Trans. Robin Hard
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011
The following are quotes, sometimes edited for succinctness, from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. These statements are incantatory, meant to truly internalize and affirm simple yet profound truths for daily life. For daily life has no need for the distraction and artifice of full argumentation (for which, if you insist, I direct you to Socrates, Plato, Diogenes, Epictetus . . .).
I advise all of our people to read the philosopher-emperor’s Meditations (something I say of very few books) to gain a fuller appreciation of our ancient forefathers’ practical wisdom and perhaps make your own selection of affirmations that resonate with you. This should not be done in a pretentious or antiquarian spirit, but solely for the following: to improve your life and better serve your people, today.
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I gained the idea that my character was in need of correction and cultivation.
In writing and reading, you cannot be the instructor before you have been instructed. How much more so in the art of living!
No longer allow yourself to act as a slave, no longer allow yourself to be tugged this way and that, like a puppet.
Never prize anything that will compel you some day to break your word, to offend against propriety, to hate, to pretend . . .
One should constantly call to mind the example of one of the ancient sages who lived a life of virtue.
Never embark on an action at random, or otherwise than according to one of the principles that perfect the art of living.
The end for all creatures is this, to conform to the reason and law of the most venerable of cities and constitutions.
The universe should be regarded as a kind of constitutional state.
Venerate your faculty of judgment, for it guarantees freedom from hasty judgment, and fellowship with mankind, and obedience to the gods.
You must fashion your life one action at a time.
What brings no benefit to the hive brings none to the bee.
What causes no harm to the city causes no harm to the citizen.
Love these people among whom your lot has fallen, love them in all sincerity.
When you want to gladden your heart, think of the good qualities of those around you.
Let no one, from this time onward, hear you disparaging life at court; and may you not even hear yourself.
Is it not clear that inferior beings were made for the sake of the superior, and superior beings for the sake of one another?
Show kindness to one who is still in the dark.
Do not allow your happiness to depend on what passes in the souls of other people.
Attend carefully to what is being said by another, and enter, so far as possible, into the mind of the speaker.
At their festivals, the Spartans would place seats in the shade for their visitors, while they themselves would sit down wherever they could.
It is not in feeling but in action that the good of a rational social creature lies.
The happy citizen makes his way through life performing actions which benefit his fellow citizens and he welcomes whatever his city assigns to him.
If something is possible and appropriate for human beings, assume that it must also be within your own reach.
Think it no shame to be helped by another.
Before ten days are over, you will seem a god to those who presently view you as a wild beast or ape, if only you return to your principles and your reverence for reason.
You can render everything bearable by suggesting the idea yourself that your interest and your duty demand it.
The art of living is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s in this regard, that it must stand ready and firm to meet whatever happens to it, even when unforeseen.
When the ruling center within us is in harmony with nature, it confronts events in such a way that it always adapts itself readily to what is feasible and is granted to it.
A blazing fire appropriates in an instant all that is heaped on to it, and devours it, making use of that very material to leap ever higher.
All things require the help of the gods and of fortune.
Apply your thoughts to what is being said. Let your mind enter into what is coming to pass and what is causing it to be.
Speak both in the Senate and to anyone whatever in a decorous manner, without affectation. Use words that have nothing false in them.
Try to persuade them, but act even against their will if the principles of justice demand it.
You should not hope for Plato’s ideal state, but be satisfied to make even the smallest advance.
Put away your books, distract yourself with them no longer, that is not permissible.
Happiness in life depends on very few conditions.
Find your good in a just disposition and righteous action and make that the limit of your desire.
You have the power to rid yourself of many superfluous troubles which exist only in your own imagination.
Dig within; for within you lies the fountain of good, and it can always be gushing forth if only you always dig.
Cast everything else aside, then, and hold to these few truths alone.
How easy it is to repel and wipe away every disturbing or inappropriate thought, and recover at once a perfect calm.
To what purpose, then, am I presently using my soul? Ask yourself this question at every moment.
An intelligence free from passions is a mighty citadel.
Revere the highest power in the universe. And likewise, revere the highest power in yourself: and this power is of one kind with the other.
I submit reverently, I stand secure, I place my trust in the power that governs all.
Loss is nothing other than change; and change is the delight of universal nature.
To set your mind against anything that happens is to set yourself apart from nature.
Live according to nature, and you will be a man who is worthy of the universe that brought you to birth.
Return to philosophy as often as you can, and take your rest in her.
One should never abandon philosophy in the face of anything whatever may happen to one.
One should not chatter with the ignorant and those who have no understanding of nature.
These are principles that are held in common by every school.
A man who is worth anything at all ought not to weigh up his chances of living and dying.