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 Six, Parts Eight through Seventeen.
The ruling principle is that which rouses and turns itself. While it makes itself such as it is and such as it wills to be, it also makes everything which happens appear to itself to be such as it wills.
In conformity to the nature of the universe, every single thing is accomplished. Certainly, it is not in conformity to any other nature that each thing is accomplished, either a nature which externally comprehends this, or a nature which is comprehended within this nature, or a nature external and independent of this.
The universe is either a confusion, and a mutual involution of things, and a dispersion; or it is unity and order and providence. If it is the former, why do I desire to tarry in a random combination of things and in such a disorder? Why do I care about anything else than how I will at last become earth? Why am I disturbed, for the dispersion of my elements will happen whatever I do? But – if the former supposition is true, I venerate, and I am firm, and I trust in Him who governs.
When you have been compelled by circumstances to be disturbed by something, quickly return to yourself, and do not continue out of tune longer than the compulsion lasts. You will have more mastery over the harmony by continually returning to it.
If you had a step-mother and a mother at the same time, you would be dutiful to your step-mother, but you would constantly return to your mother. Let the court and philosophy now be to you as a stepmother and a mother: return to philosophy frequently and repose in her, through whom what you meet with in the court appears to you tolerable, and you appear tolerable in the court.
When we have meat before us and things to eat, we receive the impression ‘this is the dead body of a fish, and this is the dead body of a bird, or of a pig; this wine is only a little grape-juice, and this purple robe is some sheep’s wool dyed with the blood of a shell-fish.’ These are our impressions, and they reach the things themselves and penetrate them. We see what kind of things they are. In just the same way ought we to act all through life. Where there are things which appear most worthy of our approbation, we ought to lay them bare and look at their worthlessness and strip them of all the words by which they are exalted. Outward show is a wonderful perverter of reason. When you are most sure that you are employed about things worth your pains, it is then that it cheats you most. Consider then what Crates says of Xenocrates himself.
Most of the things which the multitude admire are objects of the most general kind, those which are held together by cohesion or natural organization, such as stones, wood, fig-trees, vines and olives. But those which are admired by men who are a little more reasonable are the things which are held together by a living principle, such as flocks and herds. Those which are admired by men who are still more instructed are the things which are held together by a rational soul. Not a universal soul, but rational so far as it is a soul skilled in some art, or expert in some other way, or simply rational so far as it possesses a number of slaves. But he who values a rational soul, a soul universal and fitted for political life, regards nothing else. Above all things, he keeps his soul in a condition and in an activity conformable to reason and social life, and he co-operates to this end with those who are of the same kind as himself.
Some things are hurrying into existence, and others are hurrying out of it. Of that which is coming into existence, part is already extinguished. Motions and changes are continually renewing the world, just as the uninterrupted course of time is always renewing the infinite duration of ages. In this flowing stream then, on which there is no abiding, what is there of the things which hurry by on which a man would set a high price? It would be just as if a man should fall in love with one of the sparrows which fly by – it has already passed out of sight. Something of this kind is the life of every man, like the exhalation of the blood and the respiration of the air. For such as it is to have once drawn in the air and to have given it back (which we do every moment), just the same is it with the whole respiratory power, which you received at your birth yesterday and the day before, to give it back to the element from which you did first draw it.
Transpiration, as in plants, is not a thing to be valued. Nor respiration, as in domesticated animals and wild beasts, nor the receiving of impressions by the appearances of things, nor being moved by desires as puppets by strings, nor assembling in herds, nor being nourished by food. These are just like the act of separating and parting with the useless part of our food. What, then, is worth being valued? To be received with the clapping of hands? No. Neither must we value the clapping of tongues, for the praise which comes from the many is a clapping of tongues. Suppose then that you have given up this worthless thing called fame; what remains that is worth valuing? This, in my opinion: to move yourself and to restrain yourself in conformity to your proper constitution, to which end both all employments and all arts lead. Every art aims at this: that the thing which has been made should be adapted to the work for which it has been made. Both the vine-planter who looks after the vine, and the horse-breaker, and he who trains the dog, seek this end. The education and the teaching of youth aim at something. In this then is the value of the education and the teaching. If this is well, you will not seek anything else. Will you not cease to value many other things too? If not, then you will be neither free, nor sufficient for your own happiness, nor without passion. If not, then of necessity you must be envious, jealous, and suspicious of those who can take away those things, and plot against those who have that which you valued. Of necessity a man must be altogether in a state of perturbation who wants any of these things. And he must also often find fault with the gods. But to reverence and honor your own mind will make you content with yourself, and in harmony with society, and in agreement with the gods, praising all that They give and all They have ordered.
Above, below, all around are the movements of the elements. But the motion of virtue is in none of these. It is something more divine, and advancing by a way hardly observed, it goes happily on its road.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
Jacques Renard Orchestra – Sing Something Simple (Brunswick 4918 1930)