By Marcus Aurelius
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By Marcus Aurelius
Written 167 A.C.E.
Translated by George Long
That which rules within, when it is according to nature, is so affected
with respect to the events which happen, that it always easily adapts itself
to that which is and is presented to it. For it requires no definite material,
but it moves towards its purpose, under certain conditions however; and
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:
but when the 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
Let no act be done without a purpose, nor otherwise than according
to the perfect principles of art.
Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores,
and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But
this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in
thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere
either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than
into his own soul, particularly when he has within him such thoughts that
by looking into them he is immediately in perfect tranquility; and I affirm
that tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly
then give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself; and let thy principles
be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt recur to them, will
be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely, and to send thee back free
from all discontent with the things to which thou returnest. For with what
art thou discontented? With the badness of men? Recall to thy 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; and consider
how many already, after mutual enmity, suspicion, hatred, and fighting,
have been stretched dead, reduced to ashes; and be quiet at last.- But
perhaps thou art dissatisfied with that which is assigned to thee out of
the universe.- Recall to thy recollection this alternative; either there
is providence or atoms, fortuitous concurrence of things; or remember the
arguments by which it has been proved that the world is a kind of political
community, and be quiet at last.- But perhaps corporeal things will still
fasten upon thee.- Consider then further that the mind mingles not with
the breath, whether moving gently or violently, when it has once drawn
itself apart and discovered its own power, and think also of all that thou
hast heard and assented to about pain and pleasure, and be quiet at last.-
But perhaps the desire of the thing called fame will torment thee.- 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 judgement 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 a point, and how small a nook in it is this thy dwelling,
and how few are there in it, and what kind of people are they who will
This then remains: Remember to retire into this little territory
of thy own, and above all do not distract or strain thyself, but be free,
and look at things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen, as a mortal.
But among the things readiest to thy hand to which thou shalt turn, let
there be these, which are two. One is that things do not touch the soul,
for they are external and remain immovable; but our perturbations come
only from the opinion which is within. The other is that all these things,
which thou seest, change immediately and will no longer be; and constantly
bear in mind how many of these changes thou hast already witnessed. The
universe is transformation: life is opinion.
If our intellectual part is common, the 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 a state. For of what other common political community
will any one say that the whole human race are members? And from thence,
from this common political community comes also our very intellectual faculty
and reasoning faculty and our capacity for law; or whence do they come?
For as my earthly part is a portion given to me from certain earth, and
that which is watery from another element, and that which is hot and fiery
from some peculiar source (for nothing comes out of that which is nothing,
as nothing also returns to non-existence), so also the intellectual part
comes from some source.
Death is such as generation is, a mystery of nature; a composition
out of the same elements, and a decomposition into the same; and altogether
not a thing of which any man should be ashamed, for it is not contrary
to the nature of a reasonable animal, and not contrary to the reason of
It is natural that these things should be done by such persons,
it is a matter of necessity; and if a man will not have it so, he will
not allow the fig-tree to have juice. But by all means bear this in mind,
that within a very short time both thou and he will be dead; and soon not
even your names will be left behind.
Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint,
"I have been harmed." Take away the complaint, "I have been harmed," and
the harm is taken away.
That which does not make a man worse than he was, also does not
make his life worse, nor does it harm him either from without or from
The nature of that which is universally useful has been compelled
to do this.
Consider that everything which happens, happens justly, and if
thou observest carefully, thou wilt find it to be so. I do not say only
with respect to the continuity of the series of things, but with respect
to what is just, and as if it were done by one who assigns to each thing
its value. Observe then as thou hast begun; and whatever thou doest, do
it in conjunction with this, the being good, and in the sense in which
a man is properly understood to be good. Keep to this in every
Do not have such an opinion of things as he has who does thee wrong,
or such as he wishes thee to have, but look at them as they are in
A man should always have these two rules in readiness; the one,
to do only whatever the reason of the ruling and legislating faculty may
suggest for the use of men; the other, to change thy opinion, if there
is any one at hand who sets thee right and moves thee from any opinion.
But this change of opinion must proceed only from a certain persuasion,
as of what is just or of common advantage, and the like, not because it
appears pleasant or brings reputation.
Hast thou reason? I have.- Why then dost not thou use it? For if
this does its own work, what else dost thou wish?
Thou hast existed as a part. Thou shalt disappear in that which
produced thee; but rather thou shalt be received back into its seminal
principle by transmutation.
Many grains of frankincense on the same altar: one falls before,
another falls after; but it makes no difference.
Within ten days thou wilt seem a god to those to whom thou art
now a beast and an ape, if thou wilt return to thy principles and the worship
Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death
hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be
How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his neighbour
says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself, that it may be
just and pure; or as Agathon says, look not round at the depraved morals
of others, but run straight along the line without deviating from
He who has a vehement desire for posthumous fame does not consider
that every one of those who remember him will himself also die very soon;
then again also they who have succeeded them, until the whole remembrance
shall have been extinguished as it is transmitted through men who foolishly
admire and perish. But suppose that those who will remember are even immortal,
and that the remembrance will be immortal, what then is this to thee? And
I say not what is it to the dead, but what is it to the living? What is
praise except indeed so far as it has a certain utility? For thou now rejectest
unseasonably the gift of nature, clinging to something
Everything which is in any way beautiful is beautiful in itself,
and terminates in itself, not having praise as part of itself. Neither
worse then nor better is a thing made by being praised. I affirm this also
of the things which are called beautiful by the vulgar, for example, material
things and works of art. That which is really beautiful has no need of
anything; not more than law, not more than truth, not more than benevolence
or modesty. Which of these things is beautiful because it is praised, or
spoiled by being blamed? Is such a thing as an emerald made worse than
it was, if it is not praised? Or gold, ivory, purple, a lyre, a little
knife, a flower, a shrub?
If souls continue to exist, how does the air contain them from
eternity?- But how does the earth contain the bodies of those who have
been buried from time so remote? For as here the mutation of these bodies
after a certain continuance, whatever it may be, and their dissolution
make room for other dead bodies; so the souls which are removed into the
air after subsisting for some time are transmuted and diffused, and assume
a fiery nature by being received into the seminal intelligence of the universe,
and in this way make room for the fresh souls which come to dwell there.
And this is the answer which a man might give on the hypothesis of souls
continuing to exist. But we must not only think of the number of bodies
which are thus buried, but also of the number of animals which are daily
eaten by us and the other animals. For what a number is consumed, and thus
in a manner buried in the bodies of those who feed on them! And nevertheless
this earth receives them by reason of the changes of these bodies into
blood, and the transformations into the aerial or the fiery
What is the investigation into the truth in this matter? The division
into that which is material and that which is the cause of form, the
Do not be whirled about, but in every movement have respect to
justice, and on the occasion of every impression maintain the faculty of
comprehension or understanding.
Everything harmonizes with me, which is harmonious to thee, O Universe.
Nothing for me is too early nor too late, which is in due time for thee.
Everything is fruit to me which thy seasons bring, O Nature: from thee
are all things, in thee are all things, to thee all things return. The
poet says, Dear city of Cecrops; and wilt not thou say, Dear city of
Occupy thyself with few things, says the philosopher, if thou wouldst
be tranquil.- But consider if it would not be better to say, Do what is
necessary, and whatever the reason of the animal which is naturally social
requires, and as it requires. For this brings not only the tranquility
which comes from doing well, but also that which comes from doing few things.
For the greatest part of what we say and do being unnecessary, if a man
takes this away, he will have more leisure and less uneasiness. Accordingly
on every occasion a man should ask himself, Is this one of the unnecessary
things? Now a man should take away not only unnecessary acts, but also,
unnecessary thoughts, for thus superfluous acts will not follow
Try how the life of the good man suits thee, the life of him who
is satisfied with his portion out of the whole, and satisfied with his
own just acts and benevolent disposition.
Hast thou seen those things? Look also at these. Do not disturb
thyself. Make thyself all simplicity. Does any one do wrong? It is to himself
that he does the wrong. Has anything happened to thee? Well; out of the
universe from the beginning everything which happens has been apportioned
and spun out to thee. In a word, thy life is short. Thou must turn to profit
the present by the aid of reason and justice. Be sober in thy
Either it is a well-arranged universe or a chaos huddled together,
but still a universe. But can a certain order subsist in thee, and disorder
in the All? And this too when all things are so separated and diffused
A black character, a womanish character, a stubborn character,
bestial, childish, animal, stupid, counterfeit, scurrilous, fraudulent,
If he is a stranger to the universe who does not know what is in
it, no less is he a stranger who does not know what is going on in it.
He is a runaway, who flies from social reason; he is blind, who shuts the
eyes of the understanding; he is poor, who has need of another, and has
not from himself all things which are useful for life. He is an abscess
on the universe who withdraws and separates himself from the reason of
our common nature through being displeased with the things which happen,
for the same nature produces this, and has produced thee too: he is a piece
rent asunder from the state, who tears his own soul from that of reasonable
animals, which is one.
The one is a philosopher without a tunic, and the other without
a book: here is another half naked: Bread I have not, he says, and I abide
by reason.- And I do not get the means of living out of my learning, and
I abide by my reason.
Love the art, poor as it may be, which thou hast learned, and be
content with it; and pass through the rest of life like one who has intrusted
to the gods with his whole soul all that he has, making thyself neither
the tyrant nor the slave of any man.
Consider, for example, the times of Vespasian. Thou wilt see all
these things, people marrying, bringing up children, sick, dying, warring,
feasting, trafficking, cultivating the ground, flattering, obstinately
arrogant, suspecting, plotting, wishing for some to die, grumbling about
the present, loving, heaping up treasure, desiring counsulship, kingly
power. Well then, that life of these people no longer exists at all. Again,
remove to the times of Trajan. Again, all is the same. Their life too is
gone. In like manner view also the other epochs of time and of whole nations,
and see how many after great efforts soon fell and were resolved into the
elements. But chiefly thou shouldst think of those whom thou hast thyself
known distracting themselves about idle things, neglecting to do what was
in accordance with their proper constitution, and to hold firmly to this
and to be content with it. And herein it is necessary to remember that
the attention given to everything has its proper value and proportion.
For thus thou wilt not be dissatisfied, if thou appliest thyself to smaller
matters no further than is fit.
The words which were formerly familiar are now antiquated: so also
the names of those who were famed of old, are now in a manner antiquated,
Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Leonnatus, and a little after also Scipio and
Cato, then Augustus, then also Hadrian and Antoninus. For all things soon
pass away and become a mere tale, and complete oblivion soon buries them.
And I say this of those who have shone in a wondrous way. For the rest,
as soon as they have breathed out their breath, they are gone, and no man
speaks of them. And, to conclude the matter, what is even an eternal remembrance?
A mere nothing. What then is that about which we ought to employ our serious
pains? This one thing, thoughts just, and acts social, and words which
never lie, and a disposition which gladly accepts all that happens, as
necessary, as usual, as flowing from a principle and source of the same
Willingly give thyself up to Clotho, one of the Fates, allowing
her to spin thy thread into whatever things she pleases.
Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that
which is remembered.
Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom
thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much
as to change the things which are and to make new things like them. For
everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be. But
thou art thinking only of seeds which are cast into the earth or into a
womb: but this is a very vulgar notion.
Thou wilt soon die, and thou art not yet simple, not free from
perturbations, nor without suspicion of being hurt by external things,
nor kindly disposed towards all; nor dost thou yet place wisdom only in
Examine men's ruling principles, even those of the wise, what kind
of things they avoid, and what kind they pursue.
What is evil to thee does not subsist in the ruling principle of
another; nor yet in any turning and mutation of thy corporeal covering.
Where is it then? It is in that part of thee in which subsists the power
of forming opinions about evils. Let this power then not form such opinions,
and all is well. And if that which is nearest to it, the poor body, is
burnt, filled with matter and rottenness, nevertheless let the part which
forms opinions about these things be quiet, that is, let it judge that
nothing is either bad or good which can happen equally to the bad man and
the good. For that which happens equally to him who lives contrary to nature
and to him who lives according to nature, is neither according to nature
nor contrary to nature.
Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one
substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one
perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things
act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of
all things which exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread
and the contexture of the web.
Thou art a little soul bearing about a corpse, as Epictetus used
It is no evil for things to undergo change, and no good for things
to subsist in consequence of change.
Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a
violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away,
and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away
Everything which happens is as familiar and well known as the rose
in spring and the fruit in summer; for such is disease, and death, and
calumny, and treachery, and whatever else delights fools or vexes
In the series of things those which follow are always aptly fitted
to those which have gone before; for this series is not like a mere enumeration
of disjointed things, which has only a necessary sequence, but it is a
rational connection: and as all existing things are arranged together harmoniously,
so the things which come into existence exhibit no mere succession, but
a certain wonderful relationship.
Always remember the saying of Heraclitus, that the death of earth
is to become water, and the death of water is to become air, and the death
of air is to become fire, and reversely. And think too of him who forgets
whither the way leads, and that men quarrel with that with which they are
most constantly in communion, the reason which governs the universe; and
the things which daily meet with seem to them strange: and consider that
we ought not to act and speak as if we were asleep, for even in sleep we
seem to act and speak; and that we ought not, like children who learn from
their parents, simply to act and speak as we have been
If any god told thee that thou shalt die to-morrow, or certainly
on the day after to-morrow, thou wouldst not care much whether it was on
the third day or on the morrow, unless thou wast in the highest degree
mean-spirited- for how small is the difference?- So think it no great thing
to die after as many years as thou canst name rather than
Think continually how many physicians are dead after often contracting
their eyebrows over the sick; and how many astrologers after predicting
with great pretensions the deaths of others; and how many philosophers
after endless discourses on death or immortality; how many heroes after
killing thousands; and how many tyrants who have used their power over
men's lives with terrible insolence as if they were immortal; and how many
cities are entirely dead, so to speak, Helice and Pompeii and Herculaneum,
and others innumerable. Add to the reckoning all whom thou hast known,
one after another. One man after burying another has been laid out dead,
and another buries him: and all this in a short time. To conclude, always
observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday
a little mucus to-morrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this
little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content,
just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced
it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.
Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break,
but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around
Unhappy am I because this has happened to me.- Not so, but happy
am I, though this has happened to me, because I continue free from pain,
neither crushed by the present nor fearing the future. For such a thing
as this might have happened to every man; but every man would not have
continued free from pain on such an occasion. Why then is that rather a
misfortune than this a good fortune? And dost thou in all cases call that
a man's misfortune, which is not a deviation from man's nature? And does
a thing seem to thee to be a deviation from man's nature, when it is not
contrary to the will of man's nature? Well, thou knowest the will of nature.
Will then this which has happened prevent thee from being just, magnanimous,
temperate, prudent, secure against inconsiderate opinions and falsehood;
will it prevent thee from having modesty, freedom, and everything else,
by the presence of which man's nature obtains all that is its own? Remember
too on every occasion which leads thee to vexation to apply this principle:
not that this is a misfortune, but that to bear it nobly is good
It is a vulgar, but still a useful help towards contempt of death,
to pass in review those who have tenaciously stuck to life. What more then
have they gained than those who have died early? Certainly they lie in
their tombs somewhere at last, Cadicianus, Fabius, Julianus, Lepidus, or
any one else like them, who have carried out many to be buried, and then
were carried out themselves. Altogether the interval is small between birth
and death; and consider with how much trouble, and in company with what
sort of people and in what a feeble body this interval is laboriously passed.
Do not then consider life a thing of any value. For look to the immensity
of time behind thee, and to the time which is before thee, another boundless
space. In this infinity then what is the difference between him who lives
three days and him who lives three generations?
Always run to the short way; and the short way is the natural:
accordingly say and do everything in conformity with the soundest reason.
For such a purpose frees a man from trouble, and warfare, and all artifice
and ostentatious display.