Monday, April 20, 2009
Persecution of Virtue - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XI.32
Meditation XI.32 – Persecution of Virtue - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
And virtue they will curse, speaking harsh words.1 (Hesiod, “Works and Days,” 184)
(1) The persecution of virtue is a very old theme in world traditions. Hesiod (ca. 900 BCE) was a major source of Greek mythology, and instrumental in the development of the Greek imagination. The Buddha (ca. 563 BCE - 483 BCE) said much the same four centuries after Hesiod, "Virtue is persecuted more by the wicked than it is loved by the good." Perhaps the most familiar New Testament parallel is found in Matthew 5: 3-10, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness." This Christian perspective on virtue was likely influenced by Stoicism, the predominant philosophy in the Greco-Roman world in the first century of the Common Era, and during the time of Christ.
The sentiment here reinforces the harsh reality of virtue. Living according to nature generally requires actions that fly in the face of the conventional wisdom of the masses in any era. Most human beings now, and in the past, are guided by emotional and sensual forces. We seek pleasure and we avoid pain. Stoic (and Buddhist and Christian) virtues sacrifice pleasure and often embrace pain. Human beings are fundamentally self-serving. This is what our animal nature seems to dictate. But the Stoic understands that our true human nature is defined by our capacity for reason, and that reason guides us toward other-serving or altruistic ends. Virtue requires that we act in accord with reason, because reason comes to us from the active and divine principle of nature, Logos (the Christian identifies Logos with Christ). Those who see the world and human nature in these terms will of course feel threatened by those who behave in these ways - be these Buddhist, Christian, or Stoic. In more recent times George Eliot (1819-1880) reminded us of this when she famously said, "You should read history and look at ostracism, persecution, martyrdom, and that kind of thing. They always happen to the best men, you know."
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.