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Marcus Aurelius

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Marcus Aurelius

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One of the world's most famous and influential books, Meditations, by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121–180), incorporates the stoic precepts he used to cope with his life as a warrior and administrator of an empire. Ascending to the imperial throne in A.D. 161, Aurelius found his reign beset by natural disasters and war. In the wake of these challenges, he set down a series of private reflections, outlining a philosophy of commitment to virtue above pleasure and tranquility above happiness.
Reflecting the emperor's own noble and self-sacrificing code of conduct, this eloquent and moving work draws and enriches the tradition of Stoicism, which stressed the search for inner peace and ethical certainty in an apparently chaotic world. Serenity was to be achieved by emulating in one's personal conduct the underlying orderliness and lawfulness of nature. And in the face of inevitable pain, loss, and death — the suffering at the core of life — Aurelius counsels stoic detachment from the things that are beyond one's control and a focus on one's own will and perception.
Presented here in a specially modernized version of the classic George Long translation, this updated and revised edition is easily accessible to contemporary readers. It not only provides a fascinating glimpse into the mind and personality of a highly principled Roman of the second century but also offers today's readers a practical and inspirational guide to the challenges of everyday life.

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What is badness? It is that which you have often seen. Amidst all that happens, keep in mind that you have seen it often. Everywhere up and down you will find the same things, with which the old histories are filled, those of the middle period and those of our own day; with which cities and houses are filled now. There is nothing new: all things are both familiar and short-lived.
2. How can our principles become dead unless the impressions (thoughts) that correspond to them are extinguished? But it is in your power continuously to fan these thoughts into a flame. I can form the opinion that I ought to have about anything. If I am able to do so, why am I disturbed? The things that are external to my mind have no relation at all to my mind. Let this be the state of your affects, and you will stand erect. To recover your life is in your power. Look at things again as you used to look at them; for in this consists the recovery of your life.
3. The idle business of show, plays on the stage, flocks of sheep, herds, exercises with spears, a bone cast to little dogs, a bit of bread into fish ponds, laborings of ants and burden carrying, runnings about of frightened little mice, puppets pulled by strings—all alike. It is your duty then in the midst of such things to show good humor and not a proud air; to understand, however, that every man is worth just so much as the things about which he busies himself.
4. In discourse you must attend to what is said, and in every action you must observe what is being done. And in the latter you should see immediately what end is intended, but in the former watch carefully what thing is signified.
5. Is my understanding sufficient for this or not? If it is sufficient, I use it for the work as an instrument given by universal nature. But if it is not sufficient, then either I retire from the work and give way to him who is able to do it better—unless there be some reason why I ought not to do so—or I do it as well as I can, taking to help me the man who, with the aid of my ruling principle, can do what is now fit and useful for the general good. For in whatever I do, either by myself or with another, I must direct my energies to this alone, that it shall conduce to the common interest and be in harmony with it.
6. How many, after being celebrated by fame, have been given up to oblivion; and how many who have celebrated the fame of others have long been dead.
7. Do not be ashamed to be helped; for it is your business to do your duty like a soldier in the assault on a town. What if, being lame, you cannot mount up on the battlements alone, but with the help of another it is possible?
8. Do not let the future disturb you, for you will arrive there, if you arrive, with the same reason you now apply to the present.
9. All things are mutually intertwined, and the bond is holy; and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other thing. For things have been coordinated, and they combine to form one universal order. For there is one universe made up of all things, and one God who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, one common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth; if indeed there is also one perfection for all animals that are of the same stock and participate in the same reason.
10. Everything material soon disappears in the substance of the whole; and everything formal (causal) is very soon taken back into the universal reason; and the memory of everything is very soon overwhelmed in time.
11. To the rational animal the same act is at once according to nature and according to reason.
12. Be upright, or be made upright.
13. The principle that obtains where limbs and body unite to form one organism, holds good also for rational things with their separate individualities, constituted as they are to work in conjunction. And the perception of this will be more apparent to you, if you often say to yourself that you am a member
of the system of rational beings. But if (using the letter r) you say that you are a part
, you do not yet love men from your heart; beneficence does not delight you for its own sake; you still do it barely as a thing of propriety and not yet as doing good to yourself.
14. Let there fall externally what will on whatever can feel the effects of this fall. For that which feels will complain, if it so chooses. But I, unless I think that what has happened is an evil, am not injured. And it is in my power not to think so.
15. Whatever any one does or says, I must be good, just as if the emerald (or the gold or the purple) were always saying “Whatever any one does or says, I must be emerald and keep my color.”
16. The ruling faculty does not disturb itself; I mean, does not frighten itself or stir up its desires. But if anyone else can frighten or disturb it, let him do so. For the faculty itself will not by its own assumptions turn itself into such ways. Let the body itself take care, if it can, that it suffer nothing, and let it speak, if it suffers. But the soul itself, that which is subject to fear, to pain, which has completely the power of forming a judgment about these things, will suffer nothing, for it will never deviate into such a judgment. The leading principle in itself wants nothing, unless it creates its own needs; and therefore it is both free from perturbation and unimpeded if it does not disturb and impede itself.
17. Eudaimonia (happiness) is a good daimon, or a good thing. What then are you doing here, O imagination? Go back to wherever you came from, I entreat you by the gods, for I do not want you. But you have come according to your old fashion. I am not angry with you: go away.
18. Is any man afraid of change? What can take place without change? What then is more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature? And can you take a hot bath unless the wood for the fire undergoes a change? And can you be nourished unless the food undergoes a change? And can anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Do you not see then that for yourself also to change is just the same, and equally necessary for the universal nature?
19. Through the universal substance as through a furious torrent all bodies are carried, being by their nature united with and cooperating with the whole, as the parts of our body with one another. How many a Chrysippus, how many a Socrates, how many an Epictetus has time already swallowed up? And let the same thought occur to you with reference to every man and thing.
20. Only one thing troubles me, lest I should do something that the constitution of man does not allow, or in a way it does not allow, or what it does not allow now.
21. In a little while you will have forgotten everything; in a little while everything will have forgotten you.
22. It is peculiar to man to love even those who do wrong. And this happens, if when they do wrong it occurs to you that they are fellow humans and that they do wrong through ignorance and unintentionally, and that soon both of you will die; and above all, that the wrongdoer has done you no harm, for he has not made your ruling faculty worse than it was before.
23. The universal nature out of the universal substance, as if it were wax, now molds a horse, and when it has broken this up, it uses the material for a tree, then for a man, then for something else; and each of these things subsists for a very short time. But it is no hardship for the vessel to be broken up, just as there was none in its being fastened together.
24. A scowling look is altogether unnatural; when it is often assumed, the result is that all comeliness dies away, and at last is so completely extinguished that it cannot be again lighted up at all. Try to conclude from this very fact that it is contrary to reason. For if even the perception of doing wrong departs, what reason is there for living any longer?
25. Nature, which governs the whole, will soon change all things that you see, and out of their substance will make other things, and again other things from the substance of them, in order that the world may be ever new.
26. When a man has done you wrong, immediately consider with what opinion about good or evil he has done wrong. For when you have seen this, you will pity him, and will neither wonder nor be angry. For either you yourself think the same thing to be good that he does or another thing of the same kind. It is your duty then to pardon him. But if you do not think such things to be good or evil, you will more readily be well disposed to him who is in error.
27. Think not so much of what you lack as of what you have: but of the things that you have, select the best, and then reflect how eagerly you would have sought them if you did not have them. At the same time, however, take care that you do not through being so pleased with them accustom yourself to overvalue them, so as to be disturbed if you should ever not have them.
28. Retire into yourself. It is characteristic of the rational ruling faculty to be satisfied with its own righteous dealing and the peace which that brings.
29. Wipe out the imagination. Stop the pulling of the strings. Confine yourself to the present. Understand well what happens either to you or to another. Divide and distribute every object into the causal (formal) and the material. Think of your last hour. Let the wrong that is done by a man stay there where the wrong was done.
30. Direct your attention to what is said. Let your understanding enter into the things that are done and the things that are doing them.
31. Adorn yourself with simplicity and modesty and with indifference toward the things that lie between virtue and vice. Love mankind. Follow God. The poet says that law rules all, but in truth there are only elements. And it is enough to remember that law rules all.
32. About death: Whether it is a dispersion, or a resolution into atoms, or annihilation, it is either extinction or change.
33. About pain: The pain that is intolerable carries us off; but that which lasts a long time is tolerable; and the mind maintains its own tranquillity by retiring into itself, and the ruling faculty is not made worse. But the parts that are harmed by pain, let them, if they can, give their opinion about it.
34. About fame: Look at the minds of those who seek fame, observe what they are, and what kind of things they avoid, and what kind of things they pursue. And consider that as the heaps of sand piled on one another hide the former sands, so in life the events that go before are soon covered by those that come after.
35. From Plato: “‘The man who has an elevated mind and takes a view of all time and of all substance, do you suppose it possible for him to think that human life is anything great?’ It is not possible,’ he said. ‘Such a man then will think that death also is no evil.’ ‘Certainly not.’”
36. From Antisthenes: “It is royal to do good and to be abused.”
37. It is a base thing for the countenance to be obedient and to regulate and compose itself as the mind commands, and for the mind not to be regulated and composed by itself.
38. It is not right to vex ourselves at things,
For they care nought about it,
39. To the immortal gods and us give joy.
40. Life must be reaped like the ripe ears of corn:
One man is born; another dies.
41. If gods care not for me and for my children,
There is a reason for it.
42. For the good is with me, and the just.
43. No joining others in their wailing, no violent emotion.
44. From Plato: “I would make this man a sufficient answer, which is this: You are mistaken if you think that a man who is good for anything at all ought to consider the risks of life or death, but rather should consider only in all that he does, whether he is doing what is just or unjust, and the works of a good or a bad man.
45. For thus it is, men of Athens, in truth: wherever a man has placed himself, thinking it the best place for him, or has been placed by a commander, there in my opinion he ought to stay and to abide the hazard, taking nothing into the reckoning, either death or anything else, before the baseness of deserting his post.
46. But, my good friend, reflect whether that which is noble and good is not something different from saving and being saved; for as to a man living such or such a time, at least one who is really a man, consider if this is not a thing to be dismissed from the thoughts: and there must be no love of life: but as to these matters a man must entrust them to the deity and believe what the women say, that no man can escape his destiny, the next inquiry being how he may best live the time that he has to live.”
47. Look round at the courses of the stars, as if you were going along with them; and constantly consider the changes of the elements into one another; for such thoughts purge away the filth of our earthly life.
48. This a fine saying of Plato: That he who is discoursing about men should look also at earthly things as if he viewed them from some higher place; should look at them in their assemblies, armies, agricultural labors, marriages, treaties, births, deaths, noise of the courts of justice, desert places, various nations of barbarians, feasts, lamentations, markets, a mixture of all things and an orderly combination of contraries.
49. Consider the past; such great changes of political supremacies. You may foresee also the things that will be. For they will certainly be of like form, and it is not possible that they should deviate from the order of the things that take place now: accordingly to have contemplated human life for forty years is the same as to have contemplated it for ten thousand years. For what more will you see?
50. All that has grown from the earth returns to the earth,
But that which has sprung from heavenly seed,
Back to the heavenly realms returns.
This is either a dissolution of the closely linked atoms, or a similar dispersion of the nonsentient elements.
51. With food and drinks and cunning magic arts
Turning the channel’s course to ’scape from death.
The breeze that heaven has sent
We must endure, and toil without complaining.
52. Another may be more expert in casting his opponent; but he is not more social, nor more modest, nor better disciplined to meet all that happens, nor more considerate with respect to the faults of his neighbors.
53. Where any work can be done conformably to the reason that is common to gods and men, there we have nothing to fear: for where we are able to get profit by means of a successful activity and proceeds according to our constitution, there no harm is to be suspected.
54. Everywhere and at all times it is in your power piously to acquiesce in your present condition, and to behave justly to those around you, and to exert your skill upon your present thoughts, that nothing shall steal into them without being well examined.
55. Do not look around you to discover other men’s ruling principles, but look straight to this, to what nature leads yo...

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