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 Twenty-One through Forty-Seven.
You will soon forget, and you will soon be forgotten.
It is peculiar to man to love even those who do wrong. This happens when you remember that they are kinsmen, and that they do wrong through ignorance and unintentionally, and that soon both of you will die. Above all, this happens when the wrong-doer has done you no harm, for he has not made your ruling faculty worse than it was before.
The universal nature out of the universal substance, as if it were wax, now moulds a horse, and when it has broken this up, it uses the material for a tree, then for a man, then for something else. Each of these things exists for a very short time. But it is no hardship for the vessel to be broken up, just as there was none in its being fastened together.
A scowling look is altogether unnatural; when it is often assumed the result is that all attractiveness dies away, and at last is so completely extinguished that it cannot come again. Try to conclude from this very fact that scowling is contrary to reason. If even the perception of doing wrong departed, what reason is there for living any longer?
Nature, which governs the whole, will soon change all things which you see, and out of their substance will make other things, and again other things from the substance of them, in order that the world may be ever new.
When a man has done you any wrong, immediately consider with what opinion about good or evil he has done wrong. When you have seen this you will pity him, and will neither wonder nor be angry. For either you yourself think the same thing to be good that he does or another thing of the same kind. It is your duty, then, to pardon him. And if you do not think such things to be good or evil, you will more readily be well disposed to him who is in error.
Think not so much of what you do not have as of what you do have. Of the things which you have, select the best, and then reflect how eagerly they would have been sought if you had them not. At the same time, however, take care that you do not (through being so pleased with them) accustom yourself to overvalue them, so as to be disturbed if ever you should not have them.
Retire into yourself. The rational principle which rules has this nature, that it is content with itself when it does what is just, and so secures tranquillity.
Wipe out idle thoughts. Stop the pulling of the strings. Confine yourself to the present. Understand well what happens either to you or to another. Divide and distribute every object into the causal and the material. Think of your last hour. Let the wrong which is done by a man stay there, where the wrong was done.
Direct your attention to what is said. Let your understanding enter into the things that are being done and the things which do them.
Adorn yourself with simplicity and modesty, and with indifference towards the things which lie between virtue and vice. Love mankind. Follow God. The poet says that law rules all. It is enough to remember that law rules all.
About death: whether it is a dispersion, or a resolution into atoms, or annihilation, it is either extinction or change.
About pain: the pain which is intolerable carries us off, but that which lasts a long time is tolerable. The mind maintains its own tranquillity by retiring into itself, and the ruling faculty is not made worse. The parts which are harmed by pain, let them, if they can, give their opinion about it.
About fame: look at the minds of those who seek fame, observe what they are, and what kind of things they avoid, and what kind of things they pursue. Then consider that as heaps of sand pile on one another to hide former heaps of sands, so in life the events which go before are soon covered by those which come after.
From Plato: The man who has an elevated mind and takes a view of all time and of all substance, do you suppose it possible for him to think that human life is anything great? (It is not possible, he said.) Such a man then will think that death also is no evil. (Certainly not.)
From Antisthenes: It is royal to do good and to be abused.
It is a base thing for the countenance to be obedient and to regulate and compose itself as the mind commands, and for the mind not to be regulated and composed by itself.
It is not right to vex ourselves at things, for things do not care.
To the immortal gods, and to us, give joy.
Life must be harvested like a ripe ear of corn. One man is born; another dies.
If the gods do not care for me and for my children, there is a reason for it.
The good is with me, and with the just.
Do not join others in their wailing, or violent emotion.
From Plato: I would give this man a sufficient answer, which is this: you do not speak well if you think that a man who is good for anything at all ought to compute the hazard of life or death. He should instead look to this only in all that he does, whether he is doing what is just or unjust, and does the works of a good or bad man.
Thus it is, men of Athens, in truth: wherever a man has placed himself, thinking it the best place for him, or has been placed by a commander, there in my opinion he ought to stay and to abide the hazard, taking nothing into the reckoning, either death or anything else, before the baseness of deserting his post.
My good friend, reflect whether that which is noble and good is not something different from saving and being saved. No matter the time in which you live, if you are really a man, dismissed from your thoughts the love of merely living. A man must trust the deity and believe what the women say, that no man can escape his destiny. The correct question is how a man may best live the time that he has to live.
Look around at the courses of the stars, as if you were going along with them. Constantly consider the changes of the elements into one another. For such thoughts purge away the filth of mortality.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
The Florida Four – Miami (circa 1927)