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Lecture 3: Marcus Aurelius’

‘Notes to Himself ’
“… the little box containing the Meditations on the banks of the Gran and the
philosophy of Marcus Aurelius was saved. There came out of it this incomparable
book, in which Epictetus was surpassed: this manual of the resigned life, this
Gospel of those who do not believe in the supernatural, which has not been able to
be understood until our own time. A true eternal Gospel, the Meditations will never
grow old, for it affirms no dogma. The Gospel has grown old in some of its parts:
science no longer allows the naïve conception of the supernatural which
constitutes its foundations. In the Meditations, the supernatural is only a tiny,
insignificant stain which does not affect the wonderful beauty of the background.
Science could destroy God and the soul, but the Meditations would still remain
young with life and truth. The religion of Marcus Aurelius is, like that of Jesus
was at times, absolute religion: that which speaks from the simple fact of a high
moral conscience faced with the universe. It is not of one race, nor of one country,
no revolution, no progress, no discovery will be able to change it.” Ernst Renan, at
Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel, pp. 307-308.
The lecture structure
First hour: Introducing Marcus, the Meditations, Writing as Existential Exercise

1. Summary/recollection Lectures 1 & 2, with consolidation of Stoic fundamentals

2. An introduction to Marcus Aurelius

3. Hypomnemata: writing as an existential-philosophical exercise, and the Ta Eis Heauton

4. The end of the text: philosophy as mater (mother), anachorēsis (retreat),and akropolis (elevated, inner citadel)

Second Hour: The three exercise topoi in Marcus

1. Epictetus’ three topoi as key to the Meditations

2. Circumscribing the self: the discipline of assent in Marcus

3. The discipline of desire/physics in Marcus: all things are changing, division into parts, the view from above

4. The discipline of action/ethics in Marcus: appropriate action, concentration, reservation, insult & altruism


Pierre Hadot, The Inner Citadel; Pierre Hadot, “Marcus Aurelius” in PAW (in box)

Pierre Hadot, “La Physique Comme Exercise Spirituel” and “UnCle de Pensees de Marc Aurele”, in Exercises Spirituels et Philosophie Antique.
Lectures 1 into 2: the themes
of the course
• Socrates to Stoicism, the notion of philosophy as a way of life, interested in
cultivating virtue

• A host of strange preoccupations and notions: of philosophical conversion, the

figure of the sage, the construction of utopias, the criticism of ordinary values and
the stultitia of over-crowded, distracted lives.

• Philosophy as a techne: the expert or virtuoso; the systematic knowledge (episteme)

of what, how, and why; plus the necessity of practice and experience: exercises.

• Stoic definition of techne as a systematic body of knowledge unified by practice.

• Three genres of this ‘practice’: meditation (melete), writing, gymnasis (bodily tests of
endurance, abstinence)

• The aim? A paraskeue or way of looking at life which prepares you for, well, just
about anything: from the mundane and tedious, to the extraordinary and

• The metaphorics of digestion, dying, shaping-character (ethopoiesis), wrestling,

archery, medicine.
Lecture 2: the philosophical persona and practice of Epictetus

• In lecture 2, we met Epictetus, the liberated, crippled slave who

became the most renowned philosopher in Imperial Rome.

• The strangeness of ‘his’ literary productions, inc. that they are

not ‘his’, but recorded by his student, the politician and admirer
Arrian, from his hypomnemata.

• His philosophical persona as we find it in the Discourses: abrupt,

abrasive, sometimes almost abusive.

• Diogenes ‘royal and reproving’: the protreptic role of shaking

people, enjoining them to examine themselves, and the
consistency of their actions with their moral convictions.

• Socrates’ ‘elenctic’ role: questioning others, so as to show them

the need for greater reflection, and reorientation of their choices
and actions.
A first look at Stoic epistemology or
psychology: the presuppositions of the elenchus.
• Four presuppositions of the dialogic way of philosophising
Epictetus takes on from Socrates

i. People always act for the sake of perceived good (where the
good=what benefits or is useful to them, and/or those they love)

ii. All people share basic moral/ethical preconceptions about the

nature of the good for human beings

iii. When people err or act badly, they do so from ignorance or error
of their true good.

iv. When people err or act badly, they in effect contradict their own
deepest preconceptions or innate notions, directing them towards
the good.

It is because of iv. that the elenctic philosopher can hope to persuade

others: not ‘from outside’ but as Socrates had said, as a midwife,
merely giving birth to the thoughts of the other.
Virtue as the only good: a first look at Stoic dogmata (principles)

• Epictetus’ third debt to Zeno of Kition, founder of the Stoics.

• Virtue as the only good: from Plato’s Euthydemus, the observations that

• All other seeming goods (money, fame, power) can harm the possessor,
absent wisdom or virtue—the annals of the rich and unhappy, famous and
infelicitous, powerful and tormented

• All other seeming harms (poverty, ill health, ignominy, obscurity) can be
borne with happiness, with wisdom or virtue

• All other ‘goods’ hence depend for their beneficial effects upon virtue, a
wisdom about how best to use or enjoy them.

• Virtue alone never harms its possessor, and allows that possessor to
optimally enjoy or use all else that fortune provides her/him.
Adding now some corollaries: preferred indifferents,
oikeiosis, and the life according to nature
• All goods ‘external’ to virtue, and hence our character, are ‘indifferents’ or ‘intermediates’: neither good nor evil in

• It is only our judgments or opinions (hypolepseis, dogmata, doxa), viz. movements of our soul potentially under our
virtuous control, that make them so. (Epict. Ench. V)

• The proximity of Stoicism to the ancient Cynics: for whom all things other than virtue are worthy of contempt.

• Zeno’s break with Aristo, thus the Cynics: nevertheless, some externals—health, moderate prosperity, good repute,
civic participation and recognition—are to be ‘preferred’.

• Why? All creatures are adapted by nature to their environs, and naturally desire certain things (this is oikeosis), in
order to preserve their own being.

• Humans, as rational and social, hence by nature desire what fulfills their rational and social nature, as well as its
animal-bodily preconditions.

• Preferred indifferents have selective value (axia), although they are not strictly good (agathon)

• It is an error from the Stoic perspective to raise them up as necessary constituents of one’s happiness: I need that car,
I can’t be happy without that girl …

• As Epictetus characteristically stresses, it also makes appointments with real suffering unavoidable, since these
externals are transient, subject to decay, fortune, theft, destruction,
hypoexairesis /reservation
• It is hence natural for the Stoics to desire health, money, friendships, love relationships, political
responsibility and recognition.

• Yet the Stoics counsel that these things should always be desired ‘with a reserve clause’.

• ‘I desire to get that job, and recognise that I nevertheless may not get it’.

• This is a key component of what we saw last time is with Epictetus the discipline of desire or
practical physics.

• Why? The reserve here is not pessimism or resignation. It is recognising what is after all true:
that external goods are external goods, however much we may wish to absolutely control them.

• It is also eg loving others as they are, not as we might wish them to be: as mortals, not gods;
fallible, not ideal. (Epict, Ench. XIV)

• It is related to the paraskeue: philosophy as an attitude of mind capable of enjoying ‘good’

fortune—and also ‘bad’ (the ‘golden wand’ and ‘two handles’ metaphors of last week).

• As Sorabji has put it: Stoicism is not a philosophy of gritting your teeth and bearing things; but
revaluing all values, so you need never grit your teeth. (Emotion and Peace of Mind, p. 1)
A specification: philosophy as
specifically a stochastic techne
• Aristotle distinguishes practical virtue from being a techne in the NE.

• his worry is that practical wisdom requires a flexible openness to the complexity and
unpredictability of ethical situations—whereas his model here for technai are productive crafts,
which make things, often on the basis of precise, reproducible technical know-how.

• He’s also concerned that virtue is its own reward, which should not be justified eg by some external
product it produces, like house-building.

• But the Stoics distinguish three kinds of craft: productive, performative (praktike) and stochastic
(from stochazo to aim)

• Performative technai are like dance: where the goal of the exercise is the beauty of the exercise
itself (this already scuttles the Aristotelian opposition presented in the NE).

• And stochastic technai: crafts like archery, where we can divide the goal (telos) from the aim
(skopos)—the aim, hitting the target, is always outside our control, and all we can do is achieve the
goal, which is perfecting our skill.

• This is what philosophy as a way of life (bios, agoge) is for the Stoa: the goal and focus is one what
one can perfect. This involves aiming at appropriate acts, but where these depend on externals,
success cannot be guaranteed. Whence, of course, the need for reservation in desire, and we’ll see,
exercises of premeditating death, losses, things not turning out according to our best-laid plans.
2. An introduction to Marcus Aurelius

• Emperor of Rome 161-178 CE.: reign riven with troubles: flooding of the Tiber and famine in 161, major
earthquakes in 161 and 178, constant warring in the Eastern provinces, a plague bought back by returning legions
in 166 taking up to 18 million lives, including Marcus’ own, an insurrection in 173, and the last decade of the
emperor’s life spent mostly on campaign.

• widely accounted as the last of the five, good Antonine emperors. To cite the famous encomium of Cassius Dio:

...[Marcus] did not meet with the good fortune that he deserved, for he was not strong in body and was involved in a
multitude of troubles throughout practically his entire reign. But for my part, I admire him all the more for this very
reason, that amid unusual and extraordinary difficulties he both survived himself and preserved the empire. (– Cassius
Dio 71.36.3–4)

• Yet of Aurelius’ Meditations, it is very easy to forget that this is a document written by one of the most powerful
men in human history. Of the 473 sections of this text, less than 40 address imperial experience, and exclusively
imperial life is presented as a barrier to living well:

“Remember that where life is possible, then it is possible to live a good life; life is possible in a palace; so it is possible to
live the good life [even] in a palace”. (V.16)

“Beware that you do not “Caesarise” yourself ”, Marcus chides himself at V.30: “[beware] that you are not dyed with
this dye, for such things happen.” (cf. I.17.3)

• As for the seemingly vindicated hope that here at last was a Platonic philosopher-King:

IX.29: “how worthless are all these poor people who are engaged in matters political, and, as they suppose, are playing
the philosopher! All drivellers! Well, then, do what nature now requires. Set yourself in motion, if it is in thy power, and
do not look about thee to see if any one will observe it; nor yet expect Plato's Republic: but be content if the smallest
thing goes on well, and consider such an event to be no small matter …
Marcus’ upbringing (cf. Med. Book I)

• Born 121 CE to aristocratic family: his father dies at age 3, then Aurelius is adopted by his paternal
grandfather Marcus Annius Verus.

• At age 6, Emperor Hadrian appoint the young Marcus to the equestrian order; when Hadrian dies at
138, he makes it a condition for Aurelius Antoninus’ succession that he adopt Marcus as his successor;
Marcus is made quaestor at 23, consul in 130.

• Given traditional aristocratic education, and reared for high office: his painting teacher Diognetus
inspires a love of philosophy in him. At age 12, Marcus takes up the philosopher’s cloak and wish to
sleep on bare wooden boards—until his mother intervenes!

• Cf. I.6, where Diognetus is thanked for introducing him to philosophyand the desire for “a plank bed
and skin, and whatever else of the kind belongs to the Grecian [Laconian/Spartan] discipline.”

• Given education in Latin rhetoric with Fronto, Greek with Herodes Atticus: both of whom despise

• Marcus also taught philosophy in late adolescence by Quintius Junius Rusticus, grandson of a Stoic
exiled with Stoic opposition to Domitian; and Apollonius of Chalcedon [I.8], whom Antoninus Pius
seems to have paid to come to Rome.

• By 146, Marcus’ letters to Fronto indicate his conversion to philosophy: reports reading Aristo (see
above) which “show me to what extent my inner dispositions (ingenium) are distant from these better
things, then all too often your disciple blushes and is angry with himself because, at the age of 25, I
have not yet assimilated into my soul any of the salutary dogmas and purest reasonings. This is why I
am tormeted, angry, and jealous, and I no longer eat.”
Book I: An exercise in gratitude

• Book I of Meds. Unlike II-XII, a series of notes calling to mind all the people from whom Marcus
has benefited, and expressing his gratitude to them,

• May have been written at a later date and placed at the head of the text by later editors, or by
Marcus himself (unknown).

• A couple of things of note.

1. The philosophers occupy I.6-1.9 (Diognetus, Rusticus, Apollonius, Sextus—who Marcus consulted
as emperor), breaking the chronology, and preceding the grammarians and rhetoricians. (PTO)

2. The longest chapter by far is 1.16, devoted to his adoptive father, Emperor Antoninus Pius, a portrait
of an ideal Stoic leader, and a catalogue of Stoic virtues.

• Note esp. I.16.4: “And the things which conduce in any way to the commodity of life, and of
which fortune gives an abundant supply, he used without arrogance and without excusing himself;
so that when he had them, he enjoyed them without affectation, and when he had them not, he did
not want them.”

• I.16.9 “And that might be applied to him which is recorded of Socrates, that he was able both to
abstain from, and to enjoy, those things which many are too weak to abstain from, and cannot
enjoy without excess.”

• I.17: Bk I finishes with the gods, who are aligned as in Stoic doctrine with fortune, what we cannot
control, and the preferred indifferents Marcus has enjoyed: esp. in his upbringing and education,
also his family.
Rusticus, a precis on ancient philosophy
• Rusticus gets the second longest chapter, an interesting exercise in the ancient conception of philosophy we are
seeing emerge:

“I. 7. [1] From Rusticus I received the impression that my character required improvement and discipline;”

• i.e. as Epictetus to Arrian; Rufus to Epictetus; Socrates to Alkibiades: the philosopher as calling a person to
reconsider his way of life: epistrophe (cf. I.17.7, where Marcus thanks the gods that he never got out of humor with

“and from him I learned not to be led astray to sophistic emulation, nor to writing on speculative matters, nor to
delivering little hortatory orations, nor to showing myself off as a [2] man who practises much discipline, or does
benevolent acts in order to make a display; and to abstain from rhetoric, and poetry, and fine writing …”

• i.e. the philosopher’s opposition to rhetoric as potentially boastful ostentation, philologia v. philosophia

“and with respect to those who have offended me by words, or done me wrong, to be easily disposed to be pacified and
reconciled, as soon as they have shown a readiness to be reconciled;”

• i.e. practical ethics: justice and benevolence, self-control or enkrateia in face of slights (see below).

“and to read carefully, and not to be satisfied with a superficial understanding of a book; nor hastily to give my assent to
those who talk overmuch;”

• i.e. what the Stoics will call logic as a virtue, and aproptosia: unhurriedness in judgment or assent.

“… and I am indebted to him for being acquainted with the discourses of Epictetus, which he communicated to me out
of his own collection.”

• we’ll be returning to this last thing.

From Marcus to the text:
The history the ‘Meditations’
• Never published in Marcus’ lifetime; let alone with any title.

• Two centuries later, Themistius mentions Marcus’ parragelmata or exhortations, but it

is unclear whether he had access to the 12 books/scrolls we have inherited.

• Resurfaces in late 9th century in Byzantium, since Bishop Arethas in a letter of 907 CE
describes “the very profitable book of the Emperor Marcus”.

• The Byzantine Souda (C10) dictionary speaks of Marcus having consigned his agoge or
rule of life to 12 books.

• The first citations in Western Europe date to the early 16th century, although the
Vatican appears to have had a copy from at least the 14th century.

• 1559 sees the first edition, with Latin translation; then there are a flood of translations
into modern European languages, under a host of titles: ‘On Himself or on his Life’;
‘’Meditations Concerning Himselfe’, ‘On the Duty of Life’, ‘To Myself ’, ‘Thoughts’

What is it? The literary question
• From C17, divided into some 473 fragments or sections, and 12 books, each of 16 to 75 sections.
Yet the originals had no such numbering, and the divisions between all 12 of our books were not
always marked (Hadot Inner Citadel, p. 28)

• At the end of books II and III, we have lines “Written in the land of the Quades … at Canratum”
which gives a date to parts of the text: situating it in the last decade of Marcus’ life, when he was
on compaign.

• These sections are of varying length: some are mere aphorisms: “receive wealth without arrogance
and be ready to let it go” (VIII.33); “everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and
that which is remembered” (IV.35); “men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or
bear with them” (VIII.59); “consider that benevolence is invincible” (XI.18 (9)); and famously,
“the best revenge is to not become like he who has harmed you”. (VI.6)

• Others read like pieces of our philosophy: impersonal, rational reflections spanning over forty lines.

• Yet others are of a literary kind: staged dialogues, like: “Have you reason? I have.—why then don’t
you use it? But if this does it work, what else do you wish?” (IV.12)

• Then there are compelling images: “:… if a man should stand by a limpid pure spring, and curse it,
the spring never ceases sending up potable water; and if he should cast clay into it or filth, it will
speedily disperse them and wash them out, and will not be at all polluted. How then shall you
possess a perpetual fountain? By forming yourself hourly to freedom conjoined with contentment,
simplicity and modesty.” (VIII.51; cf. VII.59)

• There is a great deal of repetition, sometimes direct: eg “Nothing is so capable of producing

greatness of soul.” (III.11.2; X.11.1): more often with small changes. Compare “how could that
which does not make a man worse, make life worse” with “that which does not make a man worse
than he is, does not make his life worse either” (II.11.4;IV.8; cf. IV.35 & VIII.21.2)
A mirror to the ages …
• In the earlier modern era of systematic philosophy, it was thought
that the Meditations must have been a series of preparatory notes
for—or fragments of-- a great, lost opus. (Xylander, Caspar Barth)

• In the romantic nineteenth century, Marcus’ book was read as a

kind of personal testimony or set of confessions: the outpourings
of a troubled, noble soul (Ernst Renan).

• In the twentieth century, at the height of psychological

reductionism, critics have sought to explain Aurelius’ apparently
disordered book as the result of a postulated opium addiction
(Africa), or even as the by-product of a gastric ulcer.

• Others have proposed the work is addressed to others, as a work of

consolation or handbook for the philosophical life, like the
Encheiridion we met last week.
3. Writing as existential, philosophical exercise

• Hadot & Foucault (cf. “Self-Writing” in box online) & the ancient
practice of hypomnemata: memory aids, notes to oneself.
• In Epictetus Discourses, injunctions to write, daily, coupled with other
two exercise types we’ve met: meletai/meditations, gymnaseis (bodily

• “These are the thoughts that those who pursue philosophy should
ponder, these are the lessons they should write down day by day, in
these they should exercise themselves.” I.1.25
• “Let these thoughts be at your command [prokheiron] by night and
day: write them, read them, talk of them, to yourself and to your
neighbor..." III.24.103
Hypomnemata: memory aids,
• “Hupomnemata, in the technical sense, could be account books, public registers, or individual
notebooks serving as memorv aids. Their use as books of life, as guides for conduct, seems to have
become a common thing for a whole cultivated public. One wrote down quotes in them, extracts
from books, examples, and actions that one had witnessed or read about, reflections or reasonings
that one had heard or that had come to mind. They constituted a material record of things read,
heard, or thought, thus offering them up as a kind of accumulated treasure for subsequent rereading
and meditation. They also formed a raw material for the drafting of more systematic treatises, in
which one presented arguments and means for struggling against some weakness (such as anger,
envy, gossip, flattery) or for overcoming some difficult circumstance (a grief, an exile, ruin,
disgrace).” Foucault, “SW”.

• The case of Pamphila, leading Roman woman in time of Nero, known to have published
hypomnemata compiled during her 13 years of marriage.

• Aulius Gellius’ Attic Nights: “Whether I was reading a Greek or a Latin book, or whether I had
heard someone say something worthy of being remembered, I jotted down what interested me, of
whatever kind it was, without any order, then set it aside, in order to support my memory.”

• Plutarch’s Peri Euthymias (tranquility of soul) responds to a request from Fundamus for help, which
Plutarch answers by sending him some of the hypomnemata he had at hand.

• Arrian’s preface to the Discourses’ similar statement that they are based on his hypomnemata which
“somehow” came to be published. (Hadot, IC 32
Reading, Listening, Writing

• Foucault locates hypomnemata within a wider culture of reading, listening,

and writing.

• We aren’t to read ‘everything’ at random—this being criticised as an

embodiment of stultitia and directionless curiosity: “In reading of many
books is distraction.” Seneca, Epistle 2.

• Compare Epictetus’ attacks on those who can recite Chrissipus, as if this

were an end in itself.

• More about reading a limited number of authors, or attending to striking

things we hear others say, and noting down striking or arresting
formulations, touching on matters of ethical weight or concern:

“So you should always read standard authors; and when you crave a change,
fall back upon those whom you read before. Each day acquire something
that will fortify you against poverty, against death, indeed against other
misfortunes as well; and after you have run over many thoughts, select one
to be thoroughly digested that day. This is my own custom; from the many
things which I have read, I claim some part for myself…” Seneca, loc cit.
Writing as means of
• These notes do not need unity themselves: the ‘unity’ aimed at is that of
the author, who writes down and varies in his own formulations, or
according to traditional rhetorical rules, what is recorded. The aim is this
digestion, habituation, or ‘dyeing’ (baptizein) we have been mentioning:

“We should see to it that whatever we have absorbed should not be allowed
to remain unchanged, or it will be no part of us. We must digest it:
otherwise it will merely enter the memory and not the reasoning power [in
memoriam non in ingenium]. Let us loyally welcome such foods and make them
our own, so that something that is one may be formed out of many elements,
just as one number is formed of several elements …” Seneca, loc cit.

• Furthermore, the aim is that these principles should be “at hand”,

procheiron, or in hand, encheiron, when we need them—despite the
difficulties of life, the dulling effects of habit, forgetfulness…
“why philosophers write more letters than they publish”--
The I and the Other

• The second practice of self-writing in antiquity, we’ll meet it the two next lectures, was letter-writing.

• Often, context of a student with a more experienced, sage elder: Lucillus with Seneca, the young
Marcus with Fronto, Pythocles or Menoecius and Epicurus.

• A means of the examination of conscience, as per Seneca’s Epistle 83 to Lucilius (a younger

statesman, related to Seneca, a retired politician): Lucilius has asked Seneca to “give [him] an
account of each separate day, and of the whole day too.” And Seneca replies: “I shall therefore do as
you bid, and shall gladly inform you by letter what I am doing, and in what sequence. I shall keep
watching myself continually, and -a most useful habit- shall review each day.” See next week On
Anger; the young Marcus’ epistolary descriptions of his days to his beloved Fronto,

• The role of writing as placing oneself imaginatively before the eyes of another: in the ancient
practice, an admired other. Related, I would suggest, to this business of imagining the perspective of
the sage, eg at Ench. 33, as a means to recollect how one would like to act:

“Do not go lightly or casually to hear lectures; but if you do go, maintain your gravity and dignity and do
not make yourself offensive. When you are going to meet any one, and particularly some man of reputed
eminence, set before your mind the thought, 'What would Socrates or Zeno have done?' and you will not
fail to make proper use of the occasion.”

Or Epictetus,, Disc. I.30.1: “When you go to see some important personage, remember that there is an
Other watching what happens from above, and that it is better to please this Other than that man.”

• Hypomnemata also, I would suggest, as the cultivated creation and reactivating of a desired ego ideal:
the perspective of the sage or philosopher one wishes to be or be like
Ta Eis Heauton: a battle of memory against forgetting
• So, does the cap fit? i.e. is there evidence that Hadot, then Foucault, are right to
suggest that the best way to explain the Meditations is, following one earlier title for
the text, “notes to himself ”? Consider Meds. VII.2:

“How can our principles become dead, unless the impressions [thoughts] which
correspond to them are extinguished? But it is in thy power continuously to fan these
thoughts into a flame. I can have that opinion about anything, which I ought to have.
If I can, why am I disturbed? The things which are external to my mind have no
relation at all to my mind. Let this be the state of your affects, and you will stand
upright. To recover your life is in your power. Look at things again as you used once to
look at them; for in this consists the recovery of your life.” (VII.2; cf. IV.3.1)

• the great majority of the fragments are written in the second person: “no man will
hinder you from living according to the reason of your own nature; nothing will
happen to you contrary to the reason of universal nature.” (VI.58)

• as if Marcus’ better self, that which has identified with the Stoic logos and its
principle teachings admonishing his lesser, more-too-human side.

“Will you then, my soul, ever be good and simple and one and naked,” Marcus begins
book X.1: “… will you never enjoy an affectionate and contented disposition? Will
you never be full an without a want of any kind, longing for nothing more, nor desiring
anything animate or inanimate for the enjoyment of pleasure? … will you ever be
satisfied with the present moment and pleased with all that is about you …? (cf. Ench.
L [50])
Imperative voice: a battle of
memory against forgetting
• Then there is the frequency with which Marcus charges himself, as last week, to

• “remember (memneso) how long you have been putting off these things…”

• “remember (memneso) that it is a shame to be surprised if fig trees produce figs

…” (VIII.15);

• “It is necessary then to (Chre men oun) …” (III.4.2)

• “… this you must always bear in mind (aei dei menesthai), what is the nature
of the whole, and what is my nature, and how this is related to that, and what
kind of part it is of what kind of whole, and that there is no one who hinders
you from always doing and saying the things which are according to the nature
of which you are a part.” (II.9)

• And the urgency: “Wrong thyself, wrong thyself, my psyche! But the time for
honoring yourself will soon have gone by …” (II.6; cf. X.1)
Hypomnemata in the context of
the Stoic School
• Foucault ties the practice of memorising and writing notable phrases to the wider culture of antiquity,
reverencing tradition and the old.

• This is not writing to dig out the unexpected, deeply hidden psychological truth: from the outside in,
rather, it is about reactivating the old, and imprinting it upon a new soul, within a living tradition.

• Recall week 1 Hadot’s stress on the way philosophical writing came out of culture of the schools, and
reflected established topics, ways of arguing, even metaphors, examples, and figures of speech.

• Hadot more specifically stresses two types of writing exercise in the Stoic context, of Marcus’ education
with Rusticus in Stoicism.

i. The writing down of isolated key principles or kephalaia (“chapter headings”), whose recollection evokes
(as a metonym, as one part of) a larger whole: an entire set of Stoic doctrines, like those we’ve already
met (PTO);

ii. The listing of bodies of principles, relevant to a particular topic;

iii. imaginative, literary variations and striking formulations of key Stoic thoughts, in order to bring them
vividly to mind, engaging the entire self, not ‘pure reason alone’.
i. Eg of Kephalain as shorthand for larger teachings
• Eg: II.1 starts with our friend the Stoic doctrine that only virtue is truly good for humans. As Hadot notes, for
Marcus this would have called to mind the teachings and demonstration that:

• Pleasure and pain are not true goods or evils (IV.3.6; XII.8)

• That the only shameful thing is ethical failure (II.1.3)

• That harms committed against us cannot harm us (II.1.3; XII.26)

• That he who commits the harm hurts only himself (IV.26.3)

• That harm cannot only be found in oneself (VII.29.7; XII.26)

• That I cannot suffer harm from another, unless I consent in judgment that this is harm (II.1.3; VII.22.2)

• Other fundamental dogmata of this kind, which can be evoked as shorthand for the web of Stoic dogmata, are:
“only that which depends on me can be good or evil” (XII.22); the unity or rationality of the world (XII.26); the
infinity of space and time (IV.3; XII.7)

• So note again the Stoic emphasis on who we are as, in one sense, a web of beliefs, which are deeply inter-related:
we are what we believe, as we are what we evaluate as necessary for our flourishing.

• Think of the presuppositions of the elenchus, above.

ii. Eg of listing of kephalaia

“XII.26. When you are troubled about anything, you have forgotten this:

• that all things happen according to the universal nature;

• … that a man's wrongful act is nothing to thee;

• and further … that everything which happens, always happened so and will happen so, and now
happens so everywhere;

• … how close is the kinship between a man and the whole human race, for it is a community, not
of a little blood or seed, but of intelligence.

And thou hast forgotten this too, that:

• every man's intelligence is a god, and is an efflux of the deity;

• and … that nothing is a man's own, but that his child and his body and his very soul came from the

• … that everything is opinion; and lastly

• … that every man lives the present time only, and loses only this.”

• See II.1; IV.3;VII.22.2;VIII.21.2;XUI.18;XII.7;XII.8

iii. Eg: Imaginative variation
• Finally, writing as existential exercise, which Hadot and Foucault both stress is not solely
‘rationalistic’, in the sense of excluding the rhetorical, the imaginative, the literary.

• Hadot uses the term ‘spiritual exercise’ to try to capture these dimensions, wherein the author tries
to engage the passions, the memory, the impulses, the entire character.

• Eg: Marcus on universal change metabole or allotriosis: a key Stoic principle, inherited from the
presocratic philosopher Herakleitus. But does Marcus simply repeat it?

• No, he brings it, by force of example, before his own eyes—pointing to those men and women of
the past most admired, as meaningfully ‘immortal’: previous emperors:

• “IV.32: Consider, for example, the times of Vespasian. Thou wilt see all these things, people
marrying, bringing up children, sick, dying, warring, feasting, trafficking, cultivating the ground,
flattering, obstinately arrogant, suspecting, plotting, wishing for some to die, grumbling about the
present, loving, heaping up treasure, desiring consulship, kingly power. Well then, that life of these
people no longer exists at all.” (Cf. VIII.31)

• Even heroes and the great philosophers:

• “think continually that all kinds of men and of all kinds of pursuits and of all nations are dead, so
that thy thoughts come down even to Philistion and Phoebus and Origanion. Now turn thy
thoughts to the other kinds of men. To that place then we must remove, where there are so many
great orators, and so many noble philosophers, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates; so many heroes of
former days, and so many generals after them, and tyrants.” (VI.47)

• See IV.50; VI.24; VII.19.2; VII.48; VIII.25; VIII.37; IX.30; XII.27.

The Acropolis or Inner Citadel:
the end of the Meditations
• What then is the end of the text, its goal?

• Remember we’ve already seen various descriptions of the goal of philosophy: a paraskeue, Epictetus’ two handles
and golden wand; the aim to have philospohical dogmata at hand or procheiron, or inhand encheiron, in case of

• Marcus describes philosophy differently as a maternal presence, reflecting the different tonality of his work, and
its different addressee, hence its different rhetorical shaping:

“If you had a step-mother and a mother at the same time, you would be dutiful to your step-mother, but still you
would constantly return to your mother. … [just so] return to philosophy frequently and repose in her, through whom
what you encounter in the court can appear tolerable to you, and you can appear tolerable in the court.” (VI.12)

Or else, famously, philosophy is described as an inner citadel, a kind of movable feast, or rather place of tranquillity:

• Men seek retreats (anachoreseis) for themselves, houses in the country, seashores, and mountains; and thou too
art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is
in your own power whenever you shall choose to retire into yourself. For nowhere, either with more quiet or more
freedom from trouble, does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such
thoughts that by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquillity ... (IV.3 start)

• This then remains: Remember to retire into this little territory of your own, and, above all, do not distract or
strain yourself, but be free, at look and things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen, as a mortal. (IV.3.4)
• End hour 1
Lecture 3.2 Spiritual exercises
in Marcus
1. Epictetus’ three topoi as key to the Meditations

2. the discipline of assent in Marcus: theoretical claims,

practical exercises, circumscribing the hegemonikon

3. The discipline of desire/physics in Marcus: all things are

changing, division into parts, the view from above , the
eternal return of the same, circumscribing the present
4. The end of the exercises: the eupatheia and amor fati

(next week, we’ll address issues to do with stoicism and

emotions, and stoicism and others, when we look at
Summary, looking forward
• So, we’ve now seen how Marcus is working within the Stoic school, and that this text
is a unique exemplar of an ancient form of self-writing.

• Let me quote one of my favorite Hadot passages, then, his conclusion to his book on
Marcus, The Inner Citdel ( a reference to VIII.48’s hegemonikin as akropolis)

“Could we not say that if this book is still so attractive to us, it is because when we read it
we get the impression of encountering not the Stoic system, although Marcus constantly
refers to it, but a man of good will, who does not hesitate to criticise and to examine
himself, who constantly takes up again the task of exhorting and persuading himself, and
of finding the words which will help him to live, and to live well? … / In world literature,
we find lots of preachers, lesson-givers, and censors, who moralise to others with
complacency, irony, cynicism, or bitterness, but it is extremely rare to find a person
training himself to live and to think like a human being … the personal effort appears …
in the repetitions, the multiple variations developed around the same theme and the
stylistic effort as well, which always seeks for a striking, effective formula. Nevertheless,
we feel a highly particular emotion when we enter, as it were, into the personal intimacy of
a soul’s secrets, and are thus directly associated with the efforts of a man who, fascinated
by the only thing necessary—the absolute value of the ethical good—is trying to do what,
in the last analysis, we are all trying to do: to live in complete consciousness and lucidity,
to give to each of our instants its full intensity, and to give meaning to our entire life.
Marcus is talking to himself, but we get the impression that he is talking to each of us.”
(IC, 312-313)
The three Epictetan topoi as key to the recurrences of
the Meditations
• Sentiment aside! Let’s return to the analysis.

• Remember that Marcus esp. thanks Rusticus for giving him access to his copy of Epictetus (I.7

• The philosophical celebrity of Epictetus in Marcus’ time, the Roman Socrates.

• Recall from last week the three topoi in Epictetus: logic, ethics, physics. These reproduce the three
areas of philosophical discourse in the Stoic school. (Disc. III.2; III.12; IV.1)

• Hadot has famously, and very influentially, argued that the three topoi we met last week in
Epictetus provides the key to making our way through the substance, as well as the literary form,
of the Meditations. (“Une Cle de la Pensees de Marc Aurele” see slide 1).
activity domain Inner attitude
assent Judgments, words, Truth, objectivity
speech, thoughts
desire Universal nature, Consent to destiny,
externals reserve
Impulses towards Human nature, others Justice and
actions benevolence/altruism
Egs where Marcus works with the three exercises
“VII. 54. Everywhere and at all times it is in thy power

• piously to acquiesce in thy present condition [desire/physics],

• and to behave justly to those who are about thee [ethics/action],

• and to exert thy skill upon thy present thoughts, that nothing shall steal into them without being well examined [logic/assent].”

“IX.6 Thy present opinion founded on understanding [assent/logic],

• and thy present conduct directed to social good [ethics/action],

• and thy present disposition of contentment with everything which happens [desire/physics] - that is enough.”

“IV.33.5: What then must you practice? This one thing,

• Thoughts devoted to justice and actions in the service of the community [ethics/action],

• Speech which can never deceive [assent/logic]

• And a disposition which gladly accepts all that happens, as necessary, as usual, as flowing from a principle and source of the same kind. [desire/physics]”

• Cf. VIII.7; IX.7

Logic-epistemology in the Meditations: exercises of assent =
(II.11.1; 11.16.5; III.9; III.12.1;III.16.3;IV.7;
• Given Stoic epistemology (as we would call it, for them a subspecies of ‘logic’), Ho Bios-hypolepseis [life [is]
opinion/judgment], as Marcus ends IV.3.4.

• Experience of external objects (physics) and others (ethics) passes by way of our evaluative, interpretive judgments.

• This includes our most intense experiences of grief and joy over things beyond our control.

• Epictetus’: “What troubles people is not things, but their judgments about things.” (Ench. V start)

• Marcus VIII.47: “If you are grieving over some exterior thing, then it is not that thing which is troubling you, but
your judgment about that thing.”

• XI.11: external things “stay still”, do not “come to us”, but we also “go towards them” in our judgments.

• The discipline of assent involves monitoring our representations, as we saw last week: Epictetus talks about almost
setting up a border guard around our conscious attention, asking ‘papers’ of each internal impulse and external

• Its aim is to separate what is from us (eph’hemin) from what is ouk eph’hemin (ie. Not from us/not dependent upon
us), as per Ench. I.1.

• Its highest goal is to ’circumscribe the self ’ from its surrounds, so we do not add false, unnecessary, or ambiguous
assessments to what we perceive.
Theoretical claims of the Meds. in the field of assent

1. No thing can compel the soul’s leading principle (hegemonikon) from outside: “things of
themselves cannot take the lest hold of the psyche, nor have any access to her …”. (V.19,
Cf. IX.15; VI.52; V.19; IX.13) They stand “outside the door” (ezo thuron) (IX.15)

• Impressions (phantasia) come through the senses, we form judgments/opinions (hypolepseis),

to which we either give or withhold assent (synkatathesis)

2. Thus, in terms of our experience, “all is judgment” (IV.3 end), even our sense or feeling of
harm or joy (VIII.47).

3. so when we change our judgments on things, our experience changes.

“IV. 7. Let the opinion (hypolepsis) “I am harmed” be taken away, and the feeling of being
harmed will be taken away; efface the feeling, then the harm disappears at once.” (cf. VII.14)

4. This can be done, almost immediately (pantachou kai dienechos: “at any time and any place”-
VII.54), since judgment is in our power, or the power of our leading faculty (hegemonikon,
dianoia, prohairesis). This is almost the ‘good news’ of the text:

“V.2: How easy it is to put aside and blot out every impression (phantasian) that is disturbing or
alien, and to be at once at complete peace.” (cf. VIII.29; VIII.47)

“XII.25: Throw aside opinion, and you are safe ashore. And who is there prevents you from
throwing it aside?”

“IX.32: It is in thy power to rid yourself of many unnecessary troubles, for they abide wholly in
your judgment (ola epi te hypolepsei sou keimena)…”
Exercises in the discipline of assent
1. One should internally monitor all our judgments, lest we give our assent to anything which is either false or
obscure (mete pseudei mete adelo), or unverified (ti akatalepton). (VIII.7; VII.54 end)

• To diagnose (diakrimo) false or precipitous assents. (VIII.26)

• Key eg: VIII.47 concerning insults:

“Say no more to yourself than what the initial impressions report (meden pleon sauto lege, on ai proegoumenai phantasiai
anaggellousin). It is reported unto thee, that such a one speaketh ill of thee. Well; that he speaketh ill of thee, so much is
reported. But that thou art hurt thereby, is not reported: that is the addition of opinion, which thou must exclude. I see
that my child is sick. That he is sick, I see, but that he is in danger of his life also, I see it not. Thus thou must use to
keep thyself to the first motions and apprehensions of things, as they present themselves outwardly; and add not unto
them from within thyself through mere conceit and opinion.

2. “Efface imagination (Ezaleipsai ten phantasian)!” (VII.29; VIII.29; xii.25; IX.7) as source of false or precipitous
judgments: imagination “runs ahead” of what is received:

• from she hasn’t called me [fact] to “she no longer loves me” [unverified, unknowable; if true, beyond your present

• From bad shot [fact] to “this is not my day” [unverifiable, self-fulfilling]

- And as source of precipitous/false evaluations: “see to it that your hegemonikon adds no opinion (prostitheto) of its
own as to whether such [things] are good or bad.” (V.26 end)

3. hence, one should practice letting things be, keeping one’s judgment (krima)/hegemonikon at rest (hesychazeto). (XI.11);
not “whirled around” (aporrembesthai)” by circumstances (OV. 22)
4. Circumscribing the ruling faculty (XII.3; Hadot, IC 112-125)
• In IC, Hadot argues that the crowning exercise in this topos for Marcus is circumscribing what is and
is not our own, or of our nous, noeran dynamin, hegemonikon, not in particular judgments--but in
general. (cf. Plato’s Phaedo 96 here)
“XII.3: The things are three of which thou art composed, a little body, a little breath (life), intelligence.
Of these the first two are thine, so far as it is thy duty to take care of them; but the third alone is properly
thine. Therefore if thou shalt separate from thyself, that is, from thy understanding,
• whatever others do or say, (III.4.1 and below)
• and whatever thou hast done or said thyself,
• and whatever future things trouble thee because they may happen,
• and whatever in the body which envelops thee
• or in the breath (life), which is by nature associated with the body, is attached to thee independent of
thy will,
• and whatever the external circumfluent vortex whirls round,
so that the intellectual power (noeran dynamin) exempt from the things of fate can live pure and free by
itself, doing what is just and accepting what happens and saying the truth: if thou wilt separate, I say,
from this ruling faculty (hegemonikon)

• the things which are attached to it by the impressions of sense,

• and the things of time to come and of time that is past,
• and wilt make thyself like Empedocles’ sphere, “All round, and in its joyous rest reposing”;
and if thou shalt strive to live only what is really thy life, that is, the present — then thou wilt be able to
pass that portion of life which remains for thee up to the time of thy death, free from perturbations,
nobly, and obedient to thy own daemon.”
From the discipline of assent to the discipline of desire/physics in

• You might have noted how it cannot really be separated from the discipline of assent. Its objects
are external things (ta pragmata).

• But the discipline of assent in part concerns aproptosia with regard to our judgments of these
external things.

• What then occurs, if we efface imagination and put our precipitous judgments to rest,
circumscribing closely what is and is not of our ruling faculty?
• The famous kataleptike phantasia of Stoic doctrine: a clear and distinct presentation of a thing—not
as we wish, hope, fear, desire, etc. it to be, but as it is, just in itself.
• But this is Stoic physics, one of the other three topoi, often given priority in the Stoa.

• The Stoics, like all ancient philosophers, are in modern terms “realists”: if we purify our minds
through philosophy and its exercises, our minds are deeply akin to the world, open to the world,
and capable of accurately mirroring the world.

• emotions (pathe)
Things impressions (phantasia) judgments (hypolepseis) assent (synkatathesis)
imagination (ten phantasian)
Kataleptike phantasia
“the pessimism of an intellectual”? The “case” of Marcus Aurelius?

• Hadot notes how much more developed this discipline is in Marcus than in Epictetus. (UCP 180)

• Whereas Epictetus is reticent to speak of physics, more often evoking God or Zeus, Marcus often evokes natural
processes, analyses things with a peculiar ‘objectivity’, including human things.

• This has led to recurrent charges of pessimism or world-weariness in Marcus. Witness VIII.24: “Just as your bath
appears to you—oil, sweat, flifth, sticky water, and all kinds of disgusting things—such us each part of life, and
every object.”

• Or more famously, VI.13:

• “VI.13. When we have meat before us and such eatables, we receive the impression, that this is the dead body of a
fish, and this is the dead body of a bird or of a pig; and again, that this Falernian is only a little grape juice, and this
purple robe some sheep’s wool dyed with the blood of a shell-fish: or, sexual intercourse, a rubbing together of guts
followed by the spasmodic excretion of sticky fluid--such then are these impressions, and they reach the things
themselves and penetrate them, and so we see what kind of things they are. Just in the same way ought we to act all
through life, and where there are things which appear most worthy of our approbation, we ought to lay them bare
and look at their worthlessness, and strip them of all the words by which they are exalted…”

• Or, again, V.33 on human affairs: “all that we prize so highly in our lives is empty and corrupt and paltry, and we
are but puppies snapping at each other, as quarrelsome children now laughing, now in tears.”; “yesterday a little
mucous, tomorrow a mummy or a little dust.” (IV.48.2)

• Marcus’ campaigns against the Sarmatians are compared by him to the hunting of a fly by a spider. (X.10)

• But can we not look then to fame for consolation, an ersatz immortality: as we’ll see, Marcus finds fame an
illusion: one’s name is “nothing but a single word, as weak as an echo” (V.33; VII.21; III.10; IX.30), almost
evoking Ecclesiastes from the wisdom texts of the Jewish tradition,

• Cf. PCES 145-148; also: “Marc Aurele: Etait-il Opiomane?” in Hadot, Etudes de Philosophie Ancienne.
Exercises of decomposition (diaeresis)

• Hadot: “the ‘pessimistic’ formulas of Marcus Aurelius are not the expression of the personal views
of a disenchanted emperor, but practical spiritual exercises according to rigorous methods.” (PCES

• To see this, consider III.11.1, important for both Hadot and Foucault:

“To the aids (parastemata) which have been mentioned let this one still be added:—Make for thyself a
definition (poieisthai horon) or description of the thing which is presented to thee, so as to see distinctly
what kind of a thing it is in its substance, in its nudity (gymnon), in its complete entirety (holon), and tell
thyself its proper name (onoma), and the names of the things of which it has been compounded, and into
which it will be resolved.”

• Foucault divides exercises of this kind in Marcus, into those which analyse things:

i. spatially, into parts, which as in III.11 Marcus enjoins himself to enumerate or name;

ii. Temporally, according to duration,

• Hadot notes that several sections divide things according to the four basic categories of Stoic

i. Matter ; ii. Form and/or cause ; iii. Duration ; iv. Role in the wider cosmos

(CF. II.4; III.11; IV.21; VIII.11; IX.25; IX.37; X.9;XII.10; this from PCES 155, & n. 1)

Ie. We are far from the idle musings of an isolated intellctual or opium addict: but to what end?
To still judgment, assessing
things for what they are
• Why do this? It is the flipside of the logical exercises, separating what comes
from the thing our friend the kataleptike phantasia, from what comes from us:

• So, VI.13 continues, after its definition of sexual union (sunouisa) as a

spasmodic excretion of slime, which Hadot notes echoes the “objective”
“medical” definitions of Hippocrates and Democritus:

“Just in the same way ought we to act all through life, and where there are things
which appear most worthy of our approbation, we ought to lay them bare
(apogymnoun) and look at their worthlessness, and clense them (katharon) of the
account/repute (historian) by which they are exalted. For outward show is very
seductive (paralogistes), and when thou art most sure that thou art employed about
things worth thy pains, it is then that it cheats thee most.”

• Or consider the exercise where Marcus proposes that we break down a

powerful melody into its parts: individual notes, whose charm can be resisted:

“XI.2 …In all things, then, except virtue and the acts of virtue, remember to
apply thyself to their several parts, and by this division (diaeresis) to come to look
down upon them (kataphronesin): and apply this rule also to thy whole life.”
The end of the diaeresis
• i.e. this is a calculated practice of training judgment to a clear sighted evaluation and
discernment of what is occurring, not “whirled around” by overwhelming first

• More than this, as kataphronein indicates, it is meaningfully about “getting over” or

“above” externals, and their power to affect us via imagination, emotions, and social

• And this is just what III.11 goes on to say, after prompting us to divide each thing we
see into its parts:

“For nothing is so productive of elevation of mind (megalophrosyne) as to be able to

examine methodically and truly every object which is presented to thee in life, and always
to look at things so as to see at the same time what kind of universe this is, and what kind
of use everything performs in it, and what value everything has with reference to the
whole, and what with reference to man, who is a citizen of the highest city, of which all
other cities are like families; what each thing is [form], and of what it is composed
[matter], and how long it is the nature of this thing to endure [duration] which now
makes an impression on me, and what virtue I have need of with respect to it [relation to
self], such as gentleness, manliness, truth, fidelity, simplicity, contentment, and the
The view from above
(esp. IX.30; XII.24 end; VII.35; IV.3; VII.47)
• This brings us to the seemingly opposed exercises Marcus recurs to in the text: which
don’t “drill down” into details, as opposed to captivating appearances; but which “pan
out” towards a view from above.

“IX.30: Look down from above on the countless herds of men and their countless
solemnities, and the infinitely varied voyagings in storms and calms, and the differences
among those who are born, who live together, and die ...”

“XII.27: as the third of three principles to have procheira, we are recommended:

“Third, if thou shouldst suddenly be raised up above the earth, and shouldst look down
on human beings, and observe the variety of them how great it is, and at the same time
also shouldst see at a glance how great is the number of beings who dwell all around in
the air and the aether, consider that as often as thou shouldst be raised up, thou wouldst
see the same things, sameness of form and shortness of duration. Are these things to be
proud of ?”

• Or, finally, VII.48:

“This is a fine saying of Plato: That he who is discoursing about men should look also at
earthly things as if he viewed them from some higher place; should look at them in their
assemblies, armies, agricultural labours, marriages, treaties, births, deaths, noise of the
courts of justice, desert places, various nations of barbarians, feasts, lamentations,
markets, a mixture of all things and an orderly combination of contraries.”
The commonality of the exercise across the schools,
as a therapy for the passions

• In PWL you’ll see there is an entire chapter on this exercise

across the philosophical schools, “The View from Above”.
• For instance, Boethius’ Consolations at II.7 sees Lady
Philosophy asking her charge to do exactly this, standing back
from his laments about lost personal fame, to see how small
the affairs of Rome appear when viewed as the gods see them.
• Hadot in IC highlights the role this exercise had in Cynical
philosophy, recurring esp. to Lucian’s Icaromenippus: a satire
about a philosopher (Menippus) who, tired of endless
philosophical dispute, constructs some wings for himself
(Icarus) in order to consult with the gods.
• From above, human life appears as a hodge-podge: the rich
have little to be proud of; their lands are as small as one of
Epicurus’ atoms (see Lecture 5), and people appear as a swarm
of ants running hither and thither.
The View from Above in Seneca’s Natural Questions

• Foucault notes the import of this exercise in Seneca’s Natural Questions, a text in four books devoted to Stoic
physics: From “Preface” to Book 1:

• The full consummation of human felicity is attained when, all vice trampled under foot, the soul seeks the
heights and reaches the inner recesses of nature. What joy then to roam through the very stars, to look down
with derision on the gilded saloons of the rich and the whole earth with its store of gold ! Gold, did I say ? Yes,
all the gold the earth ever produced and sent into currency, and all that she keeps hidden in secret to glut the
avarice of posterity. Only when one has surveyed the whole 6 universe can one truly despise grand colonnades,
ceilings glittering with ivory, trim groves and cooling streams transported into wealthy mansions. From above,
one can now look down upon this narrow world, covered for the most part by sea, and, even where it rises above
the sea, an ugly waste either parched or frozen.

• The philosopher says to himself : Is this the plot that so many tribes portion out by fire and sword? How
ludicrous are their frontiers !The Dacian must not pass the lower Danube ; 7 the Strymon must shut off the
Thracians ; the Euphrates must be the barrier of the Parthians ; the Danube must form the boundary between
Sarmatian and Roman ; the Rhine must set a limit to Germany ; the Pyrenees must raise their chain between
Gallic and Spanish provinces ; between Egypt and Ethiopia a desert of barren sands must stretch ! Why, if ants
are ever endowed with human intelligence, will not they in like manner portion out a threshing-floor into many
provinces ?

• But when you rise to what is truly great, then, as often as you see armies marching forth with floating banners,
and the cavalry now scouting in front, now massed on the flanks, as if some great design were toward, you will
pleasantly remark : “The black swarm is hurrying through the plains.” That host is a throng of ants, its evolutions
are in a back garden. In what do we excel the ants, save in the measure of the puny little body ? That is a mere
point in which you sail, and war, and dis pose your kingdoms. Your kingdoms are miniscule even when they
stretch from Ocean to Ocean.”

• :cf. Amenabar’s Agora (2010), a film about the neoplatonic philosopherHypatia.

The ends of the exercise?
• So, Marcus is working as legatee to a philosophical tradition, one in which this exercise cuts across
doctrinal divides (Lucian close to Cynics, Marcus cites Plato), and is certainly well established within the
the Stoa (Seneca).

• What is its end? Following Foucault, Preface to Natural Questions I (cf. Preface to III), Seneca lists four
things to justify writing a book of physics in old age:

i. Ascending to a higher perspective assists in ethical formation: particularly in overcoming one’s partial,
particular self and its worries, concerns, anxieties.

Cf. Marcus VII.47: “Watch the stars in their courses as one that runneth about with them therein; and think
constantly upon the reciprocal changes of the elements, for thoughts on these things cleanse away the mire of
earthly life (ton rypon tou chamai biou).”

ii. Ascending to this kind of perspective assimilates our reason with the divine reason which overlooks all
things: it is to practice the megalopscyhia of the sage.

As Hadot notes, the Stoic definition of megalopsychia is, roughly, “to not be troubled by external things”.

iii. Ascending to such a god’s eye perspective allows us to see what Foucault calls the “irony of the
miniscule”: how ant-like we are, and thus how foolish to become so embroiled in strife over such small
matters (cf. Lucian).

Hadot notes, Stoic physics sets out to “deanthropomorphise”, and to disenchant: to replace our emotive
evaluations with the viewpoint of universal nature, as it were synching our thoughts, through our assents,
with Nature.
Marcus’ physical premeditations on death

• Lucian’s other satire, Episkountes (the overseers) also centrally features a comic take on the view
from above. But its main character is Charon, ferry man who takes the newly dead soul over
to Hades.

• Hadot finds the link between the view from above and this mythical figure associated with
death significant. (IC 175)

• Why? Marcus uses the “analyse and overcome” diaeretic method concerning death, in this
way coming kataphronein, to look down upon this greatest source of human angst:

“To observe, too, who these are whose opinions and voices give reputation; what death is, and the
fact that, if a man looks at it in itself, and by the abstractive power of reflection resolves into their
parts all the things which present themselves to the imagination in it, he will then consider it to be
nothing else than an operation of nature; and if any one is afraid of an operation of nature he is a
child. This, however, is not only an operation of nature, but it is also a thing which conduces to the
purposes of nature.” II.12; Cf. iv.5 esp.; VII.32; VI.4; VI.10; IV.14)

• Note the Meds. are written in the last decade of Marcus’ life, as he struggled with illnesses, and
esp. books II and III are characterised by an urgency, and a recurrent return to the need to
recall the nearness of death (II.2; II.4; II.6; II.17; III.1; III,14)—not to be ‘pessimistic’, but to
‘seize the day’:

• “let thy every deed and action and thought be those of a man who can depart from life this
moment …: (II.11 start)
Marcus’ own signatures: the view from above,
related to time: all is change, transience meditations
• In Marcus, the view from above (and the exercises of analysis) are related to a very specific
philosophical sense of time.

• So, IX.20 continues, after undertaking the thought exercise of looking down on things in space
(above): “And consider, too, the life lived by others in olden time, and the life of those who will live
after thee, and the life now lived among barbarous nations, and how many know not even thy name,
and how many will soon forget it, and how they who perhaps now are praising thee will very soon
blame thee, and that neither a posthumous name is of any value, nor reputation, nor anything else.”

• This objective perspective hence assigns to each thing its duration, and observes that everything is
constantly passing: alliotrosis (alteration) or metabole (changing form).

“X.11: Acquire a method for contemplating how all things are transformed into each other, concentrate
your attention on this ceaselessly and exercise yourself on this point.”

“X.18: When you regard each substance, imagine that it is already being dissolved, is in the midst of
transformation, in the process of rotting and being destroyed.”

• Again, the function of the exercises here is to cool craving for these things.

• In particular, Marcus is keen to remind himself of the transience of fame: as per III.10: “Short is the
time each of us lives; puny the little corner of earth on which we live; how puny, finally, is even th
elengthietst posthumous fame. Even this glory, moreover, is transmitted by men who’ll soon be dead,
without ever having known themselves, much less him who has long since been dead.

• Cf. II.12; III.17; IV.3l VII.10; III.3; VII.18; VII.25; VII.11; VII.19; VII.21; XII.24.3 etc.
The eternal recurrence of the same (see lecture 11, of course)
• Foucault notes a second Marcus peculiarity: the view from above for him affirms the circularity of
time; that there is nothiing wholly new under the sun; given the interconnected lawfulness of nature.
Amongst the special capacities of our rational soul, Marcus reflects (recall lecture 1) at XI.1.2, is
that it can

“traverse the whole universe, and the surrounding vacuum, and surveys its form, and it extends itself
into the infinity of time, and embraces and comprehends the periodical renovation of all things, and it
comprehends that those who come after us will see nothing new, nor have those before us seen anything
more, but in a manner he who is forty years old, if he has any understanding at all, has seen by virtue of
the uniformity that prevails all things which have been and all that will be.”

• Or X.27:

“Constantly consider how all things such as they now are, in time past also were; and consider that they
will be the same again. And place before thy eyes entire dramas and stages of the same form, whatever
thou hast learned from thy experience or from older history; for example, the whole court of Hadrianus,
and the whole court of Antoninus, and the whole court of Philippus, Alexander, Croesus; for all those
were such dramas as we see now, only with different actors.”

• Or, my favorite, this on the great days of the great emperors (Marcus was presumably regularly
regaled with nostalgic evocations of his predecessors’ glories). But if we consider even Augustus’
Rome, Marcus reflects:

“You will see all these things: people marrying, bringing up children, sick, dying, warring, feasting,
trafficking, cultivating the ground, flattering, obstinately arrogant, suspecting, plotting, wishing for some
to die, grumbling about the present, loving, heaping up treasure, desiring consulship, kingly power. Well
then, that life of these people no longer exists at all.” (IV.32; cf. VIII. 31)
The aim of this exercise
• Marcus recurrently speaks against surprise, or being “whirled about”. as an optimal ethical

• As in the Epicurean school, the discovery of physical laws or regularities, even universal
determination (IV.9), as a means to tranquility and even-mindedness:

• VII.1: “WHAT is badness? It is that which thou hast often seen. And on the occasion of
everything which happens keep this in mind, that it is that which thou hast often seen.
Everywhere up and down thou wilt find the same things, with which the old histories are filled,
those of the middle ages and those of our own day; with which cities and houses are filled now.
There is nothing new; all things are both familiar and short-lived.”

• VII.68 end: “For everything which happens has a relationship either to God or man, and is
neither new nor difficult to handle, but usual and apt matter to work on.”

• i.e. Science, reason, knowledge, or philosophy, knowing the kinds, causes, relations, and behaviors
of different things, as a means to live well, calmly prepared for different eventualities:

• VIII.5. Remember that as it is a shame to be surprised if the fig-tree produces figs, so it is to be

surprised if the world produces such and such things of which it is productive; and for the
physician and the helmsman it is a shame to be surprised, if a man has a fever, or if the wind if

• Cf. “XI.33: 33. To look for the fig in winter is a madman’s act: such is he who looks for his child
when it is no longer allowed (Epictetus, iii. 24, 87).”
Marcus’ other unusual emphasis: circumscribing the present

• Recalling the transience of life focuses the mind, for Marcus: making us aware that we
ought to try to live well, now.

• On one hand, there is a focus on the present moment as a way of not being
overwhelmed, when faced with a seemingly great task or adversity.

• This also responds to the psychological observation that our passions bind us to the
future—positively in desire, negatively in worries; and to the past, happily in nostalgia,
bitterly in shame/regret/guilt:

• “VIII.36: Do not disturb thyself by thinking of the whole of thy life. Let not thy
thoughts at once embrace all the various troubles which thou mayest expect to befall
thee: but on every occasion ask thyself, What is there in this which is intolerable and
past bearing? for thou wilt be ashamed to confess. In the next place remember that
neither the future nor the past pains thee, but only the present. But this is reduced to a
very little, if thou only circumscribest it, and chidest thy mind, if it is unable to hold out
against even this.”

• Indeed, there is a deep insight that all forms of mental suffering are rooted in the desire
not to accept the world as it is, or one’s present condition: to want what is not to be
present, or to want what is present to not be so.
The present alone as what is eph’hemin

• But there’s more to this: a peculiar temporal inflection of Epictetus’ stress on always attending only to
what depends upon us and is subject to our control. Thought through in relation to time, where does this
leave us?

VI.32.2ff: “Everything other than its own activity is indifferent to the faculty of reflection (dianoia).
Everything that is its own activity, however, is within its power. Moreover, even among these latter activities,
the reflective faculty concerns itself only with the present, for even its own past or future activities are now
indifferent to it.” (II.14; III.10; XII.26.2)

• It is hence only fully rational for the Stoic, to focus his attention on each moment, maximising his
attention and immersion or activity at each instant:

• “Take joy and repose in one thing only: to pass from one act to another accomplished in the service of
the human community…” (VI.7)

• More than this, Marcus’ ‘good news’ here is that, as misery can only be made of passing instants, so
happiness can be attained by a joyous acceptance of where one is and what one is doing:

“All the happiness you are seeking by such long, rouNdabout ways you can have right now … I mean, if you
leave all of the past behind you, if you leave the future to providence, and if you arrange the present according
tO piety and justice.” XII.1.1-2

• Again, XII.3.4: “If you apply yourself only to living that which you are living—in other words, the
present—then you can live the rest of your life until your death in peace, benevolence, and serenity”.
So, less pessimism, than the cultivation of a great-souled
acceptance of the world
• Two closing points:

1. Attaining to this impersonal attitude denudes natural things of the values we ascribe to things, but
aims thereby at an openness to all aspects of things—including natural beauty.

• Hadot is very fond of this passage, for instance (cf. IC 168-169)

• We ought to observe also that even the things which follow after the things which are produced
according to nature [the famous kat’apakolouthesin] contain something pleasing and attractive. For
instance, when bread is baked some parts are split at the surface, and these parts which thus open,
and have a certain fashion contrary to the purpose of the baker’s art, are beautiful in a manner, and
in a peculiar way excite a desire for eating. …

• And the ears of corn bending down, and the lion’s eyebrows, and the foam which flows from the
mouth of wild boars, and many other things—though they are far from being beautiful, if a man
should examine them severally—still, because they are consequent upon the things which are
formed by nature, help to adorn them, and they please the mind; so that if a man should have a
feeling and deeper insight with respect to the things which are produced in the universe, there is
hardly one of those which follow by way of consequence which will not seem to him to be in a
manner disposed so as to give pleasure.

• And so he will see even the real gaping jaws of wild beasts with no less pleasure than those which
painters and sculptors show by imitation; and in an old woman and an old man he will be able to
see a certain maturity and comeliness; and the attractive loveliness of young persons he will be able
to look on with chaste eyes; and many such things will present themselves, not pleasing to every
man, but to him only who has become truly familiar with nature and her works.
Eupatheia: the sage’s higher joy
or amor fati
• Wisdom pertains to an acceptance without reserve the world as it has become at each moment, wishing that it has
become just as it has, that you are just who destiny or chance has made, in this life that is uniquely yours:

“X.21: “The earth loves the shower”; and “the solemn aether loves”: and the universe loves to make whatever is about to
be. I say then to the universe, that I love as thou lovest. And is not this too said, that “this or that loves [is wont] to be

• And Marcus’ famous prayer to nature at IV.23:

“Everything harmonizes with me which is harmonious to thee, O Universe. Nothing for me is too early nor too late,
which is in due time for thee. Everything is fruit to me which thy seasons bring, O Nature: from thee are all things, in
thee are all things, to thee all things return. The poet says, Dear city of Cecrops; and wilt not thou say, Dear city of

• Not wholly contemplative, as we know since Marcus was an emperor, and there is the entire discipline of action
we’ll look at next week—more a psychical katharsis to make us more available to the full range of life’s challenges
and experiences, unburdened by worries concerning things we cannot change or control:

“If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything
else to distract you, but keeping the divine part pure as if you should be bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to
this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with the present activity according to nature, and with truth in
every word and sound which you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this. (IV.12)

• This may be many things—but pessimism it ain’t. Mysticism might be a better word. The Stoics talk of the
eupatheia, positive affects the sage experiences, in contrast to ordinary pathe.

• But we’ll have to follow this up, and hopefully many of your queries, next time.