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. Marcus Aurelius wrote The Meditations as a reminder for himself on living a virtuous life. Here are The Meditations Book Two, Parts Fourteen through Seventeen and Book Three, Parts One through Four.
Though you should live three thousand years, or even ten thousand years, remember that no man loses any other life than this which he now lives, nor lives any other than this which he now loses. The longest life and shortest life are thus brought to the same. For the present is the same to all, though that which perishes is not the same. That which is lost appears to be a mere moment. A man cannot lose either the past or the future, and so what a man has not, how can any one take it from him? You must bear two things in mind; first, that all things from eternity are of forms that come around in a circle, and that it makes no difference whether a man shall see the same things during a hundred years, or two hundred, or an infinite time; and second, that he who lives longest and he who dies soonest lose just the same. For the present is the only thing which a man can be deprived, if it is true that this is the only thing which he has. A man cannot lose a thing if he has it not.
Remember that all is opinion. For what was said by the Cynic Monimus is manifest: and manifest too is the use of what was said, if a man receives what may be got out of it as far as it is true.
The soul of man does violence to itself, first of all, when it becomes an abscess, and, as it were, a tumor on the universe. For to be vexed at anything which happens is a separation of ourselves from nature, in some part of which the natures of all other things are contained. The soul does violence to itself when it turns away from any man, or even moves towards him with the intention of injuring, such as are the souls of those who are angry. The soul does violence to itself when it is overpowered by pleasure or by pain. The soul does violence to itself when it plays-acts a part, and does or says anything insincerely and untruly. The soul does violence to itself when it allows any act or movement of its own to be without an aim, and does anything thoughtlessly and without considering what it is, it being right that even the smallest things be done with reference to an end. The end of rational animals is to follow the reason and the law of the most ancient city and polity.
Of human life the time is a point, and the substance is in a flux, and the perception dull, and the composition of the whole body subject to putrefaction, and the soul a whirl, and fortune hard to divine, and fame a thing devoid of judgment. And, to say all in a word, everything which belongs to the body is a stream, and what belongs to the soul is a dream and vapor, and life is a warfare and a stranger’s sojourn, and after fame comes oblivion. What then is that which is able to conduct a man? One thing, and only one: philosophy. But this consists in keeping the daemon within a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and to pleasures, doing nothing without a purpose, nor doing things falsely and with hypocrisy, not feeling the need of another man’s doing or not doing anything; and besides, accepting all that happens, and all that is allotted, as coming from thence, wherever it is, from whence he himself came. Finally, waiting for death with a cheerful mind, as being nothing else than a dissolution of the elements of which every living being is compounded. If there is no harm to the elements themselves in each continually changing into another, why should a man have any apprehension about the change and dissolution of all the elements? For it is according to nature, and nothing is evil which is according to nature.
We ought to consider not only that our life is daily wasting away and a smaller part of it is left, but another thing also must be taken into the account, that if a man should live longer, it is quite uncertain whether his understanding will be sufficient for the comprehension of things, and retain the power of contemplation which strives to acquire the knowledge of the divine and the human. For if he will begin to fall into dotage, perspiration and nutrition and imagination and appetite and whatever else there is of the kind will not fail; but the power of making use of ourselves, and filling up the measure of our duty, and clearly separating all appearances, and considering whether a man should now depart from life, and whatever else of the kind absolutely requires a disciplined reason — all this is already extinguished. We must make haste, then, not only because we are daily nearer to death, but also because the conception of things and the understanding of them cease first.
We ought to observe also that even the things which follow after the things which are produced according to nature contain something pleasing and attractive. For instance, when bread is baked some parts are split at the surface, and these parts which thus open, and have a certain fashion contrary to the purpose of the baker’s art, are beautiful in a manner, and in a peculiar way excite a desire for eating. Figs, when they are quite ripe, gape open; and with ripe olives the very circumstance of their being near to rottenness adds a peculiar beauty to the fruit. Ears of corn bending down, and the lion’s eyebrows, and the foam which flows from the mouth of wild boars, and many other things — though they are far from being beautiful if a man should examine them in isolation, still, because they are consequent upon the things which are formed by nature, they help to adorn them, and they please the mind. If a man should have a feeling and deeper insight with respect to the things which are produced in the universe, there is hardly one of those which follow by way of consequence which will not seem to him to be in a manner disposed so as to give pleasure. And so he will see even the real gaping jaws of wild beasts with no less pleasure than those which painters and sculptors show by imitation. In an old woman and an old man he will be able to see a certain maturity and comeliness. The attractive loveliness of young persons he will be able to look on with chaste eyes. And many such things will present themselves, not pleasing to every man, but to him only who has become truly familiar with Nature and her works.
Hippocrates, after curing many diseases, himself fell sick and died. The Chaldaei foretold the deaths of many, and then fate caught them too. Alexander and Pompeius and Caius Caesar, after so often completely destroying whole cities, and in battle cutting to pieces many ten thousands of cavalry and infantry, themselves too at last departed from life. Heraclitus, after so many speculations on the conflagration of the universe, was filled with water internally and died smeared all over with mud. Lice destroyed Democritus, and other lice killed Socrates. What means all this? You have embarked, you have made the voyage, you have come to shore; now get out. If indeed to another life, there is no want of gods, not even there. But if to a state without sensation, you will cease to be held by pains and by pleasures, and cease to be a slave to the vessel, which is as much inferior as that which serves it is superior. For the one is intelligence and deity, the other is earth and corruption.
Do not waste the remainder of your life in thoughts about others, when you do not refer your thoughts to some object of common utility. For you loose the opportunity of doing something else when you have such thoughts as these: ‘what is such a person doing, and why, and what is he saying, and what is he thinking of, and what is he contriving’ … and whatever else of the kind makes us wander away from the observation of our own ruling power. We ought then to check in the series of our thoughts everything that is without a purpose and useless, but most of all the over-curious feeling and the malignant. A man should use himself to think of those things only about which if one should suddenly ask, ‘what have you now in your thoughts?’ with perfect openness you might immediately answer ‘This or That,’ so that from your words it should be plain that everything in you is simple and benevolent, and such as befits a social animal, and one that cares not for thoughts about pleasure or sensual enjoyments at all, nor has any rivalry or envy and suspicion, or anything else for which you would blush if you should say that you had it in your mind. For the man who is such, and no longer delays being among the best, is like a priest and minister of the gods, using the [deity] which is planted within him, which makes the man uncontaminated by pleasure, unharmed by any pain, untouched by any insult, feeling no wrong, a fighter in the noblest fight, one who cannot be overpowered by any passion, dyed deep with justice, accepting with all his soul everything which happens and is assigned to him as his portion, not often nor yet without great necessity and for the general interest imagining what another says, or does, or thinks. It is only what belongs to himself that he makes the matter for his activity. He constantly thinks of that which is allotted to himself out of the sum total of things, and he makes his own acts fair, and he is persuaded that his own portion is good. The lot which is assigned to each man is carried along with him and carries him along with it. He remembers that every rational animal is his kinsman, and that to care for all men is according to man’s nature. A man should hold on to the opinion not of all, but of those only who confessedly live according to Nature. But as to those who live not so, he always bears in mind what kind of men they are both at home and from home, both by night and by day, and what they are, and with what men they live an impure life. Accordingly, he does not value at all the praise which comes from such men, since they are not even satisfied with themselves.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.