Here’s an interesting exercise. Pull up a Spotify playlist for hits from the ‘90s. Or turn on a satellite radio station built around that time. As you listen to the songs, note how many you recognize and how many you’ve never heard of. Now go back an era or two and do the same thing for the ‘80s or for the second wave of classic rock. Then do it again for real oldies. As you keep going backwards, the familiarity will fall further and further away until you’ve heard none of the “hit” songs before—and all the “famous” names sound strange or even made up.
The point of this stroll through music history is not nostalgia or even about discovering some forgotten greats. It’s a reminder of how ephemeral we all are. How fleeting fame and life is.
Words once in common use now sound archaic. And the names of the famous dead as well: Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus...Scipio and Cato...Augustus...Hadrian and Antoninus and..everything fades so quickly, turns into legend and soon oblivion covers it.
He points out something that is worth noting about the music we just flipped through as well: The names we no longer recognize are the most famous ones, the ones who shone for at least a few minutes. The vast majority of people, of art that’s made, of events that happen, are “unknown, unasked-for" and don’t even get this. They were not even blips, they were less than blips.
The lesson from this, as with so many Stoic lessons, is humility. We are not nearly as important as we think we are—and even if we are important, the passage of time is an unforgiving leveler. The other lesson is about priorities. If all fame is fleeting, if even the most accomplished and most influential—the writers of the biggest hits and the owners of the greatest songs of their time—are eventually forgotten, why chase it? Why let it make you miserable—why let getting it make you miserable, or not having it make you miserable?
Why not focus on right now? On living the life you have as best you can?