Sunday, June 7, 2009
Celebration of Decay - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. IX.36
Meditation IX.36 - Celebration of Decay - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
The rottenness of the matter which is the foundation of everything! Water, dust, bones, filth: or again, marble rocks, the callosities1 of the earth; and gold and silver, the sediments; and garments, only bits of hair; and purple dye,2 blood; and everything else is of the same kind. And that which is of the nature of breath is also another thing of the same kind, changing from this to that.3
(1) Callosities are dry and hardened surfaces such as hard-pan, which is unsuitable for agriculture.
(2) Purple - the royal color - signifies majesty. Marcus is writing for his own reflection. This reference is therefore a reminder to himself that even his reign will be short-lived for he too will die.
(3) Blood changes occur as oxygen is removed for metabolism. Breath changes from oxygen to carbon dioxide when exhaled. The meditation reflects on the necessary changes that permeate all of the operations of nature and her cycles. This is a law of nature and as such becomes a basis for moral reflection. If changes are necessary then so too is death. If death and decay comes from life, then this too is what must be. What is necessary in nature is also good and reason for celebration.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.