Sunday, April 26, 2009

Meditation on a Star -The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XI.27

Meditation XI.27 - Meditation on a Star - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

The Pythagoreans1 bid us in the morning look to the heavens that we may be reminded of those bodies which continually do the same things and in the same manner perform their work,2 and also be reminded of their purity and nudity. For there is no veil over a star.3


(1) Pythagoras of Samos (ca. 576 - ca. 495 BCE) was a Greek mathematician-philosopher and founder of a mystical religious movement based on his ideas. The Pythagoreans responded to the puzzle of existence through the window of numbers - and were convinced that the mystery of reality could be decoded through a close examination of numerical relationships.

(2) The Pythagoreans had access to (or were aware of) astronomical observational records extending back thousands of years. That evidence indicated that the cycles of the stars, constellations and planets were thoroughly predictable, and that the bodies themselves were unchanging. This invariance led many to believe that the stars and planets were divine and eternal.

(3) From the Stoic perspective the stars and planets offered direct observational evidence of pure divinity. This divinity would not have the transcendent character of the more mystical Pythagoreans, but provided direct evidence of the flawless character of the active aspect of nature, divorced as it was from the ever-changing passive character of the human body, or of the Earth itself, with its dynamic mixtures of earth, air, water and fire. Unlike the Pythagoreans, the Stoics would have associated these celestial displays with Logos, or the universal intelligence. The Stoics uniquely understood human nature as distilled from this same universal reason, which was cloaked within (and often confused by) the body. There was, however, no such cloak, or "veil," over a star. The contemplation of a star therefore offered the Stoic a singular meditative opportunity to observe nature in its purest form.

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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

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