The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus/Book 12
1. It is in your power to secure at once all the objects which you dream of reaching by a roundabout path, if you will be fair to yourself: that is, if you will leave all the past behind, commit the future to Providence, and direct the present, and that alone, to Holiness and Justice. Holiness, to love your dispensation—for Nature brought it to you and you to it; Justice, freely and without circumlocution both to speak the truth and to do the things that are according to law and according to worth. And be not hampered by another's evil, his judgement, or his words, much less by the sensation of the flesh that has formed itself about you—let the part affected look to itself. If then, when you arrive at last at your final exit, resigning all else, you honour your governing self alone and the divine element within you, if what you dread is not that some day you will cease to live, but rather never to begin at all to live with Nature, you will be a man worthy of the Universe that gave you birth, and will cease to be a stranger in your own country, surprised by what is coming to pass every day, as at something you did not look to see, and absorbed in this thing or in that.
2. God beholds the governing selves of all men stripped of their material vessels and coverings and dross; for with His own mind alone He touches only what has flowed and been drawn from Himself into these selves. You, too, if you make it your habit to do this, will rid yourself of your exceeding unrest. For it would be strange that one who does not behold the poor envelope of flesh should yet lose his time in admiring dress and dwelling and reputation, and all such trappings and masquerade.
3. There are three things of which you are compounded: body, vital spirit, mind. Two of these are your own in so far as you must take care of them, but only the third is in the strict sense your own. So, if you separate from yourself, namely from your mind, all that others do or say, all that you yourself did or said, all that troubles you in the future, all that as part of the bodily envelope or natural spirit attaches to you without your will, and all that the external circumfluent vortex whirls round, so that your mind power, freed from the chain of necessity, lives purified and released by itself—doing what is just, willing what comes to pass, and speaking what is true; if you separate, I say, from this governing self what is attached to it by sensibility, and what of time is hereafter or has gone by, and make yourself like the sphere of Empedocles,
'Rounded, rejoicing in the solitude which is about it',
and practise only to live the life you are living, that is the present, then you will have it in your power at least to live out the time that is left until you die, untroubled and with kindness and reconciled with your own good Spirit.
4. I often wonder how it is that every one loves himself more than all the world and yet takes less account of his own judgement of himself than of the judgement of the world. At all events, if a god appeared to him or some wise master and bade him think and contemplate nothing within himself without at the same time speaking it out loud, he would not tolerate it even for a single day. Thus we respect whatever our neighbours will think about us more highly than we respect ourselves.
5. How was it that the gods, who ordered all things aright and with love to man, overlooked this one thing only, that among mortal men some altogether good, who had, so to speak, most commerce with the Godhead, and by holy acts and solemn rites had grown in the highest degree familiar with Him, should, once dead, never come into being again but be entirely extinguished?
Now, if indeed it is so, be certain of this that, if it ought to have been otherwise, the gods would have made it so; for were it just, it would also be possible, and were it accordant with Nature, Nature would have brought it about. Therefore from its not being so, if indeed it is not so, you should believe that it ought not to come to pass. For you yourself see that, by questioning thus, you are arguing a point of justice with God. Now we should not be debating thus with the gods unless they were most good and most just; and if this is true, they would not have permitted any part of the ordered world they govern to be unjustly and unreasonably neglected.
6. Practise even the things which you despair of achieving. For even the left hand, which for other uses is slow from want of practice, has a stronger hold upon the bridle rein than the right; for it has been practised in this.
7. What ought one to be like both in body and soul, when overtaken by death; the brevity of life; the gulf of Time hereafter and gone by; the weakness of all matter.
8. Consider the causes of reality stripped of their covering; the relations of your actions; the nature of pain, pleasure, death, fame; who is not the author of his own unrest; how none is hindered by his neighbour; that all things are what we judge them to be.
9. In the use of principles model yourself on the boxer, not the gladiator. The one puts away the sword he uses and takes it up again; the other has his hand always, and need but clench it.
10. See facts as they really are, distinguishing their matter, cause, relation.
11. How large a liberty man has to do nothing other than what God will commend, and to welcome all that God assigns to him as a consequence of Nature.
12. The gods must not be blamed; for they do no wrong, willingly or unwillingly; nor human beings; for they do no wrong except unwillingly. Therefore no one is to be blamed.
13. How ridiculous and like a stranger to the world is he who is surprised at any one of the events of life.
14–15. Either the Necessity of destiny and an order none may transgress, or Providence that hears intercession, or an ungoverned welter without a purpose. If then a Necessity which none may transgress, why do you resist? If a Providence admitting intercession, make yourself worthy of assistance from the Godhead. If an undirected welter, be glad that in so great a flood of waves you have yourself within you a directing mind; and, if the flood carry you away, let it carry away flesh, vital-spirit, the rest of you; for your mind it shall not carry away. Does the light of the lamp shine and not lose its radiance until it be put out, and shall truth and justice and temperance be put out in you before the end?
16. In the case of one who gives the impression that he did wrong, how do I know that this was a wrong? And, if he certainly did wrong, how do I know that he was not condemning himself, and so what he did was like tearing his own face? One who wants an evil man not to do wrong is like a man who wants a fig-tree not to produce its acrid juice in the figs, and infants not to cry, and a horse not to neigh, and whatever else is inevitable. With that kind of disposition what else can he do? Very well then, if you are man enough, cure this disposition.
17–18. If it is not right, don't do it: if it is not true, don't say it. Let your impulse be to see always and entirely what precisely it is which is creating an impression in your imagination, and to open it up by dividing it into cause, matter, relation, and into the period within which it will be bound to have ceased.
19. Perceive at last that you have within yourself something stronger and more divine than the things which create your passions and make a downright puppet of you. What is my consciousness at this instant? Fright, suspicion, appetite? Some similar evil state?
20. First, do nothing aimlessly nor without relation to an end. Secondly, relate your action to no other end except the good of human fellowship.
21. A little while and you will be nobody and nowhere, nor will anything which you now behold exist, nor one of those who are now alive. Nature's law is that all things change and turn, and pass away, so that in due order different things may come to be.
22. All things are what we judge them to be, and that rests with you. Put away, therefore, when you will, the judgement; and, as though you had doubled the headland, there is calm, 'all smoothly strewn and a waveless bay'.
23. Any single activity you choose, which ceases in due season, suffers no evil because it has ceased, neither has he, whose activity it was, suffered any evil merely because his activity has ceased. Similarly, therefore, the complex of all activities, which is a man's life, suffers no evil merely because it has ceased, provided that it ceases in due season, nor is he badly used who in due season brings his series of activities to a close. But the season and the term Nature assigns—sometimes the individual nature, as in old age, but in any event Universal Nature, for by the changes of her parts the whole world continues ever young and in her prime. Now what tends to the advantage of the Whole is ever altogether lovely and in season; therefore for each individual the cessation of his life is no evil, for it is no dishonour to him, being neither of his choosing nor without relation to the common good: rather is it good, because it is in due season for the Whole, benefiting it and itself benefited by it. For thus is he both carried by God, who is borne along the same course with God, and of purpose borne to the same ends as God.
24. These three thoughts keep always ready for use: First, in what you do that your act be not without purpose and not otherwise than Right itself would have done, and that outward circumstances depend either on chance or Providence; but neither is chance to be blamed, nor Providence arraigned. The second, to remember the nature of each individual from his conception to his first breath, and from his first breath until he gives back the breath of life, and the mere elements of which he is compounded and into which he is resolved. The third, to realize that if you could be suddenly caught up into the air and could look down upon human life and see all its variety you would disdain it, seeing at the same time how great a company of beings, in the air and in the aether, encompasses you, and that however often you were caught up, you would see the same things—uniformity, transience: these are the objects of your pride.
25. Cast out the judgement; you are saved. Who then hinders your casting it out?
26. Whenever you feel something hard to bear, you have forgotten (a) that all comes to pass according to the Nature of the Whole, (b) that the wrong is not your own but another's, further (c) that all that is coming to pass always did, always will, and does now everywhere thus come to pass, (d) the great kinship of man with all mankind, for the bond of kind is not blood nor the seed of life, but mind. You have forgotten, moreover, (e) that every individual's mind is of God and has flowed from that other world, (f) that nothing is a man's own, but even his child, his body, and his vital spirit itself have come from that other world, (g) that all is judgement, (h) that every man lives only the present life and this is what he is losing.
27. Continually run over in mind men who were highly indignant at some event; men who attained the greatest heights of fame or disaster or enmity or of any kind of fortune whatever. Then pause and think: 'Where is it all now?' Smoke and ashes and a tale that is told, or not so much as a tale. And see that all such as this occurs to you together: Fabius Catullinus, for instance, in his country retreat, Lusius Lupus in his gardens, Stertinius at Baiae, Tiberius in Capri, and Velius Rufus—and generally some idiosyncrasy coupled with vanity; and how cheap is all that man strains to get, and how much wiser it were, with the material granted to you, to present yourself just, temperate, obedient to the gods in all simplicity; for pride smouldering under a cover of humility is the most grievous pride of all.
28. To those who ask the question: 'Where have you seen the gods, or whence have you apprehended that they exist, that you thus worship them?' First, they are visible even to the eyes; secondly, I have not seen my own soul and yet I honour it; and so, too, with the gods, from my experiences every instant of their power, from these I apprehend that they exist and I do them reverence.
29. The security of life is to see each object in itself, in its entirety, its material, its cause; with the whole heart to do just acts and to speak the truth. What remains except to enjoy life, joining one good thing to another, so as to leave not even the smallest interval unfilled?
30. One light of the Sun, even though it be sundered by walls, by mountains, by a myriad other barriers. One common Matter, even though it be sundered in a myriad individual bodies. One vital spirit, even though it be sundered in a myriad natural forms and individual outlines. One intelligent spirit, even though it appears to be divided. Now of the things we have named the other parts, for instance animal spirits and material bodies without sense, are even unrelated to one another; yet even them the principle of unity and the gravitation of like to like holds together. But understanding has a peculiar property, it tends to its fellow and combines therewith, and the feeling of fellowship is not sundered.
31. What more do you ask? To go on in your mere existence? Well then, to enjoy your senses, your impulses? To wax and then to wane? To employ your tongue, your intelligence? Which of these do you suppose is worth your longing? But if each and all are to be despised, go forward to the final act, to follow Reason, that is God. But to honour those other ends, to be distressed because death will rob one of them, conflicts with this end.
32. What a fraction of infinite and gaping time has been assigned to every man; for very swiftly it vanishes in the eternal; and what a fraction of the whole of matter, and what a fraction of the whole of the life Spirit. On what a small clod, too, of the whole earth you creep. Pondering all these things, imagine nothing to be great but this: to act as your own nature guides, to suffer what Universal Nature brings.
33. How is the governing self employing itself? For therein is everything. The rest are either within your will or without it, ashes and smoke.
34. This is a stirring call to disdain of death, that even those who judge pleasure to be good and pain evil, nevertheless disdain death.
35. For him whose sole good is what is in due season, who counts it all one to render according to right reason more acts or fewer, and to whom it is no matter whether he beholds the world a longer or a shorter time—for him even death has lost its terrors.
36. Mortal man, you have been a citizen in this great City; what does it matter to you whether for five or fifty years? For what is according to its laws is equal for every man. Why is it hard, then, if Nature who brought you in, and no despot nor unjust judge, sends you out of the City—as though the master of the show, who engaged an actor, were to dismiss him from the stage? 'But I have not spoken my five acts, only three.' 'What you say is true, but in life three acts are the whole play.' For He determines the perfect whole, the cause yesterday of your composition, to-day of your dissolution; you are the cause of neither. Leave the stage, therefore, and be reconciled, for He also who lets his servant depart is reconciled.
- 'And round its stable centre glad to run.' Thomas Taylor, The Commentaries of Proclus on the Timaeus of Plato, 1820.