Marcus again addresses issues with a 1-2 punch. He begins by discussing the failings of old age, the creeping theft that is senility and dementia. Not only are we limited to 70 or 80 years by virtue of the body, but the period of our lives in which our minds are sharpest might only be from age 20 to some unknown period less than the body’s.
That’s a staggeringly motivating observation.
Yet, Marcus knows his own mind, and by extension, is familiar with ours. He immediately follows up, preempting really, the conclusion that this is a fact over which to be sad, or morose, or lamenting. Rather, he begins a description of “flaws which beautify.”
He is speaking of the cracks in bread or fruit, laugh lines in the faces of the elderly, etc. I’m reminded of Kintsugi, or ‘golden joinery.’ It’s a method of repairing damaged or broken ceramics with gold, the result is a piece more beautiful, at least to my eye, than the original was.
Marcus knows himself well enough to see that the observation of a limited time, and increasingly real chances of failure are demoralizing to we non-Sages, so he immediately tempers that with something closer to a cosmic perspective, where the “flaws” are needed, and actually beautify the final point.
It’s one thing to remember this ameliorating counter-balance when writing and reading, quite another to remember to do so in daily life. This is the reason the Discipline of Assent is so crucial, the active monitoring of impressions to buy that little bit of time before automatic judgments are made. It’s a very difficult thing to do, but absolutely necessary in the Stoic program.
I chose a new-to-me translation for this project, the Staniforth. I’m quite enjoying this work, I think it is very well done. The cover of the version I have is a sort of Byzantine icon looking rendition of a Jesus figure, and the inside dust jacket reference Christianity more than the Stoics. All that aside, Staniforth is becoming my new favorite translation of Meditations.
If you have one or two translators whose work you prefer, let me know in the comments.