Sunday, December 2, 2012

"Live A Good Life": About that totally bogus Marcus Aurelius quote that has been floating around

The image is a bust of Caracalla by Bartolomeo Cavaceppi.
Anyone who is familiar with the ancient Stoic philosophers knows that they were staunch defenders of traditional religion, including especially the worship of the traditional Gods and Goddesses and the dutiful enactment of rituals and other outward expressions of the ancient Pagan cults.

In particular, central to the Stoic conception of "the good life" is piety toward the Goddesses and Gods.

This pious attitude concerning the Gods is expressed very clearly and frequently in our two most important primary sources on Stoicism: the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the Discourses of Epictetus, as well as in our most extensive source of information concerning Stoic views of religion: Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods (although a Platonist, Cicero is considered a very accurate source of information on Stoicism, and was especially sympathetic to Stoic views on religion).

We can also examine the works of Zeno, Cleanthes and Chrysippus, the early founders of Stoicism, thanks to the work of P.A. Meijer who has collected together, translated and commented upon the remaining fragments of their writings on religious subjects in his masterful book "Stoic Theology". Meijer makes it very clear that the earliest Stoics strongly asserted that both "veneration" (the performance of traditional worship) and "piety" (the proper attitude toward the Gods) were essential to living well.

Sources:

Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, online:
http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=2133&Itemid=27

Epictetus' Discourses, online:
http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1477&Itemid=27

Cicero's On the Nature of the Gods (translated by P.G. Walsh):
http://www.amazon.com/Nature-Gods-Oxford-Worlds-Classics/dp/0199540063/

P.A. Meijer's Stoic Theology:
http://books.google.com/books/about/Stoic_Theology.html?id=9lFlb4dn51sC

18th century bust of Caracalla by Bartolomeo Cavaceppi at the Getty Museum:
http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=1472

Various sightings of the bogus Marcus Aurelius quote from around teh internets (often found in people's "signature block"):
Oct 14th 2009
http://bibleforums.org/archive/index.php/t-194149.html

August 24, 2007

June 14, 2007

09-29-2006

01-17-2005 

6 October 2003
http://www.firstones.com/forums/showpost.php?s=227a1b007a4f050a07963af0cf95f92e&p=78478&postcount=1


10 comments:

roberto quintas said...

closest quote simillar to the bogus:
Undertake each action as one aware he may next moment depart out of life. To depart from men, if there be really Gods, can have nothing terrible in it. The Gods will involve you in no evil. If there are no Gods, or, if they have no regard to human affairs, why should I desire to live in a world without Gods, and without providence? But Gods there are, undoubtedly, and they regard human affairs; and have put it wholly in our power, that we should not fall into what is * truly evil.

Gorm Sionnach said...

Owing to the pervasivness of this quote, and the penchant many otherwise sensible folks have for quoting it, I wrote about this last June.

http://threeshoutsonahilltop.blogspot.ca/2011/06/marcus-aurelius-and-source-checking.html

Maybe if more Pagans actually read the authors they are supposed to be quoting, this misattribution wouldn't still be floating around.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Roberto: yes I think that quote is the closest one will find in Marcus' actual writings. To my mind there is a very significant difference between what he says here and what is attributed to him in the bogus quote.

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Gorm: thanks for that link. In a follow-up post I plan to put together a list other posts, like yours, that have also identified this quote as bogus (including, if I can find it again, the post that clued me in to the correct identity of the image of Caracalla that often accompanies this bogus quote).

Anonymous said...

who cares its a brilliant statement whoever came up with it. GET A LIFE

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Dear Anonymous,

In the first place, someone "cared" enough to claim that the quote comes from Marcus Aurelius. Maybe you do not care about this, but those who claim it is from Marcus obviously do think that it makes a difference, otherwise they would not bother to make that claim. And their claim is wrong.

In the second place, the quote is not at all "brilliant". To put it in very plainly, the quote is bullshit, and it grossly misreprsents Stoic philosophy.

The Stoics held piety to be among the most important of the virtues. But this bogus quote claims that it doesn't matter "how devout you are". This directly contradicts Marcus' beliefs and Stoicism generally.

Robert Hawkins said...

It doesn't matter who said it, who is credited with it or whether it's Stoic or not. It's simply a "right" way of looking at life (IMO).

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Hi Robert, Anyone who doesn't understand enough about Stoic philosophy to immediately recognize that the attribution to Marcus is completely ridiculous is essentially devoid of even the slightest understanding of the most basic facts of Western intellectual culture. Such ignorance obviously doesn't bother a lot of people, but I am proud not to be one of them.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm fishing around trying to get opinions on the authenticity of another widespread Marcus Aurelius quote, it goes like this:

"Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth".

Does that sound genuine?
Thanks
Kano

(I also posted this question at http://threeshoutsonahilltop.blogspot.ca/2011/06/marcus-aurelius-and-source-checking.html, found the link on this page)
Thanks

Apuleius Platonicus said...

Hi Anonymous,
It's not an actual quote, but rather a very loose and somewhat misleading paraphrase of something that Marcus actually did write. I say it is misleading because Marcus, as a Stoic, did believe that the human mind is capable of directly and accurately perceiving objective reality as it really is. In fact, this is a pretty fundamental Stoic concept.

In at least one place in the Meditations, Book 2 section XIII, Marcus appears to attribute the quote that "all is opinion" to the Cynic philosopher Monimus, and Marcus gives a qualified endorsement to this "as far as it is true." Here is a link: http://classics.mit.edu/Antoninus/meditations.2.two.html

In Book 12, Marcus states "remember that all is opinion" without attributing it to anyone else, but then just a few lines later he exhorts "see what things are in themselves", which clearly assumes that the mind is capable of seeing past mere "opinion" and directly perceiving objective truth. Here is a link to that book: http://classics.mit.edu/Antoninus/meditations.12.twelve.html