Saturday, December 26, 2009

Justice and War - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.51

Sierra Club

Meditation VII.51 - Justice and War - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

With food and drinks and cunning magic arts / Turning the channel's course to 'scape from death. / The breeze which heaven has sent / We must endure, and toil without complaining.(1)

Explanation

(1) Marcus is quoting (paraphrasing) a passage from Suppliant Women (Greek Tragedy in New Translations), a tragedy by the Greek playwright Euripides (c. 485 BCE - 406 BCE). Detached from the context of the play the passage evokes classic Stoic perseverance. Stoic strength resides in reason with its capacity to overcome any impediments to justice. When the body is denied, reason will prevail and we will "toil without complaining."

The play itself "dramatizes the story of one of the proudest moments in Athenian mythical history: the intervention of the Athenian Theseus in support of international law to force the burial of the [seven] Argive dead at Thebes (Suppliant Women (Greek Tragedy in New Translations), Amazon Product Description)." The play focusses on the suffering brought on civilians by war. In the play seven Argive warriors remain unburied after their failed assault on Thebes.

The vengeful refusal of the Theban leader Creon to bury the dead warriors in spite of the supplication of the mothers of the dead suggests a conflict between the just democratic ideal of Athens (which is acting according to nature) against the unjust tyrannical Thebes (which acts contrary to nature). In the end the Athenean army takes Thebes by force and the seven warriors are laid to rest.

In the Stoic scheme this story reinforces the international and cosmopolitan character of the human community. When it comes to upholding international law the state knows no boundaries. Athens does not flinch, nor it it concerned with the cost to itself when asked to intercede on behalf of the wronged Argive warriors in the name of justice. Athens will do the right thing whatever the cost to itself.

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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

1 comment:

Jerry McGowan said...

The suppliants in this play by Euripides are seven women and their king (Adrastus, King of Argos) who have come to Athens and its leader, Theseus, to ask for aid in their quest. The women's seven sons had been killed in battle against Thebes in the attempt by Polyneices to regain his inheritance from his brother Eteocles (both sons of Oedipus). Argos lost the battle and both of the sons of Oedipus were killed. The new ruler of Thebes, Creon (the brothers' uncle), refused the mothers the right to recover their sons' bodies for burial. Theseus, at first, refuses to help them since it was Adrastus's folly to get involved in that war; however, Theseus is persuaded by his own mother. This is another of Euripides's "irony" plays in which he points out the folly of war, particularly wars whose origins are long in the past (such as the war Athens was currently involved with Sparta). I am a college sophomore with a dual major in Physics and Mathematics @ University of California, Santa Barbara. By the way, i came across these excellent flash cards. Its also a great initiative by the FunnelBrain team. Amazing!!