Continuing my commentary on Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, we have arrived at book X. The first observation I find interesting comes at #2, where Marcus writes: “the rational animal is consequently also a political (social) animal.” Which accords nicely with the common interpretation of the famous Stoic motto, “follow nature,” meaning in particular follow human nature, which in turn translates to try to apply reason to improve society.
(Relatedly, my new favorite motto is from Seneca: “Adhibe rationem difficultatibus,” bring the mind to bear upon your problems.)
At #4, 5 and 6 we get a rapid fire succession of Stoic gems, encompassing at once advice on how to deal with your fellow men, a comment on cosmic metaphysics, and yet another statement (I remarked on this recently) of Marcus’ openness to the possibility that the universe is not the result of providence:
“4. If a man is mistaken, instruct him kindly and show him his error. But if you are not able, blame yourself, or not even yourself. 5. Whatever may happen to you, it was prepared for you from all eternity; and the implication of causes was from eternity spinning the thread of your being and that which is incident to it. 6. Whether the universe is a concourse of atoms, or nature is a system, let this first be established: that I am a part of the whole that is governed by nature; next, that I stand in some intimate connection with other kindred parts.”
At #16 we get a forceful reminder that Stoic philosophy is eminently practical, and not about idle talk: “No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such.”
Marcus was famously uninterested, nay, pretty much repulsed, by sex, despite having had a whopping 13 children, with four daughters and one son surviving (the latter, it must be said, unfortunately, as he became the emperor Commodus, who marked the end of the period of the so-called five “good emperors).” Still, at #26 he expresses awe at the outcome of such activity, in the context of his discussion of causality: “A man deposits seed in a womb and goes away, and then another cause takes it and labors on it and makes a child. What a thing from such a material!” What a thing indeed, and so much for the idea of emotionally dry Stoics.