Gaius Musonius Rufus’ lectures are notable for their practicality and plain language, yet they also illuminate a path toward lofty goals. His lectures on practicing philosophy, the proper occupation for a philosopher, and the chief end of marriage--lectures six, eleven, and thirteen, respectively--guide us toward the good life both at work and at home, one in which we cultivate ourselves by caring for those we love.
1. What Constitutes Meaningful Work?
However, for Musonius Rufus, the Stoic Epictetus' teacher, farming was the ideal occupation for a philosopher:
“The earth repays most beautifully and justly those who care for her, giving back many times what she receives.” Not only that, but Musonius finds cities to be full of “evils that interfere with the study of philosophy.”
Musonius reminds us that life, even for a philosopher, does not take place solely in the mind. It is almost surprising for those students of Stoicism who started with Seneca or Marcus Aurelius to come upon Musonius' somewhat earthier version of philosophy, one in which humans are necessarily body and soul. We ignore one to the detriment of the other.
Since a human being happens to be neither soul alone nor body alone, but a composite of these two things, someone in training must pay attention to both. He should, rightly, pay more attention to the better part, namely the soul, but he should also take care of the other part, or part of him will become defective.
To best develop ourselves, Musonius would have us train ourselves physically, as extreme physical conditions can serve to strengthen us mentally:
"We will train both soul and body when we accustom ourselves to cold, heat, thirst, hunger, scarcity of food, hardness of bed, abstaining from pleasures, and enduring pains."
Not only does physical hardship shore up our thoughts and emotions against future discomfort, but labor that’s not overly taxing can give the mind leisure to mull ideas. Agricultural tasks "provide abundant leisure for the soul to do some deep thinking and to reflect on the nature of education."
Musonius would not be a fan of CrossFit or power yoga classes, though, because "tasks that stretch and bend the whole body force the soul to be focused on them alone or on the body alone. . . . Tasks that don't require excessive physical exertion don't prevent the soul from contemplating the better things and thus from becoming wiser than it was--which is the goal of every philosopher."
I find some exemplary Stoic metaphors in this 11th lecture. One is the idea of reaping what you sow: pursuing the virtuous life, while hard work, offers great rewards. Another is the notion of Stoic self-sufficiency. Extending the idea of the self to one's land, cultivating our souls and living off of our land theoretically means that we have everything we need--and while there is much we cannot control about farming, such as weather or pests, we at least have more control over our food supply than if we were solely dependent on the marketplace.
Musonius is interesting when he touches on what a philosopher is not. He complains of "sophists" who "inflate themselves [with] a multitude of theories" and of so-called philosophers who are "decadent and soft." He says young people no longer need to absorb all of these "theories that truly are enough to consume a man's life." Meanwhile, people who farm, far from being lost in an abstract world of ideas, can support not only themselves but their families. Those who are willing to work reap from the earth "an abundance of all the things necessary for life."
2. What Makes a Good Marriage?
In marriage there must be, above all, companionship and care of husband and wife for each other, both in sickness and in health and on every occasion. . . . Sometimes a spouse considers only his or her own interests and neglects the other's concerns. . . . In cases like this, even though the couple lives together, their union is bound to be destroyed and their affairs cannot help but go poorly: they either break apart completely from each other, or they have a relationship that is worse than solitude. 
Again, the concept of “companionship and care” is in step with Musonius’ beliefs about agriculture; a marital union must be carefully worked and developed if it is to yield the required sustenance, or else suffer destruction or a fate “worse than solitude.” And, while “companionship and care” may sound daunting in our rather self-absorbed era, Musonius envisions this as the ideal type of work, that which exercises the body but is not so excessive as to prevent an individual from daydreaming on the better things in life. It is clear that he feels that if we don't treat others justly, our existence is as futile as that of any sophist. For me, this is Musonius at his most eloquent and compelling:
"When this mutual care is complete and those who live together provide it to each other completely, each competes to surpass the other in giving such care. Such a marriage is admirable and deserves emulation; such a partnership is beautiful."
Musonius' first-century ideas are borne out even today. There was a piece in The Atlantic a few years ago detailing a long-term study of successful and unsuccessful marriages. People who took an interest in their partner's ideas and the events of their lives tended to be in much happier marriages than those in which at least one of the spouses failed to do so.
The study’s author, psychologist John Gottman, said that the work eventually enabled him to predict with a high degree of accuracy whether a newlywed couple would still be together and happy several years later. The article notes: “Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”
Sometimes the most admirable habits are not ones driven by complicated theories that inflate the brain, but by the basic human truism that you get out of something what you put into it--and then some.
1. I am using Cynthia King’s translation: https://www.amazon.com/ Musonius-Rufus-Lectures- Cynthia-King/dp/145645966X/ ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid= 1486590284&sr=8-1&keywords= cynthia+king+musonius
2. Lect. 11, “On the Proper Occupation for a Philosopher”
3. Lect. 6, “On Practicing Philosophy”
5. Lect. 11.
8. Lect. 13, “On the Chief End of Marriage”
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