Print Story The Play's the Thing
By TheophileEscargot (Sat May 29, 2010 at 08:06:35 AM EST) Reading, Theatre, Web (all tags)
Reading: "Musonius Rufus: Lectures and Sayings". Theatre: "Henry VIII". Web.

What I'm Reading
Musonius Rufus: Lectures and Sayings by Cynthia King.

Short book translating the surviving works of first-century Stoic philosopher Gaius Musonius Rufus. Formerly influential, he's somewhat obscure at present. Rufus is best known as the teacher of Epictetus, and for his arguments that women should study philosophy, being as capable of virtue as men. Rufus has been out of print in English: this new translation is the first chance most of us have had to read him in years.

The book is a slim 90ish pages. There's a brief introduction by William Irvine explaining the basics of stoic philosophy, a translator's introduction, then about fifty pages of Rufus' lectures. Then there are about fifteen pages of "Sayings", including brief epigrams, a longer letter about the benefits of philosophy, and some anecdotes of Rufus by Epictetus.

The translation is lucid and modern. I wasn't quite sure what to make of the occasional interjections of "By Zeus!": presuming it's just the equivalent of a modern "by God!" emphasis, rather than a serious appeal to the gods.

Rufus himself comes across as a highly practical philosopher. Like many of the Roman stoics, or at least those whose works have survived, he was chiefly concerned with the problems of how an individual can achieve virtue/excellence, and not so much with abstract enquiries about the universe.

In fact he seems impatient with those who spend too much time on philosophy alone. He doesn't like too many proofs:

Once when there was a discussion about the arguments which young people should hear from philosophers in order to master what they are learning, Musonius said that rather than seeking many proofs on each subject, we should seek practical and clear ones. It is not the doctor who brings many drugs to sick people who deserves praise, he said, but rather the one who helps them in a noteworthy manner with the few drugs which he prescribes. The philosopher who teaches his listeners with many proofs is not to be praised either, but rather the one who guides them to where he wants with a few. And the more intelligent the listener is, the fewer proofs that the listener will need and the more quickly he will agree to the discussion's main point, at least if it is sound. The person who requires a detailed argument even when the evidence is clear or who wants things which could be proved with few arguments to be demonstrated to him in many is completely absurd and dull.
He also regards deeds as more important than words:
On another occasion we asked him whether practice or theory is more effective for acquiring virtue, given that theory teaches what we ought to do and practice is demonstrated by those who have been trained to act in accordance with the theory. Musonius thought that practice was more effective, and in support of his own opinion he questioned one of the people present as follows: "Suppose there are two doctors. One of them can talk about medical matters as if he had the greatest possible acquaintance with them, but has never actually cared for sick people. The other is not able to talk about medical matters but is experienced in healing in accordance with medical theory. Which one would you choose as your doctor if you were ill?"
But as a matter of fact, practice is more important than theory because it more effectively leads humans to actions than theory does.
While his views on women were progressive for the time, he's certainly not a feminist by the standards of the present day. He believes women should study philosophy, not that they should leave their conventional sphere of activity, but so they can pursue it with greater excellence.
Someone might say that courage is an appropriate characteristic for men only, but this is not so. It is also necessary for a woman -- at least for a most noble one -- to be courageous and free from cowardice so that she is overcome neither by pain nor by fear. How, after all, can she have self-control if someone, by either causing fear or applying pain, can force her to submit to something shameful? Indeed, women must also be ready to put up a fight, unless, by Zeus, they don't mind appearing inferior to hens and other female birds, which fight with animals much bigger than they are on behalf of their chicks.
Perhaps someone says: "What? Do you advise men to learn spinning along with women and women to pursue gymnastics along with men?!" I am not advising this, but I do say that since among humans the nature of males is stronger and of females is weaker, the most suitable tasks much be assigned to each nature, with the heavier ones being given to the stronger and the lighter ones being given to the weaker.
While he says that a man should not sleep with his female slave, the emphasis is not on the benefits to the slave.
For example, no one with self-control would decide to associate with a mistress, with a free woman outside of marriage, or even, by Zeus, with his own female slave. The illegal and improper aspect of these relationships makes them a disgrace and a great reproach to men who pursue them.
This includes the man who consorts with his own female slave, an act some people consider to be completely blameless, since every master is thought to have complete power to use his own slave however he wants. In response to this, my reasoning is simple: if someone thinks that it is neither shameful nor unnatural for a master to consort with his own female slave (and especially if she happens to be unmarried), what would he think if his wife would consort with a male slave?
In view of some criticisms of stoicism, it's reassuring to see that Rufus is emphatic that stoicism doesn't involve mindless obedience to authority. In the lecture about a student whose father has forbidden him to study philosophy he says:
And even less disobedient than this son is a son who, when his greedy father orders him to steal or to embezzle money entrusted to him, refuses to do so. Don't you think there are fathers who give their children such orders? I myself know a man who had a remarkably beautiful son and who was so wicked that he put his son's beauty up for sale. If that youth who was sold and sent by his father into shame had refused and had not gone, would we say that the youth was disobedient-- or would we say that he was being modest? It is not decent even to ask this, is it?

It is true that the act of disobeying and the person who disobeys are shameful and blameworthy. But refusing to do what one should not do brings praise, not shame. And so, if someone refuses to obey a person who is doing something wicked, unjust, or shameful -- whether that person is his father, a ruler, or even, by Zeus, a despot -- he is not disobeying, and he certainly isn't being unjust or doing something wrong. A disobedient person is one who ignores or disobeys order that are right, honourable, and beneficial. That is what a disobedient person is.

As do other stoic writers, he also emphasizes the importance of social duty, in the lecture on marriage:
Tell me, then, shouldn't everyone do things for his neighbour as well as for himself and thus make sure that his city has thriving families and that it is not a wasteland? Isn't this how commonwealth's thrive? To say that each should look only to his own affairs is to admit that a human being is no different from a wolf or any of the other wildest beasts whose nature it is to live by force and greed. They spare nothing that they can devour, they have no share in companionship, they take no part in working with each other, and they have no share in anything just. But you will agree that human nature is very much like that of bees. A bee is not able to live alone: it perishes when isolated. Indeed, it is intent on performing the common task of members of its species-- to work and act together with other bees.
Overall, this book wouldn't be the best introduction to stoicism: Rufus doesn't have quite the same inspirational appeal as his pupil Epictetus. But if you're interested in stoicism, it's well worth getting this volume alongside Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. It's a great primary source about classical stoicism.

Saw Henry VIII at the Globe theatre. Got seats this time. Well worth investing the extra £1 on a cushion: the benches are pretty hard and narrow. Even then they're a bit uncomfortable for the whole three hours.

It's Shakespeare's last play, and some think it's a collaboration completed by John Fletcher, though Teaching Company lecturer Peter Sacchio reckons it's all Will. Certainly watching it I didn't get the impression some scenes were worse-written than others.

However the structure is a little odd: there seems to be very little plot. The noble-spirited Henry is at first deceived by the evil Cardinal Wolsey, but eventually sees through him. He divorces Katharine of Aragon, mostly because of his sincere concern that the marriage is invalid because of the incestuous implications of her previous marriage to his brother, though the lack of a male heir and his feelings for Anne Bollen are also cited. The play culminates in the birth of baby Elizabeth to Anne, with a prophecy of her future greatness.

There's a lot of pageantry and processions involved. They've built an extra runway giving even more space for that than the Globe's huge stage. It actually works a lot better than I was expecting: accompanied with music from the minstrels gallery it's a considerable spectacle, especially the masque dance scene. My companion was hugely impressed with the costumes: they're authentic-looking Tudor costumes complete with enormous shoulders, draperies of fur, acres of velvet and heavy golden chains: it really looks as if they've just stepped out of a portrait in oils.

Found it a bit hard to follow the exposition at first, but you get into it quite quickly. There are some effective speeches from the characters. Can see why this play is often revived for coronations: it's essentially a celebration of the monarchy. Was also a bit confused by a somewhat gratuitous puppet: I assumed it was supposed to represent Prince Arthur but some reviewers think it's the Conscience of the King, others Henry's non-existent male heir.

Overall, I don't think this play is unfairly overlooked like Troilus and Cressida though: the plot and motivations are a little thin. Still worth seeing if you're in London though: good production of a rarely-performed play.

Review, review, review, review, review, review, review. Full text.

Pics. Bad postcards. Icelandic volcano blows smoke ring. Russian Tolkien illustrations. Lost: the 1987 computer game.

Video. Lego factory builds lego. We live in an age of wonders: fancy flying by autonomous drone, baby's cochlear implant activated. David Mitchell on haircuts. Birdemic trailer.

Sci/Tech. Great wits are sure to madness near allied. Mephedrone not responsible for deaths. A sad truth about mad scientists. US government's 1970s safety car. Flexible screen. Was the 1979 double flash a secret South African/Israeli nuke test?

Socioeconomics. Global music market doesn't harm local music. Dr Who fans complicit in rape culture. Mick Jagger: record sales only made money in a small period from 1970 to 1997.

Politics. EDL to target muslim communities. Question Time row.

Articles. "Alain de Botton's perfect dinner party turns my stomach" Bad reviews of Sex and The City 2. Lesbian hipsters (MeFi).

< Updated the resume | What a difference a month makes. >
The Play's the Thing | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Southern Icelnad by Tonatiuh (4.00 / 1) #1 Sat May 29, 2010 at 10:07:23 AM EST
Where exactly is that was I thinking, until the correct alphabet was used:

Southern ICeland

I was a bit surprised by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #2 Sat May 29, 2010 at 12:43:01 PM EST
at the amount of grief the lesbian hipsters garnered over at MeFi. That place seems to lean Left.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

they also skew by garlic (4.00 / 1) #3 Sun May 30, 2010 at 04:01:41 AM EST
complaining about anything that is linked there.

it always takes like the first 100 comments for the bile spitting to clear up and people to start talking reasonable. "no, hey, they can dress that way if they like, it's cool. that one looks pretty stylish."

[ Parent ]
For some reason by TheophileEscargot (4.00 / 1) #8 Sun May 30, 2010 at 06:25:47 AM EST
"Hipster" is one of their codewords for "everyone go berserk with rage", even though the label seems to fit a large fraction of MeFites.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Glad I'm not the only one to notice that. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #9 Sun May 30, 2010 at 09:03:47 AM EST
Not that I don't hate hipsters myself - I do. I want to strangle them with their skinny jeans.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

[ Parent ]
EDL by nebbish (4.00 / 1) #4 Sun May 30, 2010 at 05:48:45 AM EST
May well join a counter-protest if they do go to Tower Hamlets. Depends what day it is, but I feel I should do something.

I'm very pleased they're going to Bradford, they will get the shit kicked out of them. Being anti-Mulsim is going to wind up the locals even more than racism.

It's political correctness gone mad!

Boo! by gazbo (4.00 / 1) #5 Sun May 30, 2010 at 06:02:23 AM EST
That Doctor Who rape thingie requires a login (which in turn requires me to be less lazy).  Would someone who has access be so good as to copy it here?

I recommend always assuming 7th normal form where items in a text column are not allowed to rhyme.

Unfortunately it's gone by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #7 Sun May 30, 2010 at 06:24:40 AM EST
I think the reactionary patriarchal oppression of the response must have been even stronger than she expected.

The gist of it was that when Amy Pond tried to snog The Doctor it was an act of sexual assault, and everyone who wasn't outraged should feel jolly ashamed of themselves.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?

[ Parent ]
It's a shame that they took it down by lm (4.00 / 1) #10 Mon May 31, 2010 at 11:15:46 AM EST
I thought it was an interesting lens through which to view societal expectations of proper sexual behaviors.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
I thought it was more a case of by TheophileEscargot (2.00 / 0) #11 Mon May 31, 2010 at 12:02:24 PM EST
Moral entrepeneurship.
It is unlikely that the good of a snail should reside in its shell: so is it likely that the good of a man should?
[ Parent ]
Could very well be by lm (2.00 / 0) #12 Mon May 31, 2010 at 12:39:17 PM EST
Somebody's exercise in moral entrepreneurship can still be a useful lens by which I can consider an idea. I don't have to agree with or advocate an particular view in order for it to be useful for me to try to produce an analysis from that point of view to see where it leads.

There is no more degenerate kind of state than that in which the richest are supposed to be the best.
Cicero, The Republic
[ Parent ]
Dr Who post appears to have been hidden... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #6 Sun May 30, 2010 at 06:15:02 AM EST
behind a password.

Mephedrone episode is just depressingly par for the course.
Of course, my (optimistic) prediction that it would be when my generation gets hold of power that things change in the "Drugs War" is still possible, as people my age are still 10-20 years from the levers of power - but I think I'm getting less optimistic... the  conditions I'd outlined, that everyone in power had grown up surrounded by widespread drug availability are basically already fulfilled - most politicians and journos are not short of exposure to drugs...

The Play's the Thing | 12 comments (12 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback