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. Marcus Aurelius was married to Faustina the Younger. Here are The Meditations Book Four, Parts Five through Twenty-Six.
Death is like conception, a mystery of nature. They are composed of the same elements, and decomposed into the same elements. No man should be ashamed of these things, for they are not contrary to [the nature of] a reasonable animal, and not contrary to the reason of our constitution.
It is natural that these things should be done, it is a matter of necessity. If another man will not have it so, he will not allow the fig-tree to have juice. By all means bear this in mind, that within a very short time both you and the other man will be dead. Soon not even your names will be left behind.
Take away your opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away.
That which does not make a man worse than he was, also does not make his life worse, nor does it harm him either from without or from within.
The nature of that which is [universally] useful has been compelled to do this.
Consider that everything which happens, happens justly, and if you observe carefully you will find it to be so. I do not say this only with respect to the continuity of the series of things, but with respect to what is just, and as if it were done by one who assigns to each thing its value. Observe then as you have begun to observe. Whatever you do, do it in conjunction with this, be good, and in the sense in which a man is properly understood to be good. Keep to this in every action.
Do not have such an opinion of things as he has who does you wrong, or such as he wishes you to have, but look at them as they are in truth.
A man should always have these two rules in readiness. First, do only whatever the reason of the ruling and legislating faculty may suggest for the use of men. Second, change your opinion, if there is any one at hand who sets you right and moves you from any opinion. But this change of opinion must proceed only from a certain persuasion, as of what is just or of common advantage and the like, and not because it appears pleasant or brings reputation.
Have you reason? I have. Why then do not you use it? For if this does its own work, what else do you wish?
You have existed as a part. You shall disappear in that which produced you. You will be received back into its seminal principle by transmutation.
Many grains of frankincense on the same altar. One falls before, another falls after. But it makes no difference.
Within ten days you will seem a god to those to whom you are now a beast and an ape, if you will return to your principles and the worship of reason.
Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.
How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself, that it may be just and pure. As Agathon says, look not round at the depraved morals of others, but run straight along the line without deviating from it.
He who has a vehement desire for posthumous fame does not consider that every one of those who remember him will himself also die very soon, and those who remember them, until the whole remembrance will have been extinguished as it is transmitted through men who foolishly admire and perish. If those who remembered were immortal, and their memory were immortal, what then is this to you? I cannot say what is it to be dead, but only what is it to live. What is praise, except indeed so far as it has a certain utility? You now reject unseasonably the gift of nature, clinging instead to something else.
Everything which is in any way beautiful is beautiful in itself, and terminates in itself, not having praise as part of itself. Nothing is made worse or better by being praised. I affirm this also of the things which are called beautiful by the vulgar, for example, material things and works of art. That which is really beautiful has no need of anything; as with the law, as with the truth, as with benevolence or modesty. Which of these things is beautiful because it is praised, or spoiled by being blamed? Is an emerald made worse than it was, if it is not praised? Or gold, ivory, purple, a lyre, a little knife, a flower, a shrub?
If souls continue to exist, how does the air contain them from eternity? How does the earth contain the bodies of those who have been buried from time so remote? For as here the mutation of these bodies after a certain continuance, whatever it may be, and their dissolution make room for other dead bodies, so the souls which are removed into the air after subsisting for some time are transmuted and diffused, and assume a fiery nature by being received into the seminal intelligence of the universe. In this way they make room for the fresh souls which come to dwell there. And this is the answer which a man might give on the hypothesis of souls continuing to exist. But we must not only think of the number of bodies which are buried, but also of the number of animals which are daily eaten by us and the other animals. For what a number is consumed, and thus in a manner buried in the bodies of those who feed on them! And nevertheless this earth receives them by reason of the changes [of these bodies] into blood, and the transformations into the aerial or the fiery element.
What is the investigation into the truth in this matter? The division into that which is material and that which is the cause of form [the formal].
Do not be whirled about, but in every movement have respect to justice, and on the occasion of every impression maintain the faculty of comprehension [or understanding].
Everything harmonizes with me, which is harmonious to thee, O Universe. Nothing for me is too early or too late, which is in due time for thee. Everything is fruit to me which your seasons bring, O Nature. From thee are all things, in thee are all things, to thee all things return. The poet says, Dear city of Cecrops. I will say, Dear city of Zeus.
Occupy yourself with few things, says the philosopher, if you would be tranquil. But consider if it would not be better to say do what is necessary, and whatever the reason of the animal which is naturally social requires, and as it requires. For this brings not only the tranquillity which comes from doing well, but also that which comes from doing few things. Most of what we say and do is unnecessary, if a man takes this away, he will have more leisure and less uneasiness. Accordingly, on every occasion a man should ask himself – Is this one of the unnecessary things? A man should take away not only unnecessary acts, but also unnecessary thoughts, so that unnecessary acts will not follow after.
See how the life of the good man suits you, the life of him who is satisfied with his portion out of the whole, and satisfied with his own just acts and benevolent disposition.
Have you seen those things? Look also at these. Do not disturb yourself. Make yourself simple. Does any one do wrong? It is to himself that he does the wrong. Has anything happened to you? Well, from the beginning of Nature everything which happens has been apportioned and spun out to you. In a word, your life is short. You must turn to aid the present by the aid of reason and justice. Be sober in your relaxation.
Thank you for listening. For more information about the words I have read and the music to follow, please visit A Man of Letters. amoletters.com.
Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
Nesco Royal Cooks – Selections From Rose Marie (1937?)