Monday, September 7, 2009
Reputation as a False Value - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VIII.25
Meditation VIII.25 - Reputation as a False Value - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Lucilla saw Verus die, and then Lucilla died. Secunda saw Maximus die, and then Secunda died. Epitynchanus saw Diotimus die, and Epitynchanus died.1 Antoninus saw Faustina die, and then Antoninus died.2 Such is everything. Celer saw Hadrian die, and then Celer died. And those sharp-witted men, either seers or men inflated with pride, where are they? For instance the sharp-witted men, Charax and Demetrius the Platonist and Eudaemon, and any one else like them. All ephemeral, dead long ago. Some indeed have not been remembered even for a short time, and others have become the heroes of fables, and again others have disappeared even from fables. Remember this then, that this little compound, yourself, must either be dissolved, or your poor breath must be extinguished, or be removed and placed elsewhere.3
(1) Lucilla was Marcus's second daughter. Marcus is projecting the death of Lucilla who was living when this was written. She actually died in 182 CE - two years after Marcus Aurelius. She was married to Marcus's co-ruler Lucius Verus who died in 169 CE. Claudius Maximus was a Stoic philosopher and a teacher of Marcus Aurelius and mentioned elsewhere in the Meditations (see Meditation I.15). Maximus died in 161 CE. Secunda was his second wife. Epitynchanus and Diotimus are not known.
(2) As he does above with reference to his daughter Lucilla, Marcus is referring here to his own death in the past tense. Faustina was Marcus's wife. She was killed in an accident in 175 CE. The Antoninus referred to here is Marcus himself (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus) who died five years after Faustina in 180 CE.
(3) Celer was a teacher of Marcus Aurelius and a secretary to Emperor Hadrian. Demetrius the Greek Platonist (d. ca. 55 BCE) is little known, while Charax and Eudaemon are not known. This of course makes its point now. These people are indeed "ephemeral" and were remembered for only a "short time." The point of the meditation is that human reputation is meaningless in the grand scheme. It is something on which we should never place value. Reputation, fame, and memory are - like everything else in the universe - subject to the second law of thermodynamics, the Law of Entropy - all things disappear into the mist of time (see also Meditation IX.19). To hold or seek fame as a value is to ignore nature's law, and fundamentally to live in opposition to nature. Those who worry about reputation are unable to exercise virtue, and it is only the exercise of virtue that can guarantee peace in this life.
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.