Familiarity breeds content

Continuing with Meditation 3.1 (or 3.2 depending on the translation), Marcus argues that only those who are fully familiar with nature will see the true beauty of all these ‘unintended consequences’. Seeing beauty everywhere also helps to put conventional beauty (for example the beauty of youth) in perspective.

[…] if a man should have a feeling and deeper insight with respect to the things which are produced in the universe, there is hardly one of those which follow by way of consequence which will not seem to him to be in a manner disposed so as to give pleasure. And so he will see even the real gaping jaws of wild beasts with no less pleasure than those which painters and sculptors show by imitation; and in an old woman and an old man he will be able to see a certain maturity and comeliness; and the attractive loveliness of young persons he will be able to look on with chaste eyes; and many such things will present themselves, not pleasing to every man, but only to him who has become truly familiar with nature and her works.

I don’t know how much of a key component of ancient Stoicism this contemplation of nature was; there is less of it in Epictetus and Seneca. However, it seemed important to Marcus – and so it is to me.

Seeing the beauty in everything: things that please the mind

In Meditation 3.1, Marcus notes that there is beauty even in the side effects and ‘unintended consequences’ of natural processes. Their fleeting nature almost intensifies their beauty. He has a true artist’s eye:

We ought to observe also that even the things which follow after the things which are produced according to nature contain something pleasing and attractive. For instance, when bread is baked some parts are split at the surface, and these parts which thus open, and have a certain fashion contrary to the purpose of the baker’s art, are beautiful in a manner, and in a peculiar way excite a desire for eating. And again, figs, when they are quite ripe, gape open; and in the ripe olives the very circumstance of their being near to rottenness adds a peculiar beauty to the fruit. And the ears of corn bending down, and the lion’s eyebrows, and the foam which flows from the mouth of wild boars, and many other things — though they are far from being beautiful, if a man should examine them severally — still, because they are consequent upon the things which are formed by nature, help to adorn them, and they please the mind.