Meditations

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THE ELEVENTH BOOK

1. These are the characteristics of the rational soul: It beholds itself; it regulates itself in every part; it fashions itself as it wills; the fruit it bears itself enjoys, whereas the products of plants and of the lower animals are enjoyed by others. It reaches its individual end, wheresoever the close of life may overtake it. In a dance or an actor’s part any interruption spoils the completeness of the whole action. Not so with the rational soul. At whatever point in its action, or wheresoever it is overtaken by death, it makes its part complete and all-sufficient; so that it can say, “I have received what is mine.” Also it ranges through the whole universe, and the void around it, and discerns its plan. It stretches forth into limitless eternity, and grasps the periodical regeneration of all things, seeing and comprehending that those who come after us will see nothing new, and that those that went before saw no more than we have seen. Nay, a man of forty, of any tolerable understanding, has, because of the uniformity of things, seen, in a manner, all that has been or will be. Characteristic of the rational soul also are:—Love to all around us, truth, modesty; and respect for itself above all other things, which is characteristic also of the general law. Thus there is no discordance between right reason and the reason of justice.

2. You will think little of a pleasing song, a dance, or a gymnastic display, if you analyse the melody into its separate notes, and ask yourself regarding each, “Does this impress me?” You will blush to own it; and so also if you analyse the dance into its single motions and postures, and if you similarly treat the gymnastic display. In general then, except as regards virtue and virtuous action, remember to recur to the constituent parts of things, and by dissecting to despise them; and transfer this practice to life as a whole.

3. How happy is the soul that stands ready to part from the body when it must, and either to be extinguished or to be scattered, or to survive! But let this readiness arise from individual judgment, not from mere obstinacy, as with the Christians, but deliberately, with dignity, and with no affected air of tragedy; so that others may be led to a like disposition.

4. Have I done anything for the common good? Is not this itself my advantage? Let this thought be ever with you, and desist not.

5. What is your art? Well doing. And how else can this come than from sound general principles regarding Nature as a whole, and the constitution of man in particular?

6. First of all, tragedy was introduced to remind us that certain events happen, and are fated to happen as they do; and to teach us that what entertains us on the stage should not grieve us on the greater stage of the world. You see that such things must be accomplished; and that even they bore them who cried aloud, O Cithaeron! Our dramatic poets have said some excellent things; especially the following:—

Me and my children, if the Gods neglect,
It is for some good reason—

and again,

Vain is all anger at external things;

and,

To reap our life like ears of ripened corn—

and the like.

And after tragedy came the Old Comedy, using a schoolmaster’s freedom of speech, and employing plain language with great profit to inculcate the duty of humility. To this end Diogenes used a method much the same. Next consider the nature of the Middle Comedy; and lastly for what purpose the New was introduced, which gradually degenerated into the mere ingenuity of artificial mimicry. It is well known that some useful things were said by the New Comic Writers; but what useful end had they in view in all their accumulated poetry and playmaking?

7. How manifest it is that no other course of life was more adapted to the practice of philosophy than that which now is yours.

8. A branch cut off from its adjacent branch must necessarily be severed from the whole tree. Even so a man, parted from any fellow-man, has fallen away from the whole social community. Now a branch is cut off by some external agency; but a man by his own action separates himself from his neighbour—by hatred and aversion, unaware that he has thus torn himself away from the universal polity. Yet there is always given us the good gift of Zeus, who founded the great community, whereby it is in our power to be reingrafted on our kind, and to become once more, natural parts completing the whole. Yet the frequent happening of such separations, makes the reunion and restoration of the separated member more and more difficult. And in general a branch which has grown from the first upon a tree, and remained a living part of it, is not like one which has been cut and reingrafted; as the gardeners would say, they are of the same growth but of different persuasion.

9. As those who oppose you in the path of right reason have no power to divert you from sane action, so let them not turn you away from amenity towards themselves. Be watchful alike to persist in stable judgment and action, and in meekness towards those who would hinder or otherwise molest you. It is equally weak to grow angry with them or to desist from action and submit to defeat. Both are equally deserters— he who runs away, and he who refuses to stand by friend and kinsman.

10. Nature cannot be inferior to Art. The Arts are but imitations of Nature. If this be so, that Nature which is the most perfect and comprehensive of all cannot be inferior to the best artistic skill. Now all Arts use inferior material for higher purposes; so also then does universal Nature. Hence the origin of justice, from which again the other virtues spring. Justice cannot be preserved if we are solicitous about things indifferent, if we are easily deceived, rash, and changeable.

11. If those things, the pursuit and avoidance of which trouble you, come not to you; but, as it happens, you go to them; then let your judgment be at peace concerning them, they will remain motionless, and you will no more be seen pursuing or avoiding them.

12. The sphere of the soul attains to perfect shape when it neither expands to what is without, nor contracts upon what is within; neither wrinkles nor collapses, but shines with a radiance whereby it discerns the truth of all things, both without itself and within.

13. Does any man contemn me? Let him look to that. And let me look to it that I be found doing or saying nothing worthy of his contempt. Does any one hate me? That is his affair. I shall be kind and good-natured to every one, and ready to shew his mistake to him that hates me; not in order to upbraid him, or to make a show of my patience, but from genuine goodness, like Phocion, if he indeed was sincere. Your inward character should be such that the Gods may see you neither angry nor repining at anything. What evil is it for you now to act according to your nature, and to accept now what is seasonable to the nature of the Universe; you, a man appointed to do some service for the common good?

14. Although they despise, yet they flatter one another. Although they desire to overtop, yet they cringe to one another.

15. How rotten and insincere is his profession who says, “I mean to deal straightforwardly with you.” What are you doing, man? There is no need for such a preface. It will appear of itself. Such a profession should be written clearly on your forehead. A man’s character should shine forth clearly from his eyes; as the beloved sees that he is so in the glances of those that love him. The straightforward, good man should be like one of rank odour who can be recognised by the passer by as soon as he approaches, whether he will or no. The ostentation of straightforwardness is the knife under the cloak. Nothing is baser than wolf-friendship. Shun it above all things. The good, straightforward, kindly man bears all these qualities in his eyes, and is not to be mistaken.

16. To live the best life is within the power of the soul, if it be indifferent to indifferent things. And it will be indifferent if it looks on all such things, severally and wholly, with discrimination; mindful that not one of them can impose upon us an opinion concerning itself, or can come of itself to us. Things stand motionless without; and it is we that form opinions about them within, and, as it were, write these opinions upon our hearts. We may avoid so writing them; or, if one has crept in unawares, we may instantly blot it out. ’Tis but for a short time that we shall need this vigilance, and then life will cease. For the rest, why should we hold this to be difficult? If it be according to Nature, rejoice in it, and it will become easy for you. If it be contrary to Nature, search out what suits your nature, and follow it diligently, even though it be attended with no glory; for every man will be forgiven for seeking his own proper good.

17. Consider whence each thing came, of what it was compounded, into what it will be changed, how it will be with it when changed, and that it will suffer no evil.

18. As to those who offend me, let me consider:— First, how I am related to mankind; that we are formed, the one for the other; and that, in another respect, I was set over them as the ram over the flock, and the bull over the herd. Consider yet more deeply, thus:—There is either an empire of atoms, or an intelligent Nature governing the whole. If the latter, the inferior beings are created for the superior, and the superior for each other.

Secondly: Consider what manner of men they are at table, in bed, or elsewhere; and especially by what principles they hold themselves bound, and with what arrogance they entertain them.

Thirdly: If they act rightly, we ought not to take it amiss; and, if not rightly, manifestly they do so without intention and in ignorance. For no soul is willingly deprived of truth, or of the faculty of treating every man as he deserves. Accordingly men are grieved to be called unjust, ungrateful, greedy, and, in short, sinners against their neighbours.

Fourthly: You yourself do often sin, and are no better than another. And, if you abstain from certain sins, still you have the disposition to commit them, even if through cowardice, fear for your character, or other meanness, you hold back.

Fifthly: You cannot even be perfectly sure that wrong has been done, for many things admit of justification. And, generally speaking, a man must have learned much before he can pronounce surely upon the conduct of others.

Sixthly: When you are vexed or worried overmuch, remember that man’s life is but for a moment, and that in a little we shall all be laid to rest.

Seventhly: It is not the acts of others that disturb us. Their actions reside in their own souls. Our own opinions alone disturb us. Away with them then; will that you entertain no thought of calamity befallen you, and the anger is gone. But how remove them? By reasoning that there is no dishonour; for, if you hold not that dishonour alone is evil, verily you must fall into many crimes, you may become a robber, or any sort of villain.

Eighthly: How much worse evils we suffer from anger and grief about certain things than from the things themselves about which these passions arise.

Ninthly: Meekness is invincible if it be genuine, without simper or hypocrisy. For what can the most insolent of men do to you, if you persist in civility towards him; and, if occasion offers, admonish him gently and deliberately, shew him the better way at the very moment that he is endeavouring to harm you? “Nay, my son; we were born for something better. No hurt can come to me; it is yourself you hurt, my son.” And point out to him delicately, and as a general principle, how the matter stands; that bees and other gregarious animals do not act like him. But this must be done without irony or reproach, rather with loving-kindness and no bitterness of spirit; not as though you were reading him a lesson, or seeking admiration from any bystander, but as if you designed your remarks for him alone, though others may be present.

Remember these nine precepts as gifts received from the Muses; and begin now to be human for the rest of your life. Beware equally of being angry with men and of flattering them. Both are unsocial and lead to mischief. In all anger recollect that wrath is not becoming to a man; but that meekness and gentleness, as they are more human, are also more manly. Strength and nerves and courage are the portion of the meek and gentle man; and not of the irascible and impatient. For the nearer a man attains to freedom from passion, the nearer he comes to strength. A weak man in grief is like a weak man in anger. Both are hurt, and both give way.

If you want a tenth gift, from the Leader of the Muses, take this:— To expect the wicked not to sin is madness. It is to expect an impossibility. But to allow them to injure others, and to forbid them to injure you, is foolish and tyrannical.

19. There are four states of the soul against which you must continually and especially be upon your guard; and which, when detected, should be effaced, by remarking thus of each. “This thought is unnecessary. This tends to social dissolution. You could not say this from your heart; and to speak otherwise than from the heart you must regard as the most absurd conduct.” And, fourthly, whatever causes self-reproach is an overpowering or subjection of the diviner part within you to the less honourable and mortal part, the body, and to its grosser tendencies.

20. The serial and igneous parts of which you are compounded, although they naturally tend upwards, nevertheless obey the general law of the Universe, and are retained here in composition. The earthy and humid parts of you, though they naturally tend downwards, are nevertheless supported and remain where they are, although not in their natural situation. Thus the elements, wheresoever placed by the superior power, obey the whole; waiting till the signal shall sound again for their dissolution. Is it not grievous that the intellectual part alone should be disobedient, and fret at its function? Yet is no violence done to it, nothing imposed contrary to its nature. Still it is impatient, and tends to opposition. For all its tendencies towards injustice, debauchery, wrath, sorrows, and fears are so many departures from Nature. And, when the soul frets at any particular event, it is deserting its appointed station. It is formed for holiness and piety toward God, no less than for justice. These last are branches of social goodness even more venerable than the practice of justice.

21. He whose aim in life is not always one and the same cannot himself be one and the same through his whole life. But singleness of aim is not sufficient, unless you consider also what that aim ought to be. For, as there is not agreement of opinion regarding all those things which are reckoned good by the majority, but only as regards some of them such as are of public utility; so your aim should be social and political. For he alone who directs all his personal aims to such an end can reach a uniform course of conduct, and thus be ever the same man.

22. Remember the country mouse and the town mouse; and how the latter feared and trembled.

23. Socrates called the maxims of the vulgar hobgoblins, bogies to frighten children.

24. The Spartans at their public shows set seats for strangers in the shade, but sat themselves where they found room.

25. Socrates made this excuse for not going to Perdiccas upon his invitation: “Lest I should come to the worst of all ends, by receiving favours which I could not return.”

26. In the writings of the Ephesians there is a precept, frequently to call to remembrance some of those who cultivated virtue of old.

27. The Pythagoreans recommended that we should look at the heavens in the morning, to put us in mind of beings that go on doing their proper work uniformly and continuously; and of their order, purity and naked simplicity; for there is no veil upon a star.

28. Think of Socrates clad in a skin, when Xanthippe had taken his cloak and gone out; and what he said to his friends, who were ashamed, and would have left him when they saw him dressed in such an extraordinary fashion.

29. In writing and reading you must be led before you can lead. Much more is this so in life.

30. Yourself a slave, your speech cannot be free.

31.And my heart laughed within me.

32.Virtue herself they blame with harshest words.

33. To look for figs in winter is madness; and so it is to long for a child that may no longer be yours.

34. Epictetus said that, when you kiss your child, you should whisper within yourself: “To-morrow perhaps he may die.” “Ill-omened words!” say you. “The words have no evil omen,” says he, “but simply indicate an act of Nature. Is it of evil omen to say the corn is reaped?”

35. The green grape, the ripe cluster, the dried grape are all changes, not into nothing, but into that which is not at present.

36. No man can rob you of your liberty of action; as has been said by Epictetus.

37. He tells us also that we must find out the true art of assenting; and in treating of our impulses he says that we must be vigilant in restraining them, that they may act with proper reservation, with public spirit, with due sense of proportion; also that we should refrain utterly from sensual passion; and not be restive in matters where we have no control.

38. The contention is not about any chance matter, said he, but as to whether we are insane or sane.

39. What do you desire? says Socrates. To have the souls of rational beings or of irrational? Rational. Rational of what kind, virtuous or vicious? Virtuous. Why then do you not seek after such souls? Because we have them already. Why then do you fight and stand at variance?

END OF THE ELEVENTH BOOK.