Leaving for Battle
The Russian and Austrian generals of the war council, dismissive of our pleas for cosmopolitanism, are strikingly petty and working against each other in today’s reading. Weyrother, who has taken a leadership role as we learned in yesterday’s reading, disdains that he must explain himself to the Russians. Kutuzov, in turn, sleeps through the entire war council. The other generals take turns belittling the enterprise with snide comments and lack of interest.
Prince Andrei is just as confused as I am about it. He leaves the council bewildered and, walking away alone, drifts into deep reflection. What follows is why solitary Prince Andrei is the best Prince Andrei. He may present a hard exterior to the world, often harsh and bored and unforgiving, but this sternness masks a sensitive soul. He’ll often lapse, silently, into fervid contemplations of lofty subjects.
His musings today drift away towards tomorrow’s battle. He seeks, once again, the opportunity to distinguish himself in battle. He craves fame for his name and heroic deeds. He ponders death as a very real possibility. Weighing fame on the one hand and death and suffering on the other he concludes that he can endure the latter if only the former is secured.
The former can never be secured.
To him who is penetrated by true principles, any common precept, even the briefest, is sufficient to remind him that he should be free from grief and fear. For example:
Leaves: some the wind scatters on the ground —
So is the race of men.
Leaves, also, are your children; and leaves, too, are they who cry out as if they were worthy of credit and bestow their praise, or on the contrary curse, or secretly blame and sneer; and leaves, in like manner, are those who shall receive and transmit a man’s fame to later times. For all such things as these “are produced in the season of spring,” as the poet says; then the wind casts them down; then the forest produces other leaves in their places. But a brief existence is common to all things, and yet you avoid and pursue all things as if they would be eternal. A little time, and you will close your eyes; and whoever has attended you to your grave will soon lament another.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations