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 called ‘an emperor most skilled in the law’ and ‘a most prudent and conscientiously just Emperor’ during his lifetime. Here are The Meditations Book Four, Parts Twenty-Seven through Forty-Seven.
Either this is a well-arranged universe or it is a chaos huddled together, but this is still a universe. Can a certain order subsist in you, and disorder in the All? Consider this, because all things are separated and diffused and sympathetic.
Avoid: a black character, a womanish character, a stubborn character, bestial, childish, animal, stupid, counterfeit, scurrilous, fraudulent, tyrannical.
If he is a stranger to the universe who does not know what is in it, no less is he a stranger who does not know what is going on in it. He is a runaway who flies from social reason. He is blind who shuts the eyes of the understanding. He is poor who has need of another and has not from himself all things which are useful for life. He is an abscess on the universe who withdraws and separates himself from the reason of our common nature through being displeased with the things which happen, for the same nature produces him, and has produced you too. He is a piece rent asunder from the state, who tears his own soul from that of reasonable animals, which is in harmony.
One philosopher is without a tunic, and the other is without a book. Here is another half naked. He says “I have no bread, and I abide by reason. I do not get the means of living out of my learning, and I abide by my reason.
Love the art, poor as it may be, which you have learned, and be content with it. Pass through the rest of life like one who has entrusted to the gods with his whole soul all that he has, making yourself neither the tyrant nor the slave of any man.
Consider, for example, the times of Vespasian. You will see all these things: people marrying, bringing up children, sickness, death, warring, feasting, trafficking, cultivating the ground, flattering, being obstinately arrogant, suspicion, plotting, wishing for some to die, grumbling about the present, loving, heaping up treasure, desire of consulship and kingly power. Well, then. These people no longer live – at all. Again, consider times of Trajan. Again, all is the same. Their lives too are gone. In like manner view also the other epochs of time and of whole nations. See how many after great efforts soon fell and were resolved into the elements. But chiefly you should think of those whom you have yourself known distracting themselves about idle things, neglecting to do what was in accordance with their nature, to hold firmly to their lives and to be content. It is necessary to remember that the attention given to everything has its proper value and proportion. For thus you will not be dissatisfied, if you apply yourself to smaller matters no further than is fit.
The words which were formerly familiar are now antiquated. So also the names of those who were famed of old, are now in a manner antiquated. Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Leonnatus, and a little after also Scipio and Cato, then Augustus, then also Hadrianus and Antoninus. For all things soon pass away and become a mere tale, and complete oblivion soon buries them. And I say this of those who have shone in a wondrous way. For the rest, as soon as they have breathed out their breath, they are gone, and no man speaks of them. And what is even an eternal remembrance? A mere nothing. What then is that about which we ought to employ our serious pains? These things: just thoughts, and social acts, and words which never lie, and a disposition which gladly accepts all that happens as necessary, as usual, as flowing from a principle and from one source.
Willingly give yourself up to Clotho [one of the fates], allowing her to spin your thread into whatever thing she pleases.
Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.
Observe constantly that all things take place by change. Accustom yourself to consider that the nature of the universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are and to make new things like them. Everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be. If you are thinking only of seeds which are cast into the earth or into a womb, this is a very vulgar notion.
You will soon die, and you are not yet simple, nor free from perturbations, nor without suspicion of being hurt by external things, nor kindly disposed towards all, nor do you yet place wisdom only in acting justly.
Examine men’s ruling principles, even those of the wise, what kind of things they avoid, and what kind of things they pursue.
What is evil to you does not subsist in the ruling principle of another, nor in any turning and mutation of your corporeal covering. Where is it then? It is in that part of you in which subsists the power of forming opinions about evils. Let this power then not form such opinions, and all is well. If that which is nearest to it, the poor body, is cut, burnt, filled with matter and rottenness, nevertheless let the part which forms opinions about these things be quiet. Let it judge that nothing is either bad or good which can happen equally to the bad man and the good man. That which happens equally to him who lives contrary to nature and to him who lives according to nature is neither according to nature nor contrary to nature.
Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul. Observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being. All things act with one movement. All things are the co-operating causes of all things which exist. Observe the continuous spinning of the thread and the weaving of the web.
You are a little soul bearing about a corpse, as Epictetus used to say.
It is no evil for things to undergo change, and it is no good for things to subsist in consequence of change.
Time is like a violent stream made up of the events which happen. 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.
Everything which happens is as familiar and well known as the rose in Spring and the fruit in Summer. Such is disease, and death, and calumny, and treachery, and whatever else delights fools or vexes them.
In the series of things, those which follow are always aptly fitted to those which have gone before. This series is not a mere enumeration of disjointed things, which has only a necessary sequence, but it is a rational connection. All existing things are arranged together harmoniously, so the things which come into existence exhibit not only succession, but a certain wonderful relationship.
Always remember the saying of Heraclitus, that the death of earth is to become water, and the death of water is to become air, and the death of air is to become fire, and the reverse is true as well. Think of him who forgets where the way leads. Remember that men quarrel with that with which they are most constantly in communion: the reason which governs the universe. Think of the things which men daily meet with seem to them strange. Consider that we ought not to act and speak as if we were asleep, for even in sleep we seem to act and speak. Remember that we ought not, like children who learn from their parents, simply to act and speak as we have been taught.
If any god told you that you will die tomorrow, or certainly on the day after tomorrow, you would not care much whether it was on the third day or tomorrow unless you were to the highest degree mean-spirited. For how small is the difference between today, tomorrow and the next day. So think that it no great thing to die after as many years as you can name rather than tomorrow.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
George Shackley & the Nehi Ensemble – Two Guitars