The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is one of my favorite little ‘meditate’ books, when things seem to be getting out of hand – which happens frequently here. It is on my Kindle, which is very handy. Last night I came across this entry, for which I have several suitable photos of Roman mosaics (below).
… Look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all.
The emptiness of all those applauding hands. The people who praise us – how capricious they are, how arbitrary. And the tiny region in which it all takes place. The whole earth, a point in space – and most of it uninhabited.
How many people there will be to admire you, and who they are.
So keep this refuge in mind: the back roads of your self. Above all, no strain and no stress. Be straightforward. Look at things like a man, like a human being, like a citizen, like a mortal.
And among the things you turn to, these two:
1. That things have no hold on the soul. They stand there unmoving, outside it. Disturbance comes only from within – from our own perceptions
2. That everything you see will soon alter and cease to exist. Think of how many changes you’ve already seen. “The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception.”
… Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both. They were absorbed alike into the life force of the world, or dissolved alike into atoms.
Bucephalus was killed in a battle in India. Alex named a city in current-day Pakistan after his stallion. The mosaic was discovered in Pompeii.
The above donkey mosaic excellently depicts the obnoxious temperment of donkies who, as here, will look ascance even as the most tempting of snacks.
Well, it sounds as if M. Aurelius was a bit of a pessimist – some would say realist – but certainly a stoicist by philosophic leaning.
He penned his entries while on campaign in Europe, primarily Germany, amidst slaughter, defeats and gains there, and at home, amid wreched political manuverings of the Roman politicians.
I think that he was considered the last of the Ten Rightous Roman Emperors, or something to that effect. Lived in the 2nd Century AD.
Apparently, he was very hard on Christians, whose sects were expanding at that time, particularly in Egypt – in the Fayuum, where some of the most beautiful combination of Greek and Egyptian portrate art was being produced during this period.
The portrat art was painted on thin pieces of wood that were affixed to mummies of the deceased individuals. The deceased would have been both Christians and those following a melding of Graeco-Roman and Egyptian religious practices and motifs. Christians at the time, in Egypt, accepted mummification.
A few of these beautiful portraits: