I spoke about fame and it’s nature in another post but I keep finding Marcus Aurelius reflecting on the same topic over and over again, starting (or at least talking about it most notably first) in 4.3.3
“Look at the speed of universal oblivion, the gulf of immeasurable time both before and after, the vacuity of applause, the indiscriminate ficklesness of your apparent supporters, the tiny room in which all this is confined. The whole earth is a mere point in space: what a minute cranny within this is your own habitation, and how many and what sort will sing your praises here!”
He speaks again on this next in 4.19:
“One who is all a flutter over his subsequent fame fails to imagine that all those who remember him will very soon be dead – and he too.”
Then again in 7.6:
“How many who once rose to fame are now consigned to oblivion: and how many who sang their fame are long disappeared.”
Is this indicative of that no one was listening to him at the time? Which seems a bit silly since he was the emperor of the largest empire in Western history. So then, is this instead indicative of the allure of fame and how everlasting the cult of celebrity is. From Love Island to the amphitheatre of ancient Athens, has the cult of celebrity persisted this long? A need to be known? A maddening desire for people to recognise you in the street, to be praised?
I don’t get it.
I know that sounds like I’m othering anyone who ever wanted to be famous with some brush of judgement. Once upon a time I used to be into theatre, extra work and being in front of the camera. I understand that pull, that weird sensation of wanting spotlight. Yet, I think even as a kid I knew I’d never be in control of who controlled that spotlight or when it would eventually flick off.
More so, however, I am too introverted to ever want that spotlight to linger a little too long.
Perhaps that’s why it amuses me so much that Marcus Aurelius speaks so much on the topic. Was the epidemic of fame-hunger as bad in Ancient Rome as it is now? Sure it’s a different, much larger sphere of influence but is this indicative of human nature of the cyclical nature of time?
Cynically, it’s human beings, addicted to the sound of their own name. In the cosmic sense an argument could be made that the universe is a circular novella written by a slightly more long in the tooth John Steinbeck. In the end, I suppose, even that will fade to dust and be reborn in the great heat death and rebirth of the universe.
I’m setting a challenge for myself: find at least a dozen names of Jacobean actors and know them as well as I do a dozen alive in 2021. How many Hugh Grants have there been? How many Mindy Kalings? Then I wonder, how many names have been lost. Gone from memory; gone from the record; gone from their own very bones. A sad, maddening thought.
No, not sad nor maddening:
“Mere things, brute facts, should not provoke your rage. They have no mind to care.” – Meditations, 7.38