Friday, April 3, 2009

The Gladiator and the Pancratiast - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XII.09

Meditation XII.9 – The Gladiator and the Pancratiast - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

In the application of your principles you must be like the pancratiast,1 not like the gladiator;2 for the gladiator lets fall the sword which he uses and is killed; but the other always has his hand, and needs to do nothing else than use it.3


(1) The pancratiast was an athlete engaged in no-holds-barred early extreme Greek sport involving a combination of boxing and wrestling.

(2) Before (and after) Marcus Aurelius, gladiators often fought to the death. Marcus tolerated the sport during his reign, but in fact ordered the combatants to use blunted swords.

(3) The meditation implies that the principles of Stoicism come from our mind which is governed by invincible divinity and is something that we can never lose. The mind can never fail us if used rightly. The pancratiast uses no tools other than his hands – something that is part of himself. The gladiator in contrast is reliant upon the sword – something external to himself. The analogy here implies that those who rely on false principles act contrary to nature, and are doomed to fail because these false values (the pursuit of pleasure, a quest for power, a flight from pain) do not come from nature. Like a sword in the hand of a gladiator, such values are always contingent upon the support of or cooperation of other actors.

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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