Friday, June 5, 2009
Epicurians and Stoics - The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. IX.41
Meditation IX.41 - Epicurians and Stoics - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Epicurus1 says, In my sickness my conversation was not about my bodily sufferings, nor, says he, did I talk on such subjects to those who visited me; but I continued to discourse on the nature of things as before, keeping to this main point, how the mind, while participating in such movements as go on in the poor flesh, shall be free from perturbations and maintain its proper good.2 Nor did I, he says, give the physicians an opportunity of putting on solemn looks, as if they were doing something great, but my life went on well and happily.3 Do, then, the same that he did both in sickness, if you are sick, and in any other circumstances; for never to desert philosophy in any events that may befall us, nor to hold trifling talk either with an ignoramus or with one unacquainted with nature, is a principle of all schools of philosophy; but to be intent only on that which you are now doing and on the instrument by which you do it.4
(1) Epicurus (ca. 341–ca. 270 BCE) founded a philosophy that became the main rival to Stoicism. He held the view that happiness comes from the enjoyment of simple pleasures (the highest good), the avoidance of sex, and the seeking of knowledge, friendship, and virtue.
(2) While Marcus is opposed to Epicurianism generally, he clearly respects Epicurus, and in this meditation pays tribute to the attitude of Epicurians toward pain. From Marcus's perspective the Stoic can learn from Epicurians about transcending pain and continuing to engage in philosophy even in dire sickness.
(3) The Epicurian attitude toward physicians mirrors the Stoic attitude, but for differing reasons. For the Stoic the physicians may do important work, but the subject of their craft, the body, is always secondary to the mind.
(4) But in the end it is philosophy - the legitimate search for truth and goodness - that is paramount for Stoics and Epicurians alike.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.