The late consort of Queen Elizabeth II was a paradigm of the Age of Stoicism.
That statement in Francis Phillips’ article, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, grabbed me. Enough to write this week’s piece about the late husband of the Queen of England. It’s that phase, “a paradigm of the age of stoicism” which made me curious enough to ponder the death of a monarch. More on stoicism later.
But first some background.
An anglophile I am not.
But like most of us, a British accent gets my attention. Somehow the accent confers more knowledge, distinction and worldiness than does ours. It functions as an honorific.
Sometimes merited, sometimes not.
Here’s an example of one of the merited. I was just getting to know the British friend Adele who invited us to come home to England with her and her husband for Christmas. After speaking with her about a recent weekend camping trip in the Texas hill country, I asked Adele,
“Have you ever been camping?”
“No, never in Texas, only in Kenya and Mozambique.”
Said with a straight face and that classy British accent.
For years typecast by the press as a bluff, gaffe-prone, ex-naval officer who enjoyed the sport of rich men such as polo, or caricatured in films such as The Queen, we are slowly discovering the extraordinary range of his interests and charitable work and – no doubt a surprise to many – his thoughtful, highly intelligent, enquiring mind.Prince Philip
Perhaps one of the reasons I wanted to spend time thinking and writing about the life and death of this man was the evident and unabashed emotion in the jounalist’s piece: Admiration, pride, affection, wistfulness and melancholy. We see tremendous surges of emotion in the media and hear them in coversations; rarely though, are they of this type.
While staying with Adele and her family, I got to watch the Queen’s televised Christmas address to her citizens and observe the attention and respect the Queen was afforded by the family we were staying with. They listened to her. As are, I imagine, many British citizens paying attention to their media on the death of a monarch. Perhaps, like journalist Phillips, deeply moved by the revelation of such self-effacement in the highest circles of aristocracy.
We Americans insist that we have no royaly, no “class” but, of course, we do. Our hierarchy and class systems are just more baldly-or boldly-founded on money than is theirs.
Phillips writes that “Looking back at his long life – almost a century, though it is certain he would have heartily disliked the attention that such a milestone would have brought him – I would characterise Prince Philip and his wartime generation as exemplifying an “Age of Stoicism”, but one of fortitude rather than resignation. He was impatient with those who wanted him to feel sorry for himself at the vicissitudes of his upbringing. “I just got on with it,” he would reply.”
Before I lived with Pontius Pilate and Saul of Tarsus for over two years, I may have made the mistake of categorizing stoicism as resignation. In truth, however, the appeal of the self-control inherent in Stoicism is timeless. And is therefore attracting many of our twenty-first century minds.
I considered what my teacher had reminded me of. Cleanthes had been ridiculed by all the other students of the Stoa. He was penniless, with a stocky, “un-Greek” physique— a slow learner whose ability to think had perhaps been affected by blows to the head during wrestling. It was his passion for learning philosophy and internalizing its wisdom that had allowed him to defy the odds. Looking up at my tutor, still grinning, I quoted the Stoic philosopher: “‘ Steel your sensibilities, so that life shall hurt you as little as possible.’”
Pylenor nodded approvingly. With the wisdom that comes only with age, I understand now that I am indebted to my father for his insistence that I become a fluent speaker, reader, and writer of both Greek and Latin. In the course of my philosophical studies with Pylenor, I came to see that my anger and resentment toward my father was my choice. Although I was still very young, I understood what Epictetus meant when he wrote that neither criticism nor praise is, in itself, bad or good. Each is neutral in value, imposed from without, and therefore, not within our control. I came to see that, while I could not control either the criticism or the praise leveled at me, I could curb my own response to it.
That realization felt incredibly liberating to my young self. Once I’d achieved a sense of freedom from the weight of others’ opinions, I resolved to accomplish the primary goal of the Stoic: Equanimity in the face of all things, whether good or evil. I would will myself to see all things as morally neutral. Aside, of course, from the Law.My Name is Saul