Saturday, April 16, 2011
The Frozen Frown - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.24
Meditation VII.24 - The Frozen Frown - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
A scowling look is altogether unnatural;(1) when it is often assumed, the result is that all comeliness dies away, and at last is so completely extinguished that it cannot be again lighted up at all.(2) Try to conclude from this very fact that it is contrary to reason.(3) For if even the perception of doing wrong shall depart, what reason is there for living any longer?(4)
(1) Technically scowling is not - in and of itself - "unnatural," as Marcus asserts. The corrugator supercilii muscle which is used to cause this look, does so by drawing the eyebrow downward and medialward. In a sense the scowl is really the opposite of a smile, and serves a survival purpose by indicating a mood that could trigger an unpleasant or violent response in emergency situations. The corrugator supercilii is also called the “frowning” muscle. The "scowling look" Marcus refers to here is that permanent facial feature occurring in persons accustomed to the use of the scowl for entirely unnatural reasons, as discussed below.
(2) Marcus suggests that those who chronically express themselves with a scowl reveal a malaise of soul that will mirror as a permanently unattractive countenance. In its extreme this habit of scowling may become as irreparable as the despair that it reveals.
(3) The permanent scowl reflects an irrational (emotionally driven) state of mind because it is something that can only occur in someone who is persistently or permanently controlled by their emotions rather than by a rational calculus. Emotional states and reactions are natural and necessary for human survival, but not so when they dominate the actions and attitudes of human beings whose primary nature is predominately rational.
(4) From this Stoic perspective it is wrong to always react emotionally or angrily or painfully to the various exigencies of life. A human being who does so in all situations is effectively in a permanent state of unease, and will eventually lose the ability to distinguish right from wrong. This leads Marcus to reflect - harshly perhaps - that life for such a person is no longer worth living.