The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus/Book 7

BOOK VII

1. This is Evil; it is that which you have often seen. Have this ready to hand at every emergency, that this is what you have often seen. You will in general find the same things repeated up and down the world. The ancient chronicles are full of them, those of the middle age, the recent. Cities and households to-day are full of them. There is nothing new, all alike familiar and short-lived.

2. Your principles are living principles. How else can they become lifeless, except the images which tally with them be extinguished? And with you it lies to rekindle them constantly. 'I am able to think as I ought about this; if, then, I am able, why am I troubled? Things outside my understanding are nothing at all in regard to my understanding.' Master this, and you stand upright. To come back to life is in your power; look once more at things as once you did, for herein to come back to life consists.

3. A procession's vain pomp, plays on a stage, flocks, herds, sham fights, a bone thrown to puppies, a crumb into fishponds, toiling and moiling of ants carrying their loads, scurrying of startled mice, marionettes dancing to strings. Well, then, you must stand up in all this, kindly and not carrying your head proudly; yet understand that every man is worth just so much as the worth of what he has set his heart upon.

4. In conversation one ought to follow closely what is being said; in the field of impulse to follow what is happening; in the latter case to see immediately what is the object of reference, in the former to mark closely the meaning expressed.

5. Is my understanding sufficient for this or not? If it is sufficient, I employ it for the task as an instrument bestowed on me by Universal Nature. But if it is insufficient, either I withdraw from the task in favour of one who can accomplish it better (provided in other ways this is my duty), or else I do it as best I can, taking to help me one who by using my intelligence to assist him can do what is now opportune and beneficial for the general public. For whatever I do, by myself or with another, should contribute solely to this, the general benefit and harmony.

6. How many whose praises have been loudly sung are now committed to oblivion: how many who sang their praises are long ago departed.

7. Do not be ashamed to be helped; the task before you is to accomplish what falls to your lot, like a soldier in a storming-party. Suppose you are lame and cannot scale the wall by yourself, yet it can be done with another's help.

8. Let not the future trouble you; for you will come to it, if come you must, bearing with you the same reason which you are using now to meet the present.

9. All things are woven together and the common bond is sacred, and scarcely one thing is foreign to another, for they have been arranged together in their places and together make the same ordered Universe. For there is one Universe out of all, one God through all, one substance and one law, one common Reason of all intelligent creatures and one truth, if indeed the perfection of creatures of the same family and partaking of the same Reason is one.

10. Everything material vanishes very swiftly in the Universal Substance, every cause is very swiftly taken up into the Universal Reason, and the memorial of everything is very swiftly buried in eternity.

11. For a reasonable creature the same act is according to Nature and according to Reason.

12. Upright, or held upright.

13. Reasonable beings, constituted for one fellowship of co-operation, are in their separated bodies analogous to the several members of the body in individual organisms. The idea of this will come home to you more if you say to yourself: 'I am a member of the system made up of reasonable beings.' If, however, by the change of one letter, you call yourself a part, you do not yet love men from your heart; well-doing is not yet a joy to you for its own sake; you are still doing it as a bare duty, not yet as though doing good to yourself.

14. Let what will from outside happen to what can be affected by this happening, for the parts which are affected shall, if they please, find fault; whereas I myself, unless I conceive the accident to be evil, am not yet harmed; and it is in my power not to conceive it to be evil.

15. Whatever any one may do or say, I am bound to be good; exactly as if gold or emerald or purple were continually to say this: 'whatever any one may do or say, I am bound to be an emerald and to keep the colour that is mine'.

16. The governing self does not create disorder for itself; I mean, for instance, it does not alarm itself or (lead itself)[1] to appetite. If, however, any one else can alarm it or give it pain, let him do so, for it will not itself, with the consent of its judgement, turn to such moods. Let the body, if it can, be careful itself to suffer nothing; and the vital spirit which entertains fear and grief, if it suffers anywhere, let it say that it does; but that which delivers judgement generally on these affections will not suffer, for it will not itself be hasty to deliver such a judgement. The governing power regarded by itself has no wants, unless it create want for itself, and in the same way it is untroubled and unhindered, unless it trouble and hinder itself.

17. Happiness is a good genius or a good familiar spirit. 'What then are you doing here, phantom of imagination? Depart, in God's name, the way you came; I have no need of you. But you have come according to your ancient habit. I am not angry with you, only depart.'

18. Is it change that a man fears? Why, what can have come to be without change, and what is dearer or more familiar to Universal Nature? Can you yourself take your bath, unless the firewood changes? Can you be nourished, unless what you eat changes? Can any other service be accomplished without change? Do you not see that it is precisely your changing which is similar, and similarly necessary to Universal Nature?

19. Through the matter of the Whole, as through a winter torrent, all bodies are passing, connatural with the Whole and co-operating with it, as our members work with one another. How many a Chrysippus, a Socrates, an Epictetus has Eternity already sucked down! Let the same thought strike you in the case of any single individual or object.

20. One thing only troubles me, that I may not myself do something which the constitution of man does not intend, or in the way it does not intend, or which at this moment it does not intend.

21. Near at hand is your forgetting all; near, too, all forgetting you.

22. It is a property of man to love even those who stumble. This feeling ensues if it occur to you at the time that men are your kindred and go wrong because of ignorance and against their will; that in a little while both of you will be dead; but, above all, that he did you no harm, for he did not make your governing self worse than it was before.

23. Universal Nature out of its whole material, as from wax, models now the figure of a horse, then melting this down uses the material for a tree, next for a man, next for something else. And these, every one, subsist for a very brief while. Yet it is no hardship for a box to be broken up, as it was none for it to be nailed together.

24. A scowl on the face is eminently against Nature and, whenever it is often repeated, the expression dies or is at last extinguished, so that it loses the power to light up again. . . .[2] Try to understand this very point that it is against Reason. For if even the consciousness of doing wrong has gone, what ground for living is left?

25. Everything that your eyes look upon will be changed almost in a moment by Nature which orders the Whole, and out of the material it will create other things, and again out of their material others, in order that the world may be ever fresh and young.

26. When a man offends against you, think at once what conception of good or ill it was which made him offend. And, seeing this, you will pity him, and feel neither surprise nor anger. For you yourself still conceive either the same object as he does to be good, or something else of the same type; you are bound, therefore, to excuse him. If, on the other hand, you no longer conceive things of that kind to be goods or ills, you will the more easily be kind to one whose eye is darkened.

27. Do not think of what are absent as though they were now existing, but ponder on the most fortunate of what you have got, and on account of them remind yourself how they would have been missed, if they had not been here. Take heed at the same time not to accustom yourself to overvalue the things you are thus contented to have, so as to be troubled if at any time they are not here.

28. Withdraw into yourself: the reasonable governing self is by its nature content with its own just actions and the tranquillity it thus secures.

29. Wipe away the impress of imagination. Stay the impulse which is drawing you. Define the time which is present. Recognize what is happening to yourself or another. Divide and separate the event into its causal and material aspects. Dwell in thought upon your last hour. Leave the wrong done by another where the wrong arose.

30. Direct your thought to what is being said. Let your mind gain an entrance into what is occurring and who is producing it.

31. Make yourself glad in simplicity, self-respect, and indifference to what lies between virtue and vice. Love mankind. Follow God. Democritus says: 'All (sensibles) are ruled by law, but in reality the elements alone exist.' Enough for you to remember that 'all exist by law'; now is there very little else.[3]

32. On Death: either dispersal, if we are composed of atoms; or if we are a living unity, either extinction or a change of abode.

33. On Pain: what we cannot bear removes us from life; what lasts can be borne. The understanding, too, preserves its own tranquillity by abstraction, and the governing self does not grow worse; but it is for the parts which are injured by the pain, if they can, to declare it.

34. On Fame: see what their minds are like, what they avoid, what pursue. And, besides, that as the sands are constantly carried over one another, hiding what went before, so in our life what was before is very swiftly hidden by what is carried after.

35. 'Do you really imagine that an intelligence endowed with greatness of heart and a vision of all time and all reality thinks this mortal life to be a great thing?' 'Impossible', was his answer. 'Then such a man as that will consider even death not a thing to be dreaded, will he not?' 'Most assuredly.'

36. 'A King's part: to do good and to be reviled.'

37. It is absurd that a man's expression should obey and take a certain shape and fashion of beauty at the bidding of the mind, whereas the mind itself is not shaped and fashioned to beauty by itself.

38. 'Man must not vent his passion on dead things,
Since they care nothing. . . .'

39. 'May it be joy that you give to the immortal gods and to men.'

40. 'Life, like ripe corn, must to the sickle yield,
And one must be, another cease to be.'

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

42. 'For with me stand both Righteousness and Good.'

43. 'Mourn not with them that sorrow; feel no thrill.'

44. 'But I should have a right answer to give him, as follows: "You speak unadvisedly, my friend, if you fancy that a man who is worth anything ought to take the risk of life or death into account, and not to consider only one thing, when he is acting, whether he does what is right or wrong, the actions of a good man or a bad."'

45. 'For really and truly, men of Athens, the matter stands like this: wherever a man takes post, believing it to be the best, or is posted by his captain, there he ought, as I think, to remain and abide the risk, taking into account nothing, whether death or anything else, in comparison with dishonour.'

46. 'But consider, my friend, whether possibly high spirit and virtue are not something other than saving one's life and being saved. Perhaps a man who is really a man must leave on one side the question of living as long as he can, and must not love his life, but commit these things to God, and, believing the women's proverb that no one ever escaped his destiny, must consider, with that in his mind, how he may live the best possible life in the time that is given him to live.'

47. Watch and see the courses of the stars as if you ran with them, and continually dwell in mind upon the changes of the elements into one another; for these imaginations wash away the foulness of life on the ground.

48. Moreover, when discoursing about mankind, look upon earthly things below as if from some place above them—herds, armies, farms, weddings, divorces, births, deaths, noise of law courts, lonely places, divers foreign nations, festivals, mournings, market places, a mixture of everything and an order composed of contraries.

49. Behold the past, the many changes of dynasties; the future, too, you are able to foresee, for it will be of like fashion, and it is impossible for the future to escape from the rhythm of the present. Therefore to study the life of man for forty years is no different from studying it for a hundred centuries. For what more will you see?

50. 'The earth-born parts return to earth again,
But what did blossom of ethereal seed
Returns again to the celestial pole.'
Or else this: an undoing of the interlacement of the atoms and a similar shattering of the senseless molecules.

51. 'With gifts of meat and drink and magic charms
Turning aside the current not to die.'

'Man must endure whatever wind doth blow
From God, and labour still without lament.'

52. 'A better man at wrestling': but not more sociable or more modest or better trained to meet occasion or kinder to the faults of neighbours.

53. Where work can be accomplished according to the reason which is common to gods and men, there is nothing to fear; for where it is possible to obtain benefit by action which moves on an easy path and according to your constitution, there is no injury to suspect.

54. Everywhere and continually it is in your power to be reverently content with your present circumstance, to behave to men who are present with you according to right and to handle skilfully the present impression, that nothing you have not mastered may cross the threshold of the mind.

55. Do not look round to the governing selves of men different from yourself, but keep looking straight forward to the goal to which Nature is leading you, Universal Nature through what befalls you, and your own nature by what has to be done by yourself. Now each must do what follows from its constitution, and while the other creatures are constituted for the sake of the reasonable (just as in all else the inferior are for the sake of the superior), the reasonable are for one another's sake. Thus the principal end in man's constitution is the social; and the second, to resist the passions of the body; for it is a property of reasonable and intelligent movement to limit itself and never to be worsted by movements of sense or impulse; for each of those belong to the animal in us, but the movement of intelligence resolves to be sovereign and not to be mastered by those movements outside itself. And rightly so, for that is constituted by Nature to make use of them. The third end in a reasonable constitution is to avoid rash judgement and not to be deceived. Let the governing self, therefore, hold fast to these, and progress on a straight path, and it possesses what is its own.

56. As though you were now dead and have not lived your life up to the present moment, use the balance remaining to live henceforward according to Nature.

57. Love only what falls to your lot and is destined for you; what is more suited to you than that?

58. On each occurrence keep before your eyes those to whom the same happened, and then they were sorry, were surprised, complained. And now where are they? Nowhere. Very well, do you, too, desire what they desired? Will you not leave the moods of others to those who shift their moods and are shifted, and yourself be entirely concerned with the way to treat them? For you will treat them well and they will be material for yourself; only attend and resolve to be fair to yourself in all that you do, and call both things to your mind that what you do is important and that it is unimportant in what sphere your action lies.[4]

59. Delve within; within is the fountain of good, and it is always ready to bubble up, if you always delve.

60. The body, too, should be composed, not sprawling about, whether in motion or in repose. For we should require of the body as a whole just what the mind exhibits in the face, when it preserves it intelligent and comely. But all these precautions must be adopted without affectation.

61. The art of living resembles wrestling more than dancing, in as much as it stands prepared and unshaken to meet what comes and what it did not foresee.

62. Constantly stop and consider the manner of men these are whose testimony you desire to gain, and their ruling principles; for, if you look into the sources of their judgement and impulse, you will not blame those who stumble involuntarily nor will you invite their testimony to yourself.

63. 'No soul is willing to be robbed of truth', he says. The same holds of justice, too, of temperance, of kindness, and the like. It is most necessary to remember this continually, for thus you will be more gentle to all men.

64. In the case of every pain be ready with the reflection that it is not an evil, and does not injure the intelligence at the helm; for it does not destroy it, in so far as the soul is reasonable and social. In the case of most pains, however, the saying of Epicurus should help you: 'Pain is neither intolerable nor continuing, provided you remember its limits and do not let your imagination add to it'. Remember, too, that many disagreeable feelings are identical with pain, and yet we do not perceive that they are; drowsiness, for example, and extreme heat, and loss of appetite. Whenever, then, you are disgusted in one or other of these ways, say to yourself: 'you are giving in to pain'.

65. See that you do not feel to the inhuman what they feel to mankind.

66. How do we know that Telauges was not in character superior to Socrates? It is not enough that Socrates won more glory by his death, argued more fluently with the Sophists, spent the whole frosty night in the open with more endurance, thought it braver to refuse, when ordered to arrest Leo of Salamis, and 'carried his head high in the streets' (a trait in regard to which one might question whether it was true). No, we have to consider this: what kind of soul Socrates had, whether he could be content with being just in his dealings with men and righteous in his dealing with the gods, whether he was neither hastily indignant with wickedness nor a servant to any man's ignorance, whether he neither accepted as unfamiliar anything assigned by Universal Nature or endured it as intolerable, nor submitted his mind to be affected by the affections of the flesh.

67. Nature did not so blend you with the compound Whole that she did not permit you to circumscribe yourself and to bring what is its own into submission to itself. Always bear this in mind, and further that to live the blessed life rests upon very few conditions; and do not, just because you have abandoned hope of being a thinker and a student of science, on this account despair of being free, modest, sociable, and obedient to God; for it is possible to become an entirely godlike man and yet not to be recognized by any one.

68. Live out your life without restraint in entire gladness even if all men shout what they please against you, even if wild beasts tear in pieces the poor members of this lump of matter that has hardened about you. For, in the midst of all this, what hinders the mind from preserving its own self in tranquillity, in true judgement about what surrounds it and ready use of what is submitted to it, so that judgement says to what befalls it: 'this is what you are in reality, even if you seem other in appearance', and use says to what is given to it: 'I was looking for you, for the present is to me always material of reasonable and political virtue, that is (generally speaking) of the art of man or God'; since whatever comes to pass is suited to God or man, and is neither novel nor hard to deal with, but familiar and easy to handle.

69. Perfection of character possesses this: to live each day as if the last, to be neither feverish nor apathetic, and not to act a part.

70. The gods, who have no part in death, are not grieved because in so long an eternity they will be obliged always and entirely to suffer so many and such worthless men; and besides they take care of them in all kinds of ways. Yet do you, who are all but at the point of vanishing, give up the struggle, and that though you are one of the worthless?

71. It is ridiculous not to flee from one's own wickedness, which is possible, but to flee from other men's wickedness, which is impossible.

72. Whatever the reasonable and political faculty discovers to be neither intelligent nor social, with good reason it decides to be beneath itself.

73. When you have done good and another has been its object, why do you require a third thing besides, like the foolish—to be thought to have done good or to get a return?

74. No one wearies of receiving benefits, and to benefit another is to act according to Nature. Do not weary then of the benefits you receive by the doing of them.

FootnotesEdit

  1. This passage is mutilated and some words are missing.
  2. The text it at fault here.
  3. The text and interpretation are doubtful.
  4. The text is defective.