volume_down_alt volume_up


1. All that you desire to compass by devious means is yours already, if you will but freely take it. That is to say, if you will leave behind you all that is past, commit the future to Providence, and regulate the present in piety and justice. In piety that you may love your appointed lot; for Nature gave it to you and you to it. In justice, that you may speak the truth with-out constraint or guile; that you may do what is lawful and proper; that you may not be hindered by the wickedness of others, or by their opinion, or their talk, or by any sensation of this poor surrounding body, for the part concerned may look to that. If then, now that you are near your exit, setting behind you all other things, you will hold alone in reverence your ruling part, the spirit divine within you; if you will cease to dread the end of life, but rather fear to miss the beginning of life according to Nature, you will be a man, worthy of the ordered Universe that produced you; you will cease to be a stranger in your own country, gaping in wonder at every daily happening, caught up by this trifle or by that.

2. God beholds all souls bare and stripped of these corporeal vessels, husk, and refuse. By his intelligence alone he touches that only which has been instilled by him and has emanated from himself. If you would but inure yourself to do the like, you would be eased of many a torment. For he who regards not the surrounding flesh will not waste his leisure in thinking about vesture, house, or fame, or other mere external furniture or accoutrement.

3. Three parts there are of which you are compact; body, soul, intelligence. Of these the two first are yours in so far as they must have your care; the third only is properly your own. And if you will cast away from yourself, that is from your mind, all that others do or say, all that you yourself have done or said, all your fears for the future, all the uncontrollable accompaniments of the body that envelops you and of its congenital soul, and all that is whirled in the besieging vortex that races without, so that your intellectual power, made pure, and set above the accidents of fate, may live its own life in freedom, just, resigned, veracious; if, I repeat, you cast out from your soul all comes of excessive attachment either to the past or to the future, then you will become in the words of Empedocles,

A faultless sphere rejoiced in endless rest.

You will study to live the only life there is to live, to wit the present; and you will be able, till death shall come, to spend what remains of life in noble tranquillity, at peace with the spirit within.

4. I have wondered often how it comes that, while every man loves himself beyond all others, yet he holds his own opinion of himself in less esteem than the opinion of others. Yet, if a God or some wise teacher came and ordered a man to conceive and design nothing which he would not utter the moment it occurred to him, he would not abide the ordeal for a single day. Thus we stand in greater awe of our neighbours’ opinion of us than we do of our own.

5. How can it be that the Gods, who have ordered all things well for man’s advantage, overlooked one thing only, to wit that some of the best of mankind, who have held the closest relations with things divine, and by pious works and holy ministry become intimate with the Divinity, once dead, should arise no more, but be altogether extinguished? If this be truly so, be well assured that, if it ought to have been otherwise they would have made it otherwise. Had it been right it would have been practicable; and had it been according to Nature, Nature would have effected it. From its not being so, if it really be not so, be persuaded that it ought not to have been. You see that, in debating this matter, you are pleading a point of justice with the Gods. Now we would not thus plead with the Gods were they not perfectly good and just. And, if they are so, they have left nothing unjustly and unreasonably neglected in their administration.

6. Essay even tasks that you despair of executing. The left hand, which in other things is of little value for want of use, yet holds the bridle more firmly than the right, for in this it has practice.

7. Consider how death ought to find you, both as to body and as to soul. Think of the shortness of life, of the eternities before and after, and of the infirmity of all material things.

8. Contemplate the fundamental causes stripped of disguises. Think what pain is, what pleasure is, what death, and what fame. Consider how many are themselves the causes of all the disquiet that they suffer; how no man may be hindered by another; how all is matter of opinion.

9. In the use of principles we should be like the pugilist rather than the swordsman. For when the latter drops the sword which he uses he is undone. But the former has his hand always by him and needs but to wield it.

10. Consider well the nature of things, distinguishing between matter, cause, and purpose.

11. What a glorious power is given to man, never to do any action of which God will not approve, and to welcome whatever God appoints for him!

12. As to what happens in the course of nature, the Gods are not to be blamed. They never do wrong, willingly or unwillingly. Neither are men to be blamed, for they do no wrong willingly. There is therefore none to blame.

13. How ridiculous, and how like a foreigner, is he who is surprised at anything which happens in life!

14. There is either a fatal necessity, an unalterable order, or a placable Providence, or a blind confusion without a governor. If there be an unalterable necessity, why strive against it? If there be a Providence admitting of propitiation, make yourself worthy of the divine aid. If there be an ungoverned confusion, be comforted; seeing that in this tempest you have within yourself a guiding intelligence. And, if the wave should carry you away, let it carry away the carcase and the animal life, for the intellectual part of you it will not carry away.

15. If the light of a lamp shine and lose not its radiance until it be extinguished, shall truth, justice, and temperance be extinguished in you before your own extinction.

16. When you have the impression that a man has sinned, say to yourself: “How do I know that this is sin?” And, if he has sinned, consider that he stands self-condemned: and thus, as it were, has torn his own face.

He that would wish the wicked not to sin is like one who would have the fig tree not have juice in its figs, would have infants not cry, horses not neigh, and other inevitable things not happen. What shall the wicked man do, having a wicked disposition? If you are so keen, cure it.

17. If a thing be not becoming, do it not; if not true, say it not.

18. Endeavour always to see in everything what it is that causes your impression; and unfold it by distinguishing the cause, the matter, the relation to other things, and the period within which it must cease to exist.

19. Perceive at last that there is within you something better and more divine than the immediate cause of your sensations of pleasure and pain; something, in short, beyond the strings which move the puppet. What is now my thought? Is it fear? Suspicion? Lust? Or any such passion?

20. In the first place, let nothing be done at random or without an object. In the second let your object never be other than the common good.

21. Yet a little, and you shall be no more; nor shall any of these things remain which you now behold, nor any of those who are now living. It is the nature of all things to change, to turn, and to corrupt; in order that other things may, in their course, spring out of them.

22. Reflect that everything is matter of opinion; and opinion rests with yourself, suppress then your opinion, what time you will, and like one who has doubled the cape and reached the bay, you will have calm and stillness everywhere, never a wave.

23. Any one natural operation, ending at its proper time, suffers no ill by ceasing, nor does the agent therein suffer any ill by its thus ceasing. In like manner, as to the whole series of actions which is life, if it ends in its season it suffers no ill by ceasing, nor is he who thus completes his series, in any evil case. The season and the term are assigned by Nature; sometimes even by your own nature, as in old age; but always by the nature of the whole, by the interchange of whose parts the Universe still remains fresh and in its bloom. Now, that is always good and seasonable which is advantageous to the nature of the whole. Wherefore the ceasing of life cannot be evil to the individual. There is no turpitude in it, since it is beyond our power, and contains nothing contrary to the common advantage. Nay, it is good, since it is seasonable and advantageous to the whole, and, congruent with the order of the Universe. Thus, too, he is led by God who goes the same way with God, and that by like inclination.

24. Have these three thoughts always at hand: First, as to your action, do nothing inconsiderately, or otherwise than justice herself would have acted. As for external events, they either happen by chance or by providence; now, no man should quarrel with chance or censure providence. Second, examine what each thing is, from its seed to its quickening; and from its quickening to its death; of what materials it is composed, and into what it will be resolved. Third, reflect that could you be raised on high, and from thence behold all human affairs, you would discern their great variety, conscious at the same time of the crowds of serial and etherial inhabitants around us; but were you so raised ever so often, you would always see the same things, all uniform and of brief duration. Can we set our pride on such matters?

25. “Cast away opinion, and you are saved.” Who then hinders you from casting it away?

26. When you fret at anything, you have forgotten that all happens in accordance with the nature of the Universe, and that the wrong done was another’s. This, too, that whatever happens has happened, and will happen, and is now happening everywhere. You have also forgotten how great is the bond between any man and all the human race, a bond not of blood and seed, but of common intelligence. You have forgotten that the intelligence of every man is divine, and an efflux from God; also that no man is proprietor of anything: his children, his body, his very life are given of God. You have forgotten, too, that everything is matter of opinion; and that it is the present moment only that one can live or lose.

27. Bring to frequent recollection those who have grieved about anything overmuch, those who have been pre-eminent in the extreme of glory or misfortune, in feuds or other circumstances of fate. Then stop and ask, Where are they all now? Smoke and ashes, and an old tale; or perhaps not even a tale. Pass them all in review: Fabius Catullinus in the country, Lucius Lupus in his gardens, Stertinius at Baiae, Tiberius at Capreae, Velius Rufus, and, in fine, all eminence attended with the high regard of men. How cheap is all that is so eagerly pursued? And how much better does it become a philosopher to show himself, in the part of the material world allotted to him, just, temperate, and obedient to the Gods; and this with simplicity; for most intolerable of all is the pride of false humility.

28. To those who ask, “Where have you seen the Gods, and how assured yourself of their existence, that you worship them?” make this reply: First, they are visible, even to the eye. Again, my own soul I cannot see, and yet I reverence it. Thus, too, as regards the Gods, I continually feel their power; and so I know that they exist, and I worship them.

29. The safety of life is to see the whole nature of everything, and to discern the matter and the form of its constitution; also to do justice with all your heart, and to speak the truth. What remains but to enjoy life, adding one good to an another, so as not to lose the smallest interval?

30. There is but one light of the sun, although it be scattered upon walls and hills, and a myriad other objects. There is but one common substance, although it be divided among ten thousand bodies having as many different qualities. There is but one soul, though it be distributed among countless different natures and individual forms. There is but one intelligent spirit, though it may seem to be divided. The other parts of these individuals of which we have spoken, such as breath and matter, are void of perception and of mutual affection; yet even they are held together by the intelligent spirit and gravitate together. But intelligence has a special tendency to its kind, and unites therewith, and the community of feeling is not broken.

31. What do you desire? To live on? Or is it to feel or to desire? To grow and to decay again? To speak or think? Which of all these seems worthy to be desired? And, if each and all of them is despicable, proceed to the last that remains, to follow reason and God. Now, it is repugnant to reverence for reason and for God to grieve at the loss by death of these other despicable things.

32. How small a part of the boundless immensity of the ages is allotted to each of us, and presently that will vanish in eternity! How little is ours of the universal substance; how little of the universal spirit! On what a little clod of the whole earth do we creep! Considering all this, reckon nothing great except to act as your nature leads you, and to endure what universal Nature brings to pass.

33. How is it with your ruling part? On this all depends. All other things, within or without our control, are but corpses, dust, and smoke.

34. This most of all must rouse you to despise death: That even those who held pleasure to be good and pain to be evil nevertheless despised it.

35. To him who holds that alone to be good which comes in proper season, who cares not whether he has acted oftener or less often according to right reason; to whom it makes no difference whether he behold the universe for a longer time or a shorter—for this man death also has no terror.

36. You have lived, O man, as a citizen of this great city; of what consequence to you whether for five years or for three? What comes by law is fair to all. Where then is the calamity, if you are sent out of the city, by no tyrant or unjust judge, but Nature herself who at first introduced you, just as the praetor who engaged the actor again dismisses him from the stage? “But,” say you, “I have not spoken my five acts, but only three.” True, but in life three acts make up the play. For he sets the end who was responsible for its composition at the first, and for its present dissolution. You are responsible for neither. Depart then graciously; for he who dismisses you is gracious.