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 Nine, Parts Twenty-One through Thirty-Four.
Termination of activity, cessation from movement and opinion, and in a sense their death, are no evil. Turn your thoughts now to the consideration of your life, your life as a child, as a youth, your manhood, your old age, for in these also every change was a death. Is this anything to fear? Turn your thoughts now to your life under your grandfather, then to your life under your mother, then to your life under your father; and as you find many other differences and changes and terminations, ask yourself if this is this anything to fear. In like manner, then, neither is the termination and cessation and change of your whole life a thing to be afraid of.
Hasten to examine your own ruling faculty and that of the universe and that of your neighbor. Your own that you may make it just, that of the universe that you may remember of what you are a part, and that of your neighbor that you may know whether he has acted ignorantly or with knowledge, and that you may also consider that his ruling faculty is akin to yours.
As you yourself are a component part of a social system, so let your every act be a component part of social life. Whatever act of yours then has no reference either immediately or remotely to a social end, this tears asunder your life, and does not allow it to be one, and it is of the nature of a mutiny, just as when in a popular assembly a man acting by himself stands apart from the general agreement.
Quarrels of little children, and their sports, and poor spirits carrying about dead bodies – such is everything. And so what is exhibited in the representation of the mansions of the dead strikes our eyes more clearly.
Examine the quality of the form of an object, and detach it altogether from its material part, and then contemplate it. Then determine the time, the longest which a thing of this peculiar form is naturally made to endure.
You have given yourself infinite troubles through not being contented with your ruling faculty when it does the things which it is constituted by nature to do. But enough of that.
When another blames you, or hates you, or when men say about you anything injurious, approach their poor souls, penetrate within, and see what kind of men they are. You will discover that there is no reason to take any trouble that these men may have this or that opinion about you. However, you must be well disposed towards them, for by nature they are friends. And the gods, too, aid them in all ways – by dreams, by signs – towards the attainment of those things on which they set a value.
The periodic movements of the universe are the same, up and down, from age to age. Either the universal intelligence puts itself in motion for every separate effect (and if this is so, be you content with that which is the result of its activity); or it puts itself in motion once, and everything else comes by way of sequence in a manner; or indivisible elements are the origin of all things. In a word, if there is a god, all is well, and if chance rules, you are also governed by chance.
Soon will the earth cover us all. Then the earth, too, will change, and the things also which result from change will continue to change forever, and these again forever. For if a man reflects on the changes and transformations which follow one another like wave after wave and their rapidity, he will despise everything which is perishable.
The universal cause is like a winter torrent. It carries everything along with it. How worthless are all these poor people who are engaged in matters political, and, as they suppose, are playing the philosopher! All drivellers. 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. 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? 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 Philippus and Demetrius of Phalerum. They themselves can judge whether they discovered what the common nature required, and trained themselves accordingly. But if they acted like tragedy heroes, no one has condemned me to imitate them. Simple and modest is the work of philosophy. Draw me not aside to insolence and pride.
Look down from above on the countless herds of men and their countless solemnities, and the infinitely varied voyagings in storms and calms, and the differences among those who are born, who live together, and die. Consider, too, the life lived by others in olden time, and the life of those who will live after you, and the life now lived among barbarous nations, and how many know not even your name, and how many will soon forget it, and how they who perhaps now are praising you will very soon blame you, and that neither a posthumous name is of any value, nor reputation, nor anything else.
Let there be freedom from perturbations with respect to the things which come from the external cause; and let there be justice in the things done by virtue of the internal cause, that is, let there be movement and action terminating in this, in social acts, for this is according to your nature.
You can remove many of the useless things which disturb you, for they lie entirely in your opinion. You will then gain for yourself ample space by comprehending the whole universe in your mind, and by contemplating the eternity of time, and observing the rapid change of every individual thing, how short is the time from birth to dissolution, and the illimitable time before birth as well as the equally boundless time after dissolution!
All that you see will quickly perish, and those who have been spectators of its dissolution will very soon perish too. He who dies at the most extreme old age will be brought into the same condition with him who died prematurely.
What are these men’s leading principles, and about what kind of things are they busy, and for what kind of reasons do they love and honor? Imagine that you see their poor souls laid bare. They think that they do harm by their blame or good by their praise – what an idea!
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.
Georgia Melodians – San (Edison Rejected 10914-C 1924)