Saturday, August 29, 2009
Isolation Road - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.31
Meditation VIII.31 - Isolation Road - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Augustus' court, wife, daughter, descendants, ancestors, sister, Agrippa, kinsmen, intimates, friends, Areius, Maecenas, physicians and sacrificing priests - the whole court is dead.1 Then turn to the rest, not considering the death of a single man, but of a whole race, as of the Pompeii;2 and that which is inscribed on the tombs - The last of his race. Then consider what trouble those before them have had that they might leave a successor; and then, that of necessity some one must be the last. Again here consider the death of a whole race.3
(1) Caesar Augustus (63 BCE – 14 CE) was the first emperor of the Roman Empire from 27 BCE until his death in 14 CE, a century and a half before Marcus Aurelius.
(2) Pompeii, a ruined and partially buried Roman town, was destroyed with its estimated population of 20,000 during an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.
(3) Not only is a single life short and fleeting, the life of an emperor and his entire court, and even the life of an entire race of people - as in the example of Pompeii, which was destroyed less than a century before Marcus Aurelius - is ephemeral and fragile. This meditation reflects on the meaninglessness of fame and reputation. With the passage of time even our names are lost. Today no one weeps for the victims of Pompeii (see image). Yet many of our actions in life are regulated by our desire to be respected and liked. In this quest we abandon duty for approbation. We refrain from doing what is right for fear of being isolated from those who might disapprove. But this is not according to nature. It is not according to nature to empower those who seek only their own glory while ignoring those who need our help. This is in fact vile, and a total abandonment of reason and human duty. What we gain from kowtowing to others is a temporary satisfaction of feeling loved. What in fact we are really doing is surrendering our sovereignty and power to those who will control us. The Stoic never seeks respect. The Stoic bestows respect toward the intelligence he shares with every human being. This is the path to quiescence and enlightenment. All other roads lead to isolation and despair.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.