Thursday, August 20, 2009
Death: Blood in a Bag - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.37
Meditation VIII.37 - Death: Blood in a Bag - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Does Panthea or Pergamus now sit by the tomb of Verus?1 Does Chaurias or Diotimus sit by the tomb of Hadrian?2 That would be ridiculous. Well, suppose they did sit there, would the dead be conscious of it? And if the dead were conscious, would they be pleased? And if they were pleased, would that make them immortal?3 Was it not in the order of destiny that these persons too should first become old women and old men and then die? What then would those do after these were dead? All this is foul smell and blood in a bag.4
(1) Lucius Verus (130-169 CE) was co-emperor with Marcus Aurelius from 161-169. Panthea was a beauty from Antioch and the subject of an infatuation by Verus.
(2) Diotimus was a Stoic philosopher at the time of emperor Hadrian (76-138 CE).
(3) Marcus is ridiculing the human obsession with the dead. Nothing in Stoicism would justify treating the dead as if they had special powers or existence after life. We die and that is that. Reason tells us that. Honoring the dead in these extraordinary ways meets an emotional need, but emotional reactions are simply that. A Stoic notices her emotions, understands what they are, and respects them insofar as they may serve a survival function. But emotional responses are generally antagonistic to reason. Our duty is to always remain rational. Of course we ought to honor the dead, and pay tribute to their lives and the good works they have done. But such celebrations of life are for the living. Behave accordingly.
(4) Death is nothing more than foul smelling decomposition of the flesh. To treat death as something it is not is totally irrational. The dead are nothing more than "blood in a bag."
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.