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 Seven, Parts Forty-Eight through Sixty-Seven.
This is a fine saying of Plato: ‘He who is discoursing about men should look also at earthly things as if he viewed them from some higher place. He should look at them in their assemblies, armies, agricultural labors, marriages, treaties, births, deaths, noise of the courts of justice, desert places, various nations of barbarians, feasts, lamentations, markets, a mixture of all things and an orderly combination of contraries.’
Consider the great changes of political supremacies of the past. You may then foresee the things which will be. For they will certainly be of like form, and it is not possible that they should deviate from the order of the things which take place now. Accordingly, to have contemplated human life for forty years is the same as to have contemplated it for ten thousand years. For what more will you see?
That which has grown from the earth to the earth, that which has sprung from heavenly seed, back to the heavenly realms returns. This is either a dissolution of the mutual involution of the atoms, or a similar dispersion of the unsentient elements.
With food and drinks and cunning magic arts, turning the channel’s course to escape from death. The breeze which heaven has sent we must endure, and toil without complaining.
Another may be more expert in casting his opponent, but he is not more social, nor more modest, nor better disciplined to meet all that happens, nor more considerate with respect to the faults of his neighbors.
Where any work can be done conformably to the reason which is common to gods and men, there we have nothing to fear. Where we are able to get profit by means of the activity which is successful and proceeds according to our constitution, there no harm is to be suspected.
Everywhere and at all times it is in your power to piously acquiesce to your present condition, and to behave justly to those who are about you, and to exert your skill upon your present thoughts, that nothing will steal into them without being well examined.
Do not look around you to discover other men’s ruling principles, but look straight to this, to where nature leads you, both the universal nature through the things which happen to you, and your own nature through the acts which you must do. Every being ought to do that which is according to its constitution. All things have been constituted for the sake of rational beings, just as among irrational things the inferior have been constituted for the sake of the superior. But the rational has been constituted for the sake of the rational.
The prime principle in man’s constitution is the social. The second principle is not to yield to the persuasions of the body. It is the peculiar office of the rational and intelligent motion to circumscribe itself, and never to be overpowered either by the motion of the senses or of the appetites, for both are animal. The intelligent motion claims superiority, and does not permit itself to be overpowered by the others. And with good reason, for it is formed by nature to use all of them. The third principle in the rational constitution is freedom from error and from deception. Let then the ruling principle holding fast to these things go straight on, and it has what is its own.
Consider yourself to be dead, and to have completed your life up to the present time. Live according to nature the remainder which is allowed you.
Love that only which happens to you and is spun with the thread of your destiny. For what is more suitable?
In everything which happens, keep before your eyes those to whom the same things happened, and how they were vexed, and treated them as strange things, and found fault with them. Where are they now? Nowhere. Why then do you also choose to act in the same way? Why do you not leave these agitations which are foreign to nature to those who cause them, and those who are moved by them? Why are you not altogether intent upon the right way of making use of the things which happen to you? For then you will use everything which happens well. It will be a material for you to work on. Only attend to yourself, and resolve to be a good man in every act which you do.
Remember: look within. Within is the fountain of good, and it will ever bubble up, if you will but dig.
The body ought to be compact, and to show no irregularity either in motion or attitude. What the mind shows in the face by maintaining in it the expression of intelligence and propriety ought to be required also in the whole body. But all these things should be observed without affectation.
The art of life is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s in this respect: that it should stand ready and firm to meet onsets which are sudden and unexpected.
Constantly observe whose approval you wish to have, and what ruling principles they possess. For then you will neither blame those who offend involuntarily, nor will you want their approval, if you look to the sources of their opinions and appetites.
Every soul, the philosopher says, is involuntarily deprived of truth. Consequently in the same way it is deprived of justice and temperance and benevolence and everything of the kind. It is most necessary to bear this constantly in mind, for thus you will be more gentle towards all.
In every pain let this thought be present: there is no dishonor in it, nor does it make the governing intelligence worse, for it does not damage the intelligence either so far as the intelligence is rational or so far as it is social. Indeed, in the case of most pains let this remark of Epicurus aid you: ‘pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting, if you bear in mind that it has its limits, and if you add nothing to it in imagination. Remember this as well, that we do not perceive that many things which are disagreeable to us are the same as pain, such as excessive drowsiness, and the being scorched by heat, and the having no appetite. When you are discontented about any of these things, say to yourself that you are yielding to pain.’
Take care not to feel towards the inhuman as they feel towards men.
How do we know if Telauges was not superior in character to Socrates? For it is not enough that Socrates died a more noble death, and disputed more skilfuly with the Sophists, and passed the night in the cold with more endurance, and that when he was bid to arrest Leon of Salamis he considered it more noble to refuse, and that he walked in a swaggering way in the streets (though as to this fact one may have great doubts if it was true). Instead, we ought to inquire what kind of a soul it was that Socrates possessed, and if he was able to be content with being just towards men and pious towards the gods, neither idly vexed on account of men’s villainy, nor yet making himself a slave to any man’s ignorance, nor receiving as strange anything that fell to his share out of the universal, nor enduring it as intolerable, nor allowing his understanding to sympathize with the affects of the miserable flesh.
Nature has not so mingled intelligence with the composition of the body, as not to have allowed you the power of circumscribing yourself and of bringing under subjection to yourself all that is your own. It is very possible to be a divine man and to be recognized as such by no one. Always bear this in mind. And another thing too, that very little indeed is necessary for living a happy life. Because you have despaired of becoming a dialectician and skilled in the knowledge of nature, do not for this reason renounce the hope of being both free and modest, and social, and obedient to God.
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.
Colonial Club Orchestra – Ev’rything That’s Nice Belongs to You (Brunswick 6077 1931)