Sunday, May 1, 2011
The Furious Torrent - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.19
Meditation VII.19 - The Furious Torrent - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil
Through the universal substance as through a furious torrent all bodies are carried,(1) being by their nature united with and cooperating with the whole, as the parts of our body with one another.(2) How many a Chrysippus,(3) how many a Socrates,(4) how many an Epictetus(5) has time already swallowed up?(6) And let the same thought occur to you with reference to every human and thing.(7)
(1) The "universal substance" is the all pervasive and ever active energy of nature. Stoic physics posits both active and passive aspects. Both aspects are materialistic. The passive undergoes constant transformation as it changes form under the universal control of the active Law of nature, referred to elsewhere as the universal intelligence or simply Logos - in modern terminology these would be called the forces and fields of physics: substantive but substantially different from the "bodies" upon which these forces act. The only choice we have in life is to cooperate with this "furious torrent" or to be consumed by it.
(2) The Stoics clearly understood and anticipated the universality of natural law. The idea was not formulated mathematically until Newton expressed this idea in 1687 - in one narrow form - as the inverse square law of universal gravitation. This Stoic idea does however turn on the same thread. Every body in the universe is acted upon - and acts upon - every other body as if it were "united with and cooperating with the whole."
(3) Zeno of Citium (333-264 BCE) and Crysippus (c. 279 BCE–c. 206 BCE) were the earliest Stoics. Chrysippus excelled in logic, the theory of knowledge, ethics and physics.
(4) Socrates (c. 470 BCE - 399 BCE) died 70 years before the birth of the first Stoic but is nevertheless regarded by many Stoics as the first Stoic.
(5) Epictetus (60-120 CE) is - like Marcus Aurelius - a member of the mature or Roman school of Stoicism. Much of the thinking of Marcus is modeled on his work.
(6) These philosophers have passed on. In time the memory of their names, and even of their works is increasingly obscured.
(7) Such is the nature of the Law. Life is brief. Soon we will die. And soon too will the memory of who we were. The sentiment would seem despairing, if not for the serenity that comes from living rightly or "according to nature." We thus have a choice: to live a happy and meaningful life - by living according to nature - or to be consumed by this self same "furious torrent" - unfulfilled and unloved.
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.