Friday, January 22, 2010

Never Desert your Post - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.45

Sierra Club

Meditation VII.45 - Never Desert your Post - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

For thus it is, men of Athens, in truth:(1) wherever a man has placed himself thinking it the best place for him, or has been placed by a commander, there in my opinion he ought to stay and to abide the hazard, taking nothing into the reckoning, either death or anything else, before the baseness of deserting his post.(2)


(1) There is a dreamlike quality to this meditation. Marcus Aurelius is the Emperor of Rome. He is writing this reflection in the second century, in Greek, on a northern frontier of the Roman empire while engaged in the defense of his territories from Germanic invaders. Yet, the address is to the "men of Athens," and likely is a reference to a six hundred year old engagement between the Greeks and the Persians on August 12th in 490 BCE. The Greeks, though vastly outnumbered (by as much as six to one), prevailed over the Persian forces (numbering from 20,000 to 60,000) because of their superior tactics and rigid discipline and courage as exemplified in the legend of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger who was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming "Νενικήκαμεν" (Nenikékamen, 'We have won.') before collapsing and dying. This incident of extraordinary valor has been celebrated ever since in the 26 mile Marathon race.

(2) This meditation draws on a military situation, but serves to illustrate the importance of carrying out one's duty in any situation in life. Each of us has been assigned a role and responsibility in life. Our purpose is not one of self protection or simple animal survival. The success of the community requires the cooperation and altruistic exercise of our assigned duty irrespective of personal consequence. Anyone who "[deserts] his post" or abandons the community is guilty of a dereliction of duty and, in Stoic language, is acting contrary to nature and against the will of Universal Reason. The Stoic attitude toward deprivation, death and pain is one of complete indifference. He understands that although abandoning one's post might postpone death - the price of abandonment is heavy - any such "base" action is against the will of Nature and a recipe for a complete alienation from Nature, leading to utter 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.


Anonymous said...

Checking my edition of the Long translation, I see that the passage immediately preceding this flows directly into it, and appears to be a quote from Plato. I don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of Plato, but it seems very possible that this passage is a continuation of a direct quote from one of his works. This would account for the seeming oddity of Marcus's addressing the men of Athens. If you know your Plato better (ie, the source of the quote attributed by Marcus to Plato in the previous passage), feel free to correct me. But there appear to be several such passages in the translation, where Long (perhaps due to the way it was formatted by earlier translators - I doubt Long had the lone surviving original on hand) seems to have broken up quotations into multiple passages.

Anonymous said...

Also, despite its not being a perfect match (the mention of hazarding death, etc), the passage could possibly refer to suicide, and to sticking it out in whatever circumstances fate (the "commander") has put one.