Ancient Roman philosophers: Marcus Aurelius



[OF LIBERALITY IN OUTLOOK - FROM MEDITATIONS - MARCUS AURELIUS]

THE best way of revenge is not to imitate the injury. Be always doing something serviceable to mankind; and let this constant generosity be your pleasure, not forgetting a due regard to God.

The world is either an aggregation of atoms, or it is a unity ruled by law and providence. If the first, what should I stay for, where nature is a chaos and things are blindly jumbled together? But if there is a providence, I adore the great Governor of the world, and am at ease and cheerful in the prospect of protection.

Suppose you had a stepmother and a mother at the same time; though you would pay regard to the first, your converse would be principally with the latter. Let the court and philosophy represent these two relations to me.

If an antagonist in the circus tears our flesh with his nails, or tilts against us with his head, we do not cry out foul play, nor are we offended, nor do we suspect him afterwards as a dangerous person. Let us act thus in the other instances of life. When we receive a blow, let us think that we are but at a trial of skill and depart without malice or ill will.

It is enough to do my duty; as for other things, I will not be disturbed about them.

The vast continents of Europe and of Asia are but corners of the creation; the ocean is but a drop, and Mount Athos but a grain in respect of the universe; and the present instant of time is but a point to the extent of eternity.

When you have a mind to divert your fancy, try to consider the good qualities of your acquaintance--such as the enterprising vigour of this man, the modesty of another, the liberality of a third, and so on. Let this practice be always at hand.

[OF PATIENCE AND TOLERATION]

WHAT is wickedness? It is nothing new. When you are in danger of being shocked, consider that the sight is nothing but what you have frequently seen already. All ages and histories towns and families, are full of the same stories; there is nothing new to be met with, but all things are common and quickly over.

Nature works up the matter of the universe like wax; now it is a horse; soon you will find it melted down and run into the figure of a tree, then a man, then something else. Only for a brief time is it fixed in any species.

Antisthenes said: 'It is the fate of princes to be ill spoken of for their good deeds.'

Consider the course of the stars as if you were driving through the sky and kept them company. Such contemplations as these scour off the rust contracted by conversing here below.

Rational creatures are designed for the advantage of each other. A sociable temper is that for which human nature was principally intended.

It is a saying of Plato's that no one misses the truth by his own goodwill. The same may be said of honesty, sobriety, good nature and the like. Remember this for it will help to sweeten your temper.

Though the gods are immortal, and have had their patience tried through so many ages, yet they even provide liberally for us. And are you tired with evil men already, who are an unhappy mortal yourself?

[OF THE TRIPLE RESPONSIBILITY]

EVERY man has three relations to acquit himself in; his body, God, and his neighbours.

Have you seen a hand or a foot cut off and removed from the body? Just such a thing is the man who is discontented with destiny or cuts himself off by selfishness from the interest of mankind. But here is the fortunate aspect of the case--it lies in his power to set the limb on again. Consider the peculiar bounty of God to man in this privilege: He has set him above the necessity of breaking off from nature and providence at all; but supposing this misfortune to have occurred, it is in man's power to rejoin the body, and grow together again.

Do not take your whole life into your head at a time, nor burden yourself with the weight of the future. Neither what is past nor what is to come need afflict you, for you have only to deal with the present; and this is strangely lessened if you take it singly and by itself. Chide your fancy, therefore, if it grow faint.

Throw me into what climate or state your please, for all that I will keep my soul content. Is any misadventure big enough to ruffle my peace, or to make my mind mean, craving and servile? What is there that can justify such disorders?

Be not heavy in business, nor disturbed in conversation, nor rambling in thought. Do not burden yourself with too much employment. Do men curse you? This cannot prevent you from keeping a wise, temperature and upright mind. If a man standing by a lovely spring should rail at it, the water is none the worse for his foul language; and if he throw in dirt it will soon disappear and the fountain will be as wholesome as ever. How are you to keep your springs always running, that they may never stagnate into a pool? You must preserve in in the virtues of freedom, sincerity, moderation and good nature.

[OF MODERATION IN DEED AND WISH]

DO not drudge like a galley-slave, nor do business in a laborious manner, as if you wish to be pitied or wondered at.

As virtue and vice consist in action, and not in the impressions of the senses, so it is not what they feel, but what they do, that makes mankind happy or miserable.

This man prays that he may gain such a woman; but do you rather pray that you may have no such inclination. Another invokes the gods to set him free from some troublesome circumstance; but let it be your petition that your mind may not be set upon such a wish. A third is devout in order to prevent the loss of his son; but I would have you pray rather against the fear of losing him. Let this be the rule for your devotions, and watch the event.

[OF SINCERITY AND ITS REWARDS]

O MY soul, are you ever to be rightly good, sincere and uniform, and made more visible to yourself than the body that hangs about you? Are you ever likely to relish good nature and general kindness as you ought? Will you ever be fully satisfied, rise above wanting and wishing, and never desire to obtain your pleasure out of anything foreign, either living or inanimate? Are you ever likely to be so happily qualified as to converse with the gods and men in such a manner as neither to complaint of them nor to be condemned by them?

Put it out of the power of all men to give you a bad name, and if anyone reports you not to be an honest or a good man let your practice give him the lie. This is quite feasible; for who can hinder you from being just and sincere?

There is no one so happy in his family and friends but that some of them, when they see him going, will rejoice at a good riddance. Let him be a person of never so much probity and prudence, yet someone will say at his grave:

Well, our man of order and gravity is gone; we shall be no more troubled with his discipline.' This is the best treatment a good man must expect.

[OF CALMNESS UNDER ILL USAGE]

WHAT a brave soul it is that is always ready to depart from the body and is unconcerned as to whether she will be extinguished, scattered, or removed! But she must be prepared upon reasonable grounds, and not out of mere obstinacy like the Christians; her fortitude must have nothing of noise or of tragic ostentation, but must be grave and seemly.

How fulsome and hollow does that man seem who cries: 'I'm resolved to deal sincerely with you!' Hark you, friend, what need of all this flourish? Let your actions speak. Your face ought to vouch for you. I would have virtue look out of the eye no less apparently than love does. A man of integrity and good nature can never be concealed, for his character is wrought into his countenance.

Gentleness and good humour are invincible, provided they are of the right stamp and without hypocrisy. This is the way to disarm the most outrageous person--to continue kind and unmoved under ill usage and to strike in at the right opportunity with advice. But let all be done out of mere love and kindness.

[THE FORTITUDE THAT IS ROMAN]

I HAVE often wondered how it is that everyone should love himself best and yet value his neighbour's opinion of him more than his own. If any man should be ordered to turn his inside outwards and publish every thought and fancy as fast as they came into his head, he would not submit to so much as a day of this discipline. Thus it is that we dread our neighbour's judgement more than our own.

What a mighty privilege man is born to, since it is in his power not to do anything but what God Almighty approves, and to be satisfied with all the distributions of providence!

Reflect upon those who have made the most glorious figure or have met with the greatest misfortunes. Where are they all now? They are vanished like a little smoke; they are nothing but ashes, and a tale--or not even a tale. Recollect likewise everything of this sort: what Fabius Catullinus did at his country seat; Lucius Lupus, in his garden; Stertinius, at Baiae; Tiberius, at Capreae; Rufus, at Velia: in short, the overweening importance attached to anything whatsoever. The prize is insignificant and the game not worth the candle. It is much more becoming to a philosopher to stand clear of affectation, to be honest and moderate upon all occasions and to follow cheerfully wherever the gods lead on, remembering that nothing is more scandalous than a man who is proud of his humility.

Listen, friend! You have been a burgher of this great city. What matter though you have lived in it fewer years or more? If you have kept the laws of the corporation, the length or shortness of the time makes no difference. Where is the hardship, then, if nature, that planted you here, orders your removal? You cannot say you are sent off by an unjust tyrant. No! You quit the stage as fairly as a player does who has his discharge from the master of the revels.

'But I have only gone through three acts, and not held out to the end of the fifth!'

True; but in life three acts may complete the play. He is the only judge of completeness who first ordered your entrance and now orders your exit; you are accountable for neither the one nor the other. Retire, therefore, in serenity, as He who dismisses you is serene.





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