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 Twelve, Parts Five through Twenty-Five.
How can it be that the Gods, after having arranged all things well and benevolently for mankind, have overlooked this alone: that some men, very good men, men who (as we may say) have had most communion with the divinity, men who through pious acts and religious observances have been most intimate with the divinity, that these men when they have once died should never exist again, but should be completely extinguished.
If this is so, be assured that if it ought to have been otherwise, the Gods would have done it. If it were just, it would also be possible. If it were according to Nature, Nature would have had it so. But because it is not so (if in fact it is not so) be you convinced that it ought not to have been so. You see even of yourself that in this inquiry you are disputing with the Deity. We should not thus dispute with the Gods, unless they were most excellent and most just. If this is so, they would not have allowed anything in the ordering of the universe to be neglected unjustly and irrationally.
Practice yourself even in the things which you despair of accomplishing. Even the left hand, which is ineffectual for all other things for want of practice, holds the bridle more vigorously than the right hand, for it has been practiced in this.
Consider in what condition both in body and soul a man should be when he is overtaken by death. Consider the shortness of life, the boundless abyss of time past and future, the feebleness of all matter.
Contemplate the forms of things bare of their coverings, and the purposes of actions. Consider what pain is, what pleasure is, and death, and fame. Consider who is to himself the cause of his uneasiness, consider how no man is hindered by another, consider that everything is opinion.
In the application of your principles you must be like the pancratiast, not like the gladiator. The gladiator lets fall the sword which he uses and is killed, but the other always has his hand, and needs to do nothing else than use it.
See what things are in themselves, dividing them into matter, form, and purpose.
What a power man has to do nothing except what God will approve, and to accept all that God may give him.
With respect to that which happens conformably to Nature, we ought to blame neither Gods, for they do nothing wrong either voluntarily or involuntarily; nor men, for they do nothing wrong except involuntarily. We should blame nobody.
How ridiculous and what a stranger he is who is surprised at anything which happens in life.
Either there is a fatal necessity and invincible order, or a kind providence, or a confusion without a purpose and without a director. If there is an invincible necessity, why do you resist? If there is a Providence which allows itself to be propitiated, make yourself worthy of the help of the Divinity. If there is a confusion without a governor, be content that in such a tempest you have in yourself a certain ruling intelligence. And even if the tempest carries you away, it will carry away the poor flesh, the poor breath, and everything else, but the intelligence at least it will not be carried away.
Does the light of the lamp shine without losing its splendor until it is extinguished; and will the truth which is in you and justice and temperance be extinguished before your death?
When a man has presented the appearance of having done wrong, ask yourself how you know if this is a wrongful act. If he has done wrong, how do I know that he has not condemned himself? Condemning one’s self is like tearing one’s own face. Consider that he who would not have the bad man do wrong is like the man who would not have the fig-tree bear juice in the figs, and infants would not cry, and the horse would not neigh, and whatever else must be, of necessity. What must a man do who has such a character? If you are irritable, cure this man’s disposition.
If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it.
In everything, always, observe what the thing is which produces for you an appearance, and resolve it by dividing it into the formal, the material, the purpose, and the time within which it must end.
Perceive at last that you have in you something better and more divine than the things which cause the various effects, and pulls you by strings. What is there now in my mind? Is it fear, or suspicion, or desire, or anything of the kind?
First, do nothing inconsiderately, nor without a purpose. Second, make your acts refer to nothing else than to a social end.
Consider that before long you will be nobody and nowhere, nor will any of the things exist which you now see, nor any of those who are now living. For all things are formed by Nature to change and be turned and to perish, in order that other things in continuous succession may exist.
Consider that everything is opinion, and opinion is in your power. Take away then, when you choose, your opinion, and like a mariner who has doubled the promontory, you will find calm, everything stable, and a waveless bay.
Any one activity, whatever it may be, when it has ceased at its proper time, suffers no evil because it has ceased. Nor he who has done this act, does he suffer any evil for this reason, that the act has ceased. In like manner then the whole, which consists of all the acts, which is our life, if it cease at its proper time, suffers no evil for this reason, that it has ceased. Nor he who has terminated this series at the proper time, has he been ill dealt with. The proper time and the limit Nature fixes, sometimes as in old age the peculiar nature of man, but always the universal nature, by the change of whose parts the whole universe continues ever young and perfect. Everything which is useful to the universal is always good and in season. Therefore the termination of life for every man is no evil, because neither is it shameful, since it is both independent of the will and not opposed to the general interest. It is good, since it is seasonable, and profitable to and congruent with the universal. He is moved by the Deity who is moved in the same manner with the Deity, and moved towards the same things in his mind.
These three principles you must have in readiness: first, do nothing either inconsiderately or otherwise than as Justice herself would act, but with respect to what may happen to you from without, consider that it happens either by chance or according to providence, and you must neither blame chance nor accuse providence. Second, consider what every being is from the seed to the time of its receiving a soul, and from the reception of a soul to the giving back of the same, and of what things every being is compounded, and into what things it is resolved. Third, if you should suddenly be raised up above the earth, and look down on human things, and observe the variety of them how great it is, and at the same time also see at a glance how great is the number of beings who dwell all around in the air and the ether, consider that as often as you should be raised up, you would see the same things, sameness of form and shortness of duration. Are these things to be proud of?
Cast away opinion: you are saved. Who then hinders you from casting it away?
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.
George Shackley & Nehi Ensemble – Auf Wiedersehen My Dear (1932)