Meditations

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THE SIXTH BOOK

1. The substance of the Universe is docile and pliable. The mind which governs it has in itself no source of evil-doing. It has no malice: it does no ill, and nothing is hurt by it. By its guidance all things come to be, and fulfil their being.

2. Act the part which is worthy of you, regarding not whether you be stiff with cold or comfortably warm; whether you be drowsy or refreshed with sleep; whether you be in good report or bad; whether you be dying or upon some other business. For death also is one piece of the business of life, and, here as elsewhere, it is enough to do well what comes to our hand.

3. Look within. Let not the proper quality or value of anything escape you.

4. All that exists will very speedily change; by rarefaction, if all substance be one; otherwise by dispersion.

5. The guiding mind knows what its own condition is, how, and upon what matter its work is done.

6. The best revenge is not to copy him that wronged you.

7. Find your sole delight and recreation in proceeding from one unselfish action to another, with God ever in mind.

8. The ruling part of you is that which rouses and steers itself, making itself what it wishes to be, and making all that happens take such appearance as it will.

9. All things are accomplished according to the will of universal nature. There is no other nature to influence them which either comprehends the former from without, or is contained within it, or exists externally, and independent of it.

10. The Universe is either a confusion ravelled and unravelled again, or else a unity compact of order and forethought. If it be the former, why should I wish to linger amid this aimless chaos and confusion, or have any further care than “how to become earth again”? Nay, why am I disturbed at all? Dissolution will overtake me, do what I please. But, if the latter be the case, I adore the Ruler of all things, I stand firm, and put my trust in him.

11. Whenever your situation forces trouble upon you, return quickly to yourself, and interrupt the rhythm of life no longer than you are compelled. Your grasp of the harmony will grow surer by continual recurrence to it.

12. Had you at one time both a step-mother and a mother, you would respect the former, yet you would be more constantly in your mother’s company. Your court and your philosophy are step-mother and mother to you. Return then frequently to your true mother, and recreate yourself with her. Her consolation can make the court seem bearable to you, and you to it.

13. Keep these thoughts for meats and eatables: This that is before me is the dead carcase of a fish, a fowl, a hog. This Falernian is but a little grape juice. Think of your purple robes as sheep’s wool stained in the blood of a shell-fish. Such conceptions, which touch reality so near, and set forth the sum and substance of these objects, are powerful indeed to display to us their despicable value. In this spirit we should act throughout life; and when things of great apparent worth present themselves, we should strip them naked, view their meanness, and cast aside the glowing description which makes them seem so glorious. Vanity is a great sophist, and most imposes on us when we believe ourselves to be busy about the noblest ends. Remember the saying of Crates about Xenocrates himself.

14. Most objects of vulgar admiration may be referred to certain general classes. There are, first, those which hold together by cohesion or by some organic unity, such as stone, timber, figs, vines or olives. The things which men, a shade more reasonable, admire are referred to the class which possesses animal life such as is seen in flocks and herds. When man’s taste is still more cultured his admiration turns to things which can show a rational intelligence. But he admires this intelligence not as a universal principle, but only so far as he finds it expressed in art or industry, or, indeed, sometimes merely so far as it is exhibited by his retinue of artist slaves. But he who values rational intelligence as a universal thing, and as a social force, will care nothing for these other objects of admiration. He will, above all things, strive to preserve his own mind in all its rational and social instincts and activities; and to this end he will co-operate with any of his kind.

15. Some things hasten into being. Some hasten to be no more. Even as a thing is born some part of it is already dead. Flux and change are constantly renewing the world, just as the unbroken flow of time ever presents to us some new portion of eternity. In this vast river, on whose bosom there is no tarrying, what is there among the things that sweep by us that is worth the prizing? It is as if a man grew fond of one among a passing flight of sparrows, when already it had vanished from his sight. Our life itself is much like a vapour of the blood or a drawing in of air. Our momentary actions of inhalation and exhalation are one in kind with that whole power of breathing which, yesterday or the day before, we received at birth, and which we must restore again to the source from whence we drew it.

16. It is a small privilege to transpire like plants, or even to breathe as cattle or wild beasts do. To feel the impressions of sense, to be swayed like puppets by passion, to herd together and to live by bread; all this is no great thing. There is nothing here superior to our power of discharging our superfluous food. What, then, is of value? To be received with clapping of hands? No. Neither, therefore, is the applause of tongues more valuable, for the praises of the multitude are naught but the idle clapping of tongues. Dismiss the vanity called fame, and what remains to be prized? This, I think: in all things to act, or to restrain yourself from action, as best suits the particular structure of your nature. This is the end of all arts and studies, for every art aims at making what it produces well adapted to the work for which it was designed. The gardener, the vine-dresser, the horse-breaker, the dog-trainer all try for this; and what else is the aim of all education and teaching? Here, then, is what you may truly value: this well won, you will seek for nothing more. Will you, then, cease valuing the multitude of other things? If you do not, you will never attain to freedom, self-sufficiency, or tranquillity. You cannot escape envying, suspecting, and striving against those who have the power to deprive you of your cherished objects, nor plotting against men who are in possession of that on which you set your heart. The man who lacks any of these things must, of necessity, be distracted, and be for ever complaining against the Gods. But reverence and respect for your own intelligence will bring you to agreement with yourself, into concord with mankind, and into harmony with the Gods, whom you will praise for all their good gifts and guidance.

17. Upward, downward, round and round run the courses of the elements. But the course of virtue is like none of these; it follows a diviner path, well-directed in a way that is hard for us to understand.

18. Strange are the ways of men! They can speak no good word of the contemporaries with whom they live; yet they count it a great thing to gain the praises of a posterity whom they never saw nor shall see. As well might we grieve because we cannot hear the praises of our ancestors.

19. If a thing seems to you very difficult to accomplish, conclude not that it is beyond human power. But, if you see that anything is within man’s power, and part of his proper work, conclude that you also may attain to it.

20. In the gymnasium, if some one scratches us with his nails, or in a sudden onset bruises our head, we express no resentment; we are not offended; nor do we suspect him for the future as one who is plotting against us. We are on our guard against him, it is true, but not as against an enemy or a suspected person. In all good humour we simply keep out of his way. Let us thus behave in other affairs of life, and overlook the many injuries which are done to us, as it were, by our antagonists in the gymnasium of the world. As I said, we may keep out of their way, but without suspicion or hatred.

21. If any one can convince or shew me that I am wrong in thought or deed, I will gladly change. It is truth that I seek; and truth never yet hurt any man. What does hurt is persistence in error or in ignorance.

22. I do my duty, and for the rest am not distracted by anything which is inanimate or irrational, or which has lost or ignores the proper way.

23. Use the brute creation, and also all material things, in the spirit of magnanimity and freedom which becomes him who has reason in using that which has it not. Towards men, who have reason, act in a social spirit. In every business call the Gods to aid thee, nor trouble how long this business shall endure; three hours spent therein may suffice you.

24. Alexander of Macedon and his muleteer, when they died, were in a like condition. They were either alike resumed into the seminal source of all things, or alike dispersed among the atoms.

25. Consider all the many things, both physical and spiritual, that are adoing within each of us at the very same instant of time; and you will wonder the less at the far greater multitudes of things, even all that is, which exist together in the one-and-all which we call the Universe.

26. Should some one ask you how the name Antoninus is written, would you not carefully pronounce to him each one of the letters? Should he then begin an angry dispute about it, would you also grow angry, and not rather mildly count over the several letters to him? Thus in life remember that each duty is made up of a number of elements. We should observe all these calmly; and, without anger at those who are angry with us, we should set about accomplishing the task which lies before us.

27. Is it not cruel to restrain men from pursuing what appears to be their own advantage? And yet, in a manner, you deny them this liberty when you shew anger at their errors. Men are assuredly attracted to what seems to be their own advantage. “Yes,” you say, “but it is not their advantage.” Instruct them, then, and make this evident to them, but without anger.

28. Death is the cessation of the sensual impressions, of the impulses of the passions, of the questionings of reason, and of the servitude to the flesh.

29. It is shame and dishonour that, in any man’s life, the soul should faint from its duty while the body still holds out.

30. See to it that you fall not into Caesarism: avoid that stain, for it may come to you. Guard your simplicity, your goodness, your sincerity, your dignity, your reticence, your love of justice, your piety, your kindliness, your affection for your kin, and your constancy to your duty. Endeavour earnestly to continue such as philosophy would make you. Reverence the Gods, and help mankind. Life is short, and the one fruit of it in this world is a pure mind and unselfish conduct. Be in all things the disciple of Antonine. Imitate his resolute constancy to rational action, his level equability, his godliness, his serenity of countenance, his sweetness of temper, his contempt of vainglory, his keen attempts to comprehend things. Remember how he never quitted any subject till he had thoroughly examined it and understood it, and how he bore with those who blamed him unjustly, without making any angry retort: how he was never in a hurry; how he discouraged calumny; how closely he scanned the manners and actions of men; how cautious he was in reproaching any man; how free from fear, suspicion, or sophistry; how little contented him in the matter of house, furniture, dress, food, servants; how patient he was of labour, and how slow to anger. So abstemious was his life that he could hold out until evening without relieving himself, except at the usual hour. What a firm and loyal friend he was; how patient of frank opposition to his opinions; how glad if any one could set him right! How religious he was, and yet how free from superstition! Follow in his steps that your last hour may find you with a conscience as easy as his.

31. Sober yourself, recall your senses. Shake sleep from you, and know that it was a dream that troubled you; and, now that you are broad awake again, regard the waking world as you did the dream.

32. I am made up of a frail body and a soul. To the body all things are indifferent, because it cannot distinguish them; and to the mind all things are indifferent also which arise not from its own activities. All these are indeed in its own power, but it is concerned with only such of them as are present. Its past and future activities are indifferent to it now.

33. No toil for hand or foot is against Nature, so long as it is proper for hand or foot to do. No more, then, is toil contrary to the nature of man, as man, so long as he is doing work appointed for man to do; and if it be not contrary to his nature it cannot be evil for him.

34. How many are the pleasures that have been enjoyed by robbers, rakes, parricides, and tyrants!

35. Do you not see how common artificers, though they may humour the public to a certain extent, cling to the rules of their art, and cannot endure to depart from them? Is it not grievous, then, that the architect and the physician should shew greater respect for the rules of their several professions, than man shews for his own reason, which he possesses in common with the Gods?

36. Asia and Europe are mere corners of the Universe: the whole sea is but a drop, Athos a clod. All the present is but an instant in eternity. All things are small, changeable, and fleeting. Everything proceeds from the universal intelligence, either directly or as a consequence. Thus, the jaws of lions, poisons, all evil things such as thorns or mire, are the consequences of the grand and the beautiful. Do not, then, imagine that they are foreign to that which you revere, but consider well the source of all things.

37. He who has seen the present has seen all that either has been from all eternity, or will be to all eternity, for all things are alike in kind and form.

38. Consider frequently the connexion of all things in the Universe, and their relation to each other. All things are in a manner intermingled with one another, and are, therefore, mutually friendly. For one thing comes in due order after another, by virtue of local movements, and of the harmony and unity of the whole.

39. Adapt yourself to the things which your destiny has given you: love those with whom it is your lot to live, and love them with sincere affection.

40. A tool, an instrument, a utensil, is in good case when it is fit for its proper work: yet its maker remains not by it. But within the organisms of Nature there remains and resides the power which made them. You ought, therefore, to reverence this power the more, believing that if you act in deference to its will, all will happen to you in reason; for so in reason the Universe ranges all.

41. Whenever we imagine that anything which lies not in our power is good or evil for us, if the evil befall us or if we miss the good, we inevitably blame the Gods, and hate the men who are, or whom we suspect to be, the cause of our disaster or our loss. Our solicitude about such things leads to much injustice; but if we judge only the things that are in our power to be good or evil, there is no reason left for accusing the Gods or for hating men.

42. We are all co-operating in one great work, some with knowledge and understanding, others ignorantly and without design. It is in this sense, I think, that Heraclitus says that men are working even while they sleep, working together in all that is being done in the Universe. Each works in a different way; and even those contribute abundantly who murmur and try to oppose and to frustrate the course of nature. The world has need even of such as these. It remains then for you to make sure which is the class in which you rank yourself. The presiding mind will assuredly use you to good purpose one way or other; and will enlist you among its labourers and fellow-workers. But see to it that the part that falls to you lie not in the vulgar comic passage of the play, of which Chrysippus has spoken.

43. Does the sun pretend to perform the work of the rain, or Aesculapius that of Ceres? What of the several stars? Are they not different, yet all jointly working for the same end?

44. If the Gods took counsel about me and what should befall me, doubtless then-counsel was good. It is difficult to imagine Gods wanting in forethought, and what could move them to do me wilful harm? What advantage would thence accrue, either to themselves or to the Universe which is their special care? If they have not taken counsel about me in particular, they certainly have done so about the common interest of the Universe, and I therefore should accept cheerfully and contentedly the fate which is the outcome of their ordinance. If, indeed, they take no counsel about anything (which it were impious to believe), then let us quit our sacrifices, our prayers, and our oaths, and all acts of devotion which we now perform as if they lived and moved amongst us. But, granting that the Gods take no thought for my affairs, I may still deliberate about myself. It is my business to consider my own interest. Now, each man’s interest is that which agrees with the structure of his nature, and my nature is rational and social. As Antoninus, my city and my country is Rome; as a human being it is the world. That alone, then, which profits these two cities can profit me.

45. All that happens to the individual is of profit to the whole. This would suffice. But if you consider closely you will see that it is also a general truth that all that happens to one man is of profit to the rest of mankind. “Profit” here should be taken in a somewhat general sense, as referring to things indifferent.

46. In the amphitheatre and other such resorts the same or similar spectacles, continually presented, cloy at last. It is even so in all our experience of life. All things, first and last, are alike, and like derived. When shall the end be?

47. Think continually of all the men that are dead and gone, men of every sort and condition, of all manner of pursuits, and of every nation. Return back to Philistion, Phoebus, and Origanion. Pass down to other generations of the dead. We must all change our habitation and go to that place whither so many great orators, so many venerable philosophers, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates, and so many heroes have gone before, and so many generals and princes have followed. Add to these Eudoxus, Hipparchus, Archimedes, and other keen, great, laborious, cunning and arrogant spirits; yea, such as have wittily derided this fading mortal life which is but for a day, as did Menippus and his brethren. Consider that all these are long since in their graves. And wherein here is the harm for them; or even for men whose names are not remembered? The one precious thing in life is to spend it in a steady course of truth and justice, with kindliness even for the false and the unjust.

48. When you would cheer your heart, consider the several excellencies of those that live around you. Consider the activity of one, the modesty of another, the generosity of a third, and the other virtues of the rest. Nothing rejoices the heart so much as instances, the more the better, of goodness manifested in the characters of those around us. Let us, therefore, have such instances ever present for reflection.

49. Are you grieved that you weigh only these few pounds, and not three hundred? If not, is there greater reason to sorrow if you live only so many years and no longer? You are satisfied with your allotted quantity of matter; content yourself then likewise with the span of time appointed you.

50. Try to persuade men to agree with you; but whether they agree or not, pursue the course you have marked out when the principles of justice point that way. Should one oppose you by force, act with resignation, and shew not that you are hurt, use the obstruction for the exercise of some other virtue, and remember that your purpose involved the reservation that you were not to aim at impossibilities. What, after all, was your aim? To make some good effort such as this. Well, then, you have succeeded, even though your first purpose be not accomplished.

51. The vain-glorious man places his happiness in the action of others. The sensualist finds it in his own sensations. The wise man realizes it in his own work.

52. You have it in your power to form no opinion about this or that, and so to have peace of mind. Things material have no power to form our opinions for us.

53. Accustom yourself to attend closely to what is said by others, and as far as possible to penetrate into the mind of the speaker.

54. What profits not the swarm profits not the bee.

55. If the sailors revile their pilot, or the sick their physician, whom will they follow or obey? And how will the one secure safety to the crew, or the other health to the patients?

56. How many who entered the world with me are already departed!

57. To the jaundiced, honey seems bitter; and water is a thing of dread to those bitten by mad dogs. To boys a ball is a glorious thing. Why, then, am I angry? Has error in the mind less power than a little bile in the jaundiced, or a little poison in him who is bitten?

58. No man can prevent you from living according to the plan of your nature; and nothing can befall you which is contrary to the plan of the nature of the Universe.

59. Consider what men are; whom they seek to please; what they expect to gain, and how they go about to compass their ends. Think how soon eternity will shroud all things, and how much is already shrouded.

END OF THE SIXTH BOOK.