By Marcus Aurelius
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By Marcus Aurelius
Written 167 A.C.E.
Translated by George Long
He ho acts unjustly acts impiously. For since the universal nature has
made rational animals for the sake of one another to help one another according
to their deserts, but in no way to injure one another, he who transgresses
her will, is clearly guilty of impiety towards the highest divinity. And
he too who lies is guilty of impiety to the same divinity; for the universal
nature is the nature of things that are; and things that are have a relation
to all things that come into existence. And further, this universal nature
is named truth, and is the prime cause of all things that are true. He
then who lies intentionally is guilty of impiety inasmuch as he acts unjustly
by deceiving; and he also who lies unintentionally, inasmuch as he is at
variance with the universal nature, and inasmuch as he disturbs the order
by fighting against the nature of the world; for he fights against it,
who is moved of himself to that which is contrary to truth, for he had
received powers from nature through the neglect of which he is not able
now to distinguish falsehood from truth. And indeed he who pursues pleasure
as good, and avoids pain as evil, is guilty of impiety. For of necessity
such a man must often find fault with the universal nature, alleging that
it assigns things to the bad and the good contrary to their deserts, because
frequently the bad are in the enjoyment of pleasure and possess the things
which procure pleasure, but the good have pain for their share and the
things which cause pain. And further, he who is afraid of pain will sometimes
also be afraid of some of the things which will happen in the world, and
even this is impiety. And he who pursues pleasure will not abstain from
injustice, and this is plainly impiety. Now with respect to the things
towards which the universal nature is equally affected- for it would not
have made both, unless it was equally affected towards both- towards these
they who wish to follow nature should be of the same mind with it, and
equally affected. With respect to pain, then, and pleasure, or death and
life, or honour and dishonour, which the universal nature employs equally,
whoever is not equally affected is manifestly acting impiously. And I say
that the universal nature employs them equally, instead of saying that
they happen alike to those who are produced in continuous series and to
those who come after them by virtue of a certain original movement of Providence,
according to which it moved from a certain beginning to this ordering of
things, having conceived certain principles of the things which were to
be, and having determined powers productive of beings and of changes and
of such like successions.
It would be a man's happiest lot to depart from mankind without
having had any taste of lying and hypocrisy and luxury and pride. However
to breathe out one's life when a man has had enough of these things is
the next best voyage, as the saying is. Hast thou determined to abide with
vice, and has not experience yet induced thee to fly from this pestilence?
For the destruction of the understanding is a pestilence, much more indeed
than any such corruption and change of this atmosphere which surrounds
us. For this corruption is a pestilence of animals so far as they are animals;
but the other is a pestilence of men so far as they are
Do not despise death, but be well content with it, since this too
is one of those things which nature wills. For such as it is to be young
and to grow old, and to increase and to reach maturity, and to have teeth
and beard and grey hairs, and to beget, and to be pregnant and to bring
forth, and all the other natural operations which the seasons of thy life
bring, such also is dissolution. This, then, is consistent with the character
of a reflecting man, to be neither careless nor impatient nor contemptuous
with respect to death, but to wait for it as one of the operations of nature.
As thou now waitest for the time when the child shall come out of thy wife's
womb, so be ready for the time when thy soul shall fall out of this envelope.
But if thou requirest also a vulgar kind of comfort which shall reach thy
heart, thou wilt be made best reconciled to death by observing the objects
from which thou art going to be removed, and the morals of those with whom
thy soul will no longer be mingled. For it is no way right to be offended
with men, but it is thy duty to care for them and to bear with them gently;
and yet to remember that thy departure will be not from men who have the
same principles as thyself. For this is the only thing, if there be any,
which could draw us the contrary way and attach us to life, to be permitted
to live with those who have the same principles as ourselves. But now thou
seest how great is the trouble arising from the discordance of those who
live together, so that thou mayest say, Come quick, O death, lest perchance
I, too, should forget myself.
He who does wrong does wrong against himself. He who acts unjustly
acts unjustly to himself, because he makes himself bad.
He often acts unjustly who does not do a certain thing; not only
he who does a certain thing.
Thy present opinion founded on understanding, and thy present conduct
directed to social good, and thy present disposition of contentment with
everything which happens- that is enough.
Wipe out imagination: check desire: extinguish appetite: keep the
ruling faculty in its own power.
Among the animals which have not reason one life is distributed;
but among reasonable animals one intelligent soul is distributed: just
as there is one earth of all things which are of an earthy nature, and
we see by one light, and breathe one air, all of us that have the faculty
of vision and all that have life.
All things which participate in anything which is common to them
all move towards that which is of the same kind with themselves. Everything
which is earthy turns towards the earth, everything which is liquid flows
together, and everything which is of an aerial kind does the same, so that
they require something to keep them asunder, and the application of force.
Fire indeed moves upwards on account of the elemental fire, but it is so
ready to be kindled together with all the fire which is here, that even
every substance which is somewhat dry, is easily ignited, because there
is less mingled with it of that which is a hindrance to ignition. Accordingly
then everything also which participates in the common intelligent nature
moves in like manner towards that which is of the same kind with itself,
or moves even more. For so much as it is superior in comparison with all
other things, in the same degree also is it more ready to mingle with and
to be fused with that which is akin to it. Accordingly among animals devoid
of reason we find swarms of bees, and herds of cattle, and the nurture
of young birds, and in a manner, loves; for even in animals there are souls,
and that power which brings them together is seen to exert itself in the
superior degree, and in such a way as never has been observed in plants
nor in stones nor in trees. But in rational animals there are political
communities and friendships, and families and meetings of people; and in
wars, treaties and armistices. But in the things which are still superior,
even though they are separated from one another, unity in a manner exists,
as in the stars. Thus the ascent to the higher degree is able to produce
a sympathy even in things which are separated. See, then, what now takes
place. For only intelligent animals have now forgotten this mutual desire
and inclination, and in them alone the property of flowing together is
not seen. But still though men strive to avoid this union, they are caught
and held by it, for their nature is too strong for them; and thou wilt
see what I say, if thou only observest. Sooner, then, will one find anything
earthy which comes in contact with no earthy thing than a man altogether
separated from other men.
Both man and God and the universe produce fruit; at the proper
seasons each produces it. But if usage has especially fixed these terms
to the vine and like things, this is nothing. Reason produces fruit both
for all and for itself, and there are produced from it other things of
the same kind as reason itself.
If thou art able, correct by teaching those who do wrong; but if
thou canst not, remember that indulgence is given to thee for this purpose.
And the gods, too, are indulgent to such persons; and for some purposes
they even help them to get health, wealth, reputation; so kind they are.
And it is in thy power also; or say, who hinders thee?
Labour not as one who is wretched, nor yet as one who would be
pitied or admired: but direct thy will to one thing only, to put thyself
in motion and to check thyself, as the social reason
To-day I have got out of all trouble, or rather I have cast out
all trouble, for it was not outside, but within and in my
All things are the same, familiar in experience, and ephemeral
in time, and worthless in the matter. Everything now is just as it was
in the time of those whom we have buried.
Things stand outside of us, themselves by themselves, neither knowing
aught of themselves, nor expressing any judgement. What is it, then, which
does judge about them? The ruling faculty.
Not in passivity, but in activity lie the evil and the good of
the rational social animal, just as his virtue and his vice lie not in
passivity, but in activity.
For the stone which has been thrown up it is no evil to come down,
nor indeed any good to have been carried up.
Penetrate inwards into men's leading principles, and thou wilt
see what judges thou art afraid of, and what kind of judges they are of
All things are changing: and thou thyself art in continuous mutation
and in a manner in continuous destruction, and the whole universe
It is thy duty to leave another man's wrongful act there where
Termination of activity, cessation from movement and opinion, and
in a sense their death, is no evil. Turn thy thoughts now to the consideration
of thy life, thy life as a child, as a youth, thy manhood, thy old age,
for in these also every change was a death. Is this anything to fear? Turn
thy thoughts now to thy life under thy grandfather, then to thy life under
thy mother, then to thy life under thy father; and as thou findest many
other differences and changes and terminations, ask thyself, Is this anything
to fear? In like manner, then, neither are the termination and cessation
and change of thy whole life a thing to be afraid of.
Hasten to examine thy own ruling faculty and that of the universe
and that of thy neighbour: thy own that thou mayest make it just: and that
of the universe, that thou mayest remember of what thou art a part; and
that of thy neighbour, that thou mayest know whether he has acted ignorantly
or with knowledge, and that thou mayest also consider that his ruling faculty
is akin to thine.
As thou thyself art a component part of a social system, so let
every act of thine be a component part of social life. Whatever act of
thine then has no reference either immediately or remotely to a social
end, this tears asunder thy life, and does not allow it to be one, and
it is of the nature of a mutiny, just as when in a popular assembly a man
acting by himself stands apart from the general agreement.
Quarrels of little children and their sports, and poor spirits
carrying about dead bodies, such is everything; and so what is exhibited
in the representation of the mansions of the dead strikes our eyes more
Examine into the quality of the form of an object, and detach it
altogether from its material part, and then contemplate it; then determine
the time, the longest which a thing of this peculiar form is naturally
made to endure.
Thou hast endured infinite troubles through not being contented
with thy ruling faculty, when it does the things which it is constituted
by nature to do. But enough of this.
When another blames thee or hates thee, or when men say about thee
anything injurious, approach their poor souls, penetrate within, and see
what kind of men they are. Thou wilt discover that there is no reason to
take any trouble that these men may have this or that opinion about thee.
However thou must be well disposed towards them, for by nature they are
friends. And the gods too aid them in all ways, by dreams, by signs, towards
the attainment of those things on which they set a value.
The periodic movements of the universe are the same, up and down
from age to age. And either the universal intelligence puts itself in motion
for every separate effect, and if this is so, be thou content with that
which is the result of its activity; or it puts itself in motion once,
and everything else comes by way of sequence in a manner; or indivisible
elements are the origin of all things.- In a word, if there is a god, all
is well; and if chance rules, do not thou also be governed by
Soon will the earth cover us all: then the earth, too, will change,
and the things also which result from change will continue to change for
ever, and these again for ever. For if a man reflects on the changes and
transformations which follow one another like wave after wave and their
rapidity, he will despise everything which is perishable.
The universal cause is like a winter torrent: it carries everything
along with it. But how worthless are all these poor people who are engaged
in matters political, and, as they suppose, are playing the philosopher!
All drivellers. Well then, man: do what nature now requires. Set thyself
in motion, if it is in thy power, and do not look about thee to see if
any one will observe it; nor yet expect Plato's Republic: but be content
if the smallest thing goes on well, and consider such an event to be no
small matter. For who can change men's opinions? And without a change of
opinions what else is there than the slavery of men who groan while they
pretend to obey? Come now and tell me of Alexander and Philip and Demetrius
of Phalerum. They themselves shall judge whether they discovered what the
common nature required, and trained themselves accordingly. But if they
acted like tragedy heroes, no one has condemned me to imitate them. Simple
and modest is the work of philosophy. Draw me not aside to indolence and
Look down from above on the countless herds of men and their countless
solemnities, and the infinitely varied voyagings in storms and calms, and
the differences among those who are born, who live together, and die. And
consider, too, the life lived by others in olden time, and the life of
those who will live after thee, and the life now lived among barbarous
nations, and how many know not even thy name, and how many will soon forget
it, and how they who perhaps now are praising thee will very soon blame
thee, and that neither a posthumous name is of any value, nor reputation,
nor anything else.
Let there be freedom from perturbations with respect to the things
which come from the external cause; and let there be justice in the things
done by virtue of the internal cause, that is, let there be movement and
action terminating in this, in social acts, for this is according to thy
Thou canst remove out of the way many useless things among those
which disturb thee, for they lie entirely in thy opinion; and thou wilt
then gain for thyself ample space by comprehending the whole universe in
thy mind, and by contemplating the eternity of time, and observing the
rapid change of every several thing, how short is the time from birth to
dissolution, and the illimitable time before birth as well as the equally
boundless time after dissolution.
All that thou seest will quickly perish, and those who have been
spectators of its dissolution will very soon perish too. And he who dies
at the extremest old age will be brought into the same condition with him
who died prematurely.
What are these men's leading principles, and about what kind of
things are they busy, and for what kind of reasons do they love and honour?
Imagine that thou seest their poor souls laid bare. When they think that
they do harm by their blame or good by their praise, what an
Loss is nothing else than change. But the universal nature delights
in change, and in obedience to her all things are now done well, and from
eternity have been done in like form, and will be such to time without
end. What, then, dost thou say? That all things have been and all things
always will be bad, and that no power has ever been found in so many gods
to rectify these things, but the world has been condemned to be found in
never ceasing evil?
The rottenness of the matter which is the foundation of everything!
Water, dust, bones, filth: or again, marble rocks, the callosities of the
earth; and gold and silver, the sediments; and garments, only bits of hair;
and purple dye, blood; and everything else is of the same kind. And that
which is of the nature of breath is also another thing of the same kind,
changing from this to that.
Enough of this wretched life and murmuring and apish tricks. Why
art thou disturbed? What is there new in this? What unsettles thee? Is
it the form of the thing? Look at it. Or is it the matter? Look at it.
But besides these there is nothing. Towards the gods, then, now become
at last more simple and better. It is the same whether we examine these
things for a hundred years or three.
If any man has done wrong, the harm is his own. But perhaps he
has not done wrong.
Either all things proceed from one intelligent source and come
together as in one body, and the part ought not to find fault with what
is done for the benefit of the whole; or there are only atoms, and nothing
else than mixture and dispersion. Why, then, art thou disturbed? Say to
the ruling faculty, Art thou dead, art thou corrupted, art thou playing
the hypocrite, art thou become a beast, dost thou herd and feed with the
Either the gods have no power or they have power. If, then, they
have no power, why dost thou pray to them? But if they have power, why
dost thou not pray for them to give thee the faculty of not fearing any
of the things which thou fearest, or of not desiring any of the things
which thou desirest, or not being pained at anything, rather than pray
that any of these things should not happen or happen? for certainly if
they can co-operate with men, they can co-operate for these purposes. But
perhaps thou wilt say, the gods have placed them in thy power. Well, then,
is it not better to use what is in thy power like a free man than to desire
in a slavish and abject way what is not in thy power? And who has told
thee that the gods do not aid us even in the things which are in our power?
Begin, then, to pray for such things, and thou wilt see. One man prays
thus: How shall I be able to lie with that woman? Do thou pray thus: How
shall I not desire to lie with her? Another prays thus: How shall I be
released from this? Another prays: How shall I not desire to be released?
Another thus: How shall I not lose my little son? Thou thus: How shall
I not be afraid to lose him? In fine, turn thy prayers this way, and see
Epicurus says, In my sickness my conversation was not about my
bodily sufferings, nor, says he, did I talk on such subjects to those who
visited me; but I continued to discourse on the nature of things as before,
keeping to this main point, how the mind, while participating in such movements
as go on in the poor flesh, shall be free from perturbations and maintain
its proper good. Nor did I, he says, give the physicians an opportunity
of putting on solemn looks, as if they were doing something great, but
my life went on well and happily. Do, then, the same that he did both in
sickness, if thou art sick, and in any other circumstances; for never to
desert philosophy in any events that may befall us, nor to hold trifling
talk either with an ignorant man or with one unacquainted with nature,
is a principle of all schools of philosophy; but to be intent only on that
which thou art now doing and on the instrument by which thou doest
When thou art offended with any man's shameless conduct, immediately
ask thyself, Is it possible, then, that shameless men should not be in
the world? It is not possible. Do not, then, require what is impossible.
For this man also is one of those shameless men who must of necessity be
in the world. Let the same considerations be present to thy mind in the
case of the knave, and the faithless man, and of every man who does wrong
in any way. For at the same time that thou dost remind thyself that it
is impossible that such kind of men should not exist, thou wilt become
more kindly disposed towards every one individually. It is useful to perceive
this, too, immediately when the occasion arises, what virtue nature has
given to man to oppose to every wrongful act. For she has given to man,
as an antidote against the stupid man, mildness, and against another kind
of man some other power. And in all cases it is possible for thee to correct
by teaching the man who is gone astray; for every man who errs misses his
object and is gone astray. Besides wherein hast thou been injured? For
thou wilt find that no one among those against whom thou art irritated
has done anything by which thy mind could be made worse; but that which
is evil to thee and harmful has its foundation only in the mind. And what
harm is done or what is there strange, if the man who has not been instructed
does the acts of an uninstructed man? Consider whether thou shouldst not
rather blame thyself, because thou didst not expect such a man to err in
such a way. For thou hadst means given thee by thy reason to suppose that
it was likely that he would commit this error, and yet thou hast forgotten
and art amazed that he has erred. But most of all when thou blamest a man
as faithless or ungrateful, turn to thyself. For the fault is manifestly
thy own, whether thou didst trust that a man who had such a disposition
would keep his promise, or when conferring thy kindness thou didst not
confer it absolutely, nor yet in such way as to have received from thy
very act all the profit. For what more dost thou want when thou hast done
a man a service? Art thou not content that thou hast done something conformable
to thy nature, and dost thou seek to be paid for it? Just as if the eye
demanded a recompense for seeing, or the feet for walking. For as these
members are formed for a particular purpose, and by working according to
their several constitutions obtain what is their own; so also as man is
formed by nature to acts of benevolence, when he has done anything benevolent
or in any other way conducive to the common interest, he has acted conformably
to his constitution, and he gets what is his own.