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Thread: Marcus Aureliius

  1. #1
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Marcus Aureliius

    An evening seminar on Marcus Aurelius" Meditations is being offered at the local University. I'm thinking of signing up -- I attended a "teaser" lecture last week and the first session is tonight (it costs $120 for 5 seminars). I've been reading "Meditations" to make a decision.

    Marcus seems a cold (almost icy) philosopher. I understand (for example) his point that sins committed in anger (or passion) are more pardonable than those committed from desire, but does he really think that it's not worse to kill you friend's wife than to sleep with her? Of course Marcus is admirable in that he strives to be a good person. But I'm unsure of his notion that "to be remembered is worthless, Like fame. Like everything." Or that we are, "minuscule, transitory, insignificant." Art? Marcus rejects it as frippery. Although there is a wintry logic to such pronouncements, why should we encourage and harbor them? The Christian (and hence modern) perspective is that some things -- love, hope, and faith -- are eternal. This may be a fiction -- but it seems to me that encouraging such fictions in ourselves is more likely to lead to a better world for ourselves and others than Marcus' cold pronouncements. If there is no God, there may still be romance; if there is no eternal life, there may still be truths, emotions, or states of being that transcend time and space.

    The lecturer (I believe he's more of a literature expert than Classicist) did point out some interesting issues in every translation (Marus wrote the original in Greek). For example, every translation of the first book, in which Marcus offers tribute to those who have influenced him, uses the first person: "Of my grandfather Verus I have learned to be gentle and meek....." The professor pointed out that in the Greek, there is not "I learned"; Marcus says simply "Of Verus" or "From Verus". The lack of egotism is interesting, if perhaps not of major importance.

    If I sign up for the class, I'll post more.
    Last edited by Ecurb; 03-05-2018 at 05:34 PM.

  2. #2
    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Normally I'd advise an interested person to save money and just read (and consider) the Meditations. But from your questions, ecurb, I suspect you might get something from a lecture/discussion format. I think you will find that (pre-modern) Christians owed very much to the Stoics, which is why Dante put them in the Castle of Virtuous Pagans in Limbo. I heard an interesting take on ancient Stoicism recently. A classicist was arguing that it was, in effect, a philosophy for losers. It first appeared in the early third century BC, but it really caught on after Greece's subjugation to Rome. That, he said, was because the Stoics despised things like fame and luxury while holding up patience, duty, and courage in adversity. The classicist was likely a Nietzschean, but you can see how valuable the works of Stoic philosophers would have been to classically educated Church fathers as they tried to communicate concepts like strength in humbleness and the last being first to the pagan intellectuals of the day. Marcus, however, does not seem to have sympathized with the Christians. A savage local persecution broke out during his reign, wiping out the Christian community at Lyons. Eusebius says that Marcus sent instructions to the governor during the trial, but the extent of his involvement is sometimes debated.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Well, I did go to the class, mainly because my girlfriend is going and it will give us something to talk about. She made me do it!

    It was interesting, though. The Professor (a retired Professor Emeritus from the English Department who is evidently an expert on Beowulf, among other things) suggested some good tips for "close reading". When I brought up some of the questions I raised in my last post, as well as some of the issues Pompey suggested, and wondered if Marcus persecution of Christians, and, more significantly, his role as a military leader seemed contrary to his philosophy, the Professor agreed that it was an interesting problem, but said one way to look at "Meditations" is as a portrait of a man. Perhaps Marcus, who wrote Meditations as a private journal and never expected others to read it, was exhorting himself toward goals that he never quite reached. We need not write ourselves notes about how we should do what we are inclined to do anyway; instead, we try to persuade ourselves to do what we ought to do, but find difficult. Meditations, he suggested, can be read as a work of philosophy (which we may criticize), but also as the portrait of a man, a Roman Emperor, who was struggling to be Just, and Kind, and Truthful. I thought it was a good point, and intend to read it both ways.

    The class comprised old people of all descriptions (I'm almost surely the youngest student, and I'm pretty old myself). Some of them (as in classes everywhere) wanted to talk about themselves instead of Marcus and Meditations, but in general they seem to be a reasonably intelligent and interesting group. More to come, as I read on.
    Last edited by Ecurb; 03-06-2018 at 11:57 AM.

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    I'm looking forward to hearing about it, ecurb. One way to look at Marcus as a soldier (or an emperor for that matter) is that he was shouldering a duty he would not have chosen himself. He may have seen the Lyon persecution in the same light. Contrary to modern expectations, the big, empire-wide persecutions (of which this was not one, although it was brutal) were not carried out by depraved monsters but by idealistic reformers like Valerian, Decius, and Diocletian, who saw getting rid of the Christian problem as a dirty job that someone had to do. Marcus may have seen it that way too (he was into duty) although as I said, it is sometimes debated whether he was involved at all.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 03-06-2018 at 01:54 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Marcus informed me today (In Book 3:5) that I (or he) should, "Dress not thy thoughts in too fine a garb. Be not a man of superfluous words...."

    Gee. What's so bad about literature (I wondered)? Doesn't poetry "dress thoughts in fine garb"? I like Marus' turn of a phrase here, however superfluous.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Marcus informed me today (In Book 3:5) that I (or he) should, "Dress not thy thoughts in too fine a garb. Be not a man of superfluous words...."

    Gee. What's so bad about literature (I wondered)? Doesn't poetry "dress thoughts in fine garb"? I like Marus' turn of a phrase here, however superfluous.
    Sounds like the practical man speaking. Finery is not the point of clothing after all.

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    Sorry to have missed your thoughts on the Marcus Aurelius class, ecurb. LitNet wouldn't download for me for some reason. As far as dressing your thoughts in too fine a garb, please note that the thoughts themselves are not to be stripped down, just their pretentious packaging. That is rather good advice for a poet.
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 05-11-2018 at 08:54 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I guess "too" fine of anything is bad, by definition. Poetry, perhaps, dresses thoughts in fine garb -- but not "too fine". In "Meditations" Marcus goes on and on about how we should not concern ourselves with death, because it is merely the redistribution of atoms in the universe. Fine. But, since Marcus rambles on about how trivial death is in meditation after meditation I could not but feel that he was protesting "too" much for credibility. Good to see you back -- LitNet has been slow lately.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    In "Meditations" Marcus goes on and on about how we should not concern ourselves with death, because it is merely the redistribution of atoms in the universe. Fine. But, since Marcus rambles on about how trivial death is in meditation after meditation I could not but feel that he was protesting "too" much for credibility.
    He may have died of plague. That would have taken a lot of the fun out of it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    Good to see you back -- LitNet has been slow lately.
    Yeah, tell me about it. Dead as Heaven on a Saturday night (as Leonard Cohen would have said). Anyway, I responded to your review of the Ty Cobb book if you get down that way. It's good to see you, too.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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