Monday, August 7, 2017

Commentary on Meditations: B4:33-35

Words in common use long ago are obsolete now. So too the names of those once famed are in a sense obsolete - Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus; a little later Scipio and Cato, then Augustus too, then Hadrian and Antoninus. All things fade and quickly turn to myth: quickly too utter oblivion drowns them. And I am talking of those who shone with some wonderful brilliance: the rest, once they have breathed their last, are immediately 'beyond sight, beyond knowledge'. But what in any case is everlasting memory? Utter emptiness.

So where should a man direct his endeavour? Here only - a right mind, action for the common good, speech incapable of lies, a disposition to welcome all that happens as necessary, intelligible, flowing from an equally intelligible spring of origin.

Gladly surrender yourself to Clotho: let her spin your thread into whatever web she wills.

All is ephemeral, both memory and the object of memory.

The march of time never ceases.  Time wipes out and eventually engulfs everything.  Marcus notes famous people; people of authority and power.  And at the time Marcus wrote this passage, those famous and powerful people were all but forgotten.  Then he points out that even the famous and powerful are driven to "utter oblivion."  Now, moving on to "the rest"; well, even more obscure and forgotten.

This whole passage, in verse 33, is supposed to humble the reader.  Our individual life is a drop of water in the universe of time and space.  A speck of sand in a never-ending beach.

The action this thought should spur us to, is to fulfill your duty.  Have a clear and right mind.  Whenever you act, do so in view of the common good (don't be selfish).  Let your words be good (don't lie); and have a good attitude all the time.  Accept and even love your fate.

Who is Clotho?  She was one of the three goddesses of fate in Greek mythology.  Clotho was responsible for weaving and linking things together.  So, if she chose your fate, love it - accept it as part of a greater scheme.  This was Marcus' way of saying "amor fati".

Accepting your fate can be a hard thing to hear.  I contend, at some point in everyone's life, people will simply have to accept whatever it is that happens to them.  Indeed, they may ascribe certain events to their hard work or foresight, but eventually, those stories fail and all that is left is acceptance.  Those who actively accept daily fate will be better off, when the big event happens, than those who tend to make up stories about their fate.

Case in point.  Two mothers: both are about the same age.  One mother lost her daughter to a sudden onset of cancer.  The cancer came on quickly and was extremely aggressive.  The daughter died before she could even graduate high school.  The other mother had the unfortunate event happen that her two-year old daughter fell into a pool and nearly drowned.  The girl was admitted to a hospital and for a time, it would seem she was going to die; but she did not.  Why was she spared and the other not?  No one will ever know.  To question why one lived and the other not is an exercise of madness.  Both mothers simply have to accept the fate and be grateful for what they do have.

Regardless of all our lives, the great equalizer is death and eventually oblivion.  Let this thought humble you and let it make you appreciate the air you breathe now and the life you are able to have now at this moment in time.  Be virtuous (courageous, wise, temperate and just) and love your fate.

(see also Citadel p.139-140)

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