Monday, October 16, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:31

Sober up, recall yourself, shake off sleep once more: realize they were mere dreams that troubled you, and now that you are awake again look on these things as you would have looked on a dream.

I'm sure it has happened to you.  You are standing in front of a large crowd, about to deliver a major speech.  You look down and you are completely naked.  You feel a rush of blood to your head and try to cover yourself while people point their fingers at you and laugh.  Then you wake up and find relief that it was just a dream.  Marcus advises that just as we are relieved when we wake up from such dreams and don't view them as any significant matter, we should view events that may disturb us in real life.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:28-30

Death is relief from reaction to the senses, from the puppet-strings of impulse, from the analytical mind, and from service to the flesh.

Disgraceful if, in this life where your body does not fail, your soul should fail you first.

Take care not to be Caesarified, or dyed in purple: it happens.  So keep yourself simple, good, pure, serious, unpretentious, a friend of justice, god-fearing, kind, full of affection, strong for your proper work. Strive hard to remain the same man that philosophy wished to make you. Revere the gods, look after men. Life is short. The one harvest of existence on earth is a godly habit of mind and social action.

Always as a pupil of Antoninus: his energy for all that was done according to reason, his constant equability, his piety, his serene expression, his gentleness, his lack of conceit, his drive to take a firm grasp of affairs. How he would never put anything at all aside without first looking closely into it and understanding it clearly; how he would tolerate those who unfairly blamed him without returning the blame; how he was never rushed in anything. He would not listen to malicious gossip; he was an accurate judge of men's character and actions; slow to criticize, immune to rumour and suspicion, devoid of pretence. How he was content with little by way of house, bed, dress, food, servants; his love of work, and his stamina.

He was a man to stay at the same task until evening, not even needing to relieve himself except at his usual hour, such was his frugal diet. Constant and fair in his friendships; tolerant of frank opposition to his own views, and delighted to be shown a better way; god-fearing, but not superstitious.

So may your own last hour find you with a conscience as clear as his.

No need to fear death.  Death simply is an end of the bodily senses.

Better your body fails before your ability to live a life according to virtue.

Sound advice Marcus gives to himself.  He could have easily be pretentious as Emperor of Rome.  Instead, he warned himself against the ails of letting power get to your head.  Advice he gives himself is sound and applies to us today.  He studied philosophy and philosophy wants him to focus on virtue (virtue is the sole good) and to help others at all times in social action.  He simply counsels himself on the things he ought to pay attention to.

An amazing tribute from Marcus to Antoninus!  This is one of my favorite passages.  If only I could be like Antoninus and be consistent at it.  In particular, for me, the things that stand out that I wish I could have more of:
- a drive to take a firm grasp of affairs
- understanding and completing the task thoroughly
- content with little
- love of work
- stamina
- frugal diet
- constant
- tolerant
- delighted to be shown a better way

(see also Citadel p. 29, 35, 263, 268, 280, 286, 300)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:26-27

If someone puts to you the question 'How is the name Antoninus spelt?', will you shout your way through each of the syllables? What then if they get angry? Will you lose your temper too? Will you not rather calmly go through the sequence of letters, telling each one in turn? So also in your life here remember that every duty is the completed sum of certain actions. You must observe these, without being disconcerted or answering others' resentment with your own, but following each purpose methodically to its end.

How cruel it is not to allow people to strive for what seems to them their interest and advantage! And yet in a way you are forbidding them to do this, when you fuss that they are wrong: they are surely drawn to their own interest and advantage. 'But it is not actually so': well then, teach them, show them, do not fuss.

My last name is often mis-spelled by people.  I've seen it slaughtered so many times.  It also doesn't help that by flipped two letter in my last name, it spells a legitimate last name.  I've learned to simply use military alphabet when spelling my last name - every time.  I used to be upset by it, but I've learned to accept it and it no longer bothers me.  I imagine Marcus was in the same boat.  Just spell it out, no need to add anger on top.  If other people become impatient or upset, then I must remain calm too.  It does me no good and it does then no service to get upset when they are angry.  I get to choose when and how I will act and react.  I will not let others "trigger" me.

No need to be a dictator in every aspect of life.  If no harm is being done, the allow others their opinion - live and let live.  If logically other's choices are not sound, then reason with them; use your god-given gifts of reason and persuasion to help them.  Otherwise, live and let live.

In summary, only you (yourself) can cause you to be upset with others.  And when working with others, live and let live.  If correction is needed, use reason.

(see also Citadel p. 225-226, 268)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:23-25

Since you have reason and they do not, treat dumb animals and generally all things and objects with generosity and decency; treat men, because they do have reason, with social concern; and in all things call on the gods. And do not let it matter to you for how long you will be alive in this work: even three hours spent thus are sufficient.

Alexander of Macedon and his muleteer were leveled in death: either they were taken up into the same generative principles of the universe, or they were equally dispersed into atoms.

Reflect on how many separate events, both bodily and mental, are taking place in each one of us in the same tiny fragment of time: and then you will not be surprised if many more events, indeed all that comes to pass, subsist together in the one and the whole, which we call the Universe.

Marcus outlines our duties to animals and rational people.  And he, again, reminds us that we should never be concerned with how long we live, as long as we are performing our duties.

No matter if you are Alexander the Great or his servant, you will return to dust.  And it doesn't matter if you believe in a god or gods or a random universe; your end will come and you either return to your god(s) or you return to atoms.

Just as there are dozens or hundreds of processes going on in your body (breathing, blinking, moving, talking, listening, seeing, hearing, touching, digesting, etc), so too there are many cogs working in the universe.  And just as all those bodily processes are contained in one body, so too are all the universal events contained in one great whole: the Universe.

(see also Citadel p. 48, 148)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:21-22

If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one's own self-deception and ignorance.

I do my own duty: the other things do not distract me. They are either inanimate or irrational, or have lost the road and are ignorant of the true way.

These two passages really don't need much commentary.  They stand on their own. 

In sum; seek and take feedback and do your duty.

(see also Citadel p. 286)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:19-20

Do not imagine that, if something is hard for you to achieve, it is therefore impossible for any man: but rather consider anything that is humanly possible and appropriate to lie within your own reach too.

In the field of play an opponent scratches us with his nails, say, or gives us a butting blow with his head: but we do not 'mark' him for that, or take offence, or suspect him afterwards of deliberate attack. True, we do keep clear of him: but this is good-natured avoidance, not suspicion or treating him as an enemy. Something similar should be the case in the other areas of life too: we have people who are our 'opponents in the game', and we should overlook much of what they do. We can avoid them, as I say, without suspicion or enmity.

In the first passage, he is simply saying, "if it can be done by someone, then why not you too?"  If it can be done and if it is "appropriate", then you can do it!

In the second passage, he advises that we ought not to consider "intent" so much.  In a game of football, someone tackles you roughly.  No matter - it is part of the game and you most likely think there was no mal-intent; it was just a rough tackle.  In this same manner, we ought to approach dings and nicks in the sides of our car; a driver pulling out in front of us or someone cutting us off in traffic.

Would we let someone cut in front of us in a line at the store if we saw their child acting up?  Would we let a young, 30-year old man, purchasing beer, cut in front of us?  What if he did without your permission?  When you step back and look at the situation, and simply observe: someone cut in front of you, no more no less.  What you decide in your head as to that person's motive is entirely up to you.  You can choose to be tolerant or offended.

Give others' the benefit of the doubt - it'll do your soul good.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:17-18

Up, down, round and round are the motions of the elements, but the movement of active virtue follows none of these: it is something more divine, and it journeys on to success along a path hard to understand.

What a way to behave! They refuse to speak well of people who live as their contemporaries and in their company, but they set great store by their own good name among future generations which they have never seen nor ever will see. Yet this is brother to feeling vexed that your predecessors were not singing your praises.

Change is constant, yet virtue is not.  Hence virtue is the sole good.

It indeed is interesting to observe people, who seemingly at all costs, pursue fame and legendary status.  As Marcus points out, all these people are doing is seeking out approval from people they will never know or meet.  And they seek this approval at the cost of their contemporaries!  Fate has brought together people in the here and now.  We are meant to work with people in the here and now.  It matters little what future generations will think.

Being a Lord of the Rings fan, the passage from Marcus Aurelius reminds me of a scene in the movie The Return of the King about how the kings forsook caring for the living and rather focused on the fame and lineage.  Gandalf tells Pippen why the kings of Gondor are no more.  "The old wisdom bourne out of the west was forsaken. Kings made tombs more splendid than the houses of the living, and counted the old names of their descent dearer than the names of their sons."

(see also Citadel p. 241)

Monday, October 9, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:16

There is nothing to value in transpiring like plants or breathing like cattle and wild creatures; nothing in taking the stamp of sense impressions or jerking to the puppet-strings of impulse; nothing in herding together or taking food - this last is no better than voiding the wastes of that food. What, then, is to be valued? Applause? No. Not therefore the applause of tongues either: the praise of the masses is the mere rattle of tongues. So you have jettisoned trivial glory too. What remains to be valued? To my mind, it is to act or refrain from action according to our own proper constitution, something to which skills and crafts show the way. Every craft seeks to make its product suit the purpose for which it is produced: this is the aim of the gardener, the vine-dresser, the breaker of horses, the dogtrainer. And what is the end to which the training of children and their teaching strives?

So this is the true value: and if this is firmly held, you will not be set on acquiring any of the other things for yourself. Will you not then cease to value much else besides? Otherwise you will not be free or self-sufficient or devoid of passion: you will need to be envious and jealous, to suspect those who have the power to deprive you of these things, and to intrigue against people who possess what you value. In short, anyone who feels the need of any of these things is necessarily sullied, and what is more he will often be driven to blame the gods too. But reverence of your own mind and the value you give to it will make you acceptable to yourself, in harmony with your fellows, and consonant with the gods - that is, praising all that they assign and have disposed.

Marcus reviews what plants, animals and birds focus on: survival.  Then he reviews what humans will often seek: acting on impulse, eating, defecating, applause of hands and tongues.  All of these things he has learned to scorn.  Now he must focus on acting with reason.

He must ignore all that and hold in reverence his mind - his ability and capacity to think and reason.  He must act in harmony with other people, and accept and love all that the gods (universe) has dealt him.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:15

Some things are hurrying to come into being, others are hurrying to be gone, and part of that which is being born is already extinguished. Flows and changes are constantly renewing the world, just as the ceaseless passage of time makes eternity ever young. In this river, then, where there can be no foothold, what should anyone prize of all that races past him? It is as if he were to begin to fancy one of the little sparrows that fly past - but already it is gone from his sight. Indeed this is the nature of our very lives - as transient as the exhalation of vapour from the blood or a breath drawn from the air. No different from a single breath taken in and returned to the air, something which we do every moment, no different is the giving back of your whole power of breathing - acquired at your birth just yesterday or thereabouts - to that world from which you first drew it.

Death should constantly be before our eyes.  Many avoid the thought of death.  But those same people love the change in seasons, especially when summer gives way to autumn or when autumn gives fully to winter.  As Marcus notes, change is constant and we should love it.

We breathe in, we breath out - no great matter to us.

We dip our hand into the river and no great matter to see some water or debris touch our hand and flow downstream.

We watch birds flutter about trees; they land and disappear as quickly as they came - no great matter.

In the vast flow of eternity, our first breath to our last breath is just as quick as a single inhalation and exhalation.  Neither should upset us much at all.

(see also Citadel p. 171)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:14

Most of the things valued by the masses come under the categories of what is sustained by cohesion (minerals, timber) or natural growth (figs, vines, olives). What is valued by the slightly more advanced belongs to the class of things sustained by a principle of life, such as flocks and herds, or the bare ownership of a multitude of slaves. The things valued by yet more refined people are those sustained by the rational soul - not, however, reason as such, but reason expressed in craftsmanship or some other skill. But the man who fully esteems the soul as both rational and political no longer has any regard for those other things, but above all else keeps his own soul in a constant state of rational and social activity, and cooperates to that end with his like.

A similar notion is found in Xenophon's Memorabilia by Socrates:
"... to have as few wants as possible is the nearest approach to Godhead; and as that which is divine is mightiest, so that is next mightiest which comes closest to the divine."

The highest aspiration of the sage is arete - best defined as excellence of character in moral virtue.  Those who can succeed at focusing and attaining constant moral virtue can be called sages.  The sage does not value the "indifferents" in life.  Rather he/she values reason and applied social action.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:13

How good it is, when you have roast meat or suchlike foods before you, to impress on your mind that this is the dead body of a fish, this the dead body of a bird or pig; and again, that the Falernian wine is the mere juice of grapes, and your purple-edged robe simply the hair of a sheep soaked in shell-fish blood! And in sexual intercourse that it is no more than the friction of a membrane and a spurt of mucus ejected. How good these perceptions are at getting to the heart of the real thing and
penetrating through it, so you can see it for what it is! This should be your practice throughout all your life: when things have such a plausible appearance, show them naked, see their shoddiness, strip away their own boastful account of themselves. Vanity is the greatest seducer of reason: when you are most convinced that your work is important, that is when you are most under its spell. See, for example, what Crates says even about Xenocrates.

Anxiety and stress, fear, ecstatic joy, haughtiness, feeling superior - all of these feelings come from within our head.  All the science of marketing aims for is to hit one of these strings in our brain, which then we allow ourselves to be seduced by the sales marketer to give into that feeling and try to rectify it (usually through spending money).

The things that impressed people in Marcus' days were delicious meat, wine, a robe with the color purple in it, sex - all of these things were tied to his power and fame as emperor of Rome.  Interestingly enough, those same things are marketed today and show up as advertisements all over the Internet, billboards and TV.  We can easily assent to these ideas that eating delicious meat, wearing expensive clothes, making love will bring us fulfillment (make us feel better about ourselves, puff up our vanity).  But in the end, all they do is make us lose our reason and focus on things that are truly important (virtue - discipline, courage, justice, wisdom).

To not be seduced by these things, we exercise the discipline of assent.  We look at the physical characteristics and view them as they are.  A tender steak is nothing more than a dead cow.  The color purple is dye applied to cloth.  Wine is made from dead grapes.  Sex is skin rubbing on skin and a shot of chemicals in your brain.  Don't let these things make you lose your reasoning.  See them for what they are.  "Vanity is the greatest seducer of reason!"  In this age of "selfies", Marcus' wisdom is needed more than ever.

(see also Citadel p. 104-105, 165)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:11-12

When circumstances force you to some sort of distress, quickly return to yourself. Do not stay out of rhythm for longer than you must: you will master the harmony the more by constantly going back to it.

If you had a step-mother and a mother at the same time, you would pay attention to your step-mother but nevertheless your constant recourse would be to your mother. That is now how it is with the Court and philosophy. So return to philosophy again and again, and take your comfort in her: she will make the other life seem bearable to you, and you bearable in it.

Similar to his meditation in B5:9, we should always get back up when we fall.  I particularly like how he doesn't seem to get upset with himself.  There is no swearing or self-berating.  He simply councils himself to "return" and get back into the good groove.  We approach "getting back up on the horse" like practicing anything else.  We practice playing an instrument to perform better.  We practice a sport to play better.  We practice returning to stoicism to live better.

It seems to me, in the next passage, Marcus alludes that his "step-mother ... the Court" distresses him, and therefore the advice to "quickly return to [himself]" or his true compass - his "mother ... philosophy."  This sentiment rings so true with me.  Learning and attempting to practice stoicism helps me through the day when I go to work, or deal with commuting, or talk with people who have poor customer service skills and or work with people whose brains are still developing.  It helps me have patience with getting my home back in order after a major flood.  It helps me to manage the anxiety from mistakes I've made.  And at the beginning and end of the day, and sometimes during the day, I return to "mother - philosophy" and she reminds me what I'm aiming for.

(see also Citadel p. 29, 291)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:10

Either a stew, an intricate web, and dispersal into atoms: or unity, order, and providence. Now if the former, why do I even wish to spend my time in a world compounded at random and in like confusion? Why have any concern other than somehow, some time, to become 'earth unto earth'? And why actually am I troubled? Dispersal will come on me, whatever I do. But if the latter is true, I revere it, I stand firm, I take courage in that which directs all.

Oft repeated and discussed, Marcus revisits the notion of whether there is a god (or gods) or not.  Ultimately, the conclusion is the same whether you believe in god(s) or not.  In the end, you will die.

Additionally, if you believe in atoms (randomly governed universe), and if you being a rational and reasonable person, ought not to direct your life at random.  Rather, use your intellect and reason to govern and organize your life.

But if you do believe in unity, order and providence, then love it - embrace it.  Live life knowing full well that the ultimate directing reason over the universe knows all, sees all and you, as a part of that order, has a part: which is to act well your part; use your reason; live according to nature (meaning, use your reasoning and god-given intellect to live your life).  Don't be like beasts who don't reason or think.

(see also Citadel p. 43)

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:8-9

The directing mind is that which wakes itself, adapts itself, makes itself of whatever nature it wishes, and makes all that happens to it appear in the way it wants.

All things have their accomplishment in accordance with the nature of the Whole: it could not be in accordance with any other nature, either enclosing from without or enclosed within, or any external influence.

In the first passage, we learn that we can make our own judgments about whatever happens.  Hadot adds this to Marcus' passage, "this does not mean that the guiding principle can imagine anything it pleases about reality, but rather that it is free to attribute what value it wishes to the objects it encounters.  ... If we suppress the inner discourse which says "I have been harmed," then the harm disappears and is suppressed (IV, 7)."

The second passage is a bit cryptic, but I understand it to mean anything that happens is in accordance to nature.  I read this in the vein of cause and effect.  If something can happen (perhaps according to the laws of physics) then we should not be surprised when it does happen.

(see also Citadel p. 110)

Monday, October 2, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:6-7

The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.

Let one thing be your joy and comfort: to move on from social act to social act, with your mind on god.

Not a whole lot to say or add to this.  When it comes to action, we should not seek revenge in the traditional sense.  Rather, we can disengage in the tit-for-tat game and rise above the fray - seek the higher ground.

Also, our every day acts - from moment to moment - should be social acts.  To help; to serve.  Let this be your joy and consolation.

(see also Citadel p. 29, 134, 196, 239)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B6:1-5

The substance of the Whole is passive and malleable, and the reason directing this substance has no cause in itself to do wrong, as there is no wrong in it: nothing it creates is wrongly made, nothing harmed by it. All things have their beginning and their end in accordance with it.

If you are doing your proper duty let it not matter to you whether you are cold or warm, whether you are sleepy or well-slept, whether men speak badly or well of you, even whether you are on the point of death or doing something else: because even this, the act in which we die, is one of the acts of life, and so here too it suffices to 'make the best move you can'.

Look within: do not allow the special quality or worth of any thing to pass you by.

All that exists will soon change. Either it will be turned into vapour, if all matter is a unity, or it will be scattered in atoms.

The governing reason knows its own disposition, what it creates, and what is the material for its creation.

I typically don't commentate on multiple passages, but in this case, the first five passages in Book 6 seem to be interconnected.  Marcus begins by noting that the "reason directing" the universe does nothing wrong.  The reason guiding the universe simply exists.  Things within the universe begin and then they end.

Then he shifts focus to himself as an entity within that universe.  He counsels himself to always do his duty come cold or heat, whether tired or rested, when he's been maligned or praised or even at the point of death.  We always have a choice to do our duty; so always do it.  In a summary, he's counseling himself what he should do - his actions.

In the third passage, he continues to counsel himself, this time on his attitude and judgments.  He should embrace all that is of special worth and quality (temperance, courage, justice, wisdom - in a word: virtue).

In the fourth, he returns the idea of change and the reason directing it.  Whether a unity (god) or random atoms, we have to embrace things either way.

And lastly he returns to where he started Book 6 - the governing reason.  It just is - it exists and we have to accept whatever that governing reason creates along with the material it uses.

(see also Citadel p. 166)

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B5:36-37

luck is the good fortune you determine for yourself
Don't let the impression of other people's grief carry you away indiscriminately. Help them, yes, as best you can and as the case deserves, even if their grief is for the loss of something indifferent: but do not imagine their loss as any real harm that is the wrong way of thinking. Rather, you should be like the old man in the play who reclaimed at the end his foster-child's favourite toy, never forgetting that it was only a toy. So there you are, broadcasting your pity on the hustings - have you forgotten, man, what these things are worth? 'Yes, but they are important to these folk.' Is that any reason for you to join their folly?

'There was a time when I met luck at every turn.' But luck is the good fortune you determine for yourself: and good fortune consists in good inclinations of the soul, good impulses, good actions.

In the first passage, Marcus tackles dealing with impressions other peoples' grief may cause.  In a word - don't let others' grief spill into your impressions.  You know better.  However, that does not mean you have to treat others coldly.  You can have empathy and allow the grieving person to grieve over loss of indifferents.  But you don't have to go so far as agree with it.

The second passage reminds me of Harvey Dent (from Batman), who has a double-headed coin.  No matter which side lands, he wins.  He makes his own luck - it's all about perception.  Marcus, more appropriately, states good luck comes from a good attitude, good desires and good actions.

(see also Citadel p. 217)

Friday, September 29, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B5:34-35

You can always ensure the right current to your life if you can first follow the right path - if, that is, your judgements and actions follow the path of reason. There are two things common to the souls of all rational creatures, god or man: they are immune to any external impediment, and the good they seek resides in a just disposition and just action, with this the limit of their desire.

If this is no wrongdoing of mine, nor the result of any wrong done to me, and if the community is not harmed, then why do I let it trouble me? And what is the harm that can be done to the community?

These two passages are largely centered around the discipline of assent (controlling our judgments and perceptions).  There are also references to the discipline of action ("just action") and the discipline of desire ("with this the limit of their desire").

Nothing outside our "inner citadel" can harm our soul.  We, as individuals, are the only ones who can control our perceptions.  Hence Marcus says, "all rational creatures, god [and men] ... are immune to any external impediment."  We get to decide our attitude.  We get to decide how to react to events and things out of our control.

Furthermore, we as individuals, can choose to have a "just disposition" (good attitude) and when and how we serve others ("just action").

We limit our desires to what is - to what happens.  We should love what happens - amor fati.

In summary: have a good attitude; serve others; love your fate.

In second passage (35), Marcus discusses a specific aspect of the discipline of assent.  Why let anything bother you if no harm has been done to the community and you have done no harm?

(see also Citadel p. 241)

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B5:33

Thomas Cole - Desolation
In no time at all ashes or bare bones, a mere name or not even a name: and if a name, only sound and echo. The 'prizes' of life empty, rotten, puny: puppies snapping at each other, children squabbling, laughter turning straight to tears. And Faith, Honour, Justice and Truth 'fled up to Olympus from the widewayed earth'.

So what is there left to keep us here, if the objects of sense are ever changeable and unstable, if our senses themselves are blurred and easily smudged like wax, if our very soul is a mere exhalation of blood, if success in such a world is vacuous? What, then? A calm wait for whatever it is, either extinction or translation. And until the time for that comes, what do we need? Only to worship and praise the gods, and to do good to men - to bear and forbear. And to remember that all that lies within the limits of our poor carcass and our little breath is neither yours nor in your power.

Break things down (to tear down impressions and to recognize what truly matters) - this is what Marcus does with the whole lot of life in this passage.  Life is short and shortly, our body, flesh, bones will turn to dust and our names will eventually be forgotten.  People will pursue fame and other prizes in life, but after the march of time, those awards are "empty, rotten, puny."  The virtues, however, will endure.

If this life is so "changeable and unstable", what should be our focus if not body, fame, fortune?  We ought to accept our fate - calmly accept that we will die.  And while we wait that moment, we walk that path the sage trods - we focus on virtue, help others and always remember to accept and love our fate.

Regarding the 'fled up to Olympus from the widewayed earth' quote, it seems to come from Hesiod, Works and Days. (source link)
Hesiod, Works and Days 172 ff (trans. Evelyn-White) (Greek epic C8th or 7th B.C.) :
[N.B. In the following passage Nemesis withdraws from earth in response to the growing corruption of mankind. In Aratus and Ovid, see below, it is Astraia who departs.] 
"Would that I were not among the men of the fifth age [i.e. the current era which was the fifth age of mankind], but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day . . . 
[And they will deteriorate even further over time so that :] Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Zelos (Envy), foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. And Nemesis (Just Retribution) and Aidos (Respect), shrouding their bright forms in pale mantles, shall go from the wide-wayed earth back to Olympos, forsaking the whole race of mortal men, and all that will be left by them to mankind will be wretched pain. And there shall be no defence against evil."
(see also Citadel p. 113, 165, 258, 266)
(more information about Desolation by Thomas Cole)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B5:32

Why do unskilled and ignorant minds confound the skilful and the wise? Well, what is the mind of true skill and wisdom? It is the mind which knows the beginning and the end, and knows the Reason which informs all of existence and governs the Whole in appointed cycles through all eternity.

Hadot has an interesting take on this passage.  Marcus seeks to understand why unskilled, ignorant people confound the wise.  His answer: because the soul already "knows" (accepts Stoic doctrine) - almost alluding to the fact of a prior life that is savvy to ultimate purpose.

Full passage by Hadot:
Other themes also seem to be characteristic of Book V. For example, it contains two allusions to a Stoic cosmological doctrine which Marcus mentions very rarely: that of the eternal return. Usually, Marcus imagines the metamorphoses of things and the destiny of souls within the "period" of the world in which we are now living, without worrying about the eternal return of this period. This is what he does first, in V, 13, where he begins by affirming that each part of the universe, as it is born and dies, is transformed into another part of the universe. Yet he remarks:  
"There is nothing to prevent one from talking like this, even if the world is administered in accordance with determinate periods." 
In this case, he means, all the parts of the universe will be reabsorbed at the end of each period into the original Fire-Reason, before they are reborn from this same Fire in the following period. Elsewhere, in V, 32, we get a glimpse of the immensity of the space that opens up before the soul which "knows"-that is, which accepts Stoic doctrine:  
"It knows the beginning and the end, and the Reason which traverses universal substance, and which administers the All throughout eternity, in accordance with determinate periods." 
We do not find another allusion to the eternal return until XI, l, 3. 
(see Citadel p. 267