The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus/Book 10

BOOK X

1. Wilt thou one day, my soul, be good, simple, single, naked, plainer to see than the body surrounding thee? Wilt thou one day taste a loving and devoted disposition? Wilt thou one day be filled and without want, craving nothing and desiring nothing, animate or inanimate, for indulgence in pleasures; not time wherein longer to indulge thyself, nor happy situation of place or room or breezes nor harmony of men? Wilt thou rather be satisfied with present circumstance and pleased with all the present, and convince thyself that all is present for thee from the gods and all is well for thee and will be well whatsoever is dear to them to give and whatsoever they purpose to bestow for the sustenance of the perfect living creature, the good and just and beautiful, which begets, sustains, includes, and embraces all things that are being resolved into the generation of others like themselves? Wilt thou one day be such as to dwell in the society of gods and men so as neither to find fault at all with them nor to be condemned by them?

2. Observe what your nature requires in so far as you are governed by mere physical nature; then do that and accept that, if only your nature as part of the animal world will not be rendered worse. Next you are to observe what your nature as part of the animal world requires and to take it all, if only your nature as a reasonable being will not be rendered worse. But what is reasonable is consequently also social. Make use then of these rules and do not be troubled about anything besides.

3. Every event happens in such a way that your nature can either support it or cannot. If then it happens so that your nature can support it, do not complain but support it as it is your nature to do; but if so that your nature cannot support it, do not complain, for it will destroy you quickly. Remember, however, that your nature can support everything which it is in the power of your own judgement to make tolerable and endurable by representing to yourself that to do this is to your advantage or is your duty.

4. If he goes wrong, instruct him kindly and point out what is being overlooked; if you fail, blame yourself or, better, not even yourself.

5. Whatever befalls you was prepared for you beforehand from eternity and the thread of causes was spinning from everlasting both your existence and this which befalls you.

6. Whether there are Atoms or Nature, the first postulate must be: 'I am part of the Whole which is governed by Nature'; the second: 'I am allied in some way to the parts that are of the same kind with me.' For if I remember these postulates, I shall, in so far as I am a part, not be disaffected to anything assigned by the Whole; for nothing which benefits the Whole is injurious to the part, since the Whole contains nothing which does not benefit itself, and while all natural existences have this common attribute, the nature of the Universe has this farther attribute that no external cause can compel it to generate anything injurious to itself.

By remembering, therefore, that I am a part of a Whole so characterized, I shall be well-affected to all that results from it, and in as much as I am allied in some way to the parts of the same kind as myself, I will do no unsocial act, rather I will study the good of my kind and direct every impulse to the common benefit and divert it from what opposes that benefit. Now when things are being accomplished in this way, life must needs flow smoothly, just as you would see that a citizen's life is smooth as he progresses by acts which benefit his fellow-citizens and welcomes whatever his city assigns.

7. The parts of the Whole, all which the Universe naturally includes, must necessarily perish, a word which is to be interpreted to denote change. Now if this were naturally evil as well as necessary for the parts, the Whole would not continue to be in a right condition while its parts were tending to change and had been put together specifically with a view to perishing. (For whether did Nature herself undertake to injure the parts of herself and to create them with a tendency to evil, and bound by necessity to fall into evil, or did such things come to pass without her knowledge? Neither view is credible.)

But now suppose one dispensed with Nature and expounded facts by way of 'natural law'; how absurd it is in one breath to assert that the parts of the Whole change by natural law, and in the same moment to be surprised or indignant as though at an occurrence in violation of natural law, particularly when the dissolution of each is taking place into the elements out of which each is composed. For this dissolution is either a dissipation of the atoms out of which they were compounded or else a turning of the solid into its earthy and of the vital spirit into its airy part, so that these too are caught up into the Reason of the Whole, whether the Whole returns periodically to fire or is renewed by eternal exchanges.

And do not imagine this solid body and this vital spirit to be that of its original entry into existence, for all this it took in only yesterday or the day before, an influx from foodstuffs and the atmosphere which is respired; what is changing then is what it took in, not what its mother brought into the world. And even suppose that what thus is changing binds you intimately to the individual self, that is in fact nothing, I think, to affect my present argument.

8. After giving yourself these titles: good, self-respecting, true, sane, conforming, high-minded, take care not to get others in their place; and, if you do lose these titles, be quick to return to them. Remember, further, that 'sanity' was intended to denote apprehensive attention to individual objects and the reverse of negligence; 'conformity' glad acceptance of the assignments of Universal Nature; and 'high-mindedness' elevation of the thinking part above the smooth or interrupted movement of the flesh, above petty reputation and death and all indifferent things.

Therefore, if you continue to preserve yourself in these titles, not aspiring to be called them by others, you will be a changed man and will enter upon a changed life. For still to be such as you have been up to the present, to be torn and polluted in such a way of life, is to be utterly brutalized, to cling to mere life like half-devoured combatants in the arena, a mass of wounds and dusty blood, yet imploring to be kept alive until the morrow, only to be exposed in that state to the same teeth and claws.

Adventure yourself then upon these few titles, and if you are able to abide in them, abide like a man translated to Islands of the Blest; but if you perceive that you are falling away and losing control, go bravely away into some corner, there to recover control, or even depart altogether from life, not angrily, but simply and freely and with self-respect, having done at least this one thing in life, to have made your exit thus.

To remember the titles, however, it will be a great help to you to remember the gods, and that they at least do not wish to be the objects of servility, but for all rational beings to be made into their likeness, and that the fig-tree should be what does the work of a fig-tree, the dog of a dog, the bee of a bee, and man the work of a man.

9. Play-acting, warfare, excitement, lethargy—in fact slavery!

Every day those sacred doctrines of yours, whichever of them you imagine and admit without scientific investigation, will be obliterated, whereas you should look at every object and do every act so that, at one and the same time, circumstance is accomplished and theory exercised, and the confidence which comes from a scientific knowledge of each experience is preserved, unnoticed, not concealed. For when will you take your indulgence in simplicity, when in dignity, when in the knowledge of what each object is in essence, what station it holds in the world, how long it naturally persists, of what it is compounded, to whom it can belong, who can give it and who take it away?

10. A spider is proud when he traps a fly, a man when he snares a leveret, another when he nets a sprat, another boars, another bears, another Sarmatian prisoners. If you test their sentiments, are they not bandits?

11. Acquire a methodical insight into the way all things change, one into another; attend continually to this part of Nature and exercise yourself in it, for nothing is so likely to promote an elevation of mind. He has put off the body and, reflecting that he will be bound almost at once to leave all these things behind and to depart from men, he has devoted his whole self to justice in what is being accomplished by himself, and to Universal Nature in what comes to pass otherwise. And he spends no thought about what some one may say or think about him or do against him, but is contented with these two things, if he is himself acting justly in what is done in the present, and if he embraces what is assigned to him in the present; and he has put away every preoccupation and enthusiasm, and has no other will than to pursue a straight path according to the law and, pursuing it, to follow in God's train.

12. What need have you of a hint or suggestion, when it is possible to see what ought to be done and, if you are conscious of that, kindly to proceed on this path without turning back; but if you are not conscious of it, to suspend judgement and use the best men to advise you; or if some further points bar this advice, to go forward according to your present opportunities cautiously, holding fast to what seems to be just? For it is best to achieve justice, since, as you see, failure is to fail in this. The man who in everything follows the rule of Reason is at once master of his time and quick to act, at once cheerful in expression and composed.

13. Ask yourself directly you awake from sleep: will it be of any moment to you, if just and right acts are blamed by another? No, it will not. Have you forgotten what these who plume themselves upon praise or censure of others are like at bed and board, the sort of things they do and avoid or pursue, how they steal and plunder, not with hands and feet, but with the most precious part of themselves, in which, whenever it determines, faith, self-respect, truth, law, a good divinity come into being?

14. To Nature, who bestows all things and takes them away, the man who has learnt his lesson and respects himself says: 'Give what is thy good pleasure, take back what is thy good pleasure'; and this he says not boasting himself but only listening to her voice and being of one mind with her.

15. Small is this balance of life left to you. Live as on a height; for here or there matters nothing, if everywhere one lives in the Universe, as in a city. Let men see, let them study a true man, a man who lives in accord with Nature. If they cannot bear him, let them kill him, for it were better so than for him to live on those terms.

16. Don't any more discuss at large what the good man is like, but be good.

17. Let your imagination dwell continually upon the whole of Time and the whole of Substance, and realize that their several parts are, by comparison with Substance, a fig-seed; by comparison with Time, the turn of a gimlet.

18. Dwell upon everything that exists and reflect that it is already in process of dissolution and coming into being by change and a kind of decay or dispersion, or in what way it is born to die, in a manner of speaking.

19. What creatures they are; they eat, sleep, copulate, relieve nature, and so on; then what are they like as rulers, imperious or angry and fault-finding to excess; yet but yesterday how many masters were they slaving for and to what purpose, and to-morrow they will be in a like condition.

20. Each man's benefit is what Universal Nature brings to each, and it is his benefit precisely at the time she brings it.

21. 'Earth loves the rain': 'the glorious ether loves to fall in rain'. The Universe, too, loves to create what is to be. Therefore I say to the Universe: 'Your love is mine.' Is not that also the meaning of the phrase: 'This loves to happen'?

22. Either you go on living in the world and are familiar with it by now, or you go out, and that by your own will, or else you die and your service is accomplished. There is nothing beside these three: therefore be of good courage.

23. Always realize vividly the saying that one place of retreat is like any other, and how everything in the place you are in is the same as it would be on the top of a hill or by the sea or wherever you choose. You will find exactly what Plato says: 'building round himself a fold on a hill and milking his bleating flocks'.

24. What is my governing self to me, and what sort of thing am I making it now, and for what purpose am I employing it now? Is it void of reason? Is it severed and torn asunder from society? Is it so melted into and blended with the flesh that it conforms to its movements?

25. He who runs away from his master is a fugitive slave. But law is a master and therefore the transgressor of law is a fugitive slave. In the same way, also, he who gives way to sorrow or anger or fear, wishes that something had not been or were not now, or should not be heareafter, of what is appointed by that which ordains all things; and that is law, laying down for every man what falls to his lot. He, therefore, who yields to fear or pain or anger is a fugitive slave.

26. A man drops seed into a womb and goes his way and thereupon another causal principle takes it, labours upon it and completes a new-born babe. What a marvellous result of that small beginning. Next the babe passes food through the gullet and thereupon another causal principle takes it and creates sensation and impulse; in a word, life and strength and other results, how many and how marvellous. Contemplate, therefore, in thought what comes to pass in such a hidden way, and see the power, as we see the force which makes things gravitate or tend upwards, not with the eyes, but none the less clearly.

27. Reflect continually how all things came to pass in days gone by as they do to-day, and reflect that so they will hereafter; and put before your eyes whole dramas and scenes of the same kind, which you have known in your own experience or from earlier history, the whole court of Hadrian, for instance, or of Antoninus; of Philip, Alexander, and Croesus; for those were all like these; the actors only were different.

28. Picture to yourself every man who gives way to pain or discontent at any thing at all as like a pig being sacrificed, kicking and squealing. Such also is the man who groans on his bed, alone and in silence. Think of the chain we are bound by, and that to the rational creature only is it given to obey circumstances of his own will, while mere obedience is necessary for all.

29. At the time of each separate act, stop and ask yourself whether death is to be feared because you are deprived of this.

30. When you run against some one's wrong behaviour, go on at once to reflect what similar wrong act of your own there is; for instance, to esteem money or pleasure or glory as goods, and so on with each kind. For if you attend to this, you will quickly forget your anger, when it occurs to you at the same time that he is compelled, for what else can he do? Alternatively, if you can, remove what in him is subject to compulsion.

31. When you see Satyrion, Eutyches, or Hymen, picture a follower of Socrates; or an Euphrates, when you see Eutychion or Silvanus; an Alciphron, when you see Tropaeophorus; and a Crito or Xenophon, when you see Severus. So when you look at yourself, picture one of the Caesars, and in every case picture a parallel. Then let the thought strike you in the same moment: 'Where are they all? Nowhere, or we know not where.' For in this way you will continually see that man's life is smoke and nothingness, especially if you remind yourself that what has once changed will be no more in infinite Time. Why then are you bothered? Why not satisfied to pass through this brief moment ordering your ways? What kind of material condition and station are you running away from? What is it all except a school of exercise for a reason which has exactly and scientifically looked into what life contains? Wait, therefore, until you assimilate even these things to yourself, as a strong stomach assimilates any food and a bright fire turns whatever you throw into it to flame and light.

32. Don't let it be possible for any one to say of you truthfully that you are not simple and good, but let him be a liar who thinks any of these things about you. And this entirely rests with you; for who prevents your being good and simple? Only make up your mind not to go on living, if you are not like that, for Reason, too, disowns one who is not like that.

33. What is the soundest thing that can be done or said in a given material condition? For whatever this may be, you are able to do or say it, and you are not to make the excuse that you are prevented. You will never cease groaning until you feel that to act appropriately to man's constitution in any material condition which occurs to you or befalls you is for you what luxury is to the sensualist. For you should regard as an indulgence whatever you can achieve in accord with your own nature, and this you can achieve everywhere. Now the roller is not allowed everywhere to be moved according to its own natural movement, nor are water, fire, and the rest, which are governed by natural law or life without reason—for there are many things which separate them and resist them. Mind and reason are able to move through any thing that opposes, as their nature and their will prescribe. Put before your eyes this ease with which reason will prove to be carried through all things (as fire moves upwards, a stone down, a roller on a slope) and ask for nothing more, for the remaining obstacles are either of the lifeless body or else do not overwhelm it or do any harm at all without the judgement and the consent of reason itself.

For mark you, were it not so, the man affected would have become evil at once; at all events in all other constituted things whatever is affected itself becomes worse because of any evil which happens to it, whereas in this case, if one may so put it, a man becomes better and more laudable by right use of circumstances. And generally, remember that nothing harms the natural citizen which does not harm the city and nothing harms the city which does not harm the law. Now none of what are called strokes of bad luck harms the law: wherefore, not harming the law, it harms neither city nor citizen.

34. For one bitten by true doctrines even the briefest and most familiar saying is reminder enough to dispel sorrow and fear, for instance:

'leaves,
the wind scatters some on the face of the ground;
like unto them are the children of men.'

Yes, 'leaves' too are your children, and 'leaves' those whose voices shout and applaud convincingly or on the contrary curse you or blame and rail beneath their breath; 'leaves' too even those who will receive and hand on your fame hereafter. For they all 'shoot in the season of spring'; then the wind has thrown them down and the woodland 'bears others' in their stead. Brief life is the common portion of all, yet you avoid and pursue each thing as though it will be for everlasting. A little while and you will close your eyes, and now another will be lamenting him who carried you out.

35. The healthy eye should be able to look at every object of sight, and not to say: 'I wish it were green', for this is what a man does who has ophthalmia. The healthy ear and nose must be ready for every object of hearing or smell, and the healthy stomach must be disposed to every kind of nourishment as the mill is ready for everything which it is made to grind. Accordingly the healthy understanding too must be ready for all circumstances; but that which says: 'may my children be kept safe' or 'may all men praise whatever I do', is the eye looking for green or the teeth for what is tender.

36. No one is so fortunate but that when he is dying some will be at his bedside welcoming the evil that is coming to him. Was he earnest and wise; perhaps there will be someone at the end to say of him: 'we shall breathe more freely now this schoolmaster has gone; he was not hard on any of us, but I could feel he was tacitly condemning us.' So much for the earnest man; but in our own case what a number of other things there are for which many want to be rid of us. You will think then of this as you die and will depart more easily, thinking to yourself: 'I am going away from the kind of life in which even my fellow men, for whom I laboured, prayed and thought so much, even they wish me to go away, hoping perhaps for some relief by my death.' Why then should one hold on to a longer stay in this world? Do not, however, on this account leave them with less kindness, but preserve your own character, friendly and well disposed and propitious; and again do not go as if you were being torn away, but as for a man who has a quiet end the soul slips easily from its casing, so should your departure be from them. For it was Nature who bound you and united you to them, and now she sets you free. I am set free from men who are certainly my kinsfolk, yet I do not resist and I go under no compulsion. For this, too, is one of the things which are according to Nature.

37. Accustom yourself in the case of whatever is done by any one, so far as possible to inquire within yourself: 'to what end does this man do this?' And begin with yourself and first examine yourself.

38. Remember that what is hidden within you controls the strings; that is activity, that is life, that, if one may say so, is the man, Never occupy your imagination besides with the body which encloses you like a vessel and these organs which are moulded round you. They are like an axe, only differing as being attached to the body. For, indeed, these parts are of no more use without the cause which moves or checks them than the shuttle to the weaver, the pen to the writer or the whip to the man who holds the reins.