volume_down_alt volume_up


1. Wilt thou ever, O my soul, be good and single, and one, and naked, more open to view than the body which surrounds thee? Wilt thou ever taste of the loving and satisfied temper? Wilt thou ever be full and without wants, setting thy heart on nothing, animate or inanimate, for the enjoyment of pleasure; not desiring time for longer enjoyment; nor place, nor country, nor fine climate, nor congenial company? Wilt thou be satisfied with thy present state, and well pleased with every present circumstance? Wilt thou persuade thyself that all things are thine; that all is well with thee; that all comes to thee from the Gods; and that what is best for thee is what they are pleased to give, now and henceforth, for the preservation of that perfected being, which is good, just, and beautiful; which generates, combines, embraces, and includes all fleeting things that dissolve to bring forth others like themselves? Wilt thou never be able to live a fellow citizen with Gods and men, approving them and by them approved?

2. In so far as you are governed by nature only, observe carefully what nature demands; then do that freely, if thereby your nature as a living being be not made worse. Next you must consider what the nature of a living being demands, and allow yourself everything of this kind by which your nature as a rational being is not made worse. Now it is plain that what is rational is also social. Therefore follow these rules and trouble no further.

3. Whatever happens, Nature has either formed you able to bear it or unable. If able, then bear it as Nature has made you able, and fret not. If unable, yet do not fret, for when the trial has consumed you it too will pass away. Remember, however, that Nature has made you able to bear whatever it is in the power of your own opinion to make endurable or tolerable, if only you conceive it profitable or fit to be borne.

4. If a man is going wrong, instruct him kindly, and shew him his mistake. If you are unable to do this, blame yourself or none.

5. Whatever happens to you was prearranged for you from all eternity; and the concatenation of causes had from eternity interwoven your existence with this contingency.

6. Whether all be atoms, or there be a universal Law of Nature, let it be laid down first that I am a part of the whole which is governed by Nature; secondly, that I am associated with other parts like myself. Mindful of this, since I am a part, I shall not be dissatisfied with anything appointed me by the whole. For nothing is hurtful to the part which is profitable to the whole, since the whole contains nothing unprofitable to itself. All natural systems have this law in common, and the system of the Universe has another law besides; namely that it cannot be forced by any external cause to produce anything hurtful to itself. If therefore I remember that I am part of such a whole, I shall be satisfied with all that flows therefrom. And, inasmuch as I am associated with parts like myself, I will do nothing unsocial; but rather draw to my kind, turn my every endeavour to the public good, and shun the contrary. In such a course my life must needs run well, just as you would hold that the life of a citizen runs well when he passes on from one public-spirited action to another, and throws himself heartily into every task appointed him by the State.

7. The parts of the whole, I mean the parts which are contained in the Universe, must necessarily perish; “perish,” let us say, meaning change. Now, if it be a necessary evil for the parts to perish, it could not be well for the whole that its parts should tend to change and be constructed to perish in various ways. Did Nature then set out to injure her own constituent parts, making them so that they are liable to evil and of necessity fall into it; or did it escape her notice that this comes to pass? Both suppositions are incredible. And if, dropping the notion of Nature, one were merely to put it that things are constituted so, then how ridiculous at the same time to say that the parts of the Universe are constituted so as to change, and also to wonder and fret at change or dissolution, as if it were something against the course of Nature; especially as everything is dissolved into the elements out of which it arose. For there is either a scattering of the elements of which a thing was constructed, or a conversion of these, of the solid into earth, of the spiritual into air. So that these constituents are resumed into the system of the Universe, which either undergoes periodical conflagration, or is renewed by never-ending changes. And do not imagine that you had all your earthy and aerial matter from your birth. For the whole of this was an accession of yesterday or the day before, from your food and from the air you breathed. It is this accession which changes, and not what your mother bore. And granting that this recent accession may incline you more to what is individual in your constitution; yet, I think, it alters nothing of what has just been said.

8. Having taken to yourself these titles: good, modest, true, prudent, even-tempered and magnanimous, look to it that you change them not; and, if you should come to lose them, seek them straightway again. And remember that prudence means for you reasoned observation of all things, and careful attention; even temper, cheerful acceptance of the lot appointed by universal Nature; magnanimity, the exaltation of the thinking part above any pleasant or painful commotions of the flesh, above vain-glory, above death and all such things. If you steadfastly maintain yourself in these titles, with no hankering after hearing them given to you by others, you will be a new man, and a new life will open for you. For to continue as you have been till now, in the same life of distraction and defilement, would mark you as a man devoid of sense, who clings to life like the half-eaten beast-fighters, who, though covered with wounds and gore, do yet appeal to be reserved until tomorrow, to be cast again in their wretchedness to the claws and fangs that lacerated them before. Take your stand then on these few titles; and if you are able to abide in them, abide, as one removed to the Islands of the Blest. But if you perceive that you are falling away, and cannot prevail; have the courage to retire into some corner where you may hope to prevail, or else depart from life altogether, not in anger but in all simplicity, freedom, and modesty, having done at least one thing in life well, by so leaving it. Now it will greatly help you to be mindful of your titles, if you recollect that the Gods desire not adulation, but that reasoning beings should grow in likeness to themselves; and further that a fig tree is set to bear figs, a dog to hunt, a bee to gather honey, and a man to do a man’s work.

9. Mimes, war, panic, sloth, servility, will wipe out the sacred maxims which you have gathered by observing Nature and stored in your mind. You ought to look and act in every case so that not only shall the task before you be accomplished, but also your theoretic faculty exercised, and the self-confidence which springs from special knowledge preserved without ostentation or affected concealment. Will you ever attain to simplicity; to dignity; to a perfect discrimination in every case as to what a thing really is, what its true place in the Universe, what the time it may endure, what its composition, to whom it may belong, and who can give and take it away?

10. The spider exults when he has captured a fly; one man because he has taken a little hare, another because he has netted an anchovy, another because he has hunted down a wild boar or a bear; and another because he has conquered the Sarmatians. But are they not brigands all, if you look to their principles.

11. Acquire a method of perceiving how all things change into one another. Pursue this branch of Philosophy and continually exercise yourself therein. There is nothing so proper as this for cultivating greatness of mind. He who does so has already put off the body; and, having realized how soon he must depart from among men and leave all earthly things behind him, he resigns himself entirely to justice in all his own actions, and to the law of the Universe in everything else which happens. As for what any one may say or think of him or do against him, he gives it not a thought, but contents himself with these two things: to do justly what he has in hand, and to love the lot appointed for him. Such a man has thrown off all hurry and bustle; and has no other will but this, to keep the straight path according to the law, and to follow God whose path is ever straight.

12. What need for suspicion when it is open for you to consider what ought to be done? If you see your way, proceed in it calmly, inflexibly. If you do not see it, pause and consult the best advisers. If any other obstacle arise, proceed with prudent caution, according to the means you have; keeping always close to what appears just. That is the best to which you can attain: and failure in that is the only proper miscarriage. He who in everything follows reason is always at leisure, yet ever ready for action, always cheerful, yet composed.

13. As soon as you awake ask yourself: Will it be of consequence to you if what is just and good be done by some other man? It will not. Have you forgotten what manner of men in bed and at table are those who make such display in praise and blame of others; what they do, what they shun and what they pursue; how they steal and how they rob, not with hands and feet but with their most precious part, whereby, if a man will, he may gain faith, modesty, truth, law, a good directing spirit?

14. To Nature, which gives and again resumes all things, the well-instructed, modest man will say: “Give what thou wilt; take again what thou wilt.” And this he says, not with ostentation, but out of pure obedience and good will to Nature.

15. What remains to you of this life is little. Live as on a mountain. For it makes no difference whether we live here or there, provided we live like citizens everywhere in the world. Let men see and know you as a man indeed, living according to Nature. If they cannot endure you, let them slay you. It is better so than to live as they live.

16. Discourse no more of what a good man should be; but be one.

17. Constantly imagine all time and all existence; and think that every individual thing is in substance a fig seed, and in time the turn of an auger.

18. Consider each of the things around you as already dissolving, in a state of change, and as it were corrupting and being dissipated, or as, one and all, formed by Nature to die.

19. What sort of men are they when they are eating, sleeping, procreating, easing nature, and the like? Then see them lording it over their fellows, puffed up with pride, angry, or issuing judgments from on high! To how many were they slaves but lately, and why! And in what case will they shortly be?

20. That is for the advantage of every man which is brought by universal Nature; and for his advantage at the very time at which she brings it.

21. “Earth loves the rain;” “and the majestic Ether loves.” The Universe loves to bring about whatever is coming to be. I then will say to the Universe: “What thou lovest I love.” Is it not a common saying that, “so-and-so loves to happen?”

22. Either you are living here your accustomed life; or you are going abroad, and that at your own will: or you are dying, and your public office is discharged. Now, besides these there is nothing. Be therefore of good courage.

23. Keep this ever clear before you: that a country retreat is just like any other place. All things here go the same as on a mountain top, or on the sea beach, or where you will. You may always find that life of the wise man who, in Platonic phrase, “makes the city wall serve him for a shepherd’s fold on the mountains.”

24. What is my soul to me? What am I making of it, and to what purpose am I now using it? Is it void of understanding? Is it loosened and rent from the great community? Is it glued to, and mingled with, the flesh so as to follow each fleshly motion?

25. Whoever flies from his master is a runaway. Our master is the law, and the law-breaker is a runaway; and so is he also who through grief, or anger, or fear will not acquiesce in something that has happened, is happening, or will happen, in the course of things predestined by the all-ruling power which is the law, laying down for every man what is proper for him. He then who is afraid or grieved or angry, is a runaway.

26. He who has cast seed into the womb departs; another cause takes and works upon it and completes the child. How wonderful the result from such a beginning! The child, again, takes food down its throat; another cause takes and transforms it into sensation, motion, in a word into life and strength and other things, how many and surprising! Consider then these things happening in such hidden ways, and view the power which produces them just as we perceive the gravitation and levitation of bodies; not indeed with our eyes, yet none the less clearly.

27. Continually reflect that all that is happening now happened exactly in the same way before; and reflect that the like will happen again. Place before your eyes all that you have ever known from your own experience or from ancient history; dramas and scenes, all similar; such as the whole court of Hadrianus, the whole court of Antoninus, the whole court of Philip, of Alexander, of Croesus. All these were similar, only the actors different.

28. Imagine every one who is grieved or storms about anything whatever, to be like the pig in a sacrifice, which kicks and screams under the knife. Such, too, is he who, on his couch, deplores in silence, by himself, that we are all tied to our fate. Reflect also that only to a rational being is it given to submit to what happens willingly; the bare submission is a necessity upon all.

29. Look attentively on each particular thing you do, and ask yourself if death be a terror because it deprives you of this.

30. When you are offended at any one’s fault, turn at once to yourself and consider of what similar fault you yourself are guilty; such as esteeming for good things, money, pleasure, a little glory, or the like. By fixing your attention on this you will speedily forget your anger, especially if it occur to you that he acts under compulsion and cannot do otherwise; else, if it be in your power, relieve him from the compulsion.

31. When you have seen Satyrio the Socratic, think of Eutyches or Hymen; when you have seen Euphrates, think of Eutychio or Silvanus. When Alciphron comes before you, think of Tropaeophorus; and when Xenophon think of Crito or Severus. When you look upon yourself think of any of the Caesars, and with every man likewise. Then let this occur to you: Where, now, are these? Nowhere; or who can tell? For thus you will see all human things to be smoke and nothingness; especially if you call to mind that what has once been changed will never exist again through all the infinity of time. Why then this concern? And why does it not suffice you to live out your short span in well ordered wise? What material, what a subject for Philosophy you are shunning! For what are all earthly things but exercises for the rational power, when it has viewed all things that occur in life accurately and in their natural order? Abide then until you have assimilated all these things, as a strong stomach assimilates every variety of food, as a bright fire turns whatever you throw upon it into flame and radiance.

32. Let no man have it in his power to say with truth of you that you are not a man of simplicity, candour, and goodness. But let him prove to be mistaken who holds any such opinion of you. This is quite in your power; for who shall hinder you from being good and single-hearted? Only do you determine to live no longer if you cannot be such a man; for neither does reason require, in that case, that you should.

33. In the present matter what is the soundest that can be done or said? For, whatever that may be, you are at liberty to do or say it. Make no excuses as if hindered. You will never cease from groaning until your disposition is such that what luxury is to men of pleasure, that to you is doing what is suitable to the constitution of man on every occasion that is thrown or falls in your way. You should regard as enjoyment everything which you are at liberty to do in accordance with your own proper nature; and this liberty you have everywhere. Now to the cylinder it is not given to move everywhere with its proper motion; nor to water, nor to fire, nor to any other thing that is governed by a natural law only, or by a soul irrational; for there are many circumstances which constrain and stop them. But intelligent reason can pursue through every obstacle the course for which it was created, and which it wills to follow. Set before your eyes this ease with which reason makes its way through all obstacles, as fire goes upwards, a stone downwards, or a cylinder down a slope, and seek for nothing further. The rest of man’s difficulties are merely of the body, the lifeless part of him; or else they are such as cannot crush, or in any way injure him save through opinion, or the surrender of reason itself: otherwise he who suffered by them would himself straightway become evil. In the case of all other organisms, when mishap befalls, the sufferer is thereby rendered worse. But in this respect it may be said that a man becomes better and more praiseworthy by rightly using his circumstances. In fine, remember that nothing which hurts not the city hurts the man who is by nature a citizen; nor does that hurt the city which hurts not the law. Now, none of the things called misfortunes can hurt the law. Accordingly, what hurts not the law can hurt neither city nor citizen.

34. To the man who is penetrated with true principles, the shortest, the most common hint is a sufficient memorial to keep him free of sorrow and fear. Such as:—

Some leaves the winds blow down: the fruitful wood
Breeds more meanwhile, which in springtide appear.
Of men thus ends one race, while one is born.

Your children are leaves; leaves, too, the creatures who confidently cry aloud and deal out eulogy, or, it may be, curses; or who carp and jeer in secret. Leaves, likewise, are they who transmit our fame to posterity. All these “in springtide appear;” then the wind shakes them down, and the forest grows more to take their places. Shortness of life is common to all things, yet you shun and pursue them, as though they were to have no ending. But a little and you will fall asleep; and anon others shall mourn for him who carried your bier.

35. The healthy eye ought to look on everything visible, and not to say, “I want green,” like an eye that is diseased. Sound hearing or sense of smell ought to be ready for all that can be heard or smelt; and the healthy stomach should be equally disposed for all sorts of food, as a mill for all that it was built to grind. So also the healthy mind should be ready for all things that happen. That mind which says, “Let my children be spared, and let men applaud my every action,” is as an eye which begs for green, or as teeth which require soft food.

36. There is no man so happily fated but that when he is dying some bystander will rejoice at the doom which is coming upon him. Were he a virtuous and wise man; will not some one at the last say within himself: “At last I shall breathe freely, unoppressed by this pedagogue. He was not indeed hard on any of us; but I always felt that he tacitly condemned us”? This they would say of a good man. But, in my own case, how many more reasons are there why a multitude would rejoice to be rid of me? You will reflect on this when dying, and depart with the less regret when you consider: “I am leaving a life from which my very partners, for whom I toiled, and prayed, and planned, are wishing me to begone; hoping, it may be, to gain some additional advantage from my departure.” Why then should one strive for a longer sojourn here? Yet let not your parting with them be less pleasant on this account. Preserve your own character, remain to them friendly, benevolent, gracious. On the other hand, depart from your fellow-men, not as if torn away; but let your going be like that of one who dies an easy death, whose soul is gently released from the body. Nature knit and cemented you to your fellows, but now she parts you from them. I part, then, as from relations, not reluctant, but unconstrained. For death, too, is a thing accordant with nature.

37. Accustom yourself as much as possible, when any one takes any action, to consider only: To what end is he working? But begin at home; and examine yourself first of all.

38. Remember that the mover of the puppet strings is the hidden principle within. It is that which is eloquence; that which is life; that, if I may say so, which is the man. Never, in your imagination, confound that principle with the surrounding earthen vessel and the little organs that are kneaded on to it. Excepting that they grow upon us, they are like the carpenter’s axe; since, without the moving and restraining principle, none of these parts in itself is of any greater service than the shuttle to the weaver, the pen to the writer, or the whip to the charioteer.