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 Ten Part Thirty-Five through Book Eleven Part Eight.
The healthy eye ought to see all visible things and not to say, I wish for only green things; for this is the condition of a diseased eye. The healthy hearing and smelling ought to be ready to perceive all that can be heard and smelled. The healthy stomach ought to be with respect to all food, just as the mill with respect to all things which it is formed to grind. Accordingly, the healthy understanding ought to be prepared for everything which happens. That which says ‘let my dear children live,’ and ‘let all men praise whatever I may do,’ is an eye which seeks for only green things, or teeth which seek for only soft things.
There is no man so fortunate that there will not be by him when he is dying some who are pleased with what is going to happen. Suppose that he was a good and wise man, will there not be at last some one to say to himself, ‘let us at last breathe freely, being relieved from this schoolmaster. It is true that he was harsh to none of us, but I perceived that he tacitly condemns us.’ This is what is said of a good man. But in our own case how many other things are there for which there are many who wish to get rid of us. You will consider this, then, when you are dying, and you will depart more contentedly by reflecting thus: ‘I am going away from such a life, in which even my associates in behalf of whom I have striven so much, prayed, and cared, themselves wish me to depart, hoping perchance to get some little advantage by it. Why then should a man cling to a longer stay here?’ Do not, however, for this reason go away less kindly disposed to them, but preserving your own character. Be friendly and benevolent and mild. Go not as if you were torn away. When a man dies a quiet death, the poor soul is easily separated from the body. Such also ought your departure from men be, for Nature united you to them and associated you. Does She now dissolve the union? Well, I am separated as from kinsmen, not dragged and resisting, but without compulsion. This, too, is one of the things according to Nature.
Accustom yourself as much as possible on the occasion of anything being done by any person to inquire with yourself for what object this man is doing what he does. Begin with yourself, and examine yourself first.
Remember that this which pulls the strings is the thing which is hidden within: this is the power of persuasion, this is life, this, if one may so say, is man. In contemplating yourself never include the vessel which surrounds you and these instruments which are attached about it. For they are like to an axe, differing only in this, that they grow to the body. There is no more use in these parts without the cause which moves and checks them than in the weaver’s shuttle, and the writer’s pen, and the driver’s whip.
These are the properties of the rational soul: it sees itself, analyses itself, and makes itself such as it chooses, the fruit which it bears itself enjoys. The fruits of plants and that in animals which corresponds to fruits others enjoy, these obtain their own end, wherever the limit of life may be fixed. Not as in a dance and in a play and in such like things, where the whole action is incomplete if anything cuts it short; but in every part, and where-ever it may be stopped, it makes what has been set before it full and complete, so that it can say, ‘I have what is my own.’ And further it traverses the whole universe, and the surrounding vacuum, and surveys its form, and it extends itself into the infinity of time, and embraces and comprehends the periodical renovation of all things, and it comprehends that those who come after us will see nothing new, nor have those before us seen anything more, but in a manner he who is forty years old, if he has any understanding at all, has seen by virtue of the uniformity that prevails all things which have been and all that will be. This, too, is a property of the rational soul, love of one’s neighbor, and truth and modesty, and to value nothing more than itself, which is also the property of Law. Thus then right reason differs not at all from the reason of justice.
You will set little value on pleasing song and dancing and the pancratium, if you will distribute the melody of the voice into its individual sounds, and ask yourself as to each, if you are mastered by this. For you will be prevented by shame from confessing it. In the matter of dancing, if at each movement and attitude you will do the same. And the like also in the pancratium. In all things, then, except virtue and the acts of virtue, remember to apply yourself to their individual parts, and by this division to come to value them little. Apply this rule also to your whole life.
The readiness of a soul at any moment to be separated from the body; the readiness to be extinguished or dispersed or continue to exist – this readiness comes from a man’s own judgment, not from mere obstinacy, as with the Christians, but considerately, and with dignity and in a way to persuade another, without tragic show.
Have I done something for the general interest? Well then I have had my reward. Let this always be present to your mind, and never stop doing things for the general interest.
What is your art? To be good. This accomplished well by general principles, some about the nature of the universe, and others about the proper constitution of man.
At first tragedies were brought on the stage as means of reminding men of the things which happen to them, and that it is according to Nature for things to happen so, and that, if you are delighted with what is shown on the stage, you should not be troubled with that which takes place on the larger stage. For you see that these things must be accomplished thus, and that even they bear them who cry out, “O Cithaeron.” And, indeed, some things are said well by the dramatic writers, of which kind is the following especially:
“If the gods neglect me and my children, this has its reason too.”
“We must not chafe and fret at that which happens.”
“Life’s harvest reap like the wheat’s fruitful ear.”
And other things of the same kind.
After tragedy the old comedy was introduced, which had a magisterial freedom of speech, and by its very plainness of speaking was useful in reminding men to beware of insolence. For this purpose Diogenes used to take from these writers.
But as to the middle comedy, which came next, observe what it was, and again, for what object the new comedy was introduced, which gradually sank down into a mere mimic artifice. That some good things are said even by these writers, everybody knows: but the whole plan of such poetry and dramaturgy, to what end does it look?
How plain does it appear that there is not another condition of life so well suited for philosophy as this, in which you now happen to be.
A branch cut off from the adjacent branch must of necessity be cut off from the whole tree also. So, too, a man, when he is separated from another man, has fallen off from the whole social community. As to a branch, another cuts it off. A man, by his own acts, separates himself from his neighbor when he hates him and turns away from him. He does not know that he has at the same time cut himself off from the whole social system. Yet he has this privilege certainly from Zeus, who framed society, for it is in our power to grow again to that which is near to us, and again to become a part which helps to make up the whole. However, if this kind of separation happens often, it makes it difficult for that which detaches itself to be brought to unity and to be restored to its former condition. The branch which from the first grew together with the tree, and has continued to have one life with it, is not like that which after being cut off is then grafted on. For this is something like what the gardeners mean when they say that it grows with the rest of the tree, but that it has not the same mind with it.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.