Parallels in Search of an Intersection: The Manifold Marcus Aurelius Resonances in Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

  •  Joanna Caytas    


While Whitman’s knowledge of and affinity to Epictetus are well-known, the profound roots of Song of Myself in Marcus Aurelius’ To Myself (better known as Meditations) were not researched to date even though it is known that Stoicism was a powerful influence upon the autodidact poet. Through classical hermeneutical methodology, this paper shows how stoic practice and training in daily reflection, cosmopolitanism, pantheism, religious skepticism, public service, but most importantly its Platonic legacy of “doing one’s own thing” through fluxes and flows reach far beyond coincidences in Whitman’s work and may be traced through scores of sometimes verbatim parallels in Whitman’s magnum opus. Even if one leaves use of paradigms, vignettes, examples and transcendentalism aside, the study still shows that these parallels extend to a shared platform of individualism and higher-level virtue that cannot be reduced to the poet’s early love of classical motives and Greek culture. Epicurean materialistic atomism and its doctrine of interchangeability of all matter in metamorphosis came to him through the influence of German chemist Justus von Liebig in the perception of Fanny Wright’s novel Ten Days in Athens. This research traces Whitman’s stance opposed to slavery directly to Seneca and points out multiple parallels between the reflections of Marcus Aurelius on Rome and the words Whitman found for New York—each the metropolis of its day, slightly past its apex of historical power, yet peerlessly vibrant as a melting pot, engaged in cultural wars on multiple levels with forces labeled “barbaric.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
  • ISSN(Print): 1925-4768
  • ISSN(Online): 1925-4776
  • Started: 2011
  • Frequency: quarterly

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