Friday, 4 May 2012


One of the most impressive Roman works of art that I've seen is the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome (although since 1981 the original has been in the Capitoline Museums). This week I've been reading the emperor's 'Meditations' (Penguin Classics edition, 1964, trans. Maxwell Staniforth) in which the following can be found: 'When meat and other dainties are before you, you reflect: This is dead fish, or fowl, or pig; or: This Falernian is some of the juice from a bunch of grapes; my purple robe is sheep's wool stained with a little gore from a shellfish; copulation is friction of the members and an ejaculatory discharge. Reflections of this kind go to the bottom of things, penetrating into them and exposing their real nature. The same process should be applied to the whole of life. When a thing's credentials look most plausible, lay it bare, observe its triviality, and strip it of the cloak of verbiage that dignifies it. Pretentiousness is the arch deceiver, and never more delusive than when you imagine your work is most meritorious.' '...does the bubble reputation bother you? Keep before your eyes the swift onset of oblivion, and the abysses of eternity before us and behind; mark how hollow are the echoes of applause, how fickle and undiscerning the judgments of professed admirers, and how puny the arena of human fame. For the entire earth is but a point, and the place of our own habitation but a minute corner in it; and how many are therein who will praise you, and what sort of men are they?'

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