Monday, April 27, 2009
The Stoic Sage - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XI.26
Meditation XI.26 - The Stoic Sage - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
In the writings of the Ephesians1 there was this precept, constantly to think of some one of those men and women of former times who practiced virtue.2
(1) Ephesus was an ancient Greek city state situated near Selçuk in modern day Turkey. During the classical Greek period the city was decidedly cosmopolitan and sophisticated. The city valued education, and championed the rights of women, and celebrated women artists at a time when only men were accorded full citizenship rights in Athens. During the reign of Marcus Aurelius the city of Ephesus was one of the largest in the Roman world with a population nearing 500,000. The city was destroyed by the Goths in 263 CE.
(2) It is not certain what writings Marcus refers to in this meditation. But the city and its culture was highly esteemed for its urbanity, sophistication, and adherence to classical Greek values. Marcus frequently refers to those who practiced virtue in the past as role models in his own life. This practice of emulating the virtuous behavior of others was borrowed in the Christian tradition, particularly in the emulation of the lives of the saints. In Stoicism, a truly virtuous man or woman was considered a sage - someone who has achieved a life of supreme happiness. A true sage in Stoic thinking (somewhat like the saint in Christianity) never strayed from the right path. So, it was only natural to look to anyone in the past who practiced virtue in a consistent manner as a possible sage.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.