A Stoic’s take on the vanity of fame

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 

18 October 2012


…..τὸ δοξάριόν σε περισπάσει; ἀπιδὼν εἰς τὸ τάχος τῆς πάντων λήθης καὶ τὸ χάος τοῦ ἐφ᾽ ἑκάτερα ἀπείρου αἰῶνος καὶ τὸ κενὸν τῆς ἀπηχήσεως καὶ τὸ εὐμετάβολον καὶ ἄκριτον τῶν εὐφημεῖν δοκούντων καὶ τὸ στενὸν τοῦ τόπου, ἐν περιγράφεται….

Πᾶν τὸ καὶ ὁπωσοῦν καλὸν ἐξ ἑαυτοῦ καλόν ἐστι καὶ ἐφ̓ ἑαυτὸ καταλήγει, οὐκ ἔχον μέρος ἑαυτοῦ τὸν ἔπαινον: οὔτε γοῦν χεῖρον κρεῖττον γίνεται τὸ ἐπαινούμενον. τοῦτό φημι καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν κοινότερον καλῶν λεγομένων, οἷον ἐπὶ τῶν ὑλικῶν καὶ ἐπὶ τῶν τεχνικῶν κατασκευασμάτων ῾τὸ γὰρ δὴ ὄντως καλὸν τίνος χρείαν ἔχει; οὐ μᾶλλον νόμος, οὐ μᾶλλον ἀλήθεια, οὐ μᾶλλον εὔνοια αἰδώς᾿: τί τούτων διὰ τὸ ἐπαινεῖσθαι καλόν ἐστιν ψεγόμενον φθείρεται; σμαράγδιον γὰρ ἑαυτοῦ χεῖρον γίνεται, ἐὰν μὴ ἐπαινῆται; τί δὲ χρυσός, ἐλέφας, πορφύρα, λύρα, μαχαίριον, ἀνθύλλιον, δενδρύφιον;

“.…does the bubble reputation distract 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….

“Anything in any way beautiful derives its beauty from itself, and asks nothing beyond itself. Praise is no part of it, for nothing is made worse or better by praise. This applies even to the more mundane forms of beauty: natural objects, for example, or works of art. What need has true beauty of anything further? Surely none; any more than law, or truth, or kindness, or modesty. Is any of these embellished by praise, or spoiled by censure? Does the emerald lose its beauty for lack of admiration? Does gold, or ivory, or purple? A lyre or a dagger, a rosebud or a sapling?

These are two extracts  from the “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius, who was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD.  The first extract comes from Book  4,  Section 3, the second from Book 4, Section 20.   The original Greek has been translated by Maxwell Staniforth and is published in the Penguin Classics series. The Meditations (“Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν”,  literally “thoughts/writings addressed to himself”) are a locus classicus of Stoicism, an ancient Greek philosophy of life based on an acceptance of the natural order of things and indifference to pleasure or pain.


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Capitalism in practice  (4 July 2012) 

5.Ladder  (21 June 2012)

 6. A tale of two cities (1)  (6 June 2012)

 7. A tale of two cities (2)  (7 June 2012)

 8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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