THE MEDITATIONS

Of

MARCUS AURELIUS ANTONINUS

Translated by George Long


BOOK XI

THESE are the properties of the rational soul: it sees itself,
analyses itself, and makes itself such as it chooses; the fruit which
it bears itself enjoys- for the fruits of plants and that in animals
which corresponds to fruits others enjoy- it obtains its own end,
wherever the limit of life may be fixed. Not as in a dance and in a
play and in such like things, where the whole action is incomplete,
if anything cuts it short; but in every part and wherever it may be
stopped, it makes what has been set before it full and complete, so
that it can say, I have what is my own. And further it traverses the
whole universe, and the surrounding vacuum, and surveys its form,
and it extends itself into the infinity of time, and embraces and
comprehends the periodical renovation of all things, and it
comprehends that those who come after us will see nothing new, nor
have those before us seen anything more, but in a manner he who is
forty years old, if he has any understanding at all, has seen by
virtue of the uniformity that prevails all things which have been and
all that will be. This too is a property of the rational soul, love of
one's neighbour, and truth and modesty, and to value nothing more
more than itself, which is also the property of Law. Thus then right
reason differs not at all from the reason of justice.
  Thou wilt set little value on pleasing song and dancing and the
pancratium, if thou wilt distribute the melody of the voice into its
several sounds, and ask thyself as to each, if thou art mastered by
this; for thou wilt be prevented by shame from confessing it: and in
the matter of dancing, if at each movement and attitude thou wilt do
the same; and the like also in the matter of the pancratium. In all
things, then, except virtue and the acts of virtue, remember to
apply thyself to their several parts, and by this division to come
to value them little: and apply this rule also to thy whole life.
  What a soul that is which is ready, if at any moment it must be
separated from the body, and ready either to be extinguished or
dispersed or continue to exist; but so that this readiness comes
from a man's own judgement, not from mere obstinacy, as with the
Christians, but considerately and with dignity and in a way to
persuade another, without tragic show.
  Have I done something for the general interest? Well then I have had
my reward. Let this always be present to thy mind, and never stop
doing such good.
  What is thy art? To be good. And how is this accomplished well
except by general principles, some about the nature of the universe,
and others about the proper constitution of man?
  At first tragedies were brought on the stage as means of reminding
men of the things which happen to them, and that it is according to
nature for things to happen so, and that, if you are delighted with
what is shown on the stage, you should not be troubled with that which
takes place on the larger stage. For you see that these things must be
accomplished thus, and that even they bear them who cry out "O
Cithaeron." And, indeed, some things are said well by the dramatic
writers, of which kind is the following especially:-

    Me and my children if the gods neglect,
    This has its reason too.

And again-

    We must not chale and fret at that which happens.

And

    Life's harvest reap like the wheat's fruitful ear.

And other things of the same kind.
  After tragedy the old comedy was introduced, which had a magisterial
freedom of speech, and by its very plainness of speaking was useful in
reminding men to beware of insolence; and for this purpose too
Diogenes used to take from these writers.
  But as to the middle comedy which came next, observe what it was,
and again, for what object the new comedy was introduced, which
gradually sunk down into a mere mimic artifice. That some good
things are said even by these writers, everybody knows: but the
whole plan of such poetry and dramaturgy, to what end does it look!
  How plain does it appear that there is not another condition of life
so well suited for philosophising as this in which thou now
happenest to be.
  A branch cut off from the adjacent branch must of necessity be cut
off from the whole tree also. So too a man when he is separated from
another man has fallen off from the whole social community. Now as
to a branch, another cuts it off, but a man by his own act separates
himself from his neighbour when he hates him and turns away from
him, and he does not know that he has at the same time cut himself off
from the whole social system. Yet he has this privilege certainly from
Zeus who framed society, for it is in our power to grow again to
that which is near to us, and be to come a part which helps to make up
the whole. However, if it often happens, this kind of separation, it
makes it difficult for that which detaches itself to be brought to
unity and to be restored to its former condition. Finally, the branch,
which from the first grew together with the tree, and has continued to
have one life with it, is not like that which after being cut off is
then ingrafted, for this is something like what the gardeners mean
when they say that it grows with the rest of the tree, but that it has
not the same mind with it.
  As those who try to stand in thy way when thou art proceeding
according to right reason, will not be able to turn thee aside from
thy proper action, so neither let them drive thee from thy
benevolent feelings towards them, but be on thy guard equally in
both matters, not only in the matter of steady judgement and action,
but also in the matter of gentleness towards those who try to hinder
or otherwise trouble thee. For this also is a weakness, to be vexed at
them, as well as to be diverted from thy course of action and to
give way through fear; for both are equally deserters from their post,
the man who does it through fear, and the man who is alienated from
him who is by nature a kinsman and a friend.
  There is no nature which is inferior to art, for the arts imitate
the nature of things. But if this is so, that nature which is the most
perfect and the most comprehensive of all natures, cannot fall short
of the skill of art. Now all arts do the inferior things for the
sake of the superior; therefore the universal nature does so too. And,
indeed, hence is the origin of justice, and in justice the other
virtues have their foundation: for justice will not be observed, if we
either care for middle things (things indifferent), or are easily
deceived and careless and changeable.
  If the things do not come to thee, the pursuits and avoidances of
which disturb thee, still in a manner thou goest to them. Let then thy
judgement about them be at rest, and they will remain quiet, and
thou wilt not be seen either pursuing or avoiding.
  The spherical form of the soul maintains its figure, when it is
neither extended towards any object, nor contracted inwards, nor
dispersed nor sinks down, but is illuminated by light, by which it
sees the truth, the truth of all things and the truth that is in
itself.
  Suppose any man shall despise me. Let him look to that himself.
But I will look to this, that I be not discovered doing or saying
anything deserving of contempt. Shall any man hate me? Let him look to
it. But I will be mild and benevolent towards every man, and ready
to show even him his mistake, not reproachfully, nor yet as making a
display of my endurance, but nobly and honestly, like the great
Phocion, unless indeed he only assumed it. For the interior parts
ought to be such, and a man ought to be seen by the gods neither
dissatisfied with anything nor complaining. For what evil is it to
thee, if thou art now doing what is agreeable to thy own nature, and
art satisfied with that which at this moment is suitable to the nature
of the universe, since thou art a human being placed at thy post in
order that what is for the common advantage may be done in some way?
  Men despise one another and flatter one another; and men wish to
raise themselves above one another, and crouch before one another.
  How unsound and insincere is he who says, I have determined to
deal with thee in a fair way.- What art thou doing, man? There is no
occasion to give this notice. It will soon show itself by acts. The
voice ought to be plainly written on the forehead. Such as a man's
character is, he immediately shows it in his eyes, just as he who is
beloved forthwith reads everything in the eyes of lovers. The man
who is honest and good ought to be exactly like a man who smells
strong, so that the bystander as soon as he comes near him must
smell whether he choose or not. But the affectation of simplicity is
like a crooked stick. Nothing is more disgraceful than a wolfish
friendship (false friendship). Avoid this most of all. The good and
simple and benevolent show all these things in the eyes, and there
is no mistaking.
  As to living in the best way, this power is in the soul, if it be
indifferent to things which are indifferent. And it will be
indifferent, if it looks on each of these things separately and all
together, and if it remembers that not one of them produces in us an
opinion about itself, nor comes to us; but these things remain
immovable, and it is we ourselves who produce the judgements about
them, and, as we may say, write them in ourselves, it being in our
power not to write them, and it being in our power, if perchance these
judgements have imperceptibly got admission to our minds, to wipe them
out; and if we remember also that such attention will only be for a
short time, and then life will be at an end. Besides, what trouble
is there at all in doing this? For if these things are according to
nature, rejoice in them, and they will be easy to thee: but if
contrary to nature, seek what is conformable to thy own nature, and
strive towards this, even if it bring no reputation; for every man
is allowed to seek his own good.
  Consider whence each thing is come, and of what it consists, and
into what it changes, and what kind of a thing it will be when it
has changed, and that it will sustain no harm.
  If any have offended against thee, consider first: What is my
relation to men, and that we are made for one another; and in
another respect, I was made to be set over them, as a ram over the
flock or a bull over the herd. But examine the matter from first
principles, from this: If all things are not mere atoms, it is
nature which orders all things: if this is so, the inferior things
exist for the sake of the superior, and these for the sake of one
another.
  Second, consider what kind of men they are at table, in bed, and
so forth: and particularly, under what compulsions in respect of
opinions they are; and as to their acts, consider with what pride they
do what they do.
  Third, that if men do rightly what they do, we ought not to be
displeased; but if they do not right, it is plain that they do so
involuntarily and in ignorance. For as every soul is unwillingly
deprived of the truth, so also is it unwillingly deprived of the power
of behaving to each man according to his deserts. Accordingly men
are pained when they are called unjust, ungrateful, and greedy, and in
a word wrong-doers to their neighbours.
  Fourth, consider that thou also doest many things wrong, and that
thou art a man like others; and even if thou dost abstain from certain
faults, still thou hast the disposition to commit them, though
either through cowardice, or concern about reputation, or some such
mean motive, thou dost abstain from such faults.
  Fifth, consider that thou dost not even understand whether men are
doing wrong or not, for many things are done with a certain
reference to circumstances. And in short, a man must learn a great
deal to enable him to pass a correct judgement on another man's acts.
  Sixth, consider when thou art much vexed or grieved, that man's life
is only a moment, and after a short time we are all laid out dead.
  Seventh, that it is not men's acts which disturb us, for those
acts have their foundation in men's ruling principles, but it is our
own opinions which disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and
resolve to dismiss thy judgement about an act as if it were
something grievous, and thy anger is gone. How then shall I take
away these opinions? By reflecting that no wrongful act of another
brings shame on thee: for unless that which is shameful is alone
bad, thou also must of necessity do many things wrong, and become a
robber and everything else.
  Eighth, consider how much more pain is brought on us by the anger
and vexation caused by such acts than by the acts themselves, at which
we are angry and vexed.
  Ninth, consider that a good disposition is invincible, if it be
genuine, and not an affected smile and acting a part. For what will
the most violent man do to thee, if thou continuest to be of a kind
disposition towards him, and if, as opportunity offers, thou gently
admonishest him and calmly correctest his errors at the very time when
he is trying to do thee harm, saying, Not so, my child: we are
constituted by nature for something else: I shall certainly not be
injured, but thou art injuring thyself, my child.- And show him with
gentle tact and by general principles that this is so, and that even
bees do not do as he does, nor any animals which are formed by
nature to be gregarious. And thou must do this neither with any double
meaning nor in the way of reproach, but affectionately and without any
rancour in thy soul; and not as if thou wert lecturing him, nor yet
that any bystander may admire, but either when he is alone, and if
others are present...
  Remember these nine rules, as if thou hadst received them as a
gift from the Muses, and begin at last to be a man while thou
livest. But thou must equally avoid flattering men and being veied
at them, for both are unsocial and lead to harm. And let this truth be
present to thee in the excitement of anger, that to be moved by
passion is not manly, but that mildness and gentleness, as they are
more agreeable to human nature, so also are they more manly; and he
who possesses these qualities possesses strength, nerves and
courage, and not the man who is subject to fits of passion and
discontent. For in the same degree in which a man's mind is nearer
to freedom from all passion, in the same degree also is it nearer to
strength: and as the sense of pain is a characteristic of weakness, so
also is anger. For he who yields to pain and he who yields to anger,
both are wounded and both submit.
  But if thou wilt, receive also a tenth present from the leader of
the Muses (Apollo), and it is this- that to expect bad men not to do
wrong is madness, for he who expects this desires an impossibility.
But to allow men to behave so to others, and to expect them not to
do thee any wrong, is irrational and tyrannical.
  There are four principal aberrations of the superior faculty against
which thou shouldst be constantly on thy guard, and when thou hast
detected them, thou shouldst wipe them out and say on each occasion
thus: this thought is not necessary: this tends to destroy social
union: this which thou art going to say comes not from the real
thoughts; for thou shouldst consider it among the most absurd of
things for a man not to speak from his real thoughts. But the fourth
is when thou shalt reproach thyself for anything, for this is an
evidence of the diviner part within thee being overpowered and
yielding to the less honourable and to the perishable part, the
body, and to its gross pleasures.
  Thy aerial part and all the fiery parts which are mingled in thee,
though by nature they have an upward tendency, still in obedience to
the disposition of the universe they are overpowered here in the
compound mass (the body). And also the whole of the earthy part in
thee and the watery, though their tendency is downward, still are
raised up and occupy a position which is not their natural one. In
this manner then the elemental parts obey the universal, for when they
have been fixed in any place perforce they remain there until again
the universal shall sound the signal for dissolution. Is it not then
strange that thy intelligent part only should be disobedient and
discontented with its own place? And yet no force is imposed on it,
but only those things which are conformable to its nature: still it
does not submit, but is carried in the opposite direction. For the
movement towards injustice and intemperance and to anger and grief and
fear is nothing else than the act of one who deviates from nature. And
also when the ruling faculty is discontented with anything that
happens, then too it deserts its post: for it is constituted for piety
and reverence towards the gods no less than for justice. For these
qualities also are comprehended under the generic term of
contentment with the constitution of things, and indeed they are prior
to acts of justice.
  He who has not one and always the same object in life, cannot be one
and the same all through his life. But what I have said is not enough,
unless this also is added, what this object ought to be. For as
there is not the same opinion about all the things which in some way
or other are considered by the majority to be good, but only about
some certain things, that is, things which concern the common
interest; so also ought we to propose to ourselves an object which
shall be of a common kind (social) and political. For he who directs
all his own efforts to this object, will make all his acts alike,
and thus will always be the same.
  Think of the country mouse and of the town mouse, and of the alarm
and trepidation of the town mouse.
  Socrates used to call the opinions of the many by the name of
Lamiae, bugbears to frighten children.
  The Lacedaemonians at their public spectacles used to set seats in
the shade for strangers, but themselves sat down anywhere.
  Socrates excused himself to Perdiccas for not going to him,
saying, It is because I would not perish by the worst of all ends,
that is, I would not receive a favour and then be unable to return it.
  In the writings of the Ephesians there was this precept,
constantly to think of some one of the men of former times who
practised virtue.
  The Pythagoreans bid us in the morning look to the heavens that we
may be reminded of those bodies which continually do the same things
and in the same manner perform their work, and also be reminded of
their purity and nudity. For there is no veil over a star.
  Consider what a man Socrates was when he dressed himself in a
skin, after Xanthippe had taken his cloak and gone out, and what
Socrates said to his friends who were ashamed of him and drew back
from him when they saw him dressed thus.
  Neither in writing nor in reading wilt thou be able to lay down
rules for others before thou shalt have first learned to obey rules
thyself. Much more is this so in life.
  A slave thou art: free speech is not for thee.
  And my heart laughed within.
  And virtue they will curse, speaking harsh words.
  To look for the fig in winter is a madman's act: such is he who
looks for his child when it is no longer allowed.
  When a man kisses his child, said Epictetus, he should whisper to
himself, "To-morrow perchance thou wilt die."- But those are words of
bad omen.- "No word is a word of bad omen," said Epictetus, "which
expresses any work of nature; or if it is so, it is also a word of bad
omen to speak of the ears of corn being reaped."
  The unripe grape, the ripe bunch, the dried grape, all are
changes, not into nothing, but into something which exists not yet.
  No man can rob us of our free will.
  Epictetus also said, A man must discover an art (or rules) with
respect to giving his assent; and in respect to his movements he
must be careful that they be made with regard to circumstances, that
they be consistent with social interests, that they have regard to the
value of the object; and as to sensual desire, he should altogether
keep away from it; and as to avoidance (aversion) he should not show
it with respect to any of the things which are not in our power.
  The dispute then, he said, is not about any common matter, but about
being mad or not.
  Socrates used to say, What do you want? Souls of rational men or
irrational?- Souls of rational men.- Of what rational men? Sound or
unsound?- Sound.- Why then do you not seek for them?- Because we have
them.- Why then do you fight and quarrel?

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