Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Selections from Musonius Rufus

These are a few passages from Ben White's modern interpretation of Musonius Rufus' lessons and fragments.

Of everything that exists, God has put some in our control, some not. He has put the noblest and most excellent thing in our control, the power of using our impressions. When correctly used, this means serenity, cheerfulness, constancy, justice, law, self control - virtue, overall.

From The Good:

If you do a good thing through your hard work, the work passes and the good remains. If you gain pleasure through dishonor, the pleasure will pass, but the dishonor remains.

None of the things which people believe they suffer as personal injuries are an injury or a disgrace to those experiencing them -- even being insulted, struck, or spat upon. Disgrace lies not in enduring them, but rather in doing them. For what does the man who accepts insult do that is wrong? It is the doer of wrong who puts themselves to shame.  To be sure -- a good person can never be wronged by a bad. "

From Women:

Women and men have the gift of reason from the gods. Both are naturally inclined toward virtue and the ability to acquire it. Both are pleased by good, just, acts, and reject their opposites. If this is true, how can we say that men should search out how they may live good lives, but women should not? Should men be good, but not women? 

Shun selfishness, revere fairness, and, being a human being, wish to help your fellow human --- this is the noblest lesson, making those learn it Just. Why is it more appropriate for a man to learn this?  If women should be Just they must learn the same lessons; they are eminently appropriate to the character of each.

From Leadership:

With the exception of philosophy, there is no study that develops self-control. It teaches you to be above pleasure and greed, admire thrift and avoid extravagance -- in trains you to have a sense of shame, and to control your tongue - it produces discipline, order, and courtesy - in general, appropriate action. When these qualities are present in an ordinary person, they impart dignity and self-command - if present in a king they make him more godlike and worthy of reverence. 

Courage breeds the fearless, the intrepid, the bold - how else would you acquire these characteristics other than by having a firm conviction that death and hardships are not evil?  For these are the things that unbalance and frighten you -- philosophy is the only teacher that they are not evils. If kings ought to possess courage, and they should more than anyone else, they must study philosophy. They cannot become courageous by any other means.

From Resilience:

If you wish to be healthy, you must spend your life taking care of yourself. Reason shouldn't be cast out after an illness is cured; let it remain in the soul to guard your judgment. The power of reason shouldn't be compared to medicines, but to healthy foods -- it introduces a good frame of mind to those where it becomes habitual. However, when emotions are at their greatest heat, wise words and warnings have barely any effect at all. They are like the scents that revive those fallen in a fit, yet don't cure the disease.

Anyone will admit how much better it is instead of:
- struggling to win someone else's wife, struggle to discipline your desires?
- enduring hardship for money -- train yourself to want little?
- trying to injure an envied person -- ask how to stifle envy?

Hard work and hardship are a necessity for all -- both for those who seek better ends and for those who seek the worse -- it is ridiculous that those who are pursuing the better are not much more eager in their efforts than those who have small hope of reward for all their pains. 

If we were to measure what is good by how much pleasure it brings, nothing would be better than self-control -- if we were to measure what is to be avoided by its pain, nothing would be more painful than lack of self-control.

Virtue isn't simply theoretical knowledge -- it is the practical application, just like the arts of medicine and music. If you wish to become good, you must not only know the precepts conducive to virtue, you must be constantly applying these principles. 

From Marriage:

In marriage, there must be above all, perfect companionship and mutual love -- both in sickness and in health, under all conditions. It should be with desire for this and children that both enter upon marriage.

If you say that each one should look out for their own interests alone, you represent mankind as no different from the wild animals, born to live by violence and plunder, doing anything to gain some selfish advantage -- having no part in a shared life, no part of cooperation with others, no share of any concept of justice.  

It is each man's duty to consider his own city, making his home a rampart for its protection. But the first step towards this is marriage. Whoever destroys the human marriage destroys the home, the city, the whole human race.

The home or the city doesn't depend on women or men alone, but their union with one another.

From Obedience

If your father or the archon or even the tyrant orders something wrong, unjust, or shameful, and you do not carry out the order -- you are in no way disobeying, as you do no wrong nor fail to do write. Disobedience is disregarding and refusing to carry out good, honourable, and useful orders.

From Food:
Surely a good man should be as robust as a slave; for that reason, Zeno thought he ought to beware of dietary delicacy. If he gave in just once, then he would go the whole way, since when it comes to food and drink, pleasure accelerates its pace alarmingly.

From True Wealth
We shall condemn the treasures of Croesus and Cinyras as deepest poverty. One man alone is rich, the man who has acquired the ability to want nothing, always and everywhere. 

I choose sickness over luxury, for sickness only harms the body -- luxury destroys body and soul, bringing with it weakness, feebleness, a lack of  self control, and cowardice.

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