Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mansions of the Dead - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. IX.24

Meditation IX.24 - Mansions of the Dead - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

Quarrels of little children and their sports, and poor spirits carrying about dead bodies, such is everything;1 and so what is exhibited in the representation of the mansions of the dead strikes our eyes more clearly.2


(1) This is the world according to Marcus Aurelius. This bizarre and mad image is something of a cross between Fellini's Satyricon and Dante's Inferno. The portrait is of a meaningless life guided by irrationality.

(2) Scottish poet Robert Blair's (1699-1746) poem "the Grave" offers just such a representation of the mansions of the dead:

See yonder hallow’d fane, the pious work
Of names once fam’d, now dubious or forgot,
And buried ’midst the wreck of things which were:
There lie interr’d the more illustrious dead.
The wind is up: Hark! how it howls! Methinks
Till now, I never heard a sound so dreary:
Doors creak, and windows clap, and night’s foul bird,
Rook’d in the spire, screams loud: The gloomy aisles
Black-plaster’d, and hung round with shreds of ’scutcheons
And tatter’d coats of arms, send back the sound
Laden with heavier airs, from the low vaults,
The mansions of the dead. Rous’d from their slumbers
In grim array the grizly spectres rise,
Grin horrible, and obstinately sullen
Pass and repass, hush’d as the foot of night.
Again! the screech-owl shrieks: ungracious sound!
I’ll hear no more, it makes one’s blood run chill.
Quite round the pile, a row of reverend elms,
Coeval near with that, all ragged shew,
Long lash’d by the rude winds: some rift half down
Their branchless trunks: others so thin a’top,
That scarce two crows could lodge in the same tree,
Strange things, the neighbours say, have happened here:
Wild shrieks have issu’d from the hollow tombs,
Dead men have come again, and waik’d about,
And the great bell has toll’d, unrung, untouch’d.

In Stoicism portraits such as these are intended as descriptive of the mental states of those who are detached from reason.

Note: The image is of Paul Nimas's "Mansions of the Dead (1956)"

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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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