The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Antoninus/Commentary on Book 5


This Book consists of little essays, principally on familiar moral themes, and is almost free from the technical expressions of the Stoic school. The lessons may be intended for Marcus himself, but they read more like admonitions to a learner. More than any of the Books it might be taken to be the work of an older man addressing a younger.

Marcus appears also to be writing with a more conscious literary aim, and the Book is in consequence simpler in its effect. The first and the last chapters are in the dialogue form which is familiar to us from the satires of Horace and Persius. There are two attempts in the more cynical manner, chs. 12 and 28, the former of which fails through want of literary skill. Chapter 8 is a short justification of suffering by a comparison of Nature's treatment of man to the pains inflicted by the god of healing, Aesculapius, upon his patients.

There is an entire absence of the historical references which meet the reader in most of the Books, and no reference to the position and responsibilities of Marcus himself. Towards the end a kind of despondency, like that of Book ii, closes over the writer, and ch. 33 is very sad and hopeless in its condensed expression of despair, and disdain of mortal life.

Ch. 1. The single Greek word 'At dawn' resembles the 'At daybreak' which heralds Book ii. The discourse on the familiar text: 'Are mortals born to sleep their lives away' is enlivened by the appeal to the example of animals: 'Go to the ant thou sluggard and consider her ways.' This simple philosophy, familiar to us from the Old Testament, is rare in Greek and Latin authors; it is absent, for instance, from Persius' third Satire which is on the same subject, 'Sleep'. The topic may have been familiar from the proverbs of common folk, but the Fables of Aesop and Babrius, like the medieval stories of Reynard the Fox, are not in this vein; animals are introduced in a cynical way to satirize men's foibles, which they share, not to serve as an example to them. We meet this kind of reflection first in the rather childish collections of stories upon the wisdom of creatures by Aelian (a.d. 170–235), though it may already be detected in the first century in Plutarch's essay, That brutes employ reason.

The Stoics, generally, regarded animals, including the social insects, as moved by 'soul' in distinction from man's prerogative of 'reason'. Thus Marcus' usual point of view is that animals exhibit the economy of Nature, are evidence of Divine providence, have instinct, as we say, not conscious intelligence. So when he returns to this subject (viii. 12) he is content to say that we share sleep with animals, the part of life where reason is in abeyance.

There is thus a certain originality in this chapter, and still more in the charming reinforcement of the innocent lesson in ch. 6 with its stress upon animals labouring unselfishly for man, the sic vos non vobis suggestion.

The chapter closes with a high appeal to disinterestedness in moral life by the example of the artisan's selfless devotion to his craft. This argument had been used by Plato in The Republic to enforce public morality by the example of the single-mindedness of the true artist.[1] Aristotle has a different lesson, he points to the pleasure of the craftsman as increasing his energy.[2] Marcus uses the analogy to illustrate the ardour, as well as the unselfishness, which should go to social duties. Sometimes he calls this single-mindedness true self-interest (vi. 35). He puts it well, but somewhat differently, in vii. 13 and ix. 42. It is independent of men's praise (iv. 20), it is an intrinsic characteristic, like a jewel's beauty or a lovely colour (vii. 15).

Ch. 2. Earnest absorption in a pursuit at the expense of food and sleep leads to the subject of what normally hinders moral progress. This is imagination, troublesome or inappropriate. Epictetus[3] says that neither wealth nor health nor glory is in man's control, but only the right treatment of imagination, and Marcus dwells often, like his predecessor, on the psychology and pathology of imagination. An image forces an entrance into the mind, it calls up a further image, and, if this be entertained, impulse is excited and is followed by act. Again the mind is coloured by its imaginations, the dye sinks in by repetition (ch. 16). The remedies which Marcus suggests are either negative, to expel or to wipe out the impression, or positive, to turn the mind to right word or act, whereupon the right imaginations will follow. He gives this a fuller treatment at viii. 7 and xi. 19; see also what he says at vii. 16, followed as it is by the little dialogue: 'What are you doing here, Imagination? Be off with you the way you came; I have no use for you. But you have come according to your ancient wont. I am not angry with you; only be off.' The explanation is that the psychical effect of being angry is to strengthen, instead of weakening, the intrusive fancy. Sometimes he speaks of these imaginations as conceptions or thoughts, a kind of higher power of the same thing (xii. 22 and 25).

Ch. 3. There are three points here. The first, that man's will must be made accordant with Nature's will or purpose, that is, we must generalize our wills; the second, that our real will is identical with the general will, and that we must recognize that in realizing this will we value ourselves at our proper worth, in other words should practise true self-love (v. 1.2). Thirdly, we can neglect the criticism of others because their wills are private or selfish wills. The chapter is influenced, directly or indirectly, by the teaching of Heraclitus:[4] 'We must follow the general Logos . . . but though the Logos is general, the many live as though they had a private understanding.' Again, in the last words Marcus appears to be thinking of 'the straight and crooked path of the fuller's brush, which is one'.[5] The spiral brush, which worked up and down and yet rotated, illustrates the reconciliation of the apparent opposition between the general and the particular.

Ch. 4. A beautiful variation upon the theme 'the earth that's nature's mother', only that Marcus makes the relation to be to the Whole, treating Earth as but one aspect of that Whole. When he says 'falling, I shall rest', he probably recalls another of Heraclitus' sayings:[6] 'it (the fiery principle) changes and it rests', that is, the Whole is subject to perpetual alternations of activity and of rest; of this, waking and sleeping, life and death are instances.

Ch. 5. Moral excellence is independent of intellectual acuteness, a favourite theme of Christian teachers. By reason, Marcus, like Epictetus, means the practical reason, the source of moral judgement. We may illustrate what Marcus says from a little dialogue in The Schoolmaster[7] of Clement of Alexandria, which appears to be of Stoic origin: 'No one who has intellect would put pleasure before good.' 'But we aren't all of us philosophers, don't we all love and pursue life?' 'How do you love God and your neighbour, without philosophy? How do you love yourself, without loving life?' 'I never learned my letters.' 'But even if you never learned to read, you cannot pretend to be deaf.'

Marcus adds that we have a duty to cultivate by practice such intellectual powers as we possess; as Horace said,

Some point of moral progress each may gain
Though to aspire beyond it should prove vain.[8]

See what he says in xii. 6.

The chapter is usually interpreted as an expression of conscious intellectual inferiority on the part of Marcus. It is more natural to think that he is teaching a general lesson. Notice too how the list of necessary attributes of the good life, and the complementary catalogue of failings, have grown since he wrote ii. 5.

Ch. 6. The dialogue in § 2 has been arranged differently by different editors. The sense of the chapter is, in any case, manifest. The reward of goodness lies in doing good. Marcus puts this in an original way. Man is to fulfil his social duties with an instinctiveness like that of the animals; nay more, as naturally as a cultivated plant bears its flower and fruit. Kindness and generosity should be a second nature. This, objects his critic, is to abrogate from man's distinctive gift, reason, and reason involves self-consciousness. The reply is an appeal to the unsophisticated conscience. Reason can certainly estimate gain and loss, so that, if you make a gift, the beneficiary is no doubt in your debt. But it is for him, not for you, to recognize the debt; otherwise your gift was not a free gift. The same point is made by Seneca,[9] and Marcus may remember Seneca or the source on which Seneca drew.

Ch. 7. He now pursues the problem of unselfish goodness, considering man's relation to Him from whom all blessings flow. Prayer should be for good gifts, not for ourselves only but for our neighbour also. For a fuller discussion of Prayer from a different angle see ix. 40. The words preserved by Marcus are thought to be a primitive formula, a magic incantation to the Rain-god. They were perhaps used in connexion with a rude image of Earth, which Pausanias records to have been dedicated at a time of drought either in Attica or in all Hellas. Perhaps the learned had questioned whether prayer should not pass beyond the bounds of Attica, to embrace the fields of their neighbours and even of their enemies.[10]

By 'simply' Marcus means that, as Socrates said, we are to ask God for good, not for good either for ourselves individually or for some private end; by 'freely' he means 'without cringing or crawling', a freeman's devotion, not a slave's. We are to stand up when we pray, as Socrates was said to have done.

No doubt Marcus knew what Plato had said on this subject in the Euthyphro, and was familiar with Persius' second Satire and its source, the dialogue Alcibiades ii.

Ch. 8. The subject of Prayer leads him to open the hardest of all problems to a consistent Stoic, the existence of physical and mental suffering and moral evil.

A conspicuous example of men's prayer is that directed to Aesculapius, god of healing. Men ask the god for relief, his answer is to prescribe a painful and severe remedy.

Suffering, then, in this world, Marcus argues, may be looked on as prescribed to man, like a regimen given by a good physician to his patient. What men commonly call ills are part of the economy of the Whole. You must therefore not only submit to suffering; you must welcome it as assigned to you by a long chain of necessary sequence, and also as contributory to the perfection of the Whole. Marcus goes even further. He says paradoxically that apparent evil assists the permanence of the eternal Cause, while human discontent actually injures the perfect Unity.

Notice that he does not say (though some thinkers have said it) that my suffering benefits me; only that my suffering is for the good of the whole. The individual is regarded as a member of the body that is treated, even chastised, for the good of that great body, the City of God.

The worship of Aesculapius had a great vogue in the second century a.d. He is the saviour and healer of men. This cult is known from literary sources, like the Sacred Orations of Aelius Aristides, with which Marcus would be familiar (he heard with emotion that author's speech on the disaster at Smyrna), and from the excavations at Epidamnus and elsewhere. Pater has drawn a charming picture of this healing art in Marius the Epicurean.

Notice the Stoic rationalization of ancient beliefs, a rationalization which was perhaps easier in the case of Aesculapius, who was originally a man, but a man with divine powers. Notice also the vein of etymology, so characteristic of Marcus, who had a very real interest in semantics.

Ch. 9. Medical treatment reminds the writer that philosophy is the medicine of the soul; that he is himself an invalid, at best a convalescent. Regard your call to philosophy as a call to cure yourself, look on the philosopher as a wise friend, not a pedant.

Ch. 10. Hitherto the temper of the Book has been of sustained cheerfulness; now philosophic doubt combines with disillusionment in a manner strongly contrasting with the brave optimism of ch. 8, and the simple commonsense of ch. 9. Compare the tone of ix. 3. With this vein of half despair the inward deity (ii. 13 and iii. 5) is once more mentioned, being here almost identified with the governing self.

The chapter closes with a reassertion of faith in the Universe, and in the power of the human will.

Ch. 11. This chapter is a pendant to ch. 10, suggested by reflection upon the deity within, and the contrast between it and a corrupted heart.

Moltke seems to have had this and similar passages in the Meditations in mind when he wrote in his Trostgedanken: 'the reason is absolutely sovereign; knows no authority above itself; no power can enforce it to accept as false what it has once recognized to be true.'

Ch. 12. A chapter in the cynical vein, which sits uneasily upon Marcus, to illustrate the contrast between real goods, viz. goods of the soul, and mere possessions, the wealth of the vulgar. There are many stories in the remains of Greek literature which resemble what he alludes to here. The best of these is told of Aristippus, the Cyrenaic hedonist, who, after suffering shipwreck, said that he had not lost anything to matter, for what really mattered to him was his easy adaptable character, and that he had not lost. Galen tells a story of Diogenes the Cynic, who rudely spat in his wealthy host's face as the least valuable thing in a room full of 'goods'. The proverb is from a passage lately recovered in a papyrus fragment of Menander's Ghost; a slave is frankly lecturing his young master, and apologizes for quoting the proverb:

A vulgar proverb's just occurred to me,
(Asking your pardon, if I make too free):
With all your goods, young sir, it comes to this:
You've not a corner left in which to———.

There are two points, the difference between real goods and material possessions, and the fact that even the vulgar, like Menander's slave, see the difference, but, perhaps through a corruption in the text, the second point is obscured.

Ch. 13. The distinction in ch. 12, between real and material goods, to which he returns in ch. 15, leads him to reflect on the formal and material in his own composition (iv. 21). Though the one (the spiritual) is superior to the matter which it informs, both are subject to the law of continuity and change. This suggests a reflection (v. 32; x. 7. 2; xi. 1) on the doctrine held by many Stoics, and perhaps by Heraclitus before them, that the Universe, at the end of one world-process, is reabsorbed into the primitive condition of Fiery Matter. Then the process is repeated so that exactly the same series is repeated, and so on. The speculation resembles one which was common in the nineteenth century, popularly stated in the form: 'Is the world running down?' Marcus keeps an open mind, as the question does not affect our finite lives.

Chs. 14–15. What does concern us is that the formal principle in us, what he here calls Logos, should realize itself in right acts. But we must not demand of a man what does not belong to him. His end and his good cannot lie in those material goods which he properly disdains, and which he is commended for forgoing.

Chs. 16–18. Marcus here states, first, a psychological truth, hat the effect of repetition, of dwelling upon an image, is to confirm the impression in the consciousness. The psychical self is stained by its frequent imaginations; the dyer's hand, as Shakespeare says, is coloured by what it works in. Marcus combines this truth with a law of mental association, by which ideas previously connected tend to reinstate themselves. We are therefore not only to control our imaginations (ch. 11) but to habituate ourselves to coherent trains of thought.

He gives two examples of such associated trains of thought in this chapter, and two further illustrations in chs. 17 and 18.

Most emphasis is laid upon his favourite doctrine that man's end is fellowship, and that in fellowship man discovers his benefit and his good. To establish this doctrine he appeals to the argument from structure and tendency in living organisms, how that in the animate kingdom universally there is a striving by each creature for its own good, to accomplish which it is constructed by Nature.

This 'natural adaptation' is accompanied by 'natural subordination'; the lower creatures are for the sake of the higher, the higher are for the sake of one another. The natural world exhibits a graded series, the Scala Naturae, what Sir Tho. Browne[11] calls 'a stair or manifest scale of creatures'. Thus to subordination succeeds co-ordination, mutual services in the Kingdom of ends.

In reference to the last argument Marcus says that 'it has been demonstrated long ago', a reference probably to Socrates, Plato, and especially Aristotle, from whom the Stoics took the conception. To us it is familiar from St. Paul[12] and St. John.[13] It has been called a purely 'external teleology', but it is much more than this both in Christian and Stoic writers. In regard to the animal kingdom it had its bad effects, leading Aristotle to use it to justify, in the name of Nature, the perpetual tutelage of slaves, and, in both Christian and pagan thought, causing the erroneous conclusion that animals were made by God solely for the service of man. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries this brought into being the Cartesian notion, adopted by Bossuet among other religious writers, that the creatures are merely animate mechanisms. This false theory has had far-reaching practical consequences in the treatment not only of animals but of the weaker races of man. The slave-trade of the eighteenth century is a strange outcome of supposed enlightenment.

Chs. 17–22. The first two chapters continue the thought of ch. 16, but lead on (with a digression at ch. 21) to the inquiry how to deal in practice with the unkind and unsocial (Book ii. 1). Thus good life in a palace, and the principle that man's end is fellowship are justified by what appears, at first sight, to be a negative instance. The digression in ch. 21 actually points the same way, since the highest power in self may and can use good and evil alike, for so does the Whole, in its wisdom.

Ch. 17. A practical solution of what is a theoretical problem to an optimistic creed. Marcus often recurs to it (iv. 6; v. 20, 28; vi. 50; ix. 42; xi. 9; xii. 16). The English proverb is that you cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Ch. 18. Man has strength to support his lot. He can shoulder trouble, though he is conscious of it, as easily as the foolish man, who is not conscious of it, or the man who makes a parade of his endurance. The last appears to mean the man spoken of in iii. 16 and viii. 48, and would include the Christian recusant of xi. 3. He bears and endures, but on unreasonable grounds, without moral judgement. Marcus explained the reasons for endurance in v. 8. 5, and returns to them in viii. 46 and x. 3.

Chs. 19–20. The independence of the mind in regard to all external circumstances is a fundamental tenet of Stoicism. It is a favourite topic of Epictetus, and was stated clearly at iv. 3. 4. (Compare vi. 8; vii. 16; xi. 1. n and 16.)

The next chapter gives the practical bearing of the maxims in ch. 19. He adds that every obstacle, even injurious men, can be used to advantage our moral life. This must have been the original meaning of 'making a virtue of necessity', though it has been vulgarized to an equivalent for 'grin and bear it'. Wordsworth retains the true sense when he says that the Happy Warrior 'turns his necessity to glorious gain'. It appears to be already proverbial in Quintilian and St. Jerome.

Ch. 21. The sovereign power is, in the Universe and man, of one kind. Marcus uses this term 'sovereign' or 'most excellent' in place of the usual 'governing' faculty, with reference to the long debate in Greek writers upon the saying 'Justice is the benefit of the superior', where the word 'superior' may be interpreted 'better'. So here the 'sovereign' could be, and is no doubt by Marcus, interpreted as the 'best'. He identifies it elsewhere with Reason (Logos) and its objective expression Law. When he says 'it uses all and orders all', he is probably thinking of Heraclitus,[14] who said of Logos that 'it is as strong as it wills, suffices for all and prevails over all', and perhaps of Pindar's enigmatic saying: 'Law, the lord of all, mortals and immortals, guides with a high hand.'[15]

Ch. 22. He passes from the principle of law to its realization in the State. The test of illegality is injury to the State, not to the individual, so that an imaginary grievance can usually be disposed of by asking whether the supposed wrong injures society. The interpretation of the conclusion of the chapter is uncertain. With the punctuation adopted in the text, the respondent objects that righteous anger is justified in regard to an injury to the State; to this Marcus replies: 'Not anger! you forget that you must instruct him reasonably, that is, show him his mistake.' This is the teaching of Marcus at x. 4 and xi. 13. No doubt there is a reference, however we interpret the words, to a forgotten controversy between the Stoics and the followers of Aristotle. The latter held that anger is given to man to reinforce his reason, a doctrine of Plato in The Republic. The Stoics held that anger, as a passion of the soul, is never to be justified.

It will be seen that the real question involved is the theory of punishment. Those who take the retributive view of punishment censure the Stoic view, as Lactantius did already.

Here Marcus appears to be referring to the actual State; when, however, he speaks, as he does elsewhere, of the Eternal City, he insists that the Whole cannot be injured any more than the good man (v. 25), and we should have expected him to adopt the same view about the actual State (v. 35).

Chs. 23–4. These reflections upon the rapid passage of the world of generation and the littleness of mortal man by comparison with the whole are now familiar to the reader (ii. 17; iv. 43; v. 10. 2). Here they are correctives for anger, elsewhere for pride, distraction and idle complaint. The 'boundless gulf of past and future' probably suggested Pascal's: 'quand je considère la petite durée de ma vie, absorbée dans l'éternité précédant et suivant, je m'effraie'.[16] Collier's translation of ch. 24 seems to have suggested to Pope: 'His time a moment, and a point his space.'[17]

Ch. 25. Error arises from following one's private judgement, whereas duty is to identify the individual with the general will.

The offender's responsibility is his own, as Marcus said in iv. 26, repeating it at xi. 13, where the subject is treated more fully.

The phrase 'let him see to it', which is nearly equivalent to the Hebrew 'his blood be on his own head', occurs in the New Testament in two remarkable places, St. Matt. 27. 4 and 24, Acts 18. 15.

Ch. 26. Marcus here distinguishes the subconscious changes, the smooth or broken movement of the nerve-current (animal spirit) in the psycho-physical organism, from their effects in consciousness, which arise from the sympathetic reaction of the central self. He does not pretend that we can ignore this reaction—

we are not ourselves
When nature, being oppress'd, commands the Mind
To suffer with the body[18]

indeed he takes the same standpoint as Epicurus did (ix. 41). We cannot ignore the resultant effects, only we are not to judge either that they are good, if pleasant, or evil, if painful. His difference from Epicurus is that the latter insisted on treating the pleasures of the mind and higher self as of the same kind with sensual pleasures, and as good. For Marcus only moral activity is good, the emotion which accompanies it is its consequent and concurrent.

Ch. 27. This is the one place in the Meditations where man is thought able to live in the society of the gods. Usually Marcus speaks of following in God's footsteps, a Pythagorean simile, or making oneself like God, a Platonic ideal.

Ch. 28. Marcus only occasionally indulges the cynical vein in which he most resembles Persius of Roman authors. Both reveal in such passages as this a delicate aesthetic sensibility, almost as if evil were distasteful more than shocking to them. The passage illustrates the view that vice is due to ignorance and can be remedied by reviving in the evil-doer his latent knowledge of good and evil. Marcus speaks here like a physician who is not moved to anger by detecting a bad habit. This is one of several passages which can hardly be understood as intended merely for his private edification; the tone resembles such hortatory discourses as Galen's two treatises upon the Passions and their cure,[19] and his Protrepticus.

The last four words are one of the unsolved enigmas of our book. Gataker thought that Marcus means that a good man neither lauds it over the evil-doer nor panders to him.

Ch, 29. The image of the smoky chimney is derived from Epictetus: 'the room is full of smoke; if it be tolerable, I shall stop there; if it is excessive, I walk out.' Other images were from leaving a banquet, abandoning a dilapidated tenement.

Marcus speaks of suicide in five or six places. That the Stoics justified it in some circumstances is well known, and many admired followers of the Porch died by their own hand, like Cato the younger and Marcus Brutus.

The most important passage in the Meditations on this topic is x. 8. 3. There self-destruction is contemplated hypothetically, as a last resort: if you cannot be your own master, go into a corner and learn your lesson; if you fail, depart life, not in anger or indignantly (he is thinking of Ajax, perhaps), but simply, like a freeman, not for effect. Clearly Marcus does not advocate suicide there; what he would have one do is to acquire mastery of self. In the present passage, by repeating the language of ch. 25 and the sentiment of ch. 27, he points to the life of liberty as the true path; it is only when the good life is made impossible, not by man's own fault, that a voluntary death is justified. In viii. 47 his solution, as in x. 8, is that you are not to grieve, for you are not responsible for the impediment that thwarts your activity. In x. 32 he says it were better to depart than to continue in evil, that is, if you cannot be good and simple, implying that you are able to be such, and he says much the same in x. 22. In vii. 33 and x. 3 he cites the maxim of Epicurus that extreme pain brings its own relief by bringing death in its train.

Suicide then is contemplated by Marcus, and here he follows the best Stoic teaching, only as an escape from insuperable moral evil, whether imposed from without or arising from his own failure. If adopted at all, it must be upon reasonable choice, neither precipitately, in anger, nor for display. The good man is normally to stand to his post (iii. 7), as Socrates taught, waiting for God's signal of retreat.

On the whole matter Sir Thomas Browne[20] speaks wisely and fairly: 'we are happier with death than we should have been without it: there is no misery but in himself, where there is no end of misery; and so indeed, in his own sense, the Stoic is in the right. He forgets that he can die, who complains of misery; we are in the power of no calamity while death is in our own.'

Ch. 30. The first words take up the close of ch. 29. The mind of the whole is a mind of fellowship. The rest repeats in another form what was said in v. 16.

Ch. 31. The thought that Nature's purpose is to bring to pass concord among her children prompts the writer to inquire how he himself has supported life's varied relations. These relations, it will be noted, include those to one's servants and subordinates. The quotation is loosely made from the Odyssey, and he perhaps also thinks of a question suggested by Pythagoras:[21]

Where did I transgress? What have I done, what duty not fulfilled?

This profession of innocency has no parallel elsewhere in Marcus; we are reminded of St. Paul's occasional outbursts, like[22] 'You are witnesses and God how holily and righteously and without blame we behaved to you who hold the Faith'. So 'your service is accomplished' will awaken memories of the apostle's words.

The phrase 'how many fair things your eyes have seen' appears to be a reminiscence of Menander's exquisite verses:[23]

that man is blest
Who having viewed at ease this solemn show
Of sun, stars, ocean, fire, doth quickly go
Back to his home.

Ch. 32. The meaning and connexion of this chapter arc obscure, as no direct answer is given to the inquiry in the first sentence. If Marcus were a Christian writer, we should know the answer, but he certainly does not hold that things hidden from the wise and prudent are revealed to babes. Again, the spirit or mind described in the third sentence can hardly be other than the mind of the whole. No finite mind can have knowledge of the beginning and the end, and of the reason which orders all and runs through all being. Does Marcus mean then that no human spirit is master of art and knowledge? This would explain why the seeming masters are confounded by the uninstructed.

Chs. 33–5. Not even the sad tone of ch. 10 has prepared the reader for what is the most extreme expression in the Meditations of the little worth, the evil of this present life. The powerful phrases and the quotation from Hesiod add to the effect of the sober close, where the writer, leaving the future an open question, reaffirms as a present duty what is the central lesson of this Book. The next two chapters continue the lesson, and give reasons for confidence in the victory of goodness in spite of what was said in the first part of ch. 33.

Ch. 36. The internal connexion of this chapter is puzzling and the text is partly corrupt. The opening sentence shows by its language that Marcus has in mind a chapter of Epictetus.[24] There it is said that when you see a man carried away by his grief, say at the loss of a child, your imagination is not to be carried away by the suggestion of his lamentations. You may sympathize with him and even lament with him, but within you are not to grieve. The reason given is the familiar one that the loss, properly conceived, is not an evil; the evil lies in the inward judgement.

Thus we must supply at the beginning of the chapter some words like: 'When you see a man carried away by a supposed loss.' Marcus says you are not to imagine his loss to be a real evil; the apparent evil is external, it lies in circumstance, your judgement tells you that it is not a hurt.

He illustrates this from a reference to an old man, perhaps a foster father, in some lost comedy. When he left, he used to beg to take away his charge's top with him, but he did not forget that it was a toy.

The rest of this part of the chapter is corrupt, but the general drift is that if you allow yourself to entertain sorrow because your fellow-man overrates what he has lost, you do but share his folly. He has forgotten what is the reality, he is lamenting a loss which was inevitable.

The last paragraph is by some taken to be a separate aphorism. It may, however, continue the dialogue (possibly it is a paraphrase of some well-known passage of complaint): 'Once upon a time I was a lucky man. . . .' 'Lucky you say, but what is luck? It depends upon your own disciplined temper.' Thus the chapter closes by a reassertion of what is the main teaching of chs. 33, 34, and 35.


  1. Pl. Rep. Book i, 341 c–342 e.
  2. Arist. Eth. Nic. x. 5.
  3. Epict. ii. 19. 32, and often elsewhere.
  4. Heraclitus, Fr. 2 D., 92 B. (Test).
  5. Ibid. 59 D., 50 B.
  6. Ibid. 84 a D., 83 B.
  7. Paidagogos, iii. 11, p. 299 P.
  8. 'est quadam prodire tenus, si non datur ultra', Hor. Ep. i. 1. 32 (Conington).
  9. Sen. De Benef., especially ii. 9 and 10.
  10. Paus. i. 24. 3.
  11. Religio Medici, i. 33.
  12. 1 Cor. 12. 12.
  13. St. John, xv. 4.
  14. Heraclitus, 114 D., 91 B.
  15. Pindar, Fr. 169 (1 51).
  16. Pensées, 205 Br.
  17. Essay on Man, i. 72.
  18. Shakespeare, King Lear, ii. 4. 10.
  19. 'There are tracts to heal the passions of the self by Chrysippus and other 'writers', Galen (De Dignotione) v. 3.
  20. Religio Medici, i. 44.
  21. Od. iv. 690 and D.L. viii. 22 (cited in the Testimonia to the Greek text).
  22. 1 Thess. 2. 10.
  23. Menander, Fr. 481 (J. A. Symondi).
  24. Manual (Encheiridion), ch. 16.