THE MEDITATIONS

Of

MARCUS AURELIUS ANTONINUS

Translated by George Long


BOOK VII

WHAT is badness? It is that which thou hast often seen. And on the
occasion of everything which happens keep this in mind, that it is
that which thou hast often seen. Everywhere up and down thou wilt find
the same things, with which the old histories are filled, those of the
middle ages 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.
  How can our principles become dead, unless the impressions
(thoughts) which correspond to them are extinguished? But it is in thy
power continuously to fan these thoughts into a flame. I can have that
opinion about anything, which I ought to have. If I can, why am I
disturbed? The things which are external to my mind have no relation
at all to my mind.- Let this be the state of thy affects, and thou
standest erect. To recover thy life is in thy power. Look at things
again as thou didst use to look at them; for in this consists the
recovery of thy life.
  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, labourings of ants and burden-carrying,
runnings about of frightened little mice, puppets pulled by strings-
all alike. It is thy duty then in the midst of such things to show
good humour and not a proud air; to understand however that every man
is worth just so much as the things are worth about which he busies
himself.
  In discourse thou must attend to what is said, and in every movement
thou must observe what is doing. And in the one thou shouldst see
immediately to what end it refers, but in the other watch carefully
what is the thing signified.
  Is my understanding sufficient for this or not? If it is sufficient,
I use it for the work as an instrument given by the 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 whatsoever
either by myself or with another I can do, ought to be directed to
this only, to that which is useful and well suited to society.
  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.
  Be not ashamed to be helped; for it is thy business to do thy duty
like a soldier in the assault on a town. How then, if being lame
thou canst not mount up on the battlements alone, but with the help of
another it is possible?
  Let not future things disturb thee, for thou wilt come to them, if
it shall be necessary, having with thee the same reason which now thou
usest for present things.
  All things are implicated with one another, and the bond is holy;
and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other thing. For
things have been co-ordinated, and they combine to form the same
universe (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 which are of the same
stock and participate in the same reason.
  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.
  To the rational animal the same act is according to nature and
according to reason.
  Be thou erect, or be made erect.
  Just as it is with the members in those bodies which are united in
one, so it is with rational beings which exist separate, for they have
been constituted for one co-operation. And the perception of this will
be more apparent to thee, if thou often sayest to thyself that I am
a member (melos) of the system of rational beings. But if (using the
letter r) thou sayest that thou art a part (meros) thou dost not yet
love men from thy heart; beneficence does not yet delight thee for its
own sake; thou still doest it barely as a thing of propriety, and
not yet as doing good to thyself.
  Let there fall externally what will on the parts which can feel
the effects of this fall. For those parts which have felt will
complain, if they choose. 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.
  Whatever any one does or says, I must be good, just as if the
gold, or the emerald, or the purple were always saying this,
Whatever any one does or says, I must be emerald and keep my colour.
  The ruling faculty does not disturb itself; I mean, does not
frighten itself or cause itself pain. But if any one else can frighten
or pain it, let him do so. For the faculty itself will not by its
own opinion turn itself into such ways. Let the body itself take care,
if it can, that is 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 an opinion about these things, will
suffer nothing, for it will never deviate into such a judgement. The
leading principle in itself wants nothing, unless it makes a want
for itself; and therefore it is both free from perturbation and
unimpeded, if it does not disturb and impede itself.
  Eudaemonia (happiness) is a good daemon, or a good thing. What
then art thou doing here, O imagination? Go away, I entreat thee by
the gods, as thou didst come, for I want thee not. But thou art come
according to thy old fashion. I am not angry with thee: only go away.
  Is any man afraid of change? Why what can take place without change?
What then is more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature?
And canst thou take a bath unless the wood undergoes a change? And
canst thou be nourished, unless the food undergoes a change? And can
anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Dost thou
not see then that for thyself also to change is just the same, and
equally necessary for the universal nature?
  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
thee with reference to every man and thing.
  One thing only troubles me, lest I should do something which the
constitution of man does not allow, or in the way which it does not
allow, or what it does not allow now.
  Near is thy forgetfulness of all things; and near the
forgetfulness of thee by all.
  It is peculiar to man to love even those who do wrong. And this
happens, if when they do wrong it occurs to thee that they are
kinsmen, and that they do wrong through ignorance and unintentionally,
and that soon both of you will die; and above all, that the wrong-doer
has done thee no harm, for he has not made thy ruling faculty worse
than it was before.
  The universal nature out of the universal substance, as if it were
wax, now moulds 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.
  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 shall depart, what reason is
there for living any longer?
  Nature which governs the whole will soon change all things which
thou seest, 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.
  When a man has done thee any wrong, immediately consider with what
opinion about good or evil he has done wrong. For when thou hast
seen this, thou wilt pity him, and wilt neither wonder nor be angry.
For either thou thyself thinkest the same thing to be good that he
does or another thing of the same kind. It is thy duty then to
pardon him. But if thou dost not think such things to be good or evil,
thou wilt more readily be well disposed to him who is in error.
  Think not so much of what thou hast not as of what thou hast: but of
the things which thou hast select the best, and then reflect how
eagerly they would have been sought, if thou hadst them not. At the
same time however take care that thou dost not through being so
pleased with them accustom thyself to overvalue them, so as to be
disturbed if ever thou shouldst not have them.
  Retire into thyself. The rational principle which rules has this
nature, that it is content with itself when it does what is just,
and so secures tranquility.
  Wipe out the imagination. Stop the pulling of the strings. Confine
thyself to the present. Understand well what happens either to thee or
to another. Divide and distribute every object into the causal
(formal) and the material. Think of thy last hour. Let the wrong which
is done by a man stay there where the wrong was done.
  Direct thy attention to what is said. Let thy understanding enter
into the things that are doing and the things which do them.
  Adorn thyself with simplicity and modesty and with indifference
towards the things which lie between virtue and vice. Love mankind.
Follow God. The poet says that Law rules all.- And it is enough to
remember that Law rules all.
  About death: Whether it is a dispersion, or a resolution into atoms,
or annihilation, it is either extinction or change.
  About pain: The pain which is intolerable carries us off; but that
which lasts a long time is tolerable; and the mind maintains its own
tranquility by retiring into itself, and the ruling faculty is not
made worse. But the parts which are harmed by pain, let them, if
they can, give their opinion about it.
  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 which go
before are soon covered by those which come after.
  From Plato: The man who has an elevated mind and takes a view of all
time and of all substance, dost thou 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.
  From Antisthenes: It is royal to do good and to be abused.
  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.

  It is not right to vex ourselves at things,
  For they care nought about it.

  To the immortal gods and us give joy.

  Life must be reaped like the ripe ears of corn:
  One man is born; another dies.

  If gods care not for me and for my children,
  There is a reason for it.

  For the good is with me, and the just.

  No joining others in their wailing, no violent emotion.

  From Plato: But I would make this man a sufficient answer, which
is this: Thou sayest not well, if thou thinkest that a man who is good
for anything at all ought to compute the hazard of life or death,
and should not rather look to this 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.
  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.
  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 intrust
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.
  Look round at the courses of the stars, as if thou wert going
along with them; and constantly consider the changes of the elements
into one another; for such thoughts purge away the filth of the
terrene life.
  This is 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 labours, 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.
  Consider the past; such great changes of political supremacies. Thou
mayest foresee also the things which 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 which 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 wilt thou see?

  That which has grown from the earth to the earth,
  But that which has sprung from heavenly seed,
  Back to the heavenly realms returns.

This is either a dissolution of the mutual involution of the atoms, or
a similar dispersion of the unsentient elements.

  With food and drinks and cunning magic arts
  Turning the channel's course to 'scape from death.
    The breeze which heaven has sent
  We must endure, and toil without complaining.

  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
neighbours.
  Where any work can be done conformably to the reason which is common
to gods and men, there we have nothing to fear: for where we are
able to get profit by means of the activity which is successful and
proceeds according to our constitution, there no harm is to be
suspected.
  Everywhere and at all times it is in thy power piously to
acquiesce in thy present condition, and to behave justly to those
who are about thee, and to exert thy skill upon thy present
thoughts, that nothing shall steal into them without being well
examined.
  Do not look around thee to discover other men's ruling principles,
but look straight to this, to what nature leads thee, both the
universal nature through the things which happen to thee, and thy
own nature through the acts which must be done by thee. But every
being ought to do that which is according to its constitution; and all
other things have been constituted for the sake of rational beings,
just as among irrational things the inferior for the sake of the
superior, but the rational for the sake of one another.
  The prime principle then in man's constitution is the social. And
the second is not to yield to the persuasions of the body, for it is
the peculiar office of the rational and intelligent motion to
circumscribe itself, and never to be overpowered either by the
motion of the senses or of the appetites, for both are animal; but the
intelligent motion claims superiority and does not permit itself to be
overpowered by the others. And with good reason, for it is formed by
nature to use all of them. The third thing in the rational
constitution is freedom from error and from deception. Let then the
ruling principle holding fast to these things go straight on, and it
has what is its own.
  Consider thyself to be dead, and to have completed thy life up to
the present time; and live according to nature the remainder which
is allowed thee.
  Love that only which happens to thee and is spun with the thread
of thy destiny. For what is more suitable?
  In everything which happens keep before thy eyes those to whom the
same things happened, and how they were vexed, and treated them as
strange things, and found fault with them: and now where are they?
Nowhere. Why then dost thou too choose to act in the same way? And why
dost thou not leave these agitations which are foreign to nature, to
those who cause them and those who are moved by them? And why art thou
not altogether intent upon the right way of making use of the things
which happen to thee? For then thou wilt use them well, and they
will be a material for thee to work on. Only attend to thyself, and
resolve to be a good man in every act which thou doest: and
remember...
  Look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble
up, if thou wilt ever dig.
  The body ought to be compact, and to show no irregularity either
in motion or attitude. For what the mind shows in the face by
maintaining in it the expression of intelligence and propriety, that
ought to be required also in the whole body. But all of these things
should be observed without affectation.
  The art of life is more like the wrestler's art than the dancer's,
in respect of this, that it should stand ready and firm to meet onsets
which are sudden and unexpected.
  Constantly observe who those are whose approbation thou wishest to
have, and what ruling principles they possess. For then thou wilt
neither blame those who offend involuntarily, nor wilt thou want their
approbation, if thou lookest to the sources of their opinions and
appetites.
  Every soul, the philosopher says, is involuntarily deprived of
truth; consequently in the same way it is deprived of justice and
temperance and benevolence and everything of the kind. It is most
necessary to bear this constantly in mind, for thus thou wilt be
more gentle towards all.
  In every pain let this thought be present, that there is no
dishonour in it, nor does it make the governing intelligence worse,
for it does not damage the intelligence either so far as the
intelligence is rational or so far as it is social. Indeed in the case
of most pains let this remark of Epicurus aid thee, that pain is
neither intolerable nor everlasting, if thou bearest in mind that it
has its limits, and if thou addest nothing to it in imagination: and
remember this too, that we do not perceive that many things which
are disagreeable to us are the same as pain, such as excessive
drowsiness, and the being scorched by heat, and the having no
appetite. When then thou art discontented about any of these things,
say to thyself, that thou art yielding to pain.
  Take care not to feel towards the inhuman, as they feel towards men.
  How do we know if Telauges was not superior in character to
Socrates? For it is not enough that Socrates died a more noble
death, and disputed more skilfully with the sophists, and passed the
night in the cold with more endurance, and that when he was bid to
arrest Leon of Salamis, he considered it more noble to refuse, and
that he walked in a swaggering way in the streets- though as to this
fact one may have great doubts if it was true. But we ought to
inquire, what kind of a soul it was that Socrates possessed, and if he
was able to be content with being just towards men and pious towards
the gods, neither idly vexed on account of men's villainy, nor yet
making himself a slave to any man's ignorance, nor receiving as
strange anything that fell to his share out of the universal, nor
enduring it as intolerable, nor allowing his understanding to
sympathize with the affects of the miserable flesh.
  Nature has not so mingled the intelligence with the composition of
the body, as not to have allowed thee the power of circumscribing
thyself and of bringing under subjection to thyself all that is thy
own; for it is very possible to be a divine man and to be recognised
as such by no one. Always bear this in mind; and another thing too,
that very little indeed is necessary for living a happy life. And
because thou hast despaired of becoming a dialectician and skilled
in the knowledge of nature, do not for this reason renounce the hope
of being both free and modest and social and obedient to God.
  It is in thy power to live free from all compulsion in the
greatest tranquility of mind, even if all the world cry out against
thee as much as they choose, and even if wild beasts tear in pieces
the members of this kneaded matter which has grown around thee. For
what hinders the mind in the midst of all this from maintaining itself
in tranquility and in a just judgement of all surrounding things and
in a ready use of the objects which are presented to it, so that the
judgement may say to the thing which falls under its observation: This
thou art in substance (reality), though in men's opinion thou mayest
appear to be of a different kind; and the use shall say to that
which falls under the hand: Thou art the thing that I was seeking; for
to me that which presents itself is always a material for virtue
both rational and political, and in a word, for the exercise of art,
which belongs to man or God. For everything which happens has a
relationship either to God or man, and is neither new nor difficult to
handle, but usual and apt matter to work on.
  The perfection of moral character consists in this, in passing every
day as the last, and in being neither violently excited nor torpid nor
playing the hypocrite.
  The gods who are immortal are not vexed because during so long a
time they must tolerate continually men such as they are and so many
of them bad; and besides this, they also take care of them in all
ways. But thou, who art destined to end so soon, art thou wearied of
enduring the bad, and this too when thou art one of them?
  It is a ridiculous thing for a man not to fly from his own
badness, which is indeed possible, but to fly from other men's
badness, which is impossible.
  Whatever the rational and political (social) faculty finds to be
neither intelligent nor social, it properly judges to be inferior to
itself.
  When thou hast done a good act and another has received it, why dost
thou look for a third thing besides these, as fools do, either to have
the reputation of having done a good act or to obtain a return?
  No man is tired of receiving what is useful. But it is useful to act
according to nature. Do not then be tired of receiving what is
useful by doing it to others.
  The nature of the An moved to make the universe. But now either
everything that takes place comes by way of consequence or continuity;
or even the chief things towards which the ruling power of the
universe directs its own movement are governed by no rational
principle. If this is remembered it will make thee more tranquil in
many things.

Index
Previous
Next