Roman Calendar

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Stoic Week 2015 Saturday Morning Reflection

Text for Morning Reflection: "Be like the headland on which the waves break constantly, which still stands firm while the foaming waters are put to rest around it. ‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me!’ On the contrary, say, ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without getting upset, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future'."
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.49

Friday, November 6, 2015

Stoic Week 2015 Friday Evening Reflection

Text for Evening Reflection: "One type of person, whenever he does someone else a good turn, is quick in calculating the favour done to him. Another is not so quick to do this; but in himself he thinks about the other person as owing him something and is conscious of what he has done. A third is in a sense not even conscious of what he has done, but is like a vine which has produced grapes and looks for nothing more once it has produced its own fruit, like a horse which has run a race, a dog which has followed the scent, or a bee which has made its honey. A person who has done something good does not make a big fuss about it, but goes on to the next action, as a vine goes on to produce grapes again in season. So you should be one of those who do this without in a sense being aware of doing so.
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.6

Stoic Week 2015 Friday Morning Reflection

Text for Morning Reflection: "Say to yourself first thing in the morning: I shall meet with people who are meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable. They are subject to these faults because of their ignorance of what is good and bad. But I have recognized the nature of the good and seen that it is the right, and the nature of the bad and seen that it is the wrong, and the nature of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that he is related to me, not because he has the same blood or seed, but because he shares in the same mind and portion of divinity. So I cannot be harmed by any of them, as no one will involve me in what is wrong. Nor can I be angry with my relative or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work against each other is contrary to nature; and resentment and rejection count as working against someone."

 — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.1

Anyone who knows me well has probably heard me recite at least part of this passage before; it is one of my favorite passages in the whole of the Meditations, and has been the only thing that seemed to help me get through some days that seemed hard because my perception of indifferents was flawed!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Stoic Week 2015 Thursday Evening Reflection

Text for Evening Reflection: "Every habit and faculty is formed or strengthened by the corresponding act — walking makes you walk better, running makes you a better runner. If you want to be literate, read, if you want to be a painter, paint. Go a month without reading, occupied with something else, and you’ll see what the result is. And if you’re laid up a mere ten days, when you get up and try to talk any distance, you’ll find your legs barely able to support you. So if you like doing something, do it regularly; if you don’t like doing something, make a habit of doing something different. The same goes for the affairs of the mind… So if you don’t want to be hot-tempered, don’t feed your temper, or multiply incidents of anger. Suppress the first impulse to be angry, then begin to count the days on which you don’t get angry. ‘I used to be angry every day, then only every other day, then every third…’ If you resist it a whole month, offer God a sacrifice, because the vice begins to weaken from day one, until it is wiped out altogether. ‘I didn’t lose my temper this day, or the next, and not for two, then three months in succession.’ If you can say that, you are now in excellent health, believe me."

 — Epictetus, Discourses, 2.18

Stoic Week 2015 Thursday Morning Reflection

Text for Morning Reflection: "If you find anything in human life better than justice, truthfulness, self-control, courage… turn to it with all your heart and enjoy the supreme good that you have found… but if you find all other things to be trivial and valueless in comparison with virtue give no room to anything else, since once you turn towards that and divert from your proper path, you will no longer be able without inner conflict to give the highest honour to that which is properly good. It is not right to set up as a rival to the rational and social good [virtue] anything alien its nature, such as the praise of the many or positions of power, wealth or enjoyment of pleasures."

 — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 3.6

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Stoic Week 2015 Wednesday Evening Reflection

Texts for Evening Reflection: "Get rid of the judgement and you have got rid of the idea. ‘I have been harmed’; get rid of the idea, ‘I have been harmed’, and you have got rid of the harm itself."
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.7

"All turns on judgement, and that is up to you. So when you want to do this, get rid of the judgement, and then, as though you had passed the headland, the sea will be calm and all will be still, and there won’t be a wave in the bay."
 — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 12.22

Stoic Week 2015 Wednesday Morning Reflection

Text for Morning Reflection: "People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills; and you too are especially inclined to feel this desire. But this is altogether unphilosophical, when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself at any time you want. There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind, especially if he has within himself the kind of thoughts that let him dip into them and so at once gain complete ease of mind; and by ease of mind, I mean nothing but having one’s own mind in good order. So constantly give yourself this retreat and renew yourself. You should have to hand concise and fundamental principles, which will be enough, as soon as you encounter them, to cleanse you from all distress and send you back without resentment at the activities to which you return. "

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1.3.1-3

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Stoic Week 2015 Tuesday Evening Reflection

Text for Evening Reflection:  "Try to persuade them; and act even against their will, whenever the principle of justice leads you to do so. But if someone uses force to resist you, change your approach to accepting it and not being hurt, and use the setback to express another virtue. Remember too that your motive was formed with reservation and that you were not aiming at the impossible. At what then? A motive formed with reservation. But you have achieved this; what we proposed to ourselves is actually happening."

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.50

Stoic Week 2015 Tuesday Morning Reflection

Text for Morning Reflection: "Early in the morning, when you are finding it hard to wake up, hold this thought in your mind: ‘I am getting up to do the work of a human being. Do I still resent it, if I am going out to do what I was born for and for which I was brought into the world? Or was I framed for this, to lie under the bedclothes and keep myself warm?’ ‘But this is more pleasant’. So were you born for pleasure: in general were you born for feeling or for affection? Don’t you see the plants, the little sparrows, the ants, the spiders, the bees doing their own work, and playing their part in making up an ordered world. And then are you unwilling to do the work of a human being? Won’t you run to do what is in line with your nature?"

 — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.1

Monday, November 2, 2015

Stoic Week 2015 Monday Evening Reflection

Text for Evening Reflection: "Let us go to our sleep with joy and gladness; let us say ‘I have lived; the course which Fortune set for me is finished.’ And if God is pleased to add another day, we should welcome it with glad hearts. That man is happiest, and is secure in his own possession of himself, who can await the morrow without apprehension. When a man has said: ‘I have lived!’, every morning he arises he receives a bonus."

— Seneca, Letters, 12.9

Stoic Week 2015 Monday Morning Reflection

"From Maximus [I have learnt the importance of these things]: to be master of oneself and not carried this way and that; to be cheerful under all circumstances, including illness; a character with a harmonious blend of gentleness and dignity; readiness to tackle the task in hand without complaint; the confidence everyone had
that whatever he said he meant and whatever he did was not done with bad intent; never to be astonished or panic-stricken, and never to be hurried or to hang back or be at a loss or downcast or cringing or on the other hand angry or suspicious; to be ready to help or forgive, and to be truthful; to give the impression of someone whose character is naturally upright rather than having undergone correction; the fact that no-one could have thought that Maximus looked down on him, or could have presumed to suppose that he was better than Maximus; and to have great personal

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 1.14

Thursday, April 9, 2015

"Living in the Here and Now" (Chapter 7 of "Everything Had Two Handles")

From "Living in the Here and Now" (Chapter 7 of Pies' Everything Has Two Handles):

     "Leave the past to itself, entrust the future to providence, and content yourself with bringing holiness and justice to the present"
~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (modified slightly from Long, Book XII, Chap.1)

     Pies writes, "One of the great liberating ideas of Stoic philosophy is the concept of 'present contentment.' In effect, the Stoic says, 'I can't change the past; I can't really determine or control the future; so the best I can do is live a life of decency and integrity - right here, right now'."

     "Let not the future trouble you; for you will come to it, if come you must, bearing with you the same reason which you are now using to meet the present."
~ Marcus Aurelius (Farquharson, 44)

      "What does Marcus mean by 'bearing with you the same reason which you are using now to meet the present'? I believe he is saying, 'Trust yourself to be a person of strength and reason, just as you are this very moment.' Of course, you might reply, 'But at this very moment, I'm a complete basket case!' Well, maybe so. But most people can point to many difficult situations they have faced, and faced down - whether the loss of a loved one, handling the breakup of a relationship, or dealing with a painful physical problem. It's helpful, in fact, to look back on such examples of one/s self-mastery and to say, in effect, 'If I could handle all that, I can handle whatever comes down the road.' And for now - your responsibility is simply to 'do the right thing': to bring 'holiness and justice' to the present."

     "Do not dwell upon all the manifold troubles which have come to pass and will come to pass, but ask yourself in regard to every present piece of work: what is there here that can't be borne and can't be endured?"
~ Marcus Aurelius (Farquharson, 57).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"Living in Harmony with the Universe" (Chapter 6 of "Everything Has Two Handles")

"Living in Harmony with the Universe" (from chapter 6 of Everything Has Two Handles)

     "Nothing will happen to me which is not conformable to the nature of the universe."
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long p.89)

     "Resent a thing by all means if it represents an injustice decreed against yourself personally; but if this same constraint is binding on the lowest and highest alike, then make your peace again with destiny."
~ Seneca, Letter XCI (Campbell, 182)

     Pies cites the book Infinite Life by Robert Thurman about Buddhism, and notes that although "the Buddhist tradition is quite distinct from Greco-Roman stoicism, the two systems have many elements in common. One error is to suppose that either tradition encourages us to be 'doormats' - to accept passively whatever evil befalls us. On the contrary, Thurman tells us, 'Don't think that the spiritual thing to do is to swallow your feelings and be a victim. Not at all. The point is not to allow injustice . . . to flourish. Doing nothing could not be more wrong. When something unjust happens, step in at once. Develop the ability to act forcefully without getting angry . . . Get help. Be assertive. Cheerful aggressiveness is the ticket here." (Thurman 167-70).

     "The Stoics distinguish time and again between those things that are within our power or control and those that are not. Epictetus tells us, 'Within our power are the Will, and all voluntary actions; out of our power are the body and its parts, property, relatives, country, and in short, all our fellow beings' (Bonforte, 22). Later, he reminds us, 'If you fulfill your duties, you have what belongs to you. For it is not the business of a philosopher to take care of mere externals - his wine, his oil, his body - but of his Reason' (73)."

Monday, April 6, 2015

"Perfectionism, Virtue, and Self-Acceptance" (from "Everything Has Two Handles")

From Chapter Five - "Perfectionism, Virtue, and Self-Acceptance" of Everything Has Two Handles:

     "Be not disgusted, nor discouraged, nor dissatisfied, if you do not succeed in doing everything according to right principles; but when you have failed, return back again . . ."
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 86)

     Much in the spirit of the Talmud's "It is not up to you to complete the task, but you are not free to desist from it" (Pirke Avot 2:21) (which is quoted in this chapter), the endeavor is important even if we fail. In theory, our Stoic practice should be on of the few things "under our control," but many of us find that in reality, circumstances and our flawed perception of them leads to failure there, as well. Unless you are the Sage, the legendary perfectly-wise person of Stoic lore, you will make mistakes. And when you do, the important thing is to return to your practice. When you fall, you pick yourself up again and carry on.

     "It is the action of an uninstructed person to reproach others for his own misfortune; of one entering upon instruction to reproach himself; and of one perfectly instructed, to reproach neither others nor himself."
~ Epictetus (Bonforte, 92)

     ". . . You might be objecting at this point that, without assigning blame, nothing would ever change or improve. But this highlights the difference between reproach - with its moral implications of rebuke and censure - and assigning responsibility . . . Of course, there are instances in which we justifiably find fault with ourselves and others - and the Stoic view of Epictetus should not be construed as license to 'do anything' without repercussion. Rather, the Stoic attitude tempers our moral judgments with the wisdom of the human condition and all its foibles - the knowledge that it is best to 'Forbear to judge, for we are sinners all' (Shakespeare, Henry VI, Part Two, III.iii.31) . . . "

     "Marcus Aurelius tells us, 'Little the life each lives, little the corner of the earth he lives in, little even the longest fame hereafter . . .' (Farquharson, 15). And he adds - in his usual unvarnished manner - 'in a little while, you will be no one and nowhere' (Farquharson, 53). These sentiments may be seen as a counterbalance to those of the preceding section, in which we are admonished to revere ourselves as aspects of the Divine. There is no contradiction between these contrasting views of man. We are irreducibly divided beings - at once eternal and evanescent, divinity and dust. Montaigne put all this more earthily, 'Upon the highest throne in the world, we are seated, still, upon our arses' (in de Botton, 126)."

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Adversity and Self-Possession" (from "Everything Has Two Handles")

"Adversity and Self-Possession" (from Chapter 4 of Everything Has Two Handles by Ronald Pies)

"'A wise man ought not to regret his struggles with fortune any more than a brave soldier should be intimidated by the noise of battle.'
~ Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy (Trans. Richard Green 1962, 99)

As Boethius also noted, 'The only true joy is self-possession in the face of adversity' (27) . . .

'The art of living resembles wrestling more than dancing . . .'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Farquharson, 50)

Why wrestling? Marcus explains that in life, as in wrestling, we must stand 'prepared and unshaken' to meet whatever comes our way."

     The idea is common across many, if not most, cultures that life consists of struggle and adversity (for whom is this not our experience?), although the Stoics would say that this is not an evil or bad thing. The Stoic expects this adversity, anticipates it, even welcomes it as something of a whetstone upon which to hone skills and philosophy.

"Be Prepared

There is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events . . . we should be anticipating not merely all that commonly happens but all that is conceivably capable of happening, if we do not want to be overwhelmed and struck numb by rare events . . .
~ Seneca, Letter XCI (Campbell, 178-9)"

     Life is not fair, and rarely is it kind. Those expecting it to be either are frequently to be disappointed. The Stoic expects and prepares for both, and accepts graciously when life does offer some gentle kindness.

"Good fortune deceives, adverse fortune teaches.
~ Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy

Reckon on everything, expect everything.
~ Seneca"

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"Morality and Self-Respect" (from "Everything Has Two Handles"

From Chapter 3 of Pies' Everything Has Two Handles:

"Morality and Self-Respect

'Never value anything as profitable to yourself which shall compel you to break your promise, to lose your self-respect, to hate anyone, to suspect, to curse, [or] to act the hypocrite.'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 42-3)

'The Stoic believe that right is the only good . . . advantage can never conflict with right . . . Besides, the Stoics' ideal is to live consistently with nature. I suppose what they mean is this: throughout our lives, we ought invariably to aim at morally right courses of action, and . . . must select only those which do not clash with such courses.'
~ Cicero, On Duties (162-63)"

     This chapter addresses some of the most difficult aspects of Stoicism for the beginner - the concept that what is right and good is the only true advantage, and that any "advantage" gained in life by doing wrong is no true advantage at all. Pies acknowledges a frequent formulation of concern with this perspective: "The concept of Nature and 'natural law' may seem strange in our age of cultural relativism - when every moral value is reduced to some special interest group's 'narrative' or 'agenda'." Yet, as he points out, just such a concept is implicit in Jefferson's formulation of self-evident natural rights at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, and is a strong thread running through the Western liberal tradition.
     The approach here is not necessarily to prove the truth that only the Good is true advantage, but to analyze the concept that the self-respect that comes from pursuing only the Good is the one true possession a human being may have.

"'I do my duty. Other things trouble me not.'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 115)

. . .

Marcus Aurelius tells us that if we have done our duty, that is all we can rightly expect. Similarly, Epictetus tells us, 'If you fulfill your duties, you have what belongs to you' (Bonforte, 73). What does he mean by this? I think Epictetus is telling us that the only real possession to which we may lay claim is our own moral integrity. Everything else in life either belongs to someone else, or is beyond our control."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Mortality and Meaning" (from "Everything Has Two Handles")

I apologize for the long delay in my posts . . . life has a way of intervening even when you set yourself a blogging schedule . . .

From Pies' Everything Has Two Handles:

"Chapter Two: Mortality and Meaning

'Since it is possible that you may depart from this life this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 25)

'[T}he one who lives longest and the one who will die soonest lose just the same.'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 29)"

     The chapter begins with the observation that "[o]ur American culture does not deal very well with the issue of death" - the fact that our culture is permeated with the "denial of death" (even to the point of euphemisms like "passed on" or "passed away" to avoid saying that someone has died. The ancient Stoics, on the other hand, "recognized that a keen awareness of death gives us the opportunity to create meaning in our lives."

     The need to "create" meaning in life has only grown as Western society has grown more secular, leaving behind medieval Judaeo-Christian thought in order to return to more a more classical understanding of our place in the cosmos, which does not reassure that there is a meaning to life, and that meaning is the service of the Judaeo-Christian god. Some see this as a negative thing, while others see it as a return to a better understanding of the true nature of the universe. Either way, it has left a bit of a void in Western thought, even among those who remain devout Judaeo-Christians. Stoicism offers a system of thought upon what to create to fill that void. Anyway . . .

     Pies observes that "although it often strikes us as 'cruel' when a young and promising life is cut short, the Stoics remind us that - in the larger scheme of eternity - there is little difference between 'the one who lives longest' and 'the one who will die the soonest.' This is a hard concept for many of us to accept, since we are conditioned to think in terms of longevity rather than depth and quality of life. But a hundred or thousand years from now, it will make little difference whether you or I lived to an age of 35 or 95. On the other hand, it might make a considerable difference if, in our lives, we performed many acts of kindness, or left behind a cure for cancer, or a book of poems that comforts generations to follow." I have heard people object to this line of thought that "in a thousand years, it won't matter whether I was a good or bad person any more than it will matter whether I lived to be 35 or 95". But that is manifestly untrue - the repercussions of good and evil deeds live on infinitely after in linear time, and besides, think of how the achievements of great people live on, regardless of the length of their life. One of my favorite poets, Gaius Valerius Catullus, only lived to be about 30, yet his collection of poems can still be found in bookstores more than 2000 years later . . .

"'A life is never incomplete if it is an honorable one. At whatever point you leave life, if you leave it in the right way, it is a whole.
~ Seneca (Letter LXXVII; Campbell, 125)"

     There is a lot of good analysis in this chapter on the roots of human suffering in attachment and demanding that the nature of things be other than what it is, noting this idea is not unique to Stoicism, but is also found in Buddhist, Hindu, and Judaic traditions, as well as in modern psychology.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

"Thinking and Feeling" (from "Everything Has Two Handles")

From Pies' Everything Has Two Handles:

"'Things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; but our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within . . . The universe is transformation, life is opinion.'
~ Marcus Aurelius (Long, 54)

'Things do not touch the soul.' This deceptively simple statement is the keystone in the arch of Stoic philosophy."

Pies has a knack for getting straight to the heart of the matter! If one were looking for a good summation of Stoic philosophy, this might be a good candidate! The first chapter is supported with other sententious maxims from Marcus Aurelius, directly or indirectly - "Change your opinions, change the way you feel!" "Whatever man you meet, say to yourself at once: 'What are the principles this man entertains about human goods and ills?' . . . then it will not seem surprising or strange . . . if he acts in certain ways . . ." "Get rid of the judgment, you are rid of the 'I am hurt'; get rid of the 'I am hurt,' you are rid of the hurt itself."

And so we get to the quote from Epictetus that gives us the title of the book:
"'Everything has two handles - one by which it may be borne, another by which it cannot. If your brother acts unjustly, do not lay hold on the affair by the handle of his injustice, for by that it cannot be borne; but rather, by the opposite: that he is your brother, that he was brought up with you; and thus, you will lay hold on it as it is to be borne.'
~ Epictetus (Bonforte, 84)"

There follows a pretty good analysis of Stoicism's common points of reference with Talmudic philosophy in Judaism, Buddhist philosophy, Hindu thought, et cetera.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Beginning "Everything Has Two Handles"

     So, the next Stoic book for analysis is Everything Has Two Handles: The Stoic's Guide to the Art of Living by Ronald Pies. This looks like another popularizing take on the ancient philosophy, with plenty of primary source references (apparently drawing particularly on Marcus Aurelius) to keep it honest. In the introduction I found an excellent statement of definition:

"The Stoic aims to understand 'the way things really are' and to live accordingly."

That's a pretty good, clean, clear definition. "When we understand and accept the way things are, we find ourselves at peace, and are free to pursue our higher pleasures. When we refuse to accept the way things are, we make ourselves (and often others) unhappy."

     I was also pleased to find in the introduction the notion that activism for a better world is not inconsistent with accepting the nature of things - "we have every right - and even a responsibility - to try to change things for the better. But when we have exerted every effort in doing so, and failed, we are not under any additional obligation to make ourselves miserable!" "Stoicism is not passive acceptance of the status quo, but a reasoned understanding of the way things are, and a rational determination to better what can be bettered - including ourselves."

      I'm looking forward to the reading and the analysis!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

"Everything Has Two Handles"

"Everything has two handles: one by which it may be bourne, another by which it cannot." ~ Epictetus

On The Tasks of Men and Women (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

"For all human tasks, I am inclined to believe, are a shared obligation and are the same for men and women - none is necessarily meant for either one exclusively." ~ Gaius Musonius Rufus

Old Age: A Viaticum" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

"Old Age: A viaticum

Provisions for a journey

. . .

A person who is of use to many while living, has no right to choose to die, unless through dying they are of use to more.

Most of all, the work of nature is to make desire and impulse to harmonise with our perception of the appropriate and useful.

Choose to die well while possible, in case it soon becomes necessary for death, but it will no longer be possible to die well. Since the Fates have spun out the lot of death for all, those who die well, not late, are blessed.

Which words provide comfort in old age? The same that are the best for youth too: live methodically in harmony with nature.

. . .

Humanity, better than all creatures on earth, resembles God, and has the same virtues that He has. We can imagine nothing (even in the gods) better than prudence, justice, courage, and moderation. Our conception of God is (through having these virtues)
* unconquered by pleasure or greed
* superior to desire, envy, and jealousy
* moral, generous, and kind
Since humanity (in the image of Him) should be thought of as being like Him when living in harmony with nature . . .

It isn't impossible for humanity to be like this - certainly when we encounter people that we call godly and godlike, we don't have to imagine that these virtues came from anywhere other than human nature.

If we're lucky enough to take the pains to get correct instruction while young - mastering all those good lessons and their practice - then in old age we can use these inner resources to live according to nature - bearing without complaint the
* loss of the pleasures of youth
* weakness of the body
* insults of neighbours
* neglect of relatives and friends
since you would have a good antidote in your own mind: past training.

. . .

The best life, you will agree, is that of a good person - yet even their end is death. Therefore, as I said before, if you can succeed in mastering this lesson in old age - to wait for death without fear and courageously - then you will have acquired much of what you need to live without complaint, in harmony with nature. So I tell you that the best viaticum for old age is the one I mentioned in the beginning - live according to nature, doing and thinking what you ought. In doing so, the elderly would be cheerful, winning the praise of others - living happily and in honour."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"True Wealth" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:

"True Wealth

We shall condemn the treasures of Croesus and Cinyras as deepest poverty - One man alone is rich, the man who has acquired the ability to want nothing, always and everywhere.

Musonius asked for a thousand sesterces to be given to a beggar who was pretending to be a philosopher - when several people told him that the rascal was a bad, vicious fellow, who didn't deserve anything good, Musonius answered with a grin, 'Well, then, he deserves money.'

The notorius Rutilius, coming up to Musonius in Rome, said, 'Zeus the Saviour whom you imitate and emulate does not borrow money.' Musonius answered with a smile, 'He doesn't lend, either.' For Rutilius, while lending money himself, was telling off Musonius for borrowing.

. . .

Testimony to [the power of living a Spartan life] is the endurance of the Spartan adolescent men - antiquated with hunger, thirst, and cold - even with blows and other hardships. Trained in such noble and austere habits, the ancient Spartans were held up to be the best of the Greeks. Their poverty was envied more than the King's wealth! Thus I choose sickness over luxury, for sickness only harms the body, but luxury destroys body and soul - bringing with it weakness, a feeble body, and lack of self-control - cowardice in the soul."

Unsurprisingly, like all Stoics, Musonius Rufus declares that the only true wealth is virtue, and that, paradoxically, virtue is one thing the wealthy have difficulty obtaining, for not only can it not be purchased at any price, but acceptance of luxurious living makes one less willing to accept hardship.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"Food" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:


Musonius spoke often and very emphatically on the subject of food - as a question of great significance - leading to important consequences: he believed that the foundation of moderation lay in self-control when eating and drinking.

. . .

Gluttony and high living are thoroughly shameful - no one will dare deny it; yet I have observed very few aiming to avoid these vices. Quite the opposite! . . . What else is gluttony except immoderation in the matter of food, causing people to prefer what is tasty over what is good for you? High living is nothing else but excessive luxury on the dinner table. Excess is always evil - but here in particular it reveals its true nature in these people - it makes them greedy like swine or dogs - incapable of proper behavior with hands, eyes, or gullet - the desire for delicacies perverts them completely. It is so shameful to behave this way towards food that we liken them to unreasoning animals rather than to intelligent human beings. Now if this is shameful, the opposite must be good - exercising moderation and manners in eating - demonstrating your self-control there first of all (not an easy thing to do, requiring attention and practice). Why should this be? Because despite there being many pleasures which lure humanity into wrong - forcing us to yield to what is contrary to the good - pleasure in eating is probably the hardest of all to combat."

Worth noting that in the 21st century United States we can certainly sympathize with these sentiments, and whereas in ancient Rome only certain wealthy classes had access to a surfeit of unhealthy food, the modern West has the additional problem that the unhealthiest and least natural foods are the easiest and cheapest to produce, hence the vast majority of people in the West have to be on guard against gluttony and addiction as well as malnutrition - malnutrition is common, even among those who eat far too much!

"For we encounter other pleasures less frequently, and we can avoid some of them for months or whole years - yet we're tempted by this one every day (and usually twice a day), since it isn't possible for us to live otherwise. Thus the more often we're tempted by pleasure in eating, the more dangers there are involved. Each meal is not one hazard, but many:
* eating too much
* eating too fast
* wallowing in pickles and sauces
* preferring sweeter foods to those more healthy
* serving your guests different food, or different amounts, than yourself
* indulging at unseasonable times - putting off something else we ought to have done fist
Since these and other vices are connected with eating, if you wish to show self-control, you must be free of all of them - blameless of any of them - this requires constant practice . . ."

Friday, June 27, 2014

"Obedience" (from "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:


. . .

Must we obey our parents in all things, or are there circumstances where we don't listen to them? Well it seems a good thing for everyone to obey their mother and father - I certainly recommend it. However, let us examine obedience - what is obedience - who is the disobedient person?

Take this case. A father who isn't a physician or experienced in treating sickness prescribes for his handicapped son something harmful - the son is aware of that fact. Surely by not following his father's prescription he isn't disobeying and isn't disobedient, is he? It wouldn't seem so.

Suppose the father were ill and demands wine and food that he ought not to have - it would aggravate his illness if he took it - and his son, realizing this, wouldn't give it to him - surely he isn't disobeying his father, is he? Certainly you can't think so.

. . .

Sure, disobedience is a word of reproach and shame, but refusing to do what you ought not to do merits praise, not blame. Thus, if your father or the archon or even the tyrant orders something wrong or unjust or shameful, and you don't carry out the order - you are in no way disobeying - as you do no wrong nor fail to do right. Disobedience is disregarding and refusing to carry out good, honourable, and useful orders.

The obedient person listens to anyone who counsels what is appropriate and follows it voluntarily . . .

Don't let your father be an excuse for your own misdeeds - there is no reason for you to follow evil commands . . ."

An early iteration of the principle most firmly established in the Western mind at Nuremburg - "I was just following orders" is insufficient excuse for doing evil.

It is interesting that Rufus focuses so much on parental, and particularly fatherly, authority. This is, no doubt, a reflection of his times, in which patria potestas was largely undiminished.