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Much Ado About Nothing -The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med.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.


Epicurus said...

is there a Plato dialogue (or some other writing maybe) that starts with Socrates covered by just a skin? i think i read one dialogue that starts with Socrates outside his house because his wife kicked him out naked?
where does meditation XI.28 come from? a plato dialogue, which one?
where did Marcus Aurelius read about this Socrates anecdote?

Russell McNeil said...

The story comes from the Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius (c. 300 BCE), ii. 5, 37. Diogenes was an unphilosophical and uncritical bioographer who generally failed to cite his sources so we always need to take his information with several grains of salt. Still, the story was repeated often - even here by Marcus.

Epicurus said...

I just read D.L.'s biography of Socrates, and it doesn't say anything about him being covered in an animal skin, "he dressed himself in a skin" means he covered himself with animal skin, it doesn't mean he was naked and uncovered, Marcus Aurelius must have gotten the "dressed in a skin" part from some other source, maybe not a written one...
anyway i just remembered where i had read this anecdote about Socrates before, it was Marcus Aurelius Meditations and not anywhere else, i remember i laughued when i read it, and thought it was awesome that Socrates looked like a caveman, cause he was ugly like a caveman, that must have been so funny to see!
XVII. Once, she attacked him in the market-place, and tore his cloak off; his friends advised him to keep her off with his hands; "Yes, by Jove," said he, "that while we are boxing you may all cry out, 'Well done, Socrates, well done, Xanthippe.'"

Kevin Wod said...

Socrates on choosing his mate,

It is the example of the rider who wishes to become an expert horseman: "None of your soft-mouthed, docile animals for me," he says; "the horse for me to own must show some spirit" in the belief, no doubt, if he can manage such an animal, it will be easy enough to deal with every other horse besides. And that is just my case. I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife. I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else. (Symposium 17-19)