Sunday, May 3, 2009
The Perfect Sphere - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. XI.12
Meditation XI.12 - The Perfect Sphere - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
The spherical form of the soul maintains its figure,1 when it is neither extended toward any object,2 nor contracted inward,3 nor dispersed nor sinks down,4 but is illuminated by light, by which it sees the truth, the truth of all things and the truth that is in itself.5
(1) The notion that the soul is configured in the shape of a perfect sphere reflects the influence of the Greek Pythagorean philosophical school on early Stoicism. Pythagoras conjectured that the cosmos was in the shape of a perfect sphere, and that the Earth - at the center of the cosmos - was also shaped as a perfect sphere. The Stoics maintained that the animating intelligence of the universe, Logos, filled the entire cosmos but not the void beyond. Thus it would follow that this animating principle - referred to also at times as the world-soul - would also form the shape of the physical figure of the universe, that is, a perfect sphere. Because like begets like, the human soul, which is distilled from the whole, and of the same nature in all respects as the world-soul, must also be so shaped.
(2) Marcus uses these various distortions of the sphere as similes reflecting distortions in our lives when we stray from the right path. The sphere that would "extend toward any object" is a simile for any excessive human attraction toward a physical pleasure, power, or fame.
(3) "Contracting inward" is meant to signify any excessive actions that prevent us from doing the right thing (that is, being virtuous) because of our fear of physical or psychological pain. This is how the Stoic would define cowardice.
(4) Dispersed or sinking actions would include those that are ill-considered, poorly understood, or misdirected.
(5) The "truth" is the inherent beauty and goodness of perfection - a perfection mirrored in the shape of the sphere. That perfection, rightly understood as the perfection of the law of nature in its many manifestations, can be seen by anyone who turns toward its light. This same truth is also in the soul, or "in itself," because our core nature comes from this same source, and is in fact part of, and tethered to this same source, Logos.
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.