Saturday, June 13, 2009
The Human Herd - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. IX.30
Meditation IX.30 - The Human Herd - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Look down from above on the countless herds of men and women and their countless solemnities, and the infinitely varied voyagings in storms and calms, and the differences among those who are born, who live together, and die.1 And consider, too, the life lived by others in olden time, and the life of those who will live after you, and the life now lived among barbarous nations, and how many know not even your name, and how many will soon forget it, and how they who perhaps now are praising you will very soon blame you, and that neither a posthumous name is of any value, nor reputation, nor anything else.2
(1) Clearly Marcus is not optimistic about human behavior. The vast majority of men and women live animal lives permeated with hypocrisy.
(2) These observations cross cultural divides. Perhaps the only saving sentiment we might extract from this reflection from our 21st century perspective is that Marcus Aurelius is no cultural relativist. There is no arrogance in his language, or hint that Rome - a truly democratic nation - has a duty to liberate humankind, even though Rome was under attack from barbarous nations at the time he wrote this meditation. In reality, Marcus sees no real differences between the so-called civilized and barbarous nations. Nor does he differentiate between days of old or future civilizations. There is a dreary sameness in human behavior everywhere he looks. The vast "herds" of men and women are in the game solely for themselves. They seek pleasure, avoid pain, and long for reputation and fame. But none of these things will procure anything other than temporary satisfaction. Human beings are a collective. Life is about advancing the collective by following nature. That is our only duty and our only salvation.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.