Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Job the Stoic - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. X.25

Meditation X.25 - Job the Stoic - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

Anyone who flies from their governor is a runaway;1 but the law is master,2 and one who breaks the law is a runaway.3 And anyone also who is grieved or angry or afraid,4 is dissatisfied because something has been or is or shall be of the things which are appointed by she who rules all things,5 and she is Law,6 and assigns to every human being what is fit.7 The one then who fears or is grieved or is angry is a runaway.8


(1) The meditation takes the form of a syllogism and follows a logical sequence designed to show how fear, anger and displeasure are contrary to the will of Nature (I capitalize Nature in this meditation in keeping with the capitalizing of Law).

(2) The governor is the administer of the law - a law that the governed had presumably agreed to obey.

(3) The act of 'running away' is figurative, as in running away from reason.

(4) Marcus identifies three activities (grieving, anger and fear) that characterize the runaway. In Meditation II.16 (on p. 61 in the book) Marcus defines five abrogations of reason - the so-called five Stoic "commandments." In brief these are, (i) irritability, (ii) antisocial behavior, (iii) excess passion, (iv) dishonesty, and (v) thoughtlessness. These five breaches in reason alienate us from nature, condemning us to lives of isolation and despair, the Stoic version of Hell.

(5) The one who is "grieved or angry or afraid" is clearly irritated with the law and has breached the first commandment above. The one who "rules all things" is Nature and her laws. The Law of Nature is perfect. The feminine pronoun is used in reference to Nature. I've deviated here from George Long's use of the masculine.

(6) "Law" is capitalized in the translation.

(7) Whatever befalls a human being has come to us from Nature and is therefore fit. Nature cannot err. Nature is also loving and beneficent. It is irrational then to be dissatisfied with the Law. We are not required to know how anything that appears to be a great misfortune, or an unreasonable demand is indeed fit for us - we know only that what is given to us from Nature cannot be deemed as wrong or unfair.

(8) This seems harsh. But it is rationally sound. Stoicism seems cold here. But is it really? Think of the life of the good man Job from the Old Testament - a man who accepted the loss of his family, his health and his fortune without ever deviating from his love of God. Stoicism's demands on reason are no less severe than the Judeo-Christian demand on the faith of Job. The Old Testament Job is often described as 'patient' because he accepts suffering. But, from a Stoic interpretation, Job is inured to suffering. His many losses are irrelevant to the meaning of life. Job must love God (or reason in this Stoic context) because he knows that God is wise and perfect - as is he. But the Stoic embraces tribulation, because every deprivation offers a unique opportunity to fulfill his destiny. Job's attitude toward suffering is not faith-based. Through his use of the reason that he shares with his God, Job understands that the Law (God) "assigns to every human being what is fit." There is a passage in the Book of Job where God asks Job where he was when He laid the foundation of the world (Job 38: 4-6). In the text Job remains silent, but the Stoic Job would have replied: 'I was with you and in you.'

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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