I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Here are The Meditations Book Eight, Parts Eleven through Thirty-Three.
This thing: what is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its substance and material? And what its cause? And what is it doing in the world? And how long does it subsist?
When you rise from sleep with reluctance, remember that it is according to your constitution and according to human nature to perform social acts, and sleeping is common also to irrational animals. But that which is according to each individual’s nature is also more peculiarly its own, and more suitable to its nature, and indeed also more agreeable.
Constantly, and if possible, on the occasion of every impression on the soul, apply to it the principles of Physic, of Ethic, and of Dialectic.
Whatever man you meet with, immediately say to yourself: What opinions has this man about good and bad? For if with respect to pleasure and pain and the causes of each, and with respect to fame and ignominy, death and life, he has such-and-such opinions, it will seem nothing wonderful or strange if he does such-and-such things. I shall bear in mind that he is compelled to do what he does.
Remember that as it is a shame to be surprised if the fig-tree produces figs, and for the physician it is a shame to be surprised if a man has a fever, and for the helmsman it is a shame to be surprised if the wind is unfavorable, so it is to be surprised if the world produces the things of which it produces.
Remember that to change your opinion and to follow him who corrects your error is as consistent with freedom as it is to persist in your error. For it is your own, this activity which is exerted according to your own movement and judgment, and indeed according to your own understanding too.
If a thing is in your own power, why do you do it? If it is in the power of another, who do you blame: chance or the gods? Both blames are foolish. You must blame nobody. If you can, correct that which is the cause. If you cannot do this, correct at least the thing itself. If you cannot do even this, of what use is it to you to find fault? Nothing should be done without a purpose.
That which has died does not fall out of the universe. If it stays here, it also changes here, and is dissolved into its proper parts, which are elements of the universe and of you. And these too change, and they don’t complain about it.
Everything exists for some end, such as a horse or a vine. Why do you wonder? Even the sun will say, I am for some purpose, and the rest of the gods will say the same. For what purpose then are you? Is your purpose to enjoy pleasure? See if common sense allows this.
Nature has had regard in everything no less to the end than to the beginning and the continuance, just like the man who throws a ball. What good is it then for the ball to be thrown, or harm for it to come down, or for it to have fallen? What good is it to the bubble while it holds together, or what harm when it is burst? The same may be said of a light, also.
Turn the body inside out, and see what kind of thing it is. When it has grown old, see what kind of thing it becomes, and also when it is diseased.
Short lived are both those who praise and those who are praised, and those who rememberer and those who are remembered. All this in a small corner of this part of the world, and not even here do all agree, no, not any one with himself. The whole earth is a speck.
Attend to the matter which is before you, whether it is an opinion or an act or a word. You suffer justly when you choose to become good to-morrow rather than to be good to-day.
Am I doing anything? I do it with reference to the good of mankind. Does anything happen to me? I receive it and refer it to the gods, and the source of all things, from which all that happens is derived.
Such as bathing appears to you — oil, sweat, dirt, filthy water, all things disgusting — so is every part of life and everything.
Lucilla saw Verus die, and then Lucilla died. Secunda saw Maximus die, and then Secunda died. Epitynchanus saw Diotimus die, and then Epitynchanus died. Antoninus saw Faustina die, and then Antoninus died. Such is everything. Celer saw Hadrianus die, and then Celer died. And those sharp-witted men, either seers or men inflated with pride, where are they?For instance the sharp-witted men, Charax and Demetrius the Platonist and Eudaemon, and any one else like them. All ephemeral, dead long ago. Some indeed were not remembered even for a short time, and others have become the heroes of fables, and again others have disappeared even from fables. Remember this then, that this little compound, yourself, must either be dissolved, or your poor breath must be extinguished, or be removed and placed elsewhere.
It is satisfaction to a man to do the proper works of a man. It is the proper work of a man to be benevolent to his own kind, to despise the movements of the senses, to form a just judgment of plausible appearances, and to take a survey of the nature of the universe and of the things which happen in it.
There are three relations between yourself and other things: the first is the body which surrounds you, the second is the divine cause from which all things come, and the third is all those who live with you.
Pain is either an evil to the body (then let the body say what it thinks of it) or to the soul. It is in the power of the soul to maintain its own serenity and tranquillity, and not to think that pain is an evil. For every judgment and movement and desire and aversion is within, and no evil ascends so high.
Wipe out your idle thoughts by often saying to yourself: ‘Now it is in my power to let no badness be in this soul, nor desire, nor any perturbation at all; but looking at all things I see what is their nature, and I use each according to its value.’ Remember this power which you have from nature.
Speak appropriately both in the senate and to every man, whoever he may be, and without any affectation. Use plain discourse.
Augustus’ court, wife, daughter, descendants, ancestors, sister, Agrippa, kinsmen, intimates, friends, Areius, Maecenas, physicians, and sacrificing priests… the whole court is dead. Then turn to the rest, not considering the death of a single man but of a whole race, as of those in Pompeii, and that which is inscribed on the tombs: ‘The last of his race.’ Then consider what trouble those before them have had that they might leave a successor. Then, consider that of necessity some one must be the last. Consider the death of the whole human race.
It is your duty to order your life well in every single act. If every act does its duty as far as is possible, be content. No one is able to hinder you so that each act will do anything but its duty. ‘But something external will stand in the way!’ Nothing will stand in the way of your acting justly and soberly and considerately. ‘But perhaps some other active power will be hindered!’ Yes, but by acquiescing in the hindrance and by being content to transfer your efforts to that which is allowed, another opportunity of action is immediately put before you in place of that which was hindered, and one which will adapt itself to this ordering of which we are speaking.
Receive prosperity without arrogance, and be ready to let it go.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
Jimmie Grier Orchestra – The Peanut Vendor (1932 – 1935)