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. Following tradition, Marcus Aurelius made provisions for poor children part of his assumption of the role of Emperor of Rome. Here are The Meditations Book Five, Parts Eleven through Twenty-Six.
About what am I now employing my own soul? On every occasion I must ask myself this question, and inquire, What have I now in this part of me which they call the ruling principle? and whose soul have I now, that of a child, or of a young man, or of a feeble woman, or of a tyrant, or of a domestic animal, or of a wild beast?
We may learn even from what kind of things which appear good to the many. If any man should conceive certain things as being really good, such as prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude, he would not (after having first conceived these) endure to listen to anything which should not be in harmony with what is really good. But if a man has first conceived as good the things which appear to the many to be good, he will listen and readily receive as very applicable that which was said by the comic writer. Thus even the many perceive the difference. Were it not so, a saying would not offend and would not be rejected [in the first case], while we receive it when it is said of wealth, and of the means which further luxury and fame, as said fitly and wittily. Go on then and ask if we should value and think those things to be good to which after their first conception in the mind the words of the comic writer might be aptly applied, that he who has them, through pure abundance, has not a place to ease himself in.
I am composed of the formal and the material. Neither of them will perish into non-existence, as neither of them came into existence out of non-existence. Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on – forever. By consequence of such a change I too exist, and those who begot me, and so on forever in the other direction. Nothing hinders us from saying so, even if the universe is administered according to definite periods [of revolution].
Reason and the reasoning art are powers which are sufficient in themselves and for their own works. They move from a first principle which is their own, and they make their way to the end which is proposed to them. This is the reason why such acts are named right acts, which signifies that they proceed by the right road.
None of these things ought to be called a man’s which do not belong to a man, as man. They are not required of a man, nor does man’s nature promise them, nor are they the means of man’s nature attaining its end. Neither then does the end of man lie in these things, nor yet that which aids to the accomplishment of this end, and that which aids towards this end is that which is good. Besides, if any of these things did belong to man, it would not be right for a man to despise them and to set himself against them. Nor would a man be worthy of praise who showed that he did not want these things, nor would he who stinted himself in any of them be good, if indeed these things were good. The more of these things a man deprives himself of, or of other things like them, or even when he is deprived of any of them, the more patiently he endures the loss – just in the same degree he is a better man.
Whatever thoughts are your habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of your mind. The soul is colored by the thoughts. Color it then with a continuous series of such thoughts as these: Where a man can live, there he can also live well. ‘But he must live in a palace’ – well then, he can also live well in a palace. Consider that for whatever purpose each thing has been constituted, for this it has been constituted, and towards this it is carried. Its end is in that towards which it is carried. Where the end is, there also is the advantage and the good of each thing. The good for the reasonable animal is society, for that we are made for society has been shown above. Is it not plain that the inferior exists for the sake of the superior? The things which have life are superior to those which have not life, and of those which have life the superior are those which have reason.
To seek what is impossible is madness. It is impossible that the bad should not seek what is impossible.
Nothing happens to any man which he is not formed by nature to bear. When the same things happen to another man he is firm and remains unharmed, either because he does not see that they have happened, or because he would show a great spirit. It is a shame that ignorance and conceit should be stronger than wisdom.
Things themselves touch not the soul, not in the least degree. Nor have they admission to the soul, nor can they turn or move the soul. The soul turns and moves itself alone, and whatever judgments it may think proper to make, such it makes for itself the things which present themselves to it.
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 which 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 effects 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. That which is a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act. That which is an obstacle on the road helps us on this road.
Reverence that which is best in the universe; that which makes use of all things and directs all things. And in like manner also reverence that which is best in yourself; that which makes use of all things and directs all things. It is in you and your life is directed by it.
That which does no harm to the state, does no harm to the citizen. In the case of every appearance of harm apply this rule: if the state is not harmed by this, neither am I harmed. But if the state is harmed, you must not be angry with him who does harm to the state. Show him where his error lies.
Often think of the rapidity with which things pass by and disappear, both the things which are and the things which are produced. For substance is like a river in a continual flow, and the activities of things are in constant change, and the causes work in infinite varieties. There is hardly anything which stands still. Know that it is near to you, this boundless abyss of the past and of the future in which all things disappear. How then is he not a fool who is puffed up with such things or plagued about them and makes himself miserable? They vex him only, for a time, and a short time.
Think of the universal substance, of which you have a very small portion. Think of universal time, of which a short and indivisible interval has been assigned to you. Think of that which is fixed by destiny, and how small a part of it you are.
Does another do me wrong? Let him look to it. He has his own disposition, his own activity. I now have what the universal nature wills me to have. I do what my nature now wills me to do.
Let the part of your soul which leads and governs be undisturbed by the movements in the flesh, whether of pleasure or of pain. Let it not unite with pleasure or pain, but let it circumscribe itself and limit those affects to their parts. When these affects rise up to the mind by virtue of that other sympathy that naturally exists in a body which is all one, then you must not strive to resist the sensation, for it is natural. Let not the ruling part of itself add to the sensation the opinion that it is either good or bad.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears – How’s About Tomorrow Night (Victor 24692-B 1934)