Roman Calendar

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Living in Exile (from "Away from Home" in "Musonius Rufus on How To Live")

From Musonius Rufus on How To Live:

"Away From Home

Thrasea was in the habit of saying, 'I would rather be executed today than banished tomorrow.' Rufus said to him - 'If you choose exile as the heavier punishment, what a stupid choice! But if as the lighter, who gave you the choice? Aren't you willing to train yourself to be satisfied with your lot?'

Why should anyone that isn't ignorant be oppressed by exile?

It doesn't deprive us of water, earth, air, or the sun and the other planets, or even of the society of others, for everywhere, in every way, there is opportunity for association with them. So what if we're kept from a certain part of the earth, from association with some people - what is so terrible about that? . . . As Socrates said, surely the universe is the common fatherland of all? . . . The reasonable don't value or despise any place as the cause of their happiness or unhappiness - they make the whole matter depend upon themselves while considering themselves citizens of the city of God - made up of men and Gods. Euripides speaks in harmony with this:
'As all the heavens are open to the eagle's flight
So the earth is, for a noble man, his fatherland.'"

This train of thought from Musonius Rufus speaks to me particularly, as I am myself living in exile. My patria, my "fatherland," is the great state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, but since month of Quintilis in the consulship of P. Ullerius and C. Equitius (A.U.C. MMDCCLXIV, or Anno Domine 2011) I have been living in exile in the deserts of Arizona. I can see the truth in what so many of the ancients maintained, all the way back to Homer, that "nothing is sweeter than one's own fatherland," nevertheless like Socrates I have always considered myself a "citizen of the world."

The trick, for me at least, is that while one cannot allow one's happiness to depend upon one's circumstances, including the place in which one happens to live, one can still enjoy and take delight in one's fatherland. I shall always delight in my own patria, and may return to dwell there one day, but at present I am content where I am.

"Energetic, hard-working and intelligent people, no matter where they go, fare well and live without want. We don't feel 'without' things unless we wish to live luxuriously:
'For what do mortals need beside two things,
The bread of Demeter and a drink of the Water-carrier,
Which are nearby and have been made to nourish us?'
Let me add that those who are worth anything manage well obtaining the necessities of life in exile, and some acquire great fortunes!"

While this has indeed been my personal experience, the fact is that for some people, even the bare requirements of living are beyond their means to acquire, and the opportunity to come by them honestly does not exist. It is entirely too facile to blithely state, "Oh, well, those who are willing to work hard will always fare well enough." Our societies must work to become more just, to open more opportunities to everyone, so that this may be true. But it is not true . . . not yet . . .

"I have been deprived of my country, not my ability to endure exile.

I would like to tell you the reflections which I use for my own benefit (to make exile more bearable). It seems to me that exile does not strip you entirely, not even of the things which the average person calls goods . . . But even if you are deprived of some or all of them, you are still not deprived of the things which are truly good:
* courage
* justice
* self-control
* understanding
nor any of the other virtues which bring honour and benefit - show a person to be praiseworthy - or when absent, cause harm and dishonor. Since this is true, if you are that good person and have their virtues, exile won't harm or degrade you, because present inside of you are the virtues which are most able to sustain you. But if you are bad, it is the evil that harms you - not exile; and the misery you feel in exile is the result of evil, not exile. It is from this you must hasten to secure release, rather than from exile. I used to repeat these things to myself, and I say them to you now. If you are wise, you won't consider exile a thing to be dreaded, since others bear it easily. Evil, however, makes wretched every man in whom it is present."

This is indeed my own experience as well.

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