Meditations

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THE NINTH BOOK

1. He who does injustice commits impiety. For since universal Nature has formed the rational animals for one another; each to be useful to the other according to his merit, and never hurtful; he who transgresses this her will is clearly guilty of impiety against the most ancient and venerable of the Gods.

He who lies sins against the same divinity. For the nature of the whole is the nature of all things which exist; and things which exist are akin to all that has come to be. Nature, indeed, is called truth, and is the first cause of all truths. He, then, that lies willingly is guilty of impiety, in so far as by deceiving he works injury: and he also who lies unwillingly, in so far as he is out of tune with universal Nature, and in so far as he works disorder in the Universe by fighting against its design. He is at war with Nature who sets himself against the truth. He has neglected the means with which Nature furnished him, and cannot now distinguish false from true.

He, too, who pursues pleasure as good, and shuns pain as evil, is guilty of impiety. Such a one must needs frequently blame the common nature for unseemly awards of fortune to bad and to good men. For the bad often enjoy pleasures and possess the means to attain them, and the good often meet with pain and with what causes pain. Again, he who dreads pain must sometimes dread a thing which will make part of the world order, and this is impious. And he who pursues pleasure will not abstain from injustice, and this is clear impiety. In those things to which the common nature is indifferent (for she had not made both, were she not indifferent to either), he who would follow Nature ought, in this also, to be of like mind with her, and shew the like indifference. And whoever is not indifferent to pain and pleasure, life and death, glory and ignominy, all of which universal Nature uses indifferently, is clearly impious. By Nature using them indifferently, I mean that they befall indifferently all beings which exist, and ensue upon others in the great chain of consequence which began in the primal impulse of Providence. Providence, in pursuance of this impulse, and starting from a definite beginning, set about this fair structure of the universe when she had conceived the plan of all that was to be, and appointed the distinct powers which were to produce the several substances, changes, and successions.

2. It were the more desirable lot to depart from among men, unacquainted with falsehood, hypocrisy, luxury, or vanity. The next choice were to expire when cloyed with these vices. Have you then chosen rather to abide in evil; or has experience not yet persuaded you to fly from amidst the plague? For a corruption of the mind is far more a plague than any pestilential distemper or change in the surrounding air we breathe. The one is pestilence to animals as animals: but the other to men as men.

3. Despise not death; but receive it well content, as one of the things which Nature wills. For even as it is to be young, to be old, to grow up, to be full grown; even as it is to breed teeth, and beard, and to grow grey, to beget, to go with child, to be delivered; and to undergo all the effects of nature which life’s seasons bring; such is it also to be dissolved in death. It becomes not therefore a man of wisdom to be careless, or impatient, or ostentatiously contemptuous about death; he should rather await its coming as one of the operations of nature. Even as now you await the season when the child of your wife’s body shall issue into the light, await the hour when your soul shall fall out of these its teguments. If you wish for the common sort of comfort, here is a thought which goes to the heart. You will be completely resigned to death if you consider the things you are about to leave, and the morals of that confused crowd from which your soul is to be disengaged. It is far from right to be offended with them. It is even your duty to have a tender care for them, and to bear with them mildly. Yet remember that the parting, when it comes, will not be with men who think as you think. For the only thing which, if it might be, could hold you back and detain you in life, would be to live with those who had reached the same principles of life as you. But, as it is, you, seeing how great is the fatigue and toil arising from the jarring courses of those who live together, may cry: “Haste, death! lest I, too, should forget myself.”

4. The sinner sins against himself. The wrong-doer wrongs himself by making himself evil.

5. Men are often unjust by omissions as well as by actions.

6. Be satisfied with your present opinion, if certain; with your present course of action, if social; with your present mood, if well pleased with all that comes upon you from without.

7. Wipe out impression; stay impulse; quench desire; and keep the governing part master of itself.

8. The soul distributed among the irrational animals is one. Rational beings, on the other hand, partake of one reasoning intelligence. Even so, there is one earth to all things earthy; and, for all of us who are endowed with sight and breath, there is one light by which to see, one air to breathe.

9. All things that share a common quality are strongly drawn to that which is of their own kind. The earthy tends towards the earth; fluids flow together, aerial bodies likewise; and naught but force prevents their confluence. Fire rises upward on account of the elemental fire; and it is so ready to join in kindling with all the fire that is here that any matter pretty dry is easily set on fire, because that which hinders its kindling is the weaker element in its composition. Thus also, then, whatever partakes of the common intellectual nature hastens in like manner, or even more markedly, towards that which is akin to it. For the more it excels other natures, the stronger is its tendency to mix with and adhere to its kind. Accordingly, among irrational creatures we find swarms of bees, herds of cattle, nurture of the young, and love, of a sort. For even in animals there is a soul; and in the more noble natures a mutual attraction is found to be at work, such as does not exist in plants, or stones, or wood. Among the rational animals, again, there are societies and friendships, families and assemblies; and, in war, treaties and truces. Among beings still more excellent, there subsists, though they be placed far asunder, a certain kind of union, as among the stars. Thus ascent in the scale can produce a sympathy even in things that are widely distant. But mark what happens among us. It is only intellectual beings who forget the social concern for one another, and the mutual tendency to union. Here alone the social confluence is not seen. Yet are they environed and held by it, though they strive to escape; and nature always prevails. Observe and you will see my meaning: for sooner may one find some earthy thing which joins with nothing earthy, than a man severed and separate from all men.

10. Man, God, and the Universe, all bear fruit; and each in their own season. Custom indeed has appropriated the expression to vines and the like; but that is nothing. Reason has its fruit both for all men and for itself, and produces just such other things as reason itself is.

11. If you can, teach men better. If not, remember that the virtue of charity was given you to be used in such a case. Nay, the Gods are patient with them, and even aid them in their pursuit of some things such as health, wealth, and glory, so gracious are they! You may be so too. Who hinders you?

12. Bear toil and pain, not as if wretched under it, nor as courting pity or admiration. Wish for one thing only; always to act or to refrain as social wisdom requires.

13. To-day I have escaped from all trouble; or rather I have cast out all trouble from me. For it was not without but within, in my own opinions.

14. All things are, in our experience, common; in their continuance but for a day; and in their matter sordid. All things now are as they were in the times of those we have buried.

15. Things stand without, by themselves, neither knowing or declaring aught to us concerning themselves. What is it then that pronounces upon them? The ruling part.

16. It is not in passive feeling, but in action, that the good and evil of the rational animal formed for society consists. Similarly his virtue or his vice lies not in feeling but in action.

17. To the stone thrown up it is no evil to fall; no good to rise.

18. Penetrate the souls of men, and you will see what judges you fear, and how they sit in judgment on themselves.

19. All things are in change. You yourself are under continual transmutation, and, in some sort, corruption. So is the whole universe.

20. Another’s sin you must leave with himself.

21. The ceasing of any action, the extinction of any keen desire, or of any opinion, is as it were a death to them. This is no evil. Think again of the ages of your life; childhood, youth, manhood, old age. Each change of these was a death. Is there anything to dread here? Think now of your life as it was, first under your grandfather, then under your mother, then under your father; and, as you find there many other alterations, changes, and endings, ask yourself: Is there anything to dread here? Thus neither is there anything to dread in the cessation, ending, and change of your whole life.

22. Make swift appeal to your own ruling part, to that of the Universe, and to his who has offended you. To your own, that you may make it a mind disposed to justice; to that of the Universe, that you may remember of what you are a part; and to his, that you may know whether he has acted in ignorance or by design, and that you may also reflect that he is your kinsman.

23. You yourself are a part of a social system necessary to complete the whole. Accordingly, let your every action be a similar part of the social life. And if any action has not its reference, either immediate or distant, to the common good as its end, this action disorders your life and frustrates its unity. It is sedition like that of the man who, in a commonwealth, does all in his power to sever himself from the general harmony and concord.

24. Children’s quarrels! Child’s play! Poor spirits carrying about dead corpses! Such is our life. The ‘Masque of the Dead’ is intelligible by comparison.

25. Go to the quality of the cause; abstract it from the material, and contemplate it by itself. Determine then the time: how long, at furthest, this thing, of this peculiar quality, can naturally subsist.

26. You have endured innumerable sufferings by not being satisfied with your own ruling part when it does the things which it was formed to do. Enough then of that.

27. When another reproaches or hates you, or utters anything to that purpose; go to his soul; enter in there; and look what manner of man he is. You will see that you need not trouble yourself to make him think well or ill of you. Yet you should be kindly towards such men, for they are by nature your friends: and the Gods, too, aid them in all ways; by dreams, by oracles, and even in the things about which they are most eager.

28. The course of things in the world is ever the same; a continual rotation; up and down, from age to age. Either the Universal Mind exerts itself in every particular event, in which case you must accept what comes immediately from it: or it has exerted itself once and for all, and, as a result, all things go on for ever, in a necessary chain of consequence: or again atoms and indivisible particles are the origin of all things. In fine, if there be a God, all is well; and if there be only chance, you at least need not act by chance.

The earth will presently cover us all; and then this earth will itself be changed into other forms, and these again into others, and so on without end. And, if any one considers how swiftly those changes and transmutations roll on, like one wave upon another, he will despise all things mortal.

29. The universal cause is like a winter torrent. It sweeps all along with it. How very little worth are those poor creatures who pretend to understand affairs of state, and imagine they unite in themselves the statesman and the philosopher! The frothy fools! Do you, O man! that which Nature now requires of you. Set about it if you have the means; and look not around you to see if any be taking notice, neither hope to realize Plato’s Republic. Be satisfied if the smallest thing go well. Consider even such an event as no small matter. For who can change the opinions of men? And without change of opinion what is their state but a slavery, under which they groan, while they pretend to obey? Come now; speak of Alexander, Philip, and Demetrius of Phalerum. They know best whether they understood what the common nature required of them, and whether they trained themselves accordingly. But, if they designed only to play the tragic hero, no one has condemned me to do the like. The work of philosophy is simple and modest. Lead me not astray in pursuit of a vainglorious stateliness.

30. Look down, as from some eminence, upon the innumerable herds, the countless solemn festivals, the voyaging of every sort, in tempests and in calms; the different states of those who come into life, enter upon life’s associations, and leave it in the end. Consider, too, the life which others have lived formerly, the life they will live after you, and the life that barbarous peoples are now living. How many of these know not even your name; how many will quickly forget it; how many are there who perhaps praise you now, but will shortly blame you. Reflect, then, that neither is surviving fame a thing of value; nor present glory; nor anything at all.

31. Let nothing due to a cause outside yourself disturb your calm. In the workings of the active principle within you let there be justice: that is a bent of will and a course of action which have social good as their one end, and so are suited to your nature.

32. You can suppress many of the superfluous troubles which beset you, for they lie wholly in your own opinion. By this you will give ample room and ease to your life. You may compass this end by comprehending the whole Universe in your judgment; by contemplating eternity; and by reflecting on the swift changes of individual things, thinking how short is the time from their birth to their dissolution, how immense the space of ages before that birth, how equally infinite the eternity which shall succeed that dissolution.

33. All things that you see will quickly perish; and those who behold them perishing are very soon themselves to die. And he who dies oldest will be in like case with him who dies before his time.

34. What manner of souls have these men? What is the end of their striving; and on what accounts do they love and honour? Imagine their souls naked before you. When they fancy that their censures hurt, or their praises profit us, how great is their self-conceit!

35. Loss is naught but change; in change is the joy of universal Nature, and by her all things are ordered well. From the beginning of ages they have been shaped alike, and to all eternity they will be the same. How then can you say that all things have been, and ever will be evil; that among so many Gods there has been found no power to rectify; but that the Universe is condemned to endure the burden of never-ending ill?

36. How corrupt is the material substance of every thing, water, dust, bones, and foulness! Again; marble is but the concrete humour of the earth, gold and silver its heavy dregs. Our garments are but hair, the purple dye blood. All else is of a like nature. Breath, too, is just the same, ever changing from this to that.

37. Enough of this wretched life: enough of repining and apish trifling. Why are you disturbed? Are any of these troubles new? What excites you so? Is it the cause?

Then view it well. Is it the matter? View it also well. Besides these there is nothing. Wherefore at last act with more simplicity and goodness towards the Gods. Whether you look on this spectacle for a hundred years or for three it is the same.

38. If he has done wrong, the evil is with him: and perhaps, too, he has not done wrong.

39. Either all things proceed from one source of intelligence and come together in one body, in which case the part must not complain of what comes about for the benefit of the whole; or all is atoms, and there is nothing else but confused mixture and dissipation. Why then are you disturbed? Say to your soul: “Thou art dead: thou art rotten: thou hast turned beast, joined the herd, and dost feed along with them.”

40. Either the Gods have power or they have none. If they have no power, why do you pray? If they have power, why do you not choose to pray to them for power neither to fear, nor to desire, nor to be grieved over any of these external things, rather than for their presence or their absence? Surely, if the Gods can aid man at all, they can aid him in this. But perhaps you will say “the Gods have put this in my own power.” Then is it not better to use that which is in your own power and preserve your liberty, than to set your heart on what is beyond your power and become an abject slave? And who has told you that the Gods aid us not in these things also which are in our power? Begin to pray about them and you will see. One man prays: “May I possess that woman!” Do you pray: “May I have no wish to possess her!” Another prays: “May I be delivered from so and so!” Pray you: “May I not need to be delivered from him!” A third cries: “May I not lose my child!” Let your prayer be: “May I not fear to lose him!” In fine, turn your prayers this way, and observe what comes of it.

41. Epicurus says: “In my sickness my conversations were not about the diseases of this poor body; nor did I speak of any such things to those who came to me. I continued to discourse as before on the principles of natural Philosophy, and was chiefly intent on the problem of how the mind, though it partakes in the violent commotions of the flesh, might remain undisturbed and keep guard on its own proper excellence. I permitted not the physicians,” he continues, “to magnify their office, and vaunt themselves as if they were doing-something of great moment, but my life continued pleasant and happy.” What he did then, in sickness, do you also if ye fall ill, or suffer any other misfortune. Never to depart from your philosophy whatever befalls you, never to join in the folly of the vulgar and the ignorant, is a maxim common to all the schools. Give your mind only to the business now in hand and to the means whereby it is to be accomplished.

42. When you are offended by the shamelessness of any man, straightway ask yourself: Can the world exist without shameless men? It cannot. Therefore do not demand what is impossible. Your enemy also is one of these shameless people who must needs be in the universe. Have the same question also at hand when you are shocked at craft, or perfidy, or any other sin. For while you remember that it is impossible that the class should not exist, you will be more charitable to each particular individual. It is useful also to have this reflection ready: What virtue has nature given to man wherewith to combat this fault? Against unreason she has given meekness as an antidote; against another weakness another power. You are also at full liberty to set right one who has wandered; now every wrong-doer is missing his proper aim and has gone astray. And then, in what are you injured? You will find that none of those at whom you are exasperated have done anything whereby your intellectual part was like to be the worse. Now anything which can really harm or hurt you has its subsistence there, and there alone. And wherein is it strange or evil that the man untaught acts after his kind? Look if you ought not rather to blame yourself for not having laid your account with his being guilty of such faults. Your reason gave you the means to conclude that it was probable that he would do this wrong; you forgot, and yet wonder that he has done it. But above all, when you are blaming any one for faithlessness or ingratitude, turn to yourself. The fault lies manifestly with you, if you trusted that a man of such a disposition could keep faith; or if, when you granted the favour, you did not grant it without ulterior views, and on the principle that the complete and immediate reward of your action lay in the doing of it. What would you more, when you have done a man a kindness? Is it not enough for you that you have acted in this according to your nature? Do you ask a reward for it? It is as if the eye were to ask a reward for seeing, or the feet for walking. For just as these parts are formed for a certain purpose, which when they fulfil according to their proper structure, they attain their proper end; so man, formed by nature to do kindness to his fellows, whenever he acts kindly, or in any other way works for the common good, has fulfilled the purpose of his creation, and has possession of what is his own.

END OF THE NINTH BOOK.