Meditations

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THE SECOND BOOK

1. Say this to yourself in the morning: Today I shall have to do with meddlers, with the ungrateful, with the insolent, with the crafty, with the envious and the selfish. All these vices have beset them, because they know not what is good and what is evil. But I have considered the nature of the good, and found it beautiful: I have beheld the nature of the bad, and found it ugly. I also understand the nature of the evil-doer, and know that he is my brother, not because he shares with me the same blood or the same seed, but because he is a partaker of the same mind and of the same portion of immortality. I therefore cannot be hurt by any of these, since none of them can involve me in any baseness. I cannot be angry with my brother, or sever myself from him, for we are made by nature for mutual assistance, like the feet, the hands, the eyelids, the upper and lower rows of teeth. It is against nature for men to oppose each other; and what else is anger and aversion?

2. All that I am is either flesh, breath, or the ruling part. Cast your books from you; distract yourself no more; for you have not the right to do so. Like one at the point of death despise this flesh, this corruptible bone and blood, this network texture of nerves, veins, and arteries. Consider, too, what breath is—mere air, and that always changing, expelled and inhaled again every moment. The third is the ruling part. As to this, take heed, now that you are old, that it remain no longer in servitude; that it be no more dragged hither and thither like a puppet by every selfish impulse. Repine no more at what fate now sends, nor dread what may befall you hereafter.

3. Whatever the Gods ordain is full of wise forethought. The workings of chance are not apart from nature, and not without connexion and intertexture with the designs of Providence. Providence is the source of all things; and, besides, there is necessity, and the utility of the Universe, of which you are a part. For, to every part of a being, that is good which springs from the nature of the whole and tends to its preservation. Now, the order of Nature is preserved in the changes of elements, just as it is in the changes of things that are compound. Let this suffice you, and be your creed unchangeable. Put from you the thirst of books, that you may not die murmuring, but meekly, and with true and heartfelt gratitude to the Gods.

4. Think of your long procrastination, and of the many opportunities given you by the Gods, but left unused. Surely it is high time to understand the Universe of which you are a part, and the Ruler of that Universe, of whom you are an emanation; that a limit is set to your days, which, if you use them not for your enlightenment, will depart, as you yourself will, and return no more.

5. Hourly and earnestly strive, as a Roman and a man, to do what falls to your hand with perfect unaffected dignity, with kindliness, freedom and justice, and free your soul from every other imagination. This you will accomplish if you perform each action as if it were your last, without wilfulness, or any passionate aversion to what reason approves; without hypocrisy or selfishness, or discontent with the decrees of Providence. You see how few things it is necessary to master in order that a man may live a smooth-flowing, God-fearing life. For of him that holds to these principles the Gods require no more.

6. Go on, go on, O my soul, to affront and dishonour thyself! The time that remains to honour thyself will not be long. Short is the life of every man; and thine is almost spent; spent, not honouring thyself, but seeking thy happiness in the souls of other men.

7. Cares from without distract you: take leisure, then, to add some good thing to your knowledge; have done with vacillation, and avoid the other error. For triflers, too, are they who, by their activities, weary themselves in life, and have no settled aim to which they may direct, once and for all, their every desire and project.

8. Seldom are any found unhappy from not observing what is in the minds of others. But such as observe not well the stirrings of their own souls must of necessity be unhappy.

9. Remember always what the nature of the Universe is, what your own nature is, and how these are related—the one to the other. Remember what part your qualities are of the qualities of the whole, and that no man can prevent you from speaking and acting always in accordance with that nature of which you are a part.

10. In comparing crimes together, as, according to the common idea, they may be compared, Theophrastus makes the true philosophical distinction, that those committed from motives of pleasure are more heinous than those which are due to passion. For he who is a prey to passion is clearly turned away from reason by some spasm and convulsion that takes him unawares. But he who sins from desire is conquered by pleasure, and so seems more incontinent and more effeminate in his vice. Justly then, and in a truly philosophical spirit, he says that sin, for pleasure’s sake, is more wicked than sin which is due to pain. For the latter sinner was sinned against, and so driven to passion by his wrongs, while the former set out to sin of his own motion, and was led into ill-doing by his own lust.

11. Do every deed, speak every word, think every thought in the knowledge that you may end your days any moment. To depart from men, if there be really Gods, is nothing terrible. The Gods could bring no evil thing upon you. And if there be no Gods, or if they have no regard to human affairs, why should I desire to live in a world void of Gods and without Providence? But Gods there are, and assuredly they regard human affairs; and they have put it wholly in man’s power that he should not fall into what is truly evil. And of other things, had any been bad, they would have made provision also that man should have the power to avoid them altogether. For how can that make a man’s life worse which does not corrupt the man himself? Presiding Nature could not in ignorance, or in knowledge impotent, have omitted to prevent or rectify these things. She could not fail us so completely that, either from want of power or want of skill, good and evil should happen promiscuously to good men and to bad alike. Now death and life, glory and reproach, pain and pleasure, riches and poverty—all these happen equally to the good and to the bad. But, as they are neither honourable nor shameful, they are therefore neither good nor evil.

12. It is the office of our rational power to apprehend how swiftly all things vanish; how the corporeal forms are swallowed up in the material world, and the memory of them in the tide of ages. Such are all the things of sense, especially those which ensnare us with pleasure or terrify us with pain, or those things which vanity trumpets in our ears. How mean, how despicable, how sordid, how perishable, how dead are they! What are they whose opinions and whose voices bestow renown? What is it to die? Your mind can tell you that, did a man think of it alone, and, by close consideration, strip it of its ghastly trappings, he would no longer deem it anything but a work of Nature. To dread a work of Nature is a childish thing, and this is, indeed, not only Nature’s work, but beneficial to her. Your reason tells you how man reaches God, and through what part, and what is the state of that part, when he has attained unto him.

13. Nothing, says the poet, is more miserable than to range over all things, to spy into the depths of the earth, and search, by conjecture, into the souls of those around us, yet not to perceive that it is enough for a man to devote himself to that divinity which is within him, and to pay it genuine worship. And this worship consists in keeping it pure from every passion and folly, and from repining at anything done by Gods or men. The work of the Gods is to be reverenced for its excellence. The works of men should be dear for the sake of the bond of kinship, or pitied, as we must pity them sometimes, for their lack of the knowledge of good and evil. And men are not less maimed by this defect than by their want of power to know white from black.

14. Though you should live three thousand ears or as many myriads, yet remember that no man loses any other life than that which now lives, nor lives any other than that which he is now losing. The longest and the shortest lives come to one effect. The present moment is the same for all men, and their loss, therefore, is equal, for it is clear that what they lose in death is but a fleeting instant of time. No man can lose either the past or the future, for how can a man be deprived of what he has not? These two things then are to be remembered: First, that all things recur in cycles, and are the same from everlasting, and that, therefore, it matters nothing whether a man shall contemplate these same things for one hundred years, or for two hundred, or for an infinite stretch of time: and, secondly, that he who lives longest and he who dies soonest have an equal loss in death. The present moment is all of which either is deprived, since that is all he has. No man can be robbed of that which he has not.

15. Beyond opinion there is nothing. The objections to this saying of Monimus the Cynic are obvious. But obvious also is the utility of what he said, if one accept his pleasantry as far as truth will warrant it.

16. Man’s soul dishonours itself, firstly and chiefly when it does all it can to become an excrescence, and as it were an abscess on the Universe. To fret against any particular event is to revolt against the general law of Nature, which comprehends the order of all events whatsoever. Again it is dishonour for the soul when it has aversion to any man, and opposes him with intention to hurt him, as wrathful men do. Thirdly, it affronts itself when conquered by pleasure or pain; fourthly, when it does or says anything hypocritically, feignedly or falsely; fifthly, when it does not direct to some proper end all its desires and actions, but exerts them inconsiderately and without understanding. For, even the smallest things should be referred to the end, and the end of rational beings is to follow the order and law of the venerable state and polity which comprehends them all.

17. The duration of man’s life is but an instant; his substance is fleeting, his senses dull; the structure of his body corruptible; the soul but a vortex. We cannot reckon with fortune, or lay our account with fame. In fine, the life of the body is but a river, and the life of the soul a misty dream. Existence is a warfare, and a journey in a strange land; and the end of fame is to be forgotten. What then avails to guide us? One thing, and one alone—Philosophy. And this consists in keeping the divinity within inviolate and intact; victorious over pain and pleasure; free from temerity, free from falsehood, free from hypocrisy; independent of what others do or fail to do; submissive to hap and lot, which come from the same source as we; and, above all, with equanimity awaiting death, as nothing else than a resolution of the elements of which every being compounded. And, if in their successive interchanges no harm befall the elements, why should one suspect any in the change and dissolution of the whole? It is natural, and nothing natural can be evil.

at carnuntum.

END OF THE SECOND BOOK.