Saturday, February 3, 2018

Commentary on Meditations: B11:4-6

Have I done something for the common good? Then I too have benefited. Have this thought always ready to hand: and no stopping.

What is your profession? Being a good man. But this can only come about through philosophic concepts - concepts of the nature of the Whole, and concepts of the specific constitution of man.

First, tragedies were brought on stage to remind you of what can happen, that these happenings are determined by nature, and that what moves you in the theatre should not burden you on the larger stage of life. You can see the way things must turn out and that even those who cry 'Oh Cithaeron!' must bear them. There are some useful sayings too in the tragedians. A prime example is:
'If I and my two sons are now no more The gods' concern, this too will have its cause.'

Again: 'Mere things, brute facts, should not provoke your rage.' And: 'Ripe ears of corn are reaped, and so are lives.' And many others like that.

After tragedy the Old Comedy was introduced. There was educational value in its unbridled frankness, and this plain speaking was of itself a useful warning against pomposity Diogenes too adopted this trait to a similar end. After this, examine the nature of Middle Comedy and the purpose of the subsequent adoption of New Comedy, which gradually slipped into the mere artistry of imitation. True, it is recognized that these writers too said some useful things - but what was the whole thrust and aim of this sort of poetry and drama?

The discipline of action outlines how Stoics translate philosophy into social action.  Humans, as rational beings (what makes us unique) are duty-bound to turn rational thought into action.  This is our true nature and what we are supposed to do.  Just as an apple tree is supposed to produce apples, humans are supposed to rationally think about life and translate that logic into helping others.  And when we, as individuals or communities, help others, we, as individuals have also benefited.  In essence, this is what chapters 4 and 5 of Book 11 are alluding to.

In chapter 6 of Book 11, Marcus talks about the theater arts and how they remind of the concepts that we need to apply in life.  "Tragedies" place extra burdens on the mind of the audience, who in turn, when they return to real life, appreciate more their lesser burdens.  Then he talks of the benefits of the "Old Comedy" which is frank and plain speaking against people being pricks and full-of-themselves.  Then came the "Middle" and "New Comedy" which intended to mimic actual life.

(see also Citadel p. 200)

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