Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Marcus Aurelius Meditations

Image from Pierre-Salim
From time to time I will revise and expand this entry, a collection of excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, a set of personal notes that the Roman emperor wrote near the end of his life.

These quotations demonstrate Aurelius' commitment to stoicism, a school of philosophy that guided his efforts to lead while maintaining his integrity and humility. These Meditations contributed to Marcus Aurelius' reputation as a philosopher-king (b. 121, reign: 161-180).

While I am currently limited to the Dover Thrift Edition, which is based on the 1862 George Long translation, I plan to bolster these excerpts with the 2002 Gregory Hays translation later this summer. Thereafter I might augment this post with traces from Anthony R. Birley's biography.


"Nothing is evil that is according to nature." (II:17)

"The universe is transformation; life is opinion." (IV:3)

"For the stone that has been thrown up it is no evil to come down, nor indeed any good to have been carried up." (IX:17)

"If there is a god, all is well; and if chance rules, do not also be governed by it." (IX:28)

"Time is like a river made up of the events that happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too." (IX:43) [See also V:23, VI:15, VII:19, and IX:29]


"The same man can be both most resolute and yielding." (I:8)

"Do what is necessary... A man should take away not only unnecessary arts, but also unnecessary thoughts so that superfluous acts will not follow after." (IV:24)

"Good fortune is good disposition of the soul, good emotions, good actions." (V:36)

"Consider yourself to be dead, and to have completed your life up to the present time; and to live, according to nature, the remainder that is allowed you." (VII:56)

"He who pursues pleasure as good and avoids pain as evil is guilty of impiety." (IX:1)

"Wipe out imagination: check desire: extinguish appetite: keep the ruling faculty in its own power." (IX:7) [but also see V:26]

"The universal cause is like a winter torrent: it carries everything along with it. But how worthless are all these poor people who are engaged in matters political, and, as they suppose, are playing the philosopher! All drivelers. Well then, man: do what nature now requires. Set yourself in motion, if it is in your power, and do not look about you to see if any one will observe it; nor yet expect Plato’s Republic: but be content if the smallest thing goes on well, and consider such an event to be no small matter. For who can change men’s opinions? And without a change of opinions what else is there than the slavery of men who groan while they pretend to obey? Come now and tell me of Alexander and Philip and Demetrius and Phalerum. They themselves shall judge whether they discovered what the common nature required, and trained themselves accordingly. But if they acted like tragic heroes, no one has condemned me to imitate them. The work of philosophy is simple and modest. Do not draw me aside into pomposity." (IX:29)

"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." (XI:12)

"Make yourself like Empedocles' sphere, 'All round, and in its joyous rest reposing.' And if you shalt strive to live only what is really your life, that is, the present, then you will be able to pass that portion of life that remains for you up to the time of your death, free from perturbations, nobly, and obedient to your own daemon [to the god that is within you]." (XII:3)


"I did not fall into the hands of any sophist, and I did not waste my time on writers of histories, or in the resolution of syllogisms." (I:17)

"Let us try to persuade men. But act even against their will when the principles of justice lead that way." (VI:50)

"Speak both in the senate and to every man, whoever he may be, appropriately, without affectation: use plain discourse." (VIII:30)

"No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such." (X:16)

"Remember that this which pulls the strings is the thing that is hidden within: this is the power of persuasion." (X:38)

"You are a slave: free speech is not for you.'" (XI:30) [This is a quotation cited by Aurelius.]


"Do the external things that fall upon you distract you? Give yourself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around." (II:7)

"Take away the complaint, 'I have been harmed,' and the harm is taken away." (IV:7) [see also VIII:47]

"Nothing happens to any man that he is not formed by nature to bear." (V:18)

"In one respect man is the nearest thing to me, so far as I must do good to men and endure them. But so far as some men make themselves obstacles to my proper acts, man becomes to me one of the things that are indifferent, no less than the sun or wind or a wild beast. Now it is true that these may impede my action, but they are no impediments to my affects and disposition, which have the power of acting conditionally and changing: for the mind converts and changes every hindrance to its activity into an aid; and so that which is a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act; and that which is an obstacle on the road helps us along this road." (V:20)

"The best way of avenging yourself is not to become like the wrongdoer." (VI:6)

"'A cucumber is bitter.' Throw it away. 'There are briars in the road.' Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, 'And why were such things made in the world?'" (VIII:50)

"One man prays thus: How might I sleep with that woman? Do you pray: How shall I not desire to sleep with her? Another prays thus: How shall I be released from this? Another prays: How shall I not desire to be released?" (IX:40)


"The intelligence of the universe is social. Accordingly it has made the inferior things for the sake of the superior, and it has fitted the superior to one another. You see how it has subordinated, co-ordinated, and assigned to everything its proper portion and has brought together into concord with one another the things that are the best." (V:30)

"We are all working together to one end, some with knowledge and design, and others without knowing what they do, like sleeping men, who are, according to Heraclitus, laborers and cooperators in the things that take place in the universe." (VI:42)

"That which is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee either." (VI:54)

"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." (VII:9) [See also IV:45]


"If the intellectual is common to all men, so is reason, in respect of which we are rational beings: if this is so, common also is the reason that commands us what to do, and what not to do; if this is so, there is a common law also; if this is so, we are fellow-citizens; if this is so, we are members of some political community; if this is so, the world is in a manner a state." (IV:4) [See also X:15, XII:26, and XII:36]

"My city and country, so far as I am Antoninus, is Rome; but so far as I am a man, it is the world." (VI:44)

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