you when it comes in due season,1 if it is the same to you whether you have done few or more acts rightly,2 if it makes no difference whether you contemplate the world for a long or short time—then death to you is not a terrible thing.3
(1) This wisdom expresses a concept reflected also in the Judeo-Christian traditions. The notion is that there is a plan underlying our experience of life. Within the narrow confines of our own experiences, and within the perspective of narrow self-interest, we are only dimly aware of the larger purpose of existence. But, for Marcus it would be arrogant and ignorant to feel anger or resentment if life did not unfold as we felt it should.
(2) This might seem surprising. But the idea captures an important point. There is no hierarchy in the Stoic world. We are virtuous or we are not virtuous. We are happy or we are not. We live with nature or we live contrary to nature. Stoicism does not operate on a 'good, better, best' point system. There is no such thing as time off for good behavior.
(3) What Marcus says about acting rightly applies also to the idea of time. Stoicism operates outside of the realm of time. Happiness is a state and our duty in the world is to be in that state. Happiness, once achieved, is all that is expected and all that we need. Whether we are happy for a short while or a long while, makes no difference. There is no afterlife in the Stoic scheme. This idea is difficult for Christians. One of the attractions of Christianity is the idea of a "Kingdom Everlasting." But the very idea of eternal life has embedded within it the notion that heaven is a place that would be somehow less attractive if was not experienced eternally. By doing away with the metric of time, Stoicism does away with the need for an eternal award.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.