Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Worth - Unpublished Selections Explained, Med. VII.03

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Meditation VII.03 - Worth - Translated by George Long and rewritten by Russell McNeil

The idle business of show, plays on the stage, flocks of sheep, herds, exercises with spears, a bone cast to little dogs, a bit of bread into fish-ponds, labourings of ants and burden-carrying, runnings about of frightened little mice, puppets pulled by strings - all alike. It is your duty then in the midst of such things to show good humour and not a proud air; to understand however that every one of us is worth just so much as the things are worth about which we busy ourselves.(1)

Explanation

(1) This seemingly bizarre list of activities - a list that does not differentiate between the activities of ants or sheep, and those of men - is meant to illustrate the human tendency to place value on things that are inconsequential in terms of our primary purpose. The Stoic should never ignore the things that many regard as essential. It is only prudent to pay attention to the world. But each of those things listed here is a matter of indifference in terms of human happiness. We achieve happiness when our actions are directed toward the divine - both the divine in us, and the divine around us. What is divine is not the action of the elements around us, but that which animates those actions - the Law of Nature. It may seem a subtle distinction, but it requires a real gestalt shift in thinking - something the early Stoics recognized from their reading of Plato. The world of perfection is defined by the Law. The world of things is merely an imperfect shadow of that Law. The Law itself is perfect and therefore incomprehensibly beautiful. To see only the world of ordinary activities as all that there is leaves us empty and devoid of real joy. To discover this Law we must learn to see how the Law operates in us, and in so doing recognize that we too are divine. With this step the activities required of a true Stoic - the real "worth" in life, the virtues - will follow, and will follow naturally.

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 The unpublished selections presented in this Blog are provided as supplemental material to the published selections which are annotated and explained in the book.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

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