Sunday, January 10, 2010
Looking to the Stars for Inspiration - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.47
Meditation VII.47 - Looking to the Stars for Inspiration - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Look round at the courses of the stars, as if you were going along with them; and constantly consider the changes of the elements into one another; for such thoughts purge away the filth of the terrene life.(1)
(1) Prior to Galileo's pioneering observations of the moon in 1609 all of the materials in the cosmos above the limits of the Earth's atmosphere were believed devoid of terrene (earthly) elements - earth, water, air and fire. The stars were also believed to orbit the Earth in the then prevalent geocentric model of the heavens. Most Stoics held this view too, although the model's errors would not affect the general validity of Stoic philosophy. Stoicism is not tied to any particular model. In fact, as the models of the universe have evolved, so too has Stoicism. Marcus today would marvel no less at what science and astronomy have uncovered regarding the complexity and extent of the universe, and the general tenor of this meditation would remain intact. The reference to "terrene (earthly) filth" is not intended to denigrate the elements of passive matter. The Stoics loved Nature in all of her manifestations. Filth - to the Stoic - would be any decision to live a life contrary to Natural Law, in other words a life of vice. The meditation is targeted to those who have focussed their life on the acquisition of pleasure, fame or power. This would be regarded as contrary to the meaning of existence. Our purpose in life is to live according to nature: to be just, compassionate, wise and good. This is the only formula for happiness.
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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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.