Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Invincibility Through Humility - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. X.34

Meditation X.34 - Invincibility Through Humility - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

To whoever is penetrated by true principles even the briefest precept is sufficient, and any common precept, to remind you that you should be free from grief and fear.1 For example - Leaves, some the wind scatters on the ground - So is the race of humanity. Leaves, also, are your children; and leaves, too, are they who cry out as if they were worthy of credit and bestow their praise, or on the contrary curse, or secretly blame and sneer; and leaves, in like manner, are those who shall receive and transmit a person's fame to aftertimes. For all such things as these "are produced in the season of spring," as the poet says;2 then the wind casts them down; then the forest produces other leaves in their places. But a brief existence is common to all things, and yet you avoid and pursue all things as if they would be eternal. A little time, and you shall close your eyes; and whoever has attended you to your grave another soon will lament.3


(1) The three ruling principles of Stoicism (the social principle, the rational principle, and the principle of invincibility) are summarized in differing ways throughout the meditations (in particular please see Meditation VII.55, Chapter 6, "The Practice of Stoicism - The Life of Virtue," p.147).

(2) The name of the poet is uncertain.

(3) The paradox of Stoicism resides in the contrast between Stoic invincibility and Stoic humility. As this leaf simile illustrates, this invincibility requires a rejection of the things most people value in life. In letting go of our animal fears and animal passions we are liberated completely. This is what invincibility means. It means we are now able to do what is necessary to be truly happy. The Stoic does not fear for his life, or the lives of those he loves, including his children; he does not seek praise nor does he worry about rejection, reputation, or fame or success. Life is brief. We will soon die. We will soon be forgotten. How we are remembered is completely irrelevant. Power, fame, pleasure, success, money, possessions, and even friends, have nothing to do with the success of our life mission. Our only duty is to reach out to the community and to make a difference in the lives of others. This is what virtue requires. We do not need to be seen to do this. We need only do it. When we do this we will be happy. It is unimportant how long we are happy - only that we are. And then we will die. This is the meaning of life.

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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