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. He was introduced to philosophy as a boy by his painting teacher, Diognetus. Here are The Meditations Book Three, Parts Twelve through Sixteen and Book Four, Parts One through Four.
If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you should be bound to give it back immediately, then hold on to this: expect nothing, fear nothing, but be satisfied with your present activity according to nature, and with heroic truth in every word and sound which you utter. You will live happy. And there is no man who is able to prevent this.
As physicians always have their instruments and knives ready for cases which suddenly require their skill, so you must have principles ready for the understanding of things divine and human, and for doing everything, even the smallest thing, with a recollection of the bond which unites the divine and human to one another. For neither will you do anything well which pertains to man without at the same time having a reference to things divine, nor the contrary.
No longer wander at hazard. You will not you read your own memoirs, nor the acts of the ancient Romans and Hellenes, and the selections from books which you were reserving for your old age. While it is in your power, hasten to the end which you have before you, and, throwing away idle hopes, come to your own aid, if you care at all for yourself.
They know not how many things are signified by the words stealing, sowing, buying, keeping quiet, seeing what ought to be done. For this is not effected by the eyes, but by another kind of vision.
Body, soul, intelligence: to the body belong sensations, to the soul appetites, to the intelligence principles. To receive the impressions of forms by means of appearances belongs even to animals. To be pulled by the strings of desire belongs both to wild beasts and to men who have made themselves into women, and to a Phalaris and a Nero. And to have the intelligence that guides all to the things which appear suitable belongs also to those who do not believe in the gods, and who betray their country, and do their impure deeds when they have shut the doors. If then everything else is common to all that I have mentioned, there remains that which is peculiar to the good man. This is to be pleased and content with what happens, and with the thread which is spun for him. To not defile the divinity which is planted in his heart, nor disturb it by a crowd of images, but to preserve it with tranquility, following it obediently as a god, neither saying anything contrary to the truth, nor doing anything contrary to justice. If all men refuse to believe that he lives a simple, modest, and contented life, he is neither angry with any of them, nor does he deviate from the way which leads to the end of life, to which a man ought to come pure, tranquil, ready to depart, and without any compulsion – perfectly reconciled to his lot.
That which rules within (when it is according to nature) is so affected with respect to events which happen that it always easily adapts itself to that which is possible and is presented to it. It requires no definite material, but it moves towards its purpose, under certain conditions. It makes a material for itself out of that which opposes it, as fire lays hold of what falls into it, by which a small light would have been extinguished. When a fire is strong it soon appropriates to itself the matter which is heaped on it, and consumes it, and rises higher by means of this very material.
Let no act be done without a purpose, nor otherwise than according to the perfect principles of art.
Men seek retreats for themselves in houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains. You too are wont to very much desire such things. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in your power whenever you shall choose to retire into yourself. Never is there more quiet or more freedom from trouble than when a man retires into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that (by looking into them) he is immediately in perfect tranquillity. I affirm this tranquillity is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then give to yourself this retreat, and renew yourself. Let your principles be brief and fundamental, so that as soon as you touch them it will be sufficient to cleanse you soul completely, and to send you back free from all discontent with the things to which you return. What are you discontented with? With the badness of men? Recall to your mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily. Consider how many already, after mutual enmity, suspicion, hatred, and fighting, have been stretched dead, reduced to ashes, then be quiet at last. Or perhaps you are dissatisfied with that which is assigned to you out of the universe. Remember this: either there is providence or randomness. Remember the arguments by which it has been proved that the world is a kind of political community and be quiet at last. Or perhaps physical things still fasten upon you. Then consider that your mind mingles not with your breath, whether moving gently or violently, when it has once drawn itself apart and discovered its own power. Think also of all that you have heard and assented to about pain and pleasure, and be quiet at last. Or perhaps the desire of the thing called fame will torment you. See how soon everything is forgotten, and look at the chaos of infinite time on each side of the present, and the emptiness of applause, and the changeableness and want of judgment in those who pretend to give praise, and the narrowness of the space within which it is circumscribed, and be quiet at last. For the whole earth is only a speck, and how small a space in it is this your dwelling, and how few are there in it, and what kind of people are they who will give you praise.
Remember to retire into this little dwelling of your own. Above all do not distract or strain yourself, but be free, and look at things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen, as a mortal. Among that which your hand will most readily turn, let it be these two. First, put in your hand that things do not touch you soul; they are external and remain immovable. Our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within. Second, put in your hand that all the things which you see change immediately and will no longer be. Constantly bear in mind how many of these changes you have already witnessed. The universe is transformation. Life is opinion.
If our intellectual part is common, then reason also (in respect of which we are rational beings) is common. If this is so, common also is the reason which commands us what to do, and what not to do. If this is so, there is a common law also. If this is so, we are fellow-citizens. If this is so, we are members of some political community. If this is so, the world is in a manner one state. What other common political community will any one say that the whole human race are members? From this common political community comes our very intellectual faculty and reasoning faculty and our capacity for law. If not this, from where do they come? As my solid parts are a portion given to me from parts of the earth, and my fluid parts from another element, and my hot and fiery parts from some other peculiar source (for nothing comes out of nothing, as nothing also returns to non-existence), so also the intellectual part comes from some source.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
George Shackley & the Nehi Ensemble – Hindustan (1932)