Meditations

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THE FIFTH BOOK

1. In the morning, when you find yourself unwilling to rise, have this thought at hand: I arise to the proper business of man, and shall I repine at setting about that work for which I was born and brought into the world? Am I equipped for nothing but to lie among the bed-clothes and keep warm? “But,” you say, “it is more pleasant so.” Is pleasure, then, the object of your being, and not action, and the exercise of your powers? Do you not see the smallest plants, the little sparrows, the ants, the spiders, the bees, all doing their part, and working for order in the Universe, as far as in them lies? And will you refuse the part in this design which is laid on man? Will you not pursue the course which accords with your own nature? You say, “I must have rest.” Assuredly; but nature appoints a measure for rest, just as for eating and drinking. In rest you go beyond these limits, and beyond what is enough; but in action you do not fill the measure, and remain well within your powers. You do not love yourself; if you did, you would love your nature and its purpose. Others, who love the art that they have made their own, exhaust themselves with labouring at it unwashed and unfed. But you honour your own nature less than the carver honours his carving, less than the dancer honours his dancing, the miser his gold, or the vain man his empty fame. These men, when desire takes them, count food and sleep well lost if they can better realize the object of their longings; and shall the pursuit of the common good seem less precious in your eyes and worthy of a lesser zeal?

2. How easy it is to thrust away and blot out each impression that is disturbing and unfit; and forthwith to enjoy perfect tranquillity.

3. Judge no speech or action unworthy of you which is consistent with nature. Be not dissuaded by any consequent criticism or censure from others; but, if the speech or action be honourable, judge yourself worthy to say or do it. Those who criticize you have their own conscience and their own motives. These you are not to regard, but follow a straight course, guided by your own nature and the nature of the Universe, both of which point the same way.

4. I walk the way which is Nature’s, until at last I shall fall and be at rest; breathing out my breath into the air wherefrom I daily drew it, falling on that earth whence my father drew his seed, my mother her blood, and my nurse the milk which nourished me; on that earth which has given me my daily food and drink through all these years, which sustains my footsteps, and bears with me—her manifold abuser.

5. Men cannot admire you for your shrewdness. Be it so. But there is many another quality of which you cannot say, “It is not in me.” Display these; they are wholly in your power. Be sincere, be dignified, be painstaking; scorn pleasure, repine not at fate, need little; be kind and frank; love not exaggeration and vain talk; strive after greatness. Do you not see how many virtues you might show, of which you are yet content to fall short, though you have not the excuse that they are absent, or that you are unfit for them? Are you driven by some want in your equipment to be querulous, to be miserly, to be a flatterer, to reproach your body with your own faults, to cringe to others, to be vainglorious, to have all this restlessness in your soul? No, by the Gods, you might have escaped these vices long ago. All your fault, then, is that you are somewhat slow and dull of comprehension. This you should strive to correct by exercise; neither neglecting your dulness nor taking a mean pleasure in it.

6. Some men, when they have done you a favour, are very ready to reckon up the obligation they have conferred. Others, again, are not so forward in their claims, but yet in their minds consider you their debtor, and well know the value of what they have done. A third sort seem to be unconscious of their service. They are like the vine, which produces its clusters and is satisfied when it has yielded its proper fruit. The horse when he has run his course, the hound when he has followed the track, the bee when it has made its honey, and the man when he has done good to others, make no noisy boast of it, but set out to do the same once more, as the vine in its season produces its new clusters again. “Should we, then, be among those who in a manner know not what they do?” Assuredly. “But this very thing implies intelligence; for it is a property of the unselfish man to perceive that he is acting unselfishly, and, surely, to wish his fellow also to perceive it.” True, but if you misapprehend my saying, you will enter the ranks of those of whom I spoke before. They, too, are led astray by specious reasonings. But if you have the will to understand what my principle truly means, fear not that in following it you will neglect the duty of unselfishness.

7. This is a prayer of the Athenians: “Rain, rain, dear Zeus, on the plains and ploughlands of the Athenians.” Man should either not pray at all, or pray after this frank and simple fashion.

8. Just as one says that Aesculapius has prescribed a course of riding for some one, or the cold bath, or walking bare-footed; so it may be said that the guiding Mind prescribes for a man, disease, or mutilation, or losses, or the like. “Prescribed,” in the first case, means that such treatment was enjoined on the patient as might coincide with the needs of his health: in the second case it means that each man’s fortune is appointed to coincide with the purposes of fate. Now, the very word “coincidence” implies something like that correspondence of squared stones in a wall or pyramid, which workmen speak of when they fit them together in some structure. All things are united in one bond of harmony; and just as all existing bodies go to make the visible world what it is, so destiny, as the general cause, is compounded of all particular causes. The most unphilosophical grasp my meaning, for they say, “Fate gave this to so-and-so: this was appointed or prescribed for him.” Let us, then, receive the decrees of Fate as we receive the prescriptions of Aesculapius. He prescribes many things for us, and some of them are harsh medicines. Yet we obey him gladly in the hope of health. Conceive therefore that, for Nature, the doing of her work and the fulfilling of her purposes are, as it were, her health; and welcome all that happens, even should it seem hard fortune, because it tends to the health of the Universe, and to the prosperity and felicity of Zeus. He would not have brought this or that on any man did it not contribute to the good of the whole, nor does any part of Nature’s system bring aught to pass which suits not with her government. For two reasons, then, you should content yourself with what befalls you. The first is, that it was created and ordained for you, and was in a manner related to you from the beginning, in the weaving of all destinies from the great first causes. The second is, that even what happens severally to each man contributes to the well-being and prosperity of the Mind which governs all things, and, indeed, even to its continued existence. For the whole is maimed if you break in the slightest degree this continuous connexion, whether of parts or causes. And this you are doing your best to break and to destroy whenever you repine at fate.

9. Fret not, neither despond nor be disheartened, if it be not always possible for you to act according to your principles of perfection. If you are beaten off, return again to the effort, and content yourself that your conduct is generally such as becomes a man. Love the good to which you return; and come back to Philosophy, not as one who comes to a master, but as one whose eyes ache recurs to sponge and egg, as another has recourse to plasters, or a third to fomentation. And thus you will make no empty show of obeying reason; but find that it gives you rest. Remember that Philosophy demands no more than what your nature requires. But you are wont to desire other things which accord not with your nature. “For what,” you say, “can be more delightful than such things?” Is not this the very snare which Pleasure sets for us? Yet consider if magnanimity, frankness, simplicity, kindness, and piety be not even greater delights. And what is sweeter than wisdom itself, when you are conscious of security and felicity in your powers of apprehension and reason?

10. The natures of things are so covered up from us, that to many philosophers, and these no mean ones, all things seem incomprehensible. The Stoics themselves own that it is difficult to comprehend anything with certainty. All our assent is inconsistent, for where is the consistent man? Consider, too, the objects of our knowledge: how transitory are they, and how mean! How often they are in the possession of the debauchee, of the harlot, of the robber! Review again the morals of your contemporaries: it is scarcely possible to tolerate the best-mannered among them; not to say that a man can scarcely tolerate himself. Amid such darkness and filth, in this perpetual flux of substance, of time, of motion, and of things moved, I can perceive nothing worthy of esteem or of desire. On the contrary, we should comfort ourselves as we await our natural dissolution, and not be vexed at the delay, but find rest in these thoughts: first, that nothing can befall us which is not in accord with the nature of all things; second, that it is always in our power not to do anything against the divine spirit within us: to this no force can compel us.

11. To what end am I using my soul? Let me examine myself as to this on all occasions, and consider what is passing now in that part of me which men call the ruler of the rest. Let me think, too, whose is the soul that I have. Is it a child’s? Is it a youth’s, a timorous woman’s, or a tyrant’s; the soul of a tame beast or of a savage one?

12. Of what value the things are which the many account good you may judge from this: If a man has conceived certain things, such as prudence, temperance, justice, or courage, to be good in the real sense, he cannot, while he is of this mind, readily listen to the traditional gibe about a superabundance of good things. It will not fit the case. But when he has in mind things which seem good in the eyes of the multitude, he is perfectly willing to hear and accept as quite appropriate the raillery of the comic poet. Thus even the ordinary mind perceives the difference. For if this were not so, we would not in the first case repudiate the jest as offensive, nor would we salute it as a happy witticism when applied to wealth or to the opulence which produces luxury and ostentation. Proceed then, and put the question whether these things are to be valued and esteemed good of which we have such an opinion that we may aptly say of their possessor: “He has so many possessions about him that he has no place wherein to ease himself.”

13. I consist of a formal and a material element. Neither of these two shall die and fade into nothingness, since neither came into being out of nothing. Every part of me, then, will be transformed and ranged again in some part of the Universe. That part of the Universe will itself be transmuted into another part, and so on for all time coming. By some such change as this I came into being, likewise my progenitors, and so back from all time past. There is no objection to this theory, even though the world be governed by determined cycles of revolution.

14. Reason, and the art of thinking, are powers which are complete in themselves, and in their special processes. They start from their own internal principle, and proceed to their appointed end. Such mental acts are called right, to indicate that the course of thought is right or straight.

15. Nothing should be said to be part of a man which is not part of his human nature. Things that are not part of his essence cannot be required of him, and have no part in the promise or the fulfilment of his nature. Therefore, in such things lies neither the end of man nor the good which crowns that end. Moreover, if anything were really part of a man, it would not be proper for him to despise it or revolt against it, nor would he be praiseworthy who made himself independent thereof. If non-essential things were indeed good, he could be no good man who stinted himself in the use of them; but, as we see, the more a man goes without them, and the more he endures the want of them, the better a man he is.

16. The character of your most frequent impressions will be the character of your mind. The soul takes colour from its impressions, therefore steep it in such thoughts as these:—Wherever a man can live, he can live well. A man can live in a court, therefore he can live well there. Again everything works towards that for which it was created, and that to which anything works is its end; and in the end of everything is to be found the advantage and the good of it. Now, for reasoning beings, Society is the highest good, for it has long since been proved that we were brought into the world to be social. Nay, was it not manifest that the inferior kinds were formed for the superior, and the superior for each other? Now, the animate is superior to the inanimate, and beings that reason to those that only live.

17. To pursue impossibilities is madness; and it is impossible that the wicked should not act in some such way as this.

18. Nothing can befall any man which he is not fitted by nature to bear. The like events befall others, and either through ignorance that the event has happened, or from ostentation of magnanimity, they stand firm and unhurt by them. Strange then that ignorance or ostentation should have more strength than wisdom!

19. Material things cannot touch the soul at all, nor have any access to it: neither can they bend or move it. The soul is bent or moved by itself alone, and remodels all things that present themselves from without in accordance with whatever judgment it adopts within.

20. In one respect man is nearest and dearest to me; in so far, that is, as I must do good to him and bear with him. But in so far as some men obstruct me in my natural activities, man enters the class of things indifferent to me, no less than the sun, the wind, or the wild beast. By these indeed some special action may be impeded, but no interference with my purpose or with my inward disposition can come from them, thanks to my exceptive and modifying powers. For the mind can convert and change everything that impedes its activity into matter for its action; hindrance in its work becomes its real help, and every obstruction makes for its progress.

21. Reverence that which is most excellent in the Universe, and the most excellent is that which employs all things and rules all. Likewise reverence that which is most excellent in yourself. It is of the same nature as the former, for it is that which employs all else that is in you, and that by which your whole life is ordered.

22. That which harms not the city cannot harm the citizen. Apply this rule whenever you have the idea that you are hurt. If the state be not hurt by this, neither am I harmed, and if the state be hurt we should not be wrathful with him who hurt it. Consider where lay his oversight.

23. Consider frequently how swiftly things that exist or are coming into existence are swept by and carried away. Their substance is as a river perpetually flowing; their actions are in continual change, and their causes subject to ten thousand alterations. Scarcely anything is stable, and the vast eternities of past and future in which all things are swallowed up are close upon us on both hands. Is he not then a fool who is puffed up with success in the things of this world, or is distracted, or worried, as if he were in a time of trouble likely to endure for long.

24. Keep in mind the universe of being in which your part is exceeding small, the universe of time of which a brief and fleeting moment is assigned to you; the destiny of things, and how infinitesimal your share therein.

25. Does another wrong me? Let him look to that. His character and his actions are his own. So much is in my present possession as is dispensed to me by the nature of things, and I act as my own nature now bids me.

26. Let the leading and ruling part of your soul stand unmoved by the stirrings of the flesh, whether gentle or rude. Let it not commingle with them, but keep itself apart, and confine these passions to their proper bodily parts; and if they rise into the soul by any sympathy with the body to which it is united, then we must not attempt to resist the sensation, seeing that it is of our nature; but let not the soul, for its part, add thereto the conception that the sensation is good or bad.

27. Live with the Gods. And he lives with the Gods who continually displays to them his soul, living in satisfaction with its lot, and doing the will of the inward spirit, a portion of his own divinity which Zeus has given to every man for a ruler and a guide. This is the intelligence, the reason that abides in us all.

28. Are you angry with one whose armpits smell or whose breath is foul? What is the use? His mouth or his arm-pits are so, and the consequence must follow. But, you say, man is a reasonable being, and could by attention discern in what he offends. Very well, you too have reason. Use your reason to move his; instruct, admonish him. If he listens, you will cure him, and there will be no reason for anger. You are neither actor nor harlot.

29. As you intend to live at your going, so you can live here. But, if men do not permit you, then depart from life, yet so as if no misfortune had befallen you. If my house be smoky, I go out, and where is the great matter? So long as no such trouble drives me out, I remain at my will, and no one will prevent me from acting as I will. And my will is the will of a reasonable and social being.

30. The intelligence of the Universe is social. It has therefore made the inferior orders for the sake of the superior; and has suited the superior beings for one another. You see how it hath subordinated, and co-ordinated, and distributed to each according to its merit, and engaged the nobler beings to a mutual agreement and unanimity.

31. How have you behaved towards the Gods, towards your parents, your brothers, your wife, your children, your teachers, those who reared you, your friends, your intimates, your slaves? Can it be said that you have ever acted towards all of them in the spirit of the line:—

He wrought no harshness, spoke no unkind word?

Recollect all you have passed through, all that you have had strength to bear. Your life is now a tale that is told, and your service is all discharged. Recall the fair sights you have seen, the pleasures and the pains you have despised, the so-called glory that you have foregone, the unkindly men to whom you have shown kindness.

32. How is it that unskilled and ignorant souls disturb the skilful and intelligent? What, I ask, is the skilful and intelligent soul? It is that which knows the beginning and the end, and the reason which pervades all being, and by determined cycles rules the Universe for all time.

33. In a little space you will be only ashes and dry bones and a name, perhaps not even that. A name is but so much empty sound and echo, and the things which are so much prized in life are empty, mean, and rotten. We are as puppies that snap at one another, as children that quarrel, laugh, and presently weep again. But integrity, modesty, justice, and truth,

Up from the wide-wayed earth have soared to heaven.

What then should detain you here? Things sensible are ever changing and unstable. The senses are dull and easily deceived. The poor soul itself is a mere exhalation from blood. Fame in such a world is a thing of naught. What then? You await calmly extinction or transformation, whichever it may be. And till the fulness of the time be come what is to suffice you? What else than a life spent in fearing and praising the Gods, and in the practice of benevolence, toleration and forbearance towards men? And whatsoever lies beyond the bounds of flesh and breath, remember that it is neither yours nor in your power.

34. A prosperous life may be yours if only you can take the right path, and keep to it in all you think or do. Two advantages are common to Gods, to men, and to every rational soul. In the first place, nothing external to themselves has power to hinder them. In the second, their happiness lies in having mind and conduct disposed to justice, and in the power to make that the end of all desire.

35. If the fault be not my sin, nor a consequence of it, if there be no damage to the common good, why am I perturbed about it? Wherein is the harm to the common good?

36. Be not incautiously carried away by sentiment, but aid him that needs it according to your power and his desert. If his need be of the things which are indifferent, think not that he is harmed thereby, for so to think is an evil habit. But as, in the Comedy, the old man begs to have his fosterchild’s top for a keepsake, though he knows well that it is a top and nothing more, so should you act also in the affairs of life.

You mount the rostra and cry aloud, “O man, have you forgotten what is the real value of what you seek?” “No, but the many are keen in their pursuit of it.” “Are you then to be a fool because they are?”

In whatever case I had been left I could have made my fortune: for what is it to make a fortune but to confer good things upon one’s self; and true good things are a worthy frame of mind, worthy impulses, worthy actions.

END OF THE FIFTH BOOK.