The Soul’s Journey

The opening passage of the tenth chapter of Marcus AureliusMeditations contains two very interesting thoughts: one is that all lives are complete—no life can truly be said to be “unfinished”; secondly, every person experiences all that it is possible to be experienced, at least in the essentials.

The rational soul achieves its end at whatever point life may be cut off, unlike a dance, a play, and the like, where the whole performance is incomplete if it is interrupted.

The Stoic emperor seems to be saying that by the end of our lives we have embarked on a definite moral or intellectual direction and that whatever decisions we might have made had we lived longer would merely be a continuation of the tangent we have previously chosen. How true or not that is, is ultimately a mystery. But the overall stamp of our character, and the legacy we leave behind, is certainly compounded out of the preponderance of our actions one way or the other. The passage that follows is expressed in very poetic terms:

Moreover, the rational soul travels through the whole universe and the void which surrounds it, and observes its form; it stretches into infinity of time…. it observes that those who come after us will see nothing new, nothing different from what our predecessors saw, but in a sense a man of forty, if he has any intelligence, has seen all the past and all the future, because they are of the same kind as the present.

Or in the words of the Old Testament, “Ever that shall be that ever has been, that which has happened once shall happen again; there can be nothing new, here under the sun. Never man calls a thing new, but it is something already known to the ages that went before us…” (Eccl. 1:9-10). However much our outward circumstances may differ, we are all faced with the same fundamental choices and existential challenges.

The above excerpts are taken from the Hackett edition of The Meditations (transl. G. M. A. Grube).

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