March 21, 2013

A sobering reflection

Mislead yourself no longer, you will never read these notebooks again now, nor the annals of the bygone Romans and Greeks, nor that choice selection of writings you have put by for your old age. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)
I read this passage from the Meditations with nothing but despair- for since Marcus died, all those centuries ago, how much has been published? How many learned men and women have worked and slaved away at scholarship? You could get amazingly dizzy thinking of all the fields that you need to understand to really understand even one fraction of human knowledge- one subject today. Think about the history of Marcus's life: just to read all the books about the Meditations would probably take at least the length of a post-graduate qualification, probably half an academic career. Then move on to the think about the archaeology and sociology of that period- its interpretations by further periods and more and more. Intellectual vertigo existed in Marcus's life- it exists just as much today.