By Marcus Aurelius
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By Marcus Aurelius
Written 167 A.C.E.
Translated by George Long
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- for the fruits of plants and that in animals which corresponds
to fruits others enjoy- it obtains its 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 wherever 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 neighbour, and truth and modesty,
and to value nothing more more than itself, which is also the property
of Law. Thus then right reason differs not at all from the reason of
Thou wilt set little value on pleasing song and dancing and the
pancratium, if thou wilt distribute the melody of the voice into its several
sounds, and ask thyself as to each, if thou art mastered by this; for thou
wilt be prevented by shame from confessing it: and in the matter of dancing,
if at each movement and attitude thou wilt do the same; and the like also
in the matter of the pancratium. In all things, then, except virtue and
the acts of virtue, remember to apply thyself to their several parts, and
by this division to come to value them little: and apply this rule also
to thy whole life.
What a soul that is which is ready, if at any moment it must be
separated from the body, and ready either to be extinguished or dispersed
or continue to exist; but so that this readiness comes from a man's own
judgement, not from mere obstinacy, as with the Christians, but considerately
and with dignity and in a way to persuade another, without tragic
Have I done something for the general interest? Well then I have
had my reward. Let this always be present to thy mind, and never stop doing
What is thy art? To be good. And how is this accomplished well
except 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
Me and my children if the gods neglect,
This has its reason too. And again-
We must not chale 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; and for this purpose too 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
sunk 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 philosophising as this in which thou now happenest
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. Now as to a
branch, another cuts it off, but a man by his own act separates himself
from his neighbour when he hates him and turns away from him, and 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 be
to come a part which helps to make up the whole. However, if it often happens,
this kind of separation, it makes it difficult for that which detaches
itself to be brought to unity and to be restored to its former condition.
Finally, 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 ingrafted, 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.
As those who try to stand in thy way when thou art proceeding according
to right reason, will not be able to turn thee aside from thy proper action,
so neither let them drive thee from thy benevolent feelings towards them,
but be on thy guard equally in both matters, not only in the matter of
steady judgement and action, but also in the matter of gentleness towards
those who try to hinder or otherwise trouble thee. For this also is a weakness,
to be vexed at them, as well as to be diverted from thy course of action
and to give way through fear; for both are equally deserters from their
post, the man who does it through fear, and the man who is alienated from
him who is by nature a kinsman and a friend.
There is no nature which is inferior to art, for the arts imitate
the nature of things. But if this is so, that nature which is the most
perfect and the most comprehensive of all natures, cannot fall short of
the skill of art. Now all arts do the inferior things for the sake of the
superior; therefore the universal nature does so too. And, indeed, hence
is the origin of justice, and in justice the other virtues have their foundation:
for justice will not be observed, if we either care for middle things (things
indifferent), or are easily deceived and careless and
If the things do not come to thee, the pursuits and avoidances
of which disturb thee, still in a manner thou goest to them. Let then thy
judgement about them be at rest, and they will remain quiet, and thou wilt
not be seen either pursuing or avoiding.
The spherical form of the soul maintains its figure, when it is
neither extended towards any object, nor contracted inwards, nor dispersed
nor sinks down, but is illuminated by light, by which it sees the truth,
the truth of all things and the truth that is in itself.
Suppose any man shall despise me. Let him look to that himself.
But I will look to this, that I be not discovered doing or saying anything
deserving of contempt. Shall any man hate me? Let him look to it. But I
will be mild and benevolent towards every man, and ready to show even him
his mistake, not reproachfully, nor yet as making a display of my endurance,
but nobly and honestly, like the great Phocion, unless indeed he only assumed
it. For the interior parts ought to be such, and a man ought to be seen
by the gods neither dissatisfied with anything nor complaining. For what
evil is it to thee, if thou art now doing what is agreeable to thy own
nature, and art satisfied with that which at this moment is suitable to
the nature of the universe, since thou art a human being placed at thy
post in order that what is for the common advantage may be done in some
Men despise one another and flatter one another; and men wish to
raise themselves above one another, and crouch before one
How unsound and insincere is he who says, I have determined to
deal with thee in a fair way.- What art thou doing, man? There is no occasion
to give this notice. It will soon show itself by acts. The voice ought
to be plainly written on the forehead. Such as a man's character is, he
immediately shows it in his eyes, just as he who is beloved forthwith reads
everything in the eyes of lovers. The man who is honest and good ought
to be exactly like a man who smells strong, so that the bystander as soon
as he comes near him must smell whether he choose or not. But the affectation
of simplicity is like a crooked stick. Nothing is more disgraceful than
a wolfish friendship (false friendship). Avoid this most of all. The good
and simple and benevolent show all these things in the eyes, and there
is no mistaking.
As to living in the best way, this power is in the soul, if it
be indifferent to things which are indifferent. And it will be indifferent,
if it looks on each of these things separately and all together, and if
it remembers that not one of them produces in us an opinion about itself,
nor comes to us; but these things remain immovable, and it is we ourselves
who produce the judgements about them, and, as we may say, write them in
ourselves, it being in our power not to write them, and it being in our
power, if perchance these judgements have imperceptibly got admission to
our minds, to wipe them out; and if we remember also that such attention
will only be for a short time, and then life will be at an end. Besides,
what trouble is there at all in doing this? For if these things are according
to nature, rejoice in them, and they will be easy to thee: but if contrary
to nature, seek what is conformable to thy own nature, and strive towards
this, even if it bring no reputation; for every man is allowed to seek
his own good.
Consider whence each thing is come, and of what it consists, and
into what it changes, and what kind of a thing it will be when it has changed,
and that it will sustain no harm.
If any have offended against thee, consider first: What is my relation
to men, and that we are made for one another; and in another respect, I
was made to be set over them, as a ram over the flock or a bull over the
herd. But examine the matter from first principles, from this: If all things
are not mere atoms, it is nature which orders all things: if this is so,
the inferior things exist for the sake of the superior, and these for the
sake of one another.
Second, consider what kind of men they are at table, in bed, and
so forth: and particularly, under what compulsions in respect of opinions
they are; and as to their acts, consider with what pride they do what they
Third, that if men do rightly what they do, we ought not to be
displeased; but if they do not right, it is plain that they do so involuntarily
and in ignorance. For as every soul is unwillingly deprived of the truth,
so also is it unwillingly deprived of the power of behaving to each man
according to his deserts. Accordingly men are pained when they are called
unjust, ungrateful, and greedy, and in a word wrong-doers to their
Fourth, consider that thou also doest many things wrong, and that
thou art a man like others; and even if thou dost abstain from certain
faults, still thou hast the disposition to commit them, though either through
cowardice, or concern about reputation, or some such mean motive, thou
dost abstain from such faults.
Fifth, consider that thou dost not even understand whether men
are doing wrong or not, for many things are done with a certain reference
to circumstances. And in short, a man must learn a great deal to enable
him to pass a correct judgement on another man's acts.
Sixth, consider when thou art much vexed or grieved, that man's
life is only a moment, and after a short time we are all laid out
Seventh, that it is not men's acts which disturb us, for those
acts have their foundation in men's ruling principles, but it is our own
opinions which disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to
dismiss thy judgement about an act as if it were something grievous, and
thy anger is gone. How then shall I take away these opinions? By reflecting
that no wrongful act of another brings shame on thee: for unless that which
is shameful is alone bad, thou also must of necessity do many things wrong,
and become a robber and everything else.
Eighth, consider how much more pain is brought on us by the anger
and vexation caused by such acts than by the acts themselves, at which
we are angry and vexed.
Ninth, consider that a good disposition is invincible, if it be
genuine, and not an affected smile and acting a part. For what will the
most violent man do to thee, if thou continuest to be of a kind disposition
towards him, and if, as opportunity offers, thou gently admonishest him
and calmly correctest his errors at the very time when he is trying to
do thee harm, saying, Not so, my child: we are constituted by nature for
something else: I shall certainly not be injured, but thou art injuring
thyself, my child.- And show him with gentle tact and by general principles
that this is so, and that even bees do not do as he does, nor any animals
which are formed by nature to be gregarious. And thou must do this neither
with any double meaning nor in the way of reproach, but affectionately
and without any rancour in thy soul; and not as if thou wert lecturing
him, nor yet that any bystander may admire, but either when he is alone,
and if others are present...
Remember these nine rules, as if thou hadst received them as a
gift from the Muses, and begin at last to be a man while thou livest. But
thou must equally avoid flattering men and being veied at them, for both
are unsocial and lead to harm. And let this truth be present to thee in
the excitement of anger, that to be moved by passion is not manly, but
that mildness and gentleness, as they are more agreeable to human nature,
so also are they more manly; and he who possesses these qualities possesses
strength, nerves and courage, and not the man who is subject to fits of
passion and discontent. For in the same degree in which a man's mind is
nearer to freedom from all passion, in the same degree also is it nearer
to strength: and as the sense of pain is a characteristic of weakness,
so also is anger. For he who yields to pain and he who yields to anger,
both are wounded and both submit.
But if thou wilt, receive also a tenth present from the leader
of the Muses (Apollo), and it is this- that to expect bad men not to do
wrong is madness, for he who expects this desires an impossibility. But
to allow men to behave so to others, and to expect them not to do thee
any wrong, is irrational and tyrannical.
There are four principal aberrations of the superior faculty against
which thou shouldst be constantly on thy guard, and when thou hast detected
them, thou shouldst wipe them out and say on each occasion thus: this thought
is not necessary: this tends to destroy social union: this which thou art
going to say comes not from the real thoughts; for thou shouldst consider
it among the most absurd of things for a man not to speak from his real
thoughts. But the fourth is when thou shalt reproach thyself for anything,
for this is an evidence of the diviner part within thee being overpowered
and yielding to the less honourable and to the perishable part, the body,
and to its gross pleasures.
Thy aerial part and all the fiery parts which are mingled in thee,
though by nature they have an upward tendency, still in obedience to the
disposition of the universe they are overpowered here in the compound mass
(the body). And also the whole of the earthy part in thee and the watery,
though their tendency is downward, still are raised up and occupy a position
which is not their natural one. In this manner then the elemental parts
obey the universal, for when they have been fixed in any place perforce
they remain there until again the universal shall sound the signal for
dissolution. Is it not then strange that thy intelligent part only should
be disobedient and discontented with its own place? And yet no force is
imposed on it, but only those things which are conformable to its nature:
still it does not submit, but is carried in the opposite direction. For
the movement towards injustice and intemperance and to anger and grief
and fear is nothing else than the act of one who deviates from nature.
And also when the ruling faculty is discontented with anything that happens,
then too it deserts its post: for it is constituted for piety and reverence
towards the gods no less than for justice. For these qualities also are
comprehended under the generic term of contentment with the constitution
of things, and indeed they are prior to acts of justice.
He who has not one and always the same object in life, cannot be
one and the same all through his life. But what I have said is not enough,
unless this also is added, what this object ought to be. For as there is
not the same opinion about all the things which in some way or other are
considered by the majority to be good, but only about some certain things,
that is, things which concern the common interest; so also ought we to
propose to ourselves an object which shall be of a common kind (social)
and political. For he who directs all his own efforts to this object, will
make all his acts alike, and thus will always be the
Think of the country mouse and of the town mouse, and of the alarm
and trepidation of the town mouse.
Socrates used to call the opinions of the many by the name of Lamiae,
bugbears to frighten children.
The Lacedaemonians at their public spectacles used to set seats
in the shade for strangers, but themselves sat down
Socrates excused himself to Perdiccas for not going to him, saying,
It is because I would not perish by the worst of all ends, that is, I would
not receive a favour and then be unable to return it.
In the writings of the Ephesians there was this precept, constantly
to think of some one of the men of former times who practised
The Pythagoreans bid us in the morning look to the heavens that
we may be reminded of those bodies which continually do the same things
and in the same manner perform their work, and also be reminded of their
purity and nudity. For there is no veil over a star.
Consider what a man Socrates was when he dressed himself in a skin,
after Xanthippe had taken his cloak and gone out, and what Socrates said
to his friends who were ashamed of him and drew back from him when they
saw him dressed thus.
Neither in writing nor in reading wilt thou be able to lay down
rules for others before thou shalt have first learned to obey rules thyself.
Much more is this so in life.
A slave thou art: free speech is not for thee.
And my heart laughed within.
And virtue they will curse, speaking harsh words.
To look for the fig in winter is a madman's act: such is he who looks
for his child when it is no longer allowed.
When a man kisses his child, said Epictetus, he should whisper
to himself, "To-morrow perchance thou wilt die."- But those are words of
bad omen.- "No word is a word of bad omen," said Epictetus, "which expresses
any work of nature; or if it is so, it is also a word of bad omen to speak
of the ears of corn being reaped."
The unripe grape, the ripe bunch, the dried grape, all are changes,
not into nothing, but into something which exists not
No man can rob us of our free will.
Epictetus also said, A man must discover an art (or rules) with respect
to giving his assent; and in respect to his movements he must be careful
that they be made with regard to circumstances, that they be consistent
with social interests, that they have regard to the value of the object;
and as to sensual desire, he should altogether keep away from it; and as
to avoidance (aversion) he should not show it with respect to any of the
things which are not in our power.
The dispute then, he said, is not about any common matter, but
about being mad or not.
Socrates used to say, What do you want? Souls of rational men or
irrational?- Souls of rational men.- Of what rational men? Sound or unsound?-
Sound.- Why then do you not seek for them?- Because we have them.- Why
then do you fight and quarrel?