Your Occasional Stoic: Who decides your worth?

Go head, keep doing wrong to yourself, my soul; but soon you will no longer have the opportunity of honoring yourself. Every man’s life is sufficient. But yours is nearly finished, and instead of respecting yourself, you place you happiness in the souls of others.

-Meditation, 2.6

As with many of the mediations (and with many life lessons in general) it appears clichéd at first reading. But take the time, grapple with it a bit. How much of your validation are you putting in the hands of others? How is that working out for you? Perhaps stepping back, and honoring your own life isn’t so trite. Perhaps its worth something.

Your Occasional Stoic: Live Every Moment in Duty

Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what you have in hand with perfect and simple dignity, feeling of affection, freedom, and justice. Give yourself relief from all other thoughts and you will give yourself relief. If you do every act of life as if it were the last, laying aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the commands of reason, all hypocrisy, self-love, and discontent with the portion which has been given to you and you’ll see how few the things you have to do to live a satisfying life.  If you manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.

Mediation 2,5

  • Like so many of the mediations, at first glance, this is full of platitudes. “Live every moment as if it were your last.” But Marcus doesn’t mean with the joie de vivre of the modern era. He means live it in duty to Rome, to others, to your higher nature. Indeed, instead of “live a little, have the cake” marcus is saying “live a little, avoid the cake, do more.”

Your Occasional Stoic — Clear the Mind, Time is Running Out

Remember how long you have put off these things. Remember how often you have received an opportunity from the gods, and not used it.

You must now at last perceive of what universe you are a part, what power rules you, and that a limit of time is fixed for you, which if you do not use it for clearing away the clouds from your mind, it will go and you will go with it and it will never return.

Meditation, 2.4

cropped-roman-art-final-aurelius.jpg

  • I mean, duh. This is the kind exhortation we get over and over in the meditations (as we should). Time is running out, stop with the lollygagging. Enough of the procrastination. Do it now, before its too late.
  • Passages like this are why some find the meditations simplistic, repetitive, or both. But they’re also why I find it inspiring and helpful. I KNOW to start today, but that doesn’t make DOING IT any easier. I need a reminder, just like Marcus did, that time is running out.

Your Occasional Stoic – Cast Away Your Thirst for Knowledge

All that is from the gods is full of Providence. That which is from fortune is not separated from nature or without an interweaving and involution with the things which are ordered by Providence. From this all things flow; and there is besides necessity, and that which is for the advantage of the whole universe, of which you are a part.

But that is good for every part of nature which the nature of the whole brings, and what serves to maintain this nature. Now the universe is preserved, as by the changes of the elements, so by the changes of things compounded of the elements. Let these principles be enough for you. Let them always be fixed opinions. But cast away the thirst after books, that you will not die murmuring, but cheerfully, truly, and from thy heart thankful to the gods.

Meditations 2,3

marcus-aurelius

  • There’s a hint here at stoic physics, an area of the philosophy that does not get much attention these days. Stoics believed the physical world was in a state of constant change with every object constantly changes and reconfiguring. They weren’t really that far off. Just like the universe
  • I recently finished Edith Hamilton’s the Greek Way. Not a very good book, but it did include one insight that would have been obvious to a better educated reader than I – stoicism contains more than a whif of anti-intellectualism. Life, and living it well are what is important. Socratic type philosophizing for the sake of rumination and pointless learning is not valued.

 

Marcus is interested in ideas, but only so far as they allow him to perfect himself, not as an end until itself. Here, we differ. I like nothing more than a pointless intellectual exercise. Indeed pointless intellectual exercises are what I live for.

 

I would have a made a poor stoic (and a poor empororer).

Your Occasional Stoic – Throw Away Your Books; Despise Your Flesh

Whatever this is that I am, it is a little flesh and breath, and the ruling part.

Throw away your books — no longer distract yourself: it is not allowed.

As if you’re now dying, despise the flesh. It is blood and bones and a network, a contexture of nerves, veins, and arteries.

See the breath also, what kind of a thing it is — air, and not always the same, but every moment sent out and again sucked in.

The third then is the ruling part. Consider: you’re an old man; no longer let this be a slave, no longer be pulled by the strings like a puppet to unsocial movements, no longer either be dissatisfied with your present lot, or shrink from the future.

Mediation 2. 2

as part  of collection,  Roman Art from the Louvre, currently on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.     BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN ORG XMIT: KOD

as part of collection, Roman Art from the Louvre, currently on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN ORG XMIT: KOD

  • “Despise the flesh” Yet more of the standard “your body is merely a vessel for the soul/intellect”. What garbage. I love this book, but am tired if this line of reasoning. The body is integral to what makes us, us. We cannot forget it any more than we can the mind or the “soul”.
  • “Quit your books”? Hold on there, Marcus, a life of action does not negate a life of the mind. You yourself know that! Are you saying that just because you have now read Epicetus there is nothing left to find in the written word? You’re wrong.
  • “you’re an old man” Scholars think Marcus wrote the mediations in the last decade of his life, his fifties. Perhaps that is why he is pairing down his life to live in the moment. He did not have long to live.

Your Occasional Stoic – Greeting the Morning

Begin the morning by saying “I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them. No one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. We are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.

-Mediations 2,1

  • That’s a pretty long thing to say to yourself every morning.
  • But the idea of greeting the day with a reflection is a helpful. It reminds me of the prayer observant Jews say upon waking. Or the five-minute journal so popular with the hip self-improvement crowd.
  • But what is Marcus reminding himself of in the morning? That the unpleasant characters he will come in contract with are such not inherently, but because of their ignorance.
  • Stoicism is a philosophy which believes that virtue is knowledge of what is empirically good. To have knowledge of what is good is to do it. Vice, or ill-action (such as the busy-bodies here) is the result of a lack of knowledge. If the individuals were to know what was right, they would do it.
  • There’s a contradiction here though, isn’t there? The Mediations is largely comprised of exhortations to Marcus to do better, to live what he knows. Yet he often fails. Doesn’t poke a hole in Socrates famous line “no one willingly does wrong”?
  • Regardless of the contradictions, if we were to start the day aware that not only will we met challenging people, but that we will not allow them to affect us is surely helpful for the working stiff like me. Even more helpful, in fact, is the affirmation to one’s self that not only we will work with them, despite our views of their limitations, but we will overcome those limitations to produce something of value.
  • I need to remember all this when I’m getting ready for work on Monday.

marcus-aurelius

 

Your Occasional Stoic: Poetry, but not a poet

as part  of collection,  Roman Art from the Louvre, currently on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.     BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN ORG XMIT: KOD

To the gods I am indebted for having good grandfathers, good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good associates, good kinsmen and friends, nearly everything good.

Further, I owe it to the gods that I was not hurried into any offence against any of them, though I had a disposition which, if opportunity had offered, might have led me to do something of this kind; but, through their favor, there never was such a concurrence of circumstances as put me to the trial.

I am also thankful to the gods that I was not longer brought up with my grandfather’s concubine, and that I preserved the flower of my youth, and that I did not make proof of my virility before the proper season, but even deferred the time; that I was subjected to a ruler and a father who was able to take away all pride from me, and to bring me to the knowledge that it is possible for a man to live in a palace without wanting either guards or embroidered dresses, or torches and statues, and such-like show; but that it is in such a man’s power to bring himself very near to the fashion of a private person, without being for this reason either meaner in thought, or more remiss in action, with respect to the things which must be done for the public interest in a manner that befits a ruler. I thank the gods for giving me such a brother, who was able by his moral character to rouse me to vigilance over myself, and who, at the same time, pleased me by his respect and affection.

I thank the gods that my children have not been stupid nor deformed in body. That I did not make more proficiency in rhetoric, poetry, and the other studies, in which I should perhaps have been completely engaged, if I had seen that I was making progress in them; that I made haste to place those who brought me up in the station of honor, which they seemed to desire, without putting them off with hope of my doing it sometime after, because they were then still young.

I thank the gods that I knew Apollonius, Rusticus, Maximus; that I received clear and frequent impressions about living according to nature, and what kind of a life that is, so that, so far as depended on the gods, and their gifts, and help, and inspirations, nothing hindered me from forthwith living according to nature, though I still fall short of it through my own fault, and through not observing the admonitions of the gods, and, I may almost say, their direct instructions.

That my body has held out so long in such a kind of life; that I never touched either Benedicta or Theodotus, and that, after having fallen into amatory passions, I was cured; and, though I was often out of sorts with Rusticus, I never did anything of which I had occasion to repent.

That, though it was my mother’s fate to die young, she spent the last years of her life with me.

That, whenever I wished to help any man in his need, or on any other occasion, I was never told that I had not the means of doing it; and that to myself the same necessity never happened, to receive anything from another.

That I have such a wife, so obedient, and so affectionate, and so simple; that I had abundance of good masters for my children; and that remedies have been shown to me by dreams, both others, and against bloodspitting and giddiness; and that, when I had an inclination to philosophy, I did not fall into the hands of any sophist, and that I did not waste my time on writers of histories, or in the resolution of syllogisms, or occupy myself about the investigation of appearances in the heavens; for all these things require the help of the gods and fortune.

-Mediation 1.17

  • Book 1 is dominated with tributes to those who have influenced Marcus. It is no surprise he ends with a thanks to the Gods. (Or did he end it here? The order of the Meditations may have solidified later.)

 

  • Marcus’s objections to his grandfather’s mistress seems related to his ideas of sexual purity and restraint – the rare young man who was happy to remain a virgin.

 

  • Marcus was an emperor with scholarly inclinations, not a scholar who ended up emperor. From this and other Mediations, he clearly views the arts and professional philosophers and sophists with some disdain. He was a thoughtful man, but also a man of the world. This, like all the mediations was not the reflections of a hermit scholar, but self-help for a man of action.

 

  • Appolonius, Rusticus and Maximus were mentors to Marcus and are discussed in more detail elsewhere.

 

  • No one knows who Benedicata or Theodotus were, but it’s believed they were slaves who, as emporer, Marcus could have raped if he chose. That he appears not to have sets him apart from his time and class (if not from modern sensibilities).

 

  • Marcus’s wife, Faustina, beared him FOURTEEEN children. Most died in infancy, only one survived Marcus, his son, Commodus, who would be elevated to emperor in 180 – though he not hold the laurel long. He was executed in 192 and was apparently terrible at the job.