|Thomas Cole - Desolation|
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)
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