Prose and Commentary Response: Thoughts of M. Aurelius

Stoicism:

Marble Bust, photographed by Pierre- Selim

Marble Bust, photographed by Pierre- Selim

“The quality or behavior of a person who accepts what happens without complaining or showing emotion.” -Merriam Webster

Lets shed some light on the philosophy of stoicism and one of it’s greatest proponents, the ancient Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, whose published meditations and thoughts offered his perspective on the matter. I’ll analyze some of his main points and offer a few contrary arguments as we lightly discuss some of the more relevant elements listed therein:

When I read the Thoughts of Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, (121-180 AD) I am immediately impressed by his use of nature and consideration of the natural; equally, his distinct opposition towards pleasure. These points stands out as a major under-pinning to his credo of, ‘stoicism’. It would seem that he moved or strived for a life free from distraction and the perturbations that come with the territory of being a human in his high station. Aurelius tell us that, “(the)…soul is dyed by thoughts.”(P.28 Book V) He is inferring to his meditation that to be swayed from your primary focus is to create unbalance and superfluity within yourself. “…to be vexed at anything which happens is a separation of ourselves from nature.” (P.9 Book II) He goes on to explain his position on matters such as pleasure, honor, death and simple, effective living.

Foremost, I partially disagree with stoicism to the extent that, by it’s adherence of extracting oneself from pleasure, one can live a more powerful and meaningful existence; pleasure should not be wholly demonized. An indulgence in the arts can provide a fundamental brick of ones life in and of itself. See for instance a great artist who has no other medium to communicate to society other than by the medium of paint; his traditional faculties of communication are wanting. By indulging in art, his ability to perform social acts are improved. Even Marcus Aurelius explains how in life there are but two most important fundamentals: “…a pious disposition and social acts.” (P. 36 Book VI) The artist who indulges in pleasure is providing a social act, in and of his power allotted to his own station. However, I concur with the Emperor willingly to, “…let thy principles be brief and fundamental.” (P.17 Book IV) Furthermore, “…expecting nothing, fear nothing, but satisfied with thy present activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word.” (P.14 Book III) This is the stuff of an honorable life well-spent that mingles fluidly with the definition of stoicism.

I maintain most of his meditations to be honorable and rather timeless in the scope of humankind, despite his admonition that we are all to die and be forgotten, sooner rather than later. “…Short too the longest posthumous fame, and even this only continued by a succession of poor human beings who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago.” (P.13 Book III) On the contrary, I believe a mans work is his eternal echo and gift to the descendants of man; it is parceled from generation to generation depending on its quality and strengthened by the bond of time. It is true that the whole scope of human existence is small but Marcus Aurelius’s view on this subject seems to want to step aside and let come what may. Aurelius explains, “For it is in our power, as I said, to get out of the way, and have no suspicion nor hatred.” (P.35 Book VI)
Stoicism is simple and uncomplicated: keep calm, maintain composure, use the power of rationality and abstain from pleasure. However, I’ve neither known nor have read of an uncomplicated human even in the most pious and socially benevolent. Chaos and confusion plays a rule in human life insomuch that methinks, it is a mans appointment to struggle. How difficult must this stoicism be to follow when it presents itself so unnaturally to a human? I digress. The thoughts of Aurelius may or may not agree but he’d understand that nature orchestrates something tumultuous, something foreign and wild while reason, like a heart-beat attempts a steady percussion to match. “Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to do what thou hast in hand with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice, and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts.” (P.7 Book II)

Aurelius tell us that we are born to die and our nature is unpreventable and by careful management we can stride proudly into graves as gracefully as any dead and dusty hero. “Show these qualities then which are altogether in thy power, sincerity, gravity, endurance of labor, aversion to pleasure, contentment with thy portion and with few things benevolence, frankness and no love of superfluity…” (P.25 Book V) This he believed, will make even the most fearful mortal have the conviction stand to nature and her allotment despite any injury or mutilation that befall.
He evinced a calm and poise as he would describe a river that by nature knows no limitations or time but it has a focus and ultimately achieves its end. “For substance is like a river in a continual flow…” (P. 29 Book V) Like atoms in the universe who fill a role, though obscure and a minutia, so too are men who are all afforded a class of soul-nobility if they so choose. “…man’s duty to comfort himself, and to wait for the natural dissolution, and not to be vexed at the delay…” (P.27 Book V)
To be unsettled is useless. He believed that being irrational was to be a wild animal with no sense, though he considers all humans as animals; some are given awareness which divides them from the heard. “One thing here is worth a great deal, to pass thy life in truth and justice with a benevolent disposition even to liars and unjust men.” (P.39 Book VI)
Emperor Marcus Aurelius was schooled by teachers like Diognetus with Grecian discipline, Rusticus who planted in him a mistrust in sophists, and a strength of discipline, Sextus, a benevolent disposition, Alexander the Grammarian, to not find fault in the solecistic* speech of others, and many other great minds that did not implicitly teach Stoicism.** The combined result of his education and experiences afforded him the vantage point of a stoic mind that emphasized nature, rationality, the forbearance of emotion and the refusal of pleasure. For what it is worth and what has been mentioned, wether we agree or not, his thoughts and meditation put this leader in good stead with his peers and countrymen. That much is true. In later history books, he is considered the last of the 5 great Emperors of the Roman Empire because he won the cooperation of the senate a feat which the previous generations of Caesars failed to achieve.


Poison and Panacea by J. Foley

The rogue Shepard,
He in tall towers,
Hath led his lambs,
To wolves of avarice,
To ravenous, bloodied wolves,
Intent on rending soul from self,
Arm yourself well against,
Their tearing teeth,
With compassion-
Indulge in art,
And things that ought not matter,
Bait cannot tempt,
Those free from want.


“Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break, but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.”
Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus

 


Bibliography:

  • Aurelius, Marcus. The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Trans. George Long. Ed. Edwin Ginn. Boston: Ginn, 1893. Kindle.
  • “Stoicism.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 15 May 2014

Footnotes:

*Solecism is a mistake in speech, a blunder or a deviation from the normal.

**See the opening pages of, The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius for a list of his teachers and their contributions. 


 

Middle East FS

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In the Style of Robert Burns: Ode to a Scottish Writer

In the Style of Robert Burns:

She’s as gone as dust, brotherRobert Burns Style, Draft April 2014
If ye’ bother, man,
You’ll find her favor,
A’ changin’ wi’ another, brother-
She’s as gone as dust, man.
Try nae gither ashes,
Nor rake em’,
Try nae tell ya, man,
It’s all burnt up,
Not a page remains, brother-
Put air in yer’ hand and close it,
Don’t peak,
I’ll tell ya’, man,
It’s not there
You never had it brother-
Take it frae a jilted lover,
tae try for ‘nother, man.

Robert Burns Portrait

Robert Burns Portrait

Robert Burns was a famed Scottish writer and poet who lived during the mid till late 18th century. He was noted for catching the sympathies and feelings of the nation through his colloquial Scottish brogue and emotionally connected prose that struck a chord with his fellow kin. His poetry is considered romantic and ranged in themes from historical, pastoral and ballad like. Many pieces included mournful odes to women and squandered fortune- but a balladeer he was.  Here is an excerpt from a favorite ballad named, Whistle which is a summons of famous figures to a heroic drinking contest:
Unmatch’d at the bottle,
unconquer’d in war,
He drank his poor god-ship as deep as the sea…
Roberts life was one marked for misfortune and poor health but through his brilliance of mind his writing lives on.

Thus all obscure, unknown, and poor, thro’ life I’m doom’d to wander, O, Till down my weary bones I lay in everlasting slumber, O: No view nor care, but shun whate’er might breed me pain or sorrow, O; I live to-day as well’s I may, regardless of to-morrow, O.
My Father was a Farmer, Robert Burns

Read, Whistle and others @ Burns Country

Watch this great BBC documentary on Robert Burns:

In the Style of Robert Burns: Ode to a Scottish Writer

In the Style of Robert Burns:

She’s as gone as dust, brotherRobert Burns Style, Draft April 2014
If ye’ bother, man,
You’ll find her favor,
A’ changin’ wi’ another, brother-
She’s as gone as dust, man.
Try nae gither ashes,
Nor rake em’,
Try nae tell ya, man,
It’s all burnt up,
Not a page remains, brother-
Put air in yer’ hand and close it,
Don’t peak,
I’ll tell ya’, man,
It’s not there
You never had it brother-
Take it frae a jilted lover,
tae try for ‘nother, man.

Robert Burns Portrait

Robert Burns Portrait

Robert Burns was a famed Scottish writer and poet who lived during the mid till late 18th century. He was noted for catching the sympathies and feelings of the nation through his colloquial Scottish brogue and emotionally connected prose that struck a chord with his fellow kin. His poetry is considered romantic and ranged in themes from historical, pastoral and ballad like. Many pieces included mournful odes to women and squandered fortune- but a balladeer he was.  Here is an excerpt from a favorite ballad named, Whistle which is a summons of famous figures to a heroic drinking contest:
Unmatch’d at the bottle,
unconquer’d in war,
He drank his poor god-ship as deep as the sea…
Roberts life was one marked for misfortune and poor health but through his brilliance of mind his writing lives on.

Thus all obscure, unknown, and poor, thro’ life I’m doom’d to wander, O, Till down my weary bones I lay in everlasting slumber, O: No view nor care, but shun whate’er might breed me pain or sorrow, O; I live to-day as well’s I may, regardless of to-morrow, O.
My Father was a Farmer, Robert Burns

Read, Whistle and others @ Burns Country

Watch this great BBC documentary on Robert Burns:

The Napolean of Notting Hill

G.K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting HillNapolean of Notting Hill

“The morning was wintry and dim, not misty, but darkened with that shadow of cloud or snow which steeps everything in a green or copper twilight. The light there is on such a day seems not so much to come from the clear heavens as to be a phosphorescence clinging to the shapes themselves. The load of heaven and the clouds is like a load of waters, and the men move like fishes, feeling that they are on the floor of a sea. Everything in a London street completes the fantasy; the carriages and cabs themselves resemble deep-sea creatures with eyes of flame.”

Is Chesterton fantasizing aimlessly or is he on to something more?

In the novel, Napoleon of Notting Hill,a dystopic Victorian society is portrayed with similar elements found among the collections of Wells, Verne, Huxley and Orwell where the citizenry are in a state of soporific melancholy. The great wheel of progress has slowed under the weight of a meek and denatured society. “’I have walked along a street with the best cigar in the cosmos in my mouth, and more Burgundy inside me then you have ever saw in your life, and longed that the lamp-post would turn into an elephant to save me from the hell of blank existence.’

It can be seen that Chesterton shine’s with his descriptions of the powerful and ominous backdrops of London.
“I was stricken from the sky as by a thunderbolt, by the height of the Waterworks Tower on Campden Hill. I don’t know whether Londoners generally realize how high it looks when one comes out, in this way, almost immediately under it. For the second it seemed to me that at the foot of it even Human war was a triviality…this overwhelming tower was itself a triviality; it was a mere stalk of stone which humanity could snap like a stick.” (Interesting enough, Chesterton was born near Campden Hill, Kensington.)

The story unfolds with axioms and a stroll about the park where two dignified gentleman are discussing the nature of their toils and labors but then we are presented with a childish, owl-like man by the name of Auberon Quin who seems to be the last self-titled humourist alive, and at first go, he appears mad:

“’I want to get my hair cut. I say, do you know a little shop anywhere where they cut your hair properly? I keep on having my hair cut, but it keeps on growing again.’ One of the tall man men looked at him with the air of a pained naturalist.”

But this character has a wisdom that is masked by sheer frivolity that is remarked on by another and it proves true as pages turn,

“’He is a man, I think,’ he said, ‘who cares for nothing but a joke. He is a dangerous man.‘” 

We find later that he is exactly the man to break up the monotony that is Chesterton’s London when this, Auberon is elected by random poll to the throne of England. (That is how Kings are elected in this vision of London.)

“’We are, in a sense, the purest democracy. We have become a despotism…people call it the decay of democracy. It is simply its fulfillment.’” 

Chesterton draws an interesting paradigm from the different characters he has created to establish a reflective sentiment on whether modernity has truly progressed society. Take for instance, the overthrown president of Nicaragua who exhibits an old-world, “barbous dexterity”:

‘I never catch a wild horse,’ replied Barker, with dignity. ‘Precisely,’ said the other; ‘and there ends your absorption of the talents. That is what I complain of your cosmopolitanism. When you say you want all peoples to unite, you really mean that you want all peoples to unite to learn the tricks of your people. If the Bedouin Arab does not know how to read, some English missionary or schoolmaster must be sent to teach him to read, but no one ever says, “This schoolmaster does not know how to ride on a camel; let us pay a Bedouin to teach him.” You say your civilization will include all talents. Will it? Do you really mean to say that at the moment when the Esquimax has learnt to vote for a County Council, you will have learnt to spear a walrus? I recur to the example I gave. In Nicaragua we had a way of catching wild horses- by lassooing the fore feet- which was supposed to the best in South America. If you are going to include all the talents, go and do it. If not permit me to say, what I have always said, that something went from the world when Nicaragua was civilized.’” 

The Nicaraguan paradigm ends his duty to the novel by presenting this position:

“’Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilization, what there is particularly immortal about yours?’” 

And it is with that sentiment, the course of the novel maps its destiny with an impending conflict on the horizon but the wit and comedy is ever-present,

If, therefore, any of you happen to a have such a thing as a halberd in the house, I should advise you to practise with it in the garden.

King Auberon’s machinations reduce (or perhaps enliven) London to a feudal entity where each borough are separate entities and powers of the kingdom. An idea is born and of it, a man named Adam Wayne is born in that idea.

“’The danger is imminent. In all this matter I have felt that I fought not merely for my own city (though to that I owe all my blood), but for all places in which these great ideas can prevail.’

He fights for Notting Hill and it’s sanctity for it not to be trespassed and usurped by the other Councils.It isthe principle that the ancient glory of mans honour and the distinction of his community cannot be bought or sold; It could be postulated that in the ferment of madness and swirling chaos, another could be reaping the very granular essence of humanity.

It is London but it’s not, it is a medieval time but it is not; it is the vision of an abusrd king- it is the fulfillment and awakening of an anesthetized people. G.K Chesteron joins vivid descriptions, dynamic characters and compelling ethics and morals that call all readers of every generation to glean its lesson and moreover to take part in its adventure. Mingling medieval and chivalrous tradition that harkens back to the days of Charlemagne with righteous campaigning and confounding unscrupled enemies, this book has a lot to offer. 

 

The Count of Monte Cristo, A Fried Sandwich and Hashish

The Monte Cristo, a fried and golden thing; glorious is its taste, this egg battered ham sandwich, this melty Gruyère cheese christened and jam preserve garnished trifle; tis’ savoury and sweet with richness that only by counting its calories can tell …Ah, bliss be the ambrosia sent from gleaming rays into our crackling frying pans!
Pardieu!
I was carried away- right into the kitchen again! Let me put down the whisk and the egg, place the ham hock back in the fridge and start afresh. (Though, I shall be returning to this sandwich in a later post!)
The Count of Monte Cristo, first published in 1844, by the author, Alexandre Dumas, a man-made famous for his daring and politics but also by the creation of the d’Artagnan romance novels, (Three Musketeers being the first) is a tail of tragedy and betrayal that turns into a plundering, romp of riches, extravagance and harrowing acts of honor and valour.
As I am not finished with this tomb of over 800 exciting pages, I cannot concluded a synopsis. Instead of this, I will give to you some exciting excerpts and quotes I’ve dredged up from these daring depths: Dumas supposed feelings and advocacies of the illicit recreational drug hashish, synthesized marijuana.
(Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo. Ware [England: Wordsworth Editions, 1997. Print.)

p.226 as spoken by the Count of Monte Cristo disguised under the appellation, Sinbad the Sailor:

“…-judge but do not confine yourself to one trial. Like everything else, we must habituate the sense to a fresh impression, gentle or violent, sad or joyous.”

“There is a struggle in nature against this divine substance- in nature which is not made for joy and clings to pain. Nature subdued must yield in the combat, this dream must succeed to reality, and then the dream reigns supreme, then the dream becomes life, and life becomes the dream. But what changes occur! It is only by comparing the pains of actual being with the joys of the assumed existence, that you would desire to live no longer, but to dream thus forever. When you return to this mundane sphere from your visionary world, you would seem to leave a Neapolitan spring for a Lapland winter- to quit paradise for Earth- heaven for hell! Taste the hashish guest of mine- taste the hashish.”

“A grateful world to the dealer in happiness”

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo

Part 2 to come! Till next time and adieu!

Anthony Burgess, A Clock Work Orange, Review

The language the author uses is fresh, creative and as absurd as it appears, it makes sense enough. After reading Anthony Burgess novel, I found myself thinking aloud such droog, “Nadsat” vernacular as, itty (to go) and viddy (to see)and I even had to stop myself at a diner from using the word, “eggiweg” for an order of eggs. The words are catchy and creative hence my higher rating of the book.
As far as plot goes, it is interesting but it is shallow and doesn’t provide the depth some may be looking for. For example, the characters are a bit two dimensional, exaggerated and cartoonish. See for example, the whiskey sluggin’ clergy man of the prison, the over zealous, corporal punishment singin’ warden. More also, the action is flamboyant, grotesque and over-the-top. Aditionally, the future Burgess details comes across as stale. In my modern setting, I read the descriptons of record players and projector screens as something of a 70’s era technique thus antiquated and unbelievable too- As if the future could itself be retrograding- I suppose dystopic would be appropriate but it just misses a beat.
However, all this being said, I don’t  wan’t you to get the wrong impression: it is a fun read that simply misses some more of the satisfying elements that are found in a well rounded plot, developed characters and an evenly built up suspense and drama.
Now, that being said, I did appreciate the novel for what it offered. Flash, sizzle and sharp, comical wit.

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The Man in the Iron Mask, Alexandre Dumas (Part 1)

I hate to do this, to my reader and myself and I ask to be forgiven but due to an Amazon based blunder, I’m forced (by curiousity and severe listlesness) to read the last of the d’Artagnan Romances before its due time! This delivery error has postponed my copy of Louise De Valliere and since the chain of post and letters don’t cease from day to day (except, perhaps sundays and observed government holidays.)-I recieved my copy of The Man in the Iron Mask on its date. I couldn’t bring myself to let it sit on the shelf while I waited empty handed for the other. I began, reluctantly, page after book-closing page, cringing at my own impatience but filled with excitment like a child whose torn open his long awaited christmas gifts on the eve. And thus I begin to devoure this grand finale…

Who is this man in the mask?

Who is this man in the mask?

At the halfway mark, the most publicized of Dumas’s work shines as bright as it has been extolled. The plot has been juiced and there is enough intrigue, fated love, treason, valour and shame to still the rest of previous serious with a bated and heavy breath!

Aramis has never aimed higher in his intentions and designs-so high in fact, anything else would be fit only for god itself to deign. The inner-machinations of this phantom-shadow titled the Bishope of Vannes are found everywhere, entangling all in woven nets and casting lines including the Surintendant of Finances, Focquet, M. Baisemeaux, the Governer of the Bastille to the scrambling and coniving bushy-browed Colbert who trails the heels of the King like a dog for a carress. Porthos, the gentle, amiable giant has been relagated to follow Aramis about as a funny, diverting departure between the dramas that surround.

D’Artagnan has never been more firm with a king-in his dotage he presses the young Louis XIV to hold his integrity; to keep his hat pressed firm and to wear his nobility as proudly and as righteously as the  the most illustrious in a trying and scandalous time. Our man d’Artagnan is oft sought for advice as he posses, “incarnate wisdom.” and knows the gossip of the royal court like his sword arm.

Athos is summoned to challenge the integrity of Louis XIV, risking the Bastille and life-blood to brand a chivalarous code of ideals on the walls of the palace with his passionate and supremely rational sermon. On behalf of his son, The Vicomte, Raoul and the royal blood of his ancestors, his name, he stands against the king in the chapter title, King and Nobility. The king is brought to face, by Athos, his cowardly underhanded and usurping deeds against the sacredness that is the engangment of marriage that lay between Raoul and his cast-away, ex-bride to be, Louise De Valliere. Raoul reflects darkly, “The King has betrayed me, the women disdained me. Miserable, unhappy wretch that I am!” At the climax of the dialogue between Athos and Louis the XIV regarding the trampled state of affairs, he unwaveringly seeks ammends: “The King’s honour, sire, is made up of the honour of his whole nobility. Whenever the King offends one of his gentlemen, that is, whenever he deprives him of the smallest particle of his honour, it is from him, from the King himself, that that portion of honour is stolen.”

P. 130, “‘Poor Raoul!” had said Athos. “Poor Raoul!” had said d’Artagnan; and, in point of fact, to be pitied by both these men, Raoul indeed must have been most unhappy.”

It goes on and on- A secret prisoner escapes from the Bastille and is alligned to throw chaos into the mix, a bankrupting fête takes place at Vaux palace for the Kings pleasure, Amorous and royal love boils over, seething with jealousy…! Alas, I will have to tell you more in the second part of this discourse. For now, either read the book yourself, content yourself with a few snippets I have selected below, and or wait for my concluding remarks on Alexandre Dumas’s, The Man in the Iron Mask. (This edition is an Oxford Worlds Classics, translated by David Coward, published 91′)

P.175, Conversation between the Bishop of Vannes and the mysterious prisoner: “”What do you call liberty, Monsieur?” asked the prisoner with the tone of a man preparing for a struggle. “I call liberty, the flowers, the air, light, the stars, the happiness of whithersoever the nervous limbs of twenty years of age may wish to carry you.”” 

P.247, Aramis to the Prisoner, “It is useless to flash bright visions before the eyes of one who seeks and loves darkness; useless, too, is it to let the magnificence of the cannon’s roar be heard in the ears of one who loves repose and the quiet of the country.”

P. 231, Aramis to M. Baisemeaux, “With my friends I reckon neither bottles of wine nor years.”

P. 92, Porthos To Raoul regarding money an Raouls refusal thereof: “So much the worse , then. I have always heard it said that that is the rarest service, but the easiest to redner. The remark struck me; I like to cite remarks that strike me.

P. 71, “After having talked reason with older heads, one loves to talk nonsense with youth.” 

P. 246, Aramis to the Prisoner, “There is conscience, which cries aloud; remorse, which never dies.”

P.176, “Aramis looked steadily at this singular youth who possesed the resignation of a martyr with the smile of an athiest. “Is not Heaven in everything?”