The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus/Book 11


1. The properties of the rational soul: it is conscious of itself, it moulds itself, makes of itself whatever it will, the fruit which it bears it gathers itself (whereas others gather the fruits of the field and what in animals corresponds to fruit), it achieves its proper end, wherever the close of life comes upon it; if any interruption occur, its whole action is not rendered incomplete as is the case in the dance or a play and similar arts, but in every scene of life and wherever it may be overtaken, it makes what it proposed to itself complete and entire, so that it can say: 'I have what is my own.'

Moreover, it goes over the whole Universe and the surrounding void and surveys its shape, reaches out into the boundless extent of time, embraces and ponders the periodic rebirth of the Whole and understands that those who come after us will behold nothing new nor did those who came before us behold anything greater, but in a way the man of forty years, if he have any understanding at all, has seen all that has been and that will be by reason of its uniformity. A property, too, of the rational soul is love of one's neighbour, truth, self-reverence and to honour nothing more than itself; and this last is a property of law also; accordingly right principle and the principle of justice differ not at all.

2. You will despise joyous song and the dance and the combat-at-arms if you disintegrate the tuneful phrase into every one of its notes, and ask yourself about each whether you are its servant; for you will be ashamed. And so you will be if you do what corresponds in the case of the dance in respect of each movement or pose, and the same also in the case of the combat-at-arms. Generally then, excepting virtue and its effects, remember to have recourse to the several parts and by analysis to go on to despise them, and to apply the same process to life as a whole.

3. How admirable is the soul which is ready and resolved, if it must this moment be released from the body, to be either extinguished or scattered or to persist. This resolve, too, must arise from a specific decision, not out of sheer opposition like the Christians, but after reflection and with dignity, and so as to convince others, without histrionic display.

4. Have I done a neighbourly act? I am thereby benefited. Let this always be ready to your mind, and nowhere desist.

5. What is your art? To be good. But how is this done except by principles of thought, concerned both with Universal Nature and with man's individual constitution?

6. First of all tragedies were put on the stage to remind you of what comes to pass and that it is Nature's law for things to happen like that, and that you are not to make what charmed you on the stage a heavy burden on the world's greater stage. For you see that those events are bound to have that ending and that even those endure them who have cried aloud: 'Alas! Alas! Cithaeron.' There are also valuable sayings in the dramatists; an especially famous one, for instance:

'Were the gods careless of my sons and me,
Yet there is reason here',

and again:

'Man must not vent his passion on mere things',


'Life, like ripe corn, must to the sickle yield',

and the many others of the same sort.

After Tragedy was introduced the Old Comedy, which through its instructive frankness and its reminder by actual plainness of language to avoid vanity was not without profit, and this directness Diogenes also adopted with a somewhat similar object. After the Old, observe what the Middle Comedy was like and afterwards with what end the New Comedy was adopted, passing little by little into a love of technique based on imitation. It is recognized that there are profitable sayings of these authors also, but after all what was the object to which the whole aim of such poetry and drama looked?

7. How vividly it strikes you that no other calling in life is so fitted for the practice of philosophy as this in which you now find yourself.

8. A branch cut off from the bough it belonged to cannot but be cut off also from the whole tree. Similarly a man, if severed from a single man, has fallen away from society as a whole. Now in the case of a branch, it is cut off by another agency, whereas man by his own act divides himself from his neighbour, when he hates him and turns from him, yet he does not realize that at the same time he has severed himself from the whole Commonwealth. Only there is this singular gift of Zeus who brought society together, that we are enabled to join again with the man we belong to, and again to become complements of the Whole. Yet, if it is often repeated, the effect of such separation is to make what separates difficult to unite and to restore. Generally speaking, too, the branch which originally grew with the tree and shared its transpiration, by remaining with it, is different from the branch which is engrafted again after being cut off, whatever gardeners may say.

'Grow together with them but do not share their doctrines.'

9. Just as those who oppose you as you progress in agreement with right principle will not be able to divert you from sound conduct, so do not let them force you to abandon your kindness towards them; but be equally on your guard in both respects, in steady judgement and behaviour as well as in gentleness towards those who try to hinder you or are difficult in other ways. For to be hard upon them is a weakness just as much as to abandon your course and to give in, from fright; for both are equally deserters from their post, the man who is in a panic as well as the man who is alienated from his natural kinsman and friend.

10. 'No Nature is inferior to Art', for the crafts imitate natural things. If then this be true, the Nature which is the most perfect of all natures and all inclusive would not fall short of technical inventiveness. Moreover, all crafts create the lower in the interests of the higher, wherefore the Universal Nature does the same. And so from her is the birth of Justice, and from Justice the rest of the virtues have their existence; for Justice will not be preserved if we are concerned for indifferent objects or are easily deceived by them or are liable to stumble or to change.

11. The objects whose pursuit or avoidance disturbs your peace do not come to you, but in a measure you go to them. Let your judgement at all events about them be untroubled and they will remain unmoved, and you will be seen neither to pursue nor to avoid them.

12. The sphere of the soul is true to its own form, when it is neither extended in any way nor contracted inwards; when it is neither scattered nor dies down, but is lighted by the light whereby it sees the truth of all things and the truth within itself.

13. Will any man despise me? Let him see to it. But I will see to it that I may not be found doing or saying anything that deserves to be despised. Will he hate me? Let him see to it. But I will be kind and well-disposed to every man and ready to show him what is overlooked, not reproachfully nor as though I were displaying forbearance, but genuinely and generously like the famous Phocion, if he was not in fact pretending. For the inward parts ought to be like that, and a man ought to be seen by the gods to be neither disposed to indignation nor complaining. For what harm is there to you if you are yourself at the moment doing the thing which is appropriate to your nature and accepting what is at this moment in season for Universal Nature, as a human being intent upon the common benefit being somehow realized?

14. They despise one another, yet they flatter one another; they want to get above one another and yet bow down to one another.

15. How rotten and crafty is the man who says: 'I have made up my mind to deal plainly with you.' What are you about, my friend? This preface is not necessary. The intention will reveal itself, it ought to be graven on the forehead; the tone of voice should give that sound at once; the intention should shine out in the eyes at once, as the beloved at once reads the whole in the glances of lovers. The simple and good man ought to be entirely such, like the unsavoury man, that those who stand by detect him at once, whether he will or not, as soon as he comes near. But the affectation of simplicity is like a razor; nothing is uglier than the wolf's profession of friendship, avoid that above all. The good and simple and kind has these qualities in his eyes and they are not hidden.

16. Live constantly the highest life. This power is in a man's soul, if he is indifferent to what is indifferent; and he will be so, if he regard every one of these indifferent objects as a whole and in its parts, remembering that none of them creates in us a conception about itself nor even comes to us, but they are motionless, and it is we who create judgements about them and so to speak inscribe them on ourselves; and yet we need not inscribe them and, if we do so unconsciously, we can wipe them off again at once. Remember, too, that attention to this kind of thing will last but a little while and, after that, life will have reached its close. And yet what difficulty do these things present? If they are what Nature wills, rejoice in them and you will find them easy: if they are not, look for what your own nature wills and hasten to this, even should it bring you no glory; for every man is pardoned if he seeks his own good.

17. What the origin of each experience is and the material conditions of each; what it is changing into and what it will be like when it has changed, and that it will suffer no injury by the change.

18. First, what is my position in regard to others and how we came into the world for one another; and, to put it in a different way, that I was born to protect them, as the ram protects his flock or the bull his herd. Then, going further back, proceed from the truth that, unless the Universe is mere atoms, it is Nature which administers the Whole and, granted this, the lower are in the interests of the higher, the higher for one another.

Secondly, what creatures they are at board and in bed and so on, and above all what kind of compulsion they are under because of their opinions, and with what arrogance they do what they do.

Thirdly, that, if they do what is right, you ought not to complain, but if what is wrong, clearly they act involuntarily and in ignorance—for as every soul is unwilling to be deprived of the truth, so is it unwilling not to be related to every man according to his worth; at any rate they resent it, if they are spoken of as unjust, inconsiderate, overreaching, in a word as wrong-doers in regard to their neighbours.

Fourthly, that you yourself also often do wrong and are another such as they are, and that, even if you do abstain from some kinds of wrong action, at all events you have at least a proclivity to them, though cowardice or tenderness for your good name or some similar bad motive keeps you from offences like theirs.

Fifthly, that you are not even sure that they actually do wrong; for many actions are done to serve a given purpose and, generally, one must ascertain much before making a certainly correct decision upon a neighbour's conduct.

Sixthly, when you are highly indignant or actually suffering, that man's life is but a moment, and in a little we are one and all laid low in death.

Seventhly, that it is not what they do that troubles us, for that lies in their own governing selves, but it is our judgements about them. Very well then, remove your judgement about the supposed hurt and make up your mind to dismiss it, and your anger is gone. How then will you remove it? By reflecting that what hurts you is not morally bad; for unless what is morally bad is alone hurtful, it follows of necessity that you also do much wrong and become a brigand and a shifty character.

Eighthly, how much more grievous are what fits of anger and the consequent sorrows bring than the actual things are which produce in us those angry fits and sorrows.

Ninthly, that gentleness is invincible, if it be genuine and not sneering or hypocritical. For what can the most insolent do to you, if you continue gentle to him, and, if opportunity allows, mildly admonish him and quietly show him a better way at the very moment when he attempts to do you injury: 'No, my child; we came into the world for other ends. It is not I that am harmed, but you are harmed, my child.' And point out with tact and on general grounds that this is so, that not even bees act like that nor the many creatures that are by nature gregarious. But you must not do it ironically or as if finding fault, but affectionately and not feeling the sting in your soul, nor as if you were lecturing him or desired some bystander to admire you, but even if others are present, just in the way you would address him if you were alone.

Remember these nine brief prescriptions, taking them as a gift from the Muses, and begin at last to be a human being, while life remains. And be as much on your guard against flattering them as against being angry with them, for both faults are unsocial and tend to injury. And in your angry fits have the maxim ready that it is not passion that is manly, but that what is kind and gentle as it is more human so is it more manly, and that this is the character which has strength and sinews and fortitude, not that which is indignant and displeased; for as this is nearer to imperturbability so it is nearer to power; and as grief is a mark of weakness, so also is anger, for both have been wounded and have surrendered to the wound.

And, if you will, receive a tenth gift from the leader of the nine Muses, to wit that it is madness to require bad men not to do wrong, for it is aiming at the impossible. Still, to permit them to be such to others and to require them not to do wrong to yourself is to be unfeeling and tyrannical.

19. You are especially to guard unremittingly against four moods of the governing self, and to wipe them out whenever you detect them, using in each case the following remedies: this imagination is not necessary; this is a solvent of society; this which you are about to say is not from yourself, and not to speak from yourself you must consider to be most incongruous.

The fourth thing that will cause you to reproach yourself is that this ensues from your more divine part being overcome and yielding to the less honourable and mortal portion, the body and its gross pleasures.

20. Your element of spirit and all the element of fire that is mingled in you, in spite of their natural upward tendency, nevertheless obey the ordering of the Whole and are held forcibly in the compounded body in this region of the earth. Once more, all the elements of earth and of water in you, in spite of their downward tendency, are nevertheless lifted up and keep to a position which is not natural to them. In this way then even the elements are obedient to the Whole and, when they are stationed at a given point, remain there by compulsion until once more the signal for their dissolution is made from the other world.

Is it not then monstrous that only your mind-element should disobey and be dissatisfied with its station? Yet nothing is imposed upon it that does violence to it, only what is in accord with its own nature, and still it does not tolerate this, but is carried in a reverse direction. For movement towards acts of injustice and habitual vice, towards wrath and sorrow and fear, is nothing else but a movement of severance from Nature. Moreover, when the governing self is discontented with any circumstance, then, too, it deserts its proper station, for it is constituted for holiness and the service of God no less than for just dealing with man. For these relations belong in kind to good fellowship, or rather are even more to be reverenced than just dealings.

21. 'He who has not one and the same aim in life is unable to remain one and the same through all his life.' The saying is incomplete unless you add what sort of aim it should be. For as the conception of all the variety of goods which the majority of men fancy in any way to be good is not the same, but only the conception of certain of the kinds of goods, namely the general goods, so the aim to be set before oneself must be the social aim, that is the aim of the Commonwealth. For he who directs every private impulse to this will make all his actions uniform and because of this will always be the same man.

22. The mountain mouse and the town mouse, and the fright and scurry of the latter.

23. Socrates used to call the opinions of the multitude like other things: 'Bogies', things to frighten children.

24. The Spartans used to put seats for visitors at their entertainments in the shade, and to seat themselves wherever they found room.

25. Socrates' message to Perdiccas to excuse a visit to his court: 'to avoid', he said, 'coming to a most unfortunate end, that is, to be treated handsomely and not to have the power to return it'.

26. The writings of the school of Epicurus lay down the injunction to remind oneself continually of one of those who practised virtue in the days gone by.

27. The Pythagoreans say: Took up to the sky before morning breaks', to remind ourselves of beings who always in the same relations and in the same way accomplish their work, and of their order, purity, and nakedness; for a star has no veil.

28. What a man Socrates was in his under garment only, when Xanthippe took his upper garment and went out; and what he said to the friends who were shocked and retired when they saw him in that dress.

29. In writing and reciting you will not be a master before you have been a pupil. This is much more true of living.

30. 'You are a slave by nature: reason is not your part.'

31. 'And my dear heart laughed within.'

32. 'Virtue they will reproach, mocking her with harsh words.'

33. Only a madman expects a fig in winter; such is he who expects a child when it is no longer permitted.

34. Epictetus used to say that, as you kissed your child, you should say in your heart: 'to-morrow maybe you will die'. 'Those are words of ill omen.' 'No,' he replied, 'nothing that means an act of Nature is of evil omen, or it would be a bad omen to say that the corn has been reaped.'

35. The unripe grape, the ripe bunch, the dried raisin, all are changes; not to nothing, but to what at this moment is nothing.

36. 'There is no robber of the will,' as Epictetus says.

37. He said too: 'you must find out an art of assent, and keep your attention fixed in the sphere of the impulses, that they may be controlled by reservation, be social, and in proportion to value; and you must wholly abstain from desire and employ aversion in regard to nothing that is not in our own control.

38. 'So we are contending,' he said, 'for no ordinary prize, but for whether we are to be sane or insane.'

39. Socrates used to say: 'What do you want? To have souls of rational or irrational beings?' 'Rational.' 'What rational beings, sound or inferior?' 'Sound.' 'Why don't you seek them?' 'Because we have them.' 'Why then do you fight and disagree?'