Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Foxy Stoic - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XI.31
Meditation XI.31 – The Foxy Stoic - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
And my heart laughed within.1 (Odyssey ix 413)
(1) This meditation makes reference to a clever and legendary deception by the Trojan war hero Odysseus in Homer's classic mythological poem, the Odyssey. In an encounter recounted in Book IX between the one-eyed cyclops Polyphemus and Odysseus, Polyphemus cried out that he was being attacked by "Noman" or "Nobody" (depending on the translation). Odysseus had earlier identified himself to the beast by telling him that his name was "Nobody." When the cyclops fell asleep, drunk with wine given to him by Odysseus, the hero plunged a large plank into his eye, blinding him. Groaning in pain, several other cyclops in the neighborhood gathered around the cave entrance to find out what was wrong. They asked who was attacking their comrade. Polyphemus cried out to them that, "Nobody is attacking me." Satisfied that Polyphemus must only be ill, his friends went away. After this Odysseus recalled that his heart "laughed within" at his clever strategy.
Marcus uses this example to illustrate that it is not enough to simply act correctly in any political situation involving good and evil. All such situations are political, in the true and best sense of this word, because Stoic virtue always involves acts directed toward a member or members of the community - or polis. A Stoic must also be extremely clever and able to outwit his opponent. The world is full of deception and trickery. Fighting evil requires clever strategies. Acting rightly in the world requires a keen and close awareness not only of evil, but of the many deceptive techniques that evil-doers will use to mask deceit.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.