Thursday, April 23, 2009
Much Ado About Nothing -The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XI.28
Meditation XI.28 - Much Ado About Nothing - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Consider what a man Socrates was when he dressed himself in a skin, after Xanthippe1 had taken his cloak and gone out, and what Socrates said to his friends who were ashamed of him and drew back from him when they saw him dressed thus.2
(1) Xanthippe was the wife of Socrates (this was likely his second marriage) and the mother of his three young sons, Lamprocles, Sophroniscus, and Menexenus. She was much younger than the philosopher (some reports suggest by forty years, making her only thirty when Socrates died). Although she has been portrayed throughout the ages, and in literature, as a shrew, this characterization is certainly unfair, and reflects perspectives of her developed in more misogynist eras. She was in fact, according to one of the more credible contemporary accounts of her, written by the philosopher Xenophon (ca. 430 - 354 BCE) in his Symposium, a highly argumentative and feisty young woman. According to this account, it was her argumentative spirit (a quality that the typical Athenian male would not not admire) that in fact made her irresistible to Socrates. Socrates was of course a most atypical Athenian.
(2) One of the stories connected with the legendary incident alluded to in the meditation (an episode that would be familiar to many in Marcus's day), was that Socrates's friends asked him why he would not meet 'force with force' after Xanthippe had taken his cloak. Socrates was reputed to reply (no doubt with tongue in cheek) that the question was inspired by the desire of his friends to see him engage in a boxing match with Xanthippe (a match that the scrappy and much younger Xanthippe would likely win), with his friends cheering one or the other on to victory. From a meditative perspective this light-hearted reflection is intended to reinforce the indifference the Stoic has toward physical and emotional issues. What is important in life is the spirit, our actions toward others, and living a life of virtue. The shock expressed by Socrates's friends toward his immodest attire in a public place (equivalent to wearing only his underwear) is ingenuous, and - from Marcus's perspective - 'much ado about nothing.'
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.