THE MEDITATIONS

Of

MARCUS AURELIUS ANTONINUS

Translated by George Long


BOOK III

WE OUGHT to consider not only that our life is daily wasting away
and a smaller part of it is left, but another thing also must be taken
into the account, that if a man should live longer, it is quite
uncertain whether the understanding will still continue sufficient for
the comprehension of things, and retain the power of contemplation
which strives to acquire the knowledge of the divine and the human.
For if he shall begin to fall into dotage, perspiration and nutrition
and imagination and appetite, and whatever else there is of the kind,
will not fail; but the power of making use of ourselves, and filling
up the measure of our duty, and clearly separating all appearances,
and considering whether a man should now depart from life, and
whatever else of the kind absolutely requires a disciplined reason,
all this is already extinguished. We must make haste then, not only
because we are daily nearer to death, but also because the conception
of things and the understanding of them cease first.
  We ought to observe also that even the things which follow after the
things which are produced according to nature contain something
pleasing and attractive. For instance, when bread is baked some
parts are split at the surface, and these parts which thus open, and
have a certain fashion contrary to the purpose of the baker's art, are
beautiful in a manner, and in a peculiar way excite a desire for
eating. And again, figs, when they are quite ripe, gape open; and in
the ripe olives the very circumstance of their being near to
rottenness adds a peculiar beauty to the fruit. And the ears of corn
bending down, and the lion's eyebrows, and the foam which flows from
the mouth of wild boars, and many other things- though they are far
from being beautiful, if a man should examine them severally- still,
because they are consequent upon the things which are formed by
nature, help to adorn them, and they please the mind; so that if a man
should have a feeling and deeper insight with respect to the things
which are produced in the universe, there is hardly one of those which
follow by way of consequence which will not seem to him to be in a
manner disposed so as to give pleasure. And so he will see even the
real gaping jaws of wild beasts with no less pleasure than those which
painters and sculptors show by imitation; and in an old woman and an
old man he will be able to see a certain maturity and comeliness;
and the attractive loveliness of young persons he will be able to look
on with chaste eyes; and many such things will present themselves, not
pleasing to every man, but to him only who has become truly familiar
with nature and her works.
  Hippocrates after curing many diseases himself fell sick and died.
The Chaldaei foretold the deaths of many, and then fate caught them
too. Alexander, and Pompeius, and Caius Caesar, after so often
completely destroying whole cities, and in battle cutting to pieces
many ten thousands of cavalry and infantry, themselves too at last
departed from life. Heraclitus, after so many speculations on the
conflagration of the universe, was filled with water internally and
died smeared all over with mud. And lice destroyed Democritus; and
other lice killed Socrates. What means all this? Thou hast embarked,
thou hast made the voyage, thou art come to shore; get out. If
indeed to another life, there is no want of gods, not even there.
But if to a state without sensation, thou wilt cease to be held by
pains and pleasures, and to be a slave to the vessel, which is as much
inferior as that which serves it is superior: for the one is
intelligence and deity; the other is earth and corruption.
  Do not waste the remainder of thy life in thoughts about others,
when thou dost not refer thy thoughts to some object of common
utility. For thou losest the opportunity of doing something else
when thou hast such thoughts as these, What is such a person doing,
and why, and what is he saying, and what is he thinking of, and what
is he contriving, and whatever else of the kind makes us wander away
from the observation of our own ruling power. We ought then to check
in the series of our thoughts everything that is without a purpose and
useless, but most of all the over-curious feeling and the malignant;
and a man should use himself to think of those things only about which
if one should suddenly ask, What hast thou now in thy thoughts? With
perfect openness thou mightest, immediately answer, This or That; so
that from thy words it should be plain that everything in thee is
simple and benevolent, and such as befits a social animal, and one
that cares not for thoughts about pleasure or sensual enjoyments at
all, nor has any rivalry or envy and suspicion, or anything else for
which thou wouldst blush if thou shouldst say that thou hadst it in
thy mind. For the man who is such and no longer delays being among the
number of the best, is like a priest and minister of the gods, using
too the deity which is planted within him, which makes the man
uncontaminated by pleasure, unharmed by any pain, untouched by any
insult, feeling no wrong, a fighter in the noblest fight, one who
cannot be overpowered by any passion, dyed deep with justice,
accepting with all his soul everything which happens and is assigned
to him as his portion; and not often, nor yet without great
necessity and for the general interest, imagining what another says,
or does, or thinks. For it is only what belongs to himself that he
makes the matter for his activity; and he constantly thinks of that
which is allotted to himself out of the sum total of things, and he
makes his own acts fair, and he is persuaded that his own portion is
good. For the lot which is assigned to each man is carried along
with him and carries him along with it. And he remembers also that
every rational animal is his kinsman, and that to care for all men
is according to man's nature; and a man should hold on to the
opinion not of all, but of those only who confessedly live according
to nature. But as to those who live not so, he always bears in mind
what kind of men they are both at home and from home, both by night
and by day, and what they are, and with what men they live an impure
life. Accordingly, he does not value at all the praise which comes
from such men, since they are not even satisfied with themselves.
  Labour not unwillingly, nor without regard to the common interest,
nor without due consideration, nor with distraction; nor let studied
ornament set off thy thoughts, and be not either a man of many
words, or busy about too many things. And further, let the deity which
is in thee be the guardian of a living being, manly and of ripe age,
and engaged in matter political, and a Roman, and a ruler, who has
taken his post like a man waiting for the signal which summons him
from life, and ready to go, having need neither of oath nor of any
man's testimony. Be cheerful also, and seek not external help nor
the tranquility which others give. A man then must stand erect, not be
kept erect by others.
  If thou findest in human life anything better than justice, truth,
temperance, fortitude, and, in a word, anything better than thy own
mind's self-satisfaction in the things which it enables thee to do
according to right reason, and in the condition that is assigned to
thee without thy own choice; if, I say, thou seest anything better
than this, turn to it with all thy soul, and enjoy that which thou
hast found to be the best. But if nothing appears to be better than
the deity which is planted in thee, which has subjected to itself
all thy appetites, and carefully examines all the impressions, and, as
Socrates said, has detached itself from the persuasions of sense,
and has submitted itself to the gods, and cares for mankind; if thou
findest everything else smaller and of less value than this, give
place to nothing else, for if thou dost once diverge and incline to
it, thou wilt no longer without distraction be able to give the
preference to that good thing which is thy proper possession and thy
own; for it is not right that anything of any other kind, such as
praise from the many, or power, or enjoyment of pleasure, should
come into competition with that which is rationally and politically or
practically good. All these things, even though they may seem to adapt
themselves to the better things in a small degree, obtain the
superiority all at once, and carry us away. But do thou, I say, simply
and freely choose the better, and hold to it.- But that which is
useful is the better.- Well then, if it is useful to thee as a
rational being, keep to it; but if it is only useful to thee as an
animal, say so, and maintain thy judgement without arrogance: only
take care that thou makest the inquiry by a sure method.
  Never value anything as profitable to thyself which shall compel
thee to break thy promise, to lose thy self-respect, to hate any
man, to suspect, to curse, to act the hypocrite, to desire anything
which needs walls and curtains: for he who has preferred to everything
intelligence and daemon and the worship of its excellence, acts no
tragic part, does not groan, will not need either solitude or much
company; and, what is chief of all, he will live without either
pursuing or flying from death; but whether for a longer or a shorter
time he shall have the soul inclosed in the body, he cares not at all:
for even if he must depart immediately, he will go as readily as if he
were going to do anything else which can be done with decency and
order; taking care of this only all through life, that his thoughts
turn not away from anything which belongs to an intelligent animal and
a member of a civil community.
  In the mind of one who is chastened and purified thou wilt find no
corrupt matter, nor impurity, nor any sore skinned over. Nor is his
life incomplete when fate overtakes him, as one may say of an actor
who leaves the stage before ending and finishing the play. Besides,
there is in him nothing servile, nor affected, nor too closely bound
to other things, nor yet detached from other things, nothing worthy of
blame, nothing which seeks a hiding-place.
  Reverence the faculty which produces opinion. On this faculty it
entirely depends whether there shall exist in thy ruling part any
opinion inconsistent with nature and the constitution of the
rational animal. And this faculty promises freedom from hasty
judgement, and friendship towards men, and obedience to the gods.
  Throwing away then all things, hold to these only which are few; and
besides bear in mind that every man lives only this present time,
which is an indivisible point, and that all the rest of his life is
either past or it is uncertain. Short then is the time which every man
lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives; and short too
the longest posthumous fame, and even this only continued by a
succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who
know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago.
  To the aids which have been mentioned let this one still be added:-
Make for thyself a definition or description of the thing which is
presented to thee, so as to see distinctly what kind of a thing
it is in its substance, in its nudity, in its complete entirety, and
tell thyself its proper name, and the names of the things of which
it has been compounded, and into which it will be resolved. For
nothing is so productive of elevation of mind as to be able to examine
methodically and truly every object which is presented to thee in
life, and always to look at things so as to see at the same time
what kind of universe this is, and what kind of use everything
performs in it, and what value everything has with reference to the
whole, and what with reference to man, who is a citizen of the highest
city, of which all other cities are like families; what each thing is,
and of what it is composed, and how long it is the nature of this
thing to endure which now makes an impression on me, and what virtue I
have need of with respect to it, such as gentleness, manliness, truth,
fidelity, simplicity, contentment, and the rest. Wherefore, on every
occasion a man should say: this comes from God; and this is
according to the apportionment and spinning of the thread of
destiny, and such-like coincidence and chance; and this is from one of
the same stock, and a kinsman and partner, one who knows not however
what is according to his nature. But I know; for this reason I
behave towards him according to the natural law of fellowship with
benevolence and justice. At the same time however in things
indifferent I attempt to ascertain the value of each.
  If thou workest at that which is before thee, following right reason
seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to
distract thee, but keeping thy divine part pure, as if thou shouldst
be bound to give it back immediately; if thou holdest to this,
expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with thy present
activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word
and sound which thou utterest, thou wilt live happy. And there is no
man who is able to prevent this.
  As physicians have always their instruments and knives ready for
cases which suddenly require their skill, so do thou have principles
ready for the understanding of things divine and human, and for
doing everything, even the smallest, with a recollection of the bond
which unites the divine and human to one another. For neither wilt
thou do anything well which pertains to man without at the same time
having a reference to things divine; nor the contrary.
  No longer wander at hazard; for neither wilt thou read thy own
memoirs, nor the acts of the ancient Romans and Hellenes, and the
selections from books which thou wast reserving for thy old age.
Hasten then to the end which thou hast before thee, and throwing
away idle hopes, come to thy own aid, if thou carest at all for
thyself, while it is in thy power.
  They know not how many things are signified by the words stealing,
sowing, buying, keeping quiet, seeing what ought to be done; for
this is not effected by the eyes, but by another kind of vision.
  Body, soul, intelligence: to the body belong sensations, to the soul
appetites, to the intelligence principles. To receive the
impressions of forms by means of appearances belongs even to
animals; to be pulled by the strings of desire belongs both to wild
beasts and to men who have made themselves into women, and to a
Phalaris and a Nero: and to have the intelligence that guides to the
things which appear suitable belongs also to those who do not
believe in the gods, and who betray their country, and do their impure
deeds when they have shut the doors. If then everything else is common
to all that I have mentioned, there remains that which is peculiar
to the good man, to be pleased and content with what happens, and with
the thread which is spun for him; and not to defile the divinity which
is planted in his breast, nor disturb it by a crowd of images, but
to preserve it tranquil, following it obediently as a god, neither
saying anything contrary to the truth, nor doing anything contrary
to justice. And if all men refuse to believe that he lives a simple,
modest, and contented life, he is neither angry with any of them,
nor does he deviate from the way which leads to the end of life, to
which a man ought to come pure, tranquil, ready to depart, and without
any compulsion perfectly reconciled to his lot.

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