Your Occasional Stoic — Scarce anything connected with Nature will fail to give him pleasure

Observe what grace and charm appear even in the accidents that accompany Nature’s work. Some parts of a loaf crack and burst in the baking; and this cracking, though in a manner contrary to the design of the baker, looks beautiful and invites the appetite.

Figs, too, gape when at their ripest, and in ripe olives the very approach to rotting adds a special beauty to the fruit. The droop of ears of corn, the bent brows of the lion, the foam at a boar’s mouth, and many other things, are far from comely in themselves, yet, since they accompany the works of Nature, they make part of her adornment, and rejoice the beholder.

Thus, if a man be sensitive to such things, and have a more than common penetration into the constitution of the whole, scarce anything connected with Nature will fail to give him pleasure, as he comes to understand it. Such a man will contemplate in the real world the fierce jaws of wild beasts with no less delight than when sculptors or painters set forth for him their presentments. With like pleasure will his chaste eyes behold the maturity and grace of old age in man or woman, and the inviting charms of youth. Many such things will strike him, things not credible to the many, but which come to him alone who is truly familiar with the works of Nature and near to her own heart.

Meditations 3:2

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This mediation is a bit of an outlier, as thoughts on aesthetics don’t tend to figure large in the mediations. But here its aesthetics coupled with knowledge and appreciation of the natural world, something we know Marcus loved. We learn to see the beautify in even unpleasant aspects of nature but understanding nature deeply, and sitting with its awesome power. As I’ve written about before, this is something I’m personally looking to do more of. I crave the woods these days and a deeper understanding of natures beauty.

 

Your Occasional Stoic — Understanding and intelligence often leave us before we die.

Man must consider, not only that each day part of his life is spent, and that less and less remains to him, but also that, even if he live longer, it is very uncertain whether his intelligence will suffice as heretofore for the understanding of his affairs, and for grasping that knowledge which aims at comprehending things human and divine. When dotage begins, breath, nourishment, fancy, impulse, and so forth will not fail him. But self-command, accurate appreciation of duty, power to scrutinize what strikes his senses, or even to decide whether he should take his departure, all powers, indeed, which demand a well-trained understanding, must be extinguished in him. Let him be up and doing then, not only because death comes nearer every day, but because understanding and intelligence often leave us before we die.

Meditations 3:1

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Seize the day, not only because tomorrow you may die, but because even if you were to live, there is no guarantee that you will be as capable as you are today. Indeed, you certainly won’t for not only death, but old age, comes for all of us.

Your Occasional Stoic — Nothing is More Miserable Than to Range Over All Things

Nothing, says the poet, is more miserable than to range over all things, to spy into the depths of the earth, and search, by conjecture, into the souls of those around us, yet not to perceive that it is enough for a man to devote himself to that divinity which is within him, and to pay it genuine worship.

And this worship consists in keeping it pure from every passion and folly, and from desiring after anything done by Gods or men. The work of the Gods is to be reverenced for its excellence. The works of men should be dear for the sake of the bond of kinship, or pitied, as we must pity them sometimes, for their lack of the knowledge of good and evil. And men are not less maimed by this defect than by their want of power to know white from black.

Meditations 2:13

ROMAN ART

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

 

This one is elegantly put, and also reinforces the common refrain – do not trouble yourself with the actions of others, be they your fellow man, or the divine. These are not things you can control. What can you control? Yourself. Your Desires. Your actions.  Put the work in here, not in judging the lives of other.

Your Occasional Stoic — To Dread a Work of Nature is a Childish Thing

It is within our rational power to understand how swiftly all things vanish; how the corporeal forms are swallowed up in the material world, and the memory of them in the tide of ages.

Such are all the things of sense, especially those which ensnare us with pleasure or terrify us with pain, or those things which vanity trumpets in our ears. How mean, how despicable, how sordid, how perishable, how dead are they! What are they whose opinions and whose voices bestow renown? What is it to die? Your mind can tell you that, did a man think of it alone, and, by close consideration, strip it of its horrible trappings, he would no longer deem it anything but a work of Nature. To dread a work of Nature is a childish thing, and this is, indeed, not only Nature’s work, but beneficial to her.

Meditations 2:12

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The world remembers Alexander, but what good does that do him? What matter to him (or should have) was who surrounded him on his death bed. That’s what should matter to us all.

This is an interesting meditation as it puts together in one two of Marcus’s central themes – think of death often, and yet do not fear it, because what is the point of fearing something that comes for us all.

Your Occasional Stoic — Think of Death

Do every deed, speak every word, think every thought in the knowledge that you may end your days any moment. To depart from men, if there be really Gods, is nothing terrible. The Gods could bring no evil thing upon you. And if there be no Gods, or if they have no regard to human affairs, why should I desire to live in a world void of Gods and without Providence? But Gods there are, and assuredly they regard human affairs; and they have put it wholly in man’s power that he should not fall into what is truly evil. And of other things, had any been bad, they would have made provision also that man should have the power to avoid them altogether. For how can that make a man’s life worse which does not corrupt the man himself? Presiding Nature could not in ignorance, or in knowledge impotent, have omitted to prevent or rectify these things. She could not fail us so completely that, either from want of power or want of skill, good and evil should happen promiscuously to good men and to bad alike. Now death and life, glory and reproach, pain and pleasure, riches and poverty—all these happen equally to the good and to the bad. But, as they are neither honorable nor shameful, they are therefore neither good nor evil.

Meditations 2:11

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Marcus was obsessed with death, and rightly so, since death alone gives the rest of this any meaning. If the gods exists, then surely you want to meet them having lived an honorable life. If not, surely you do not want to be on your death bed wishing you’d done things differently. The outcome is the same, do what was in you control, live a moral life, and die in peace.

Your Occasional Stoic — Crime of Pleasure, Crimes of Passion

In comparing crimes together, as, according to the common idea, they may be compared, Theophrastus makes the true philosophical distinction — that those committed from motives of pleasure are more heinous than those which are due to passion. For he who is a prey to passion is clearly turned away from reason by some spasm and convulsion that takes him unawares. But he who sins from desire is conquered by pleasure, and so seems more incontinent and weaker in his vice.

Justly then, and in a truly philosophical spirit, he says that sin, for pleasure’s sake, is more wicked than sin which is due to pain. For the latter sinner was sinned against, and driven to passion by his wrongs, while the former set out to sin of his own volition, and was led into ill-doing by his own lust.

Meditations 2:10

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Theophrastus, a Greek native of Eresos in Lesbos, was the successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school.

This is an odd one from the meditations because its merely a citation to another thinker without any explicit commentary. Perhaps Marcus was trying to remind himself? Why? Was he struggling with crime of his own?

Your Occasional Stoic: Conquered by Pleasure or Pain

Man’s soul harms itself, firstly and chiefly when it does all it can to become a seperate growth, a sort of tumor on the Universe. To resent any particular event is to revolt against the general law of Nature, which comprehends the order of all events whatsoever. It also dishonors the soul when it has aversion to any man, and opposes him with intention to hurt him, as wrathful men do. Thirdly, it affronts itself when conquered by pleasure or pain; fourthly, when it does or says anything hypocritically, feignedly or falsely; fifthly, when it does not direct to some proper end all its desires and actions, but exerts them inconsiderately and without understanding. For, even the smallest things should be referred to the end, and the end of rational beings is to follow the order and law of the venerable state and polity which comprehends them all.

Meditation 2:16

A soul “affronts itself when conquered by pleasure or pain”.

This is perhaps the essence of stoicism in a single line. The goal of stoicism is not to feel nothing, but rather to have control over those feelings. Yes, we feel love, or anger, but letting yourself be control by emotional impulses harms oneself. Perhaps internalizing this one line is internalizing the central lesson of Marcus.

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Your Occasional Stoic — Pity the Gossiping Neighbor

Nothing is more wretched than a man who is always out and about, running around in circles. As Pindar says, the poet says, “delving deep in the bowels of the earth” seeking by conjecture what is in the minds of his neighbors, without perceiving that it is sufficient to attend to the divinity within him. Reverence to the divine in himself consists in keeping it pure from passion and thoughtlessness, and dissatisfaction with what comes from gods and men. For the things from the gods merit veneration for their excellence; and the things from men should be dear to us by reason of kinship; and sometimes even, in a manner, they move our pity by reason of men’s ignorance of good and bad; this defect being not less than that which deprives us of the power of distinguishing things that are light and dark.

  • Meditations 2.13

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The Greek doesn’t actually name Pindar, it merely says the “poet” but the quopte is from a Pindar Fragment.

There’s a lot going on here – first the now standard cheerleading of Marcus to himself to be not like the gossiping neighbor, judging the motivations of his friends, but more like the stoic sage focused on his own, inner strength (and weaknesses).

Stay away from thoughtlessness, Marcus tells himself, again. Focus on facts. Don’t let you passions control your actions.

Still and also, pity the gossiping neighbor, the harm he does it not just to those he judges, but also to himself, moving farther from knowledge by failing to interrogate his own mind before worrying about the minds of others.

Your Occasional Stoic – the Distractions of Fandom

From my tutor: not to become a Green or Blue supporter at the races, or side with the Lights or Heavies in the amphitheater; to tolerate pain and feel few needs; to work with my own hands and mind my own business; to be deaf to malicious gossip. 

Meditations 1:5

We do not know who Marcus’s tutor was, but he was probably an educated slave.

He gave good advice.

Green and Blue were chariots racing teams; lights and heavies were types of gladiators. Marcus believed in physical fitness, but he didn’t have much time for spectator sports. Why watch what you should do?

Your Occasional Stoic: Marcus on His Mom and Staying Clear of the Habits of the Rich

From my mother: piety, generosity, the avoidance of wrong-doing and even the thought of it; also simplicity of living, well clear of the habits of the rich.

– Meditations 1:3

  • After 1:2’s foray into “manliness” its nice to see Marcus honor his mother, though much of these attributes are stereotypically feminine, its good to see Marcus wanted to emulate his mother.
  • After Marcus’s father died, his mother, Domitia Lucilla raised Marcus and his sister Annia as a widow. With the support of Marcus’s grandfather.
  • “well clear of the habits of the rich” is a great phrase, probably even better in the original Greek. What this meant, specifically, in Marcus’s time, I’m not sure.  But its stil solid advice today.
  • Lucilla also raised another emperor, Dius Julianus, who bought the laurel from the Praetorian Guard and reigned for a mere three months until the Senate rose up against him, proclaimed Servus emperor, and had Julianus put to death.