Emperor Marcus Aurelius: Meditations

THIS book, which Marcus Aurelius called his Self-Communings, consists of reflections jotted down by the emperor at odd moments. His world produced no other book which, like his, remains as an unfailing companion to every generation of the modern age. The charm of these fragmentary meditations depends greatly on their engaging candour and also on its writer's iron stoicism, but chiefly on the admirable and lovable human character which is consistently reflected in these pages.


THE example of my grandfather Verus taught me to be candid and to control my temper. By the memory of my father's character I learnt to be modest and manly. My mother taught me regard for religion, to be generous and open-handed, and neither to do an ill turn to anyone nor even to think of it. She bred me also to a plain and inexpensive way of living.

I owe it to my grandfather that I had not a public education, but had good masters at home. From my tutor I learnt not to identify myself with popular sporting interests, but to work hard, endure fatigue, and not to meddle with other people's affairs. Diognetus taught me to bear freedom and plain dealing in others, and gave me a taste for philosophy. Rusticus first set me to improve my character, and prevented me from running after the vanity of the Sophists.

Apollonius showed me how to give my mind its due freedom, to disregard everything that was not true and reasonable and to maintain an equable temper under the most trying circumstances. Sextus taught me good humour, to be obliging and to bear with the ignorant and thoughtless. From Maximus I learnt to command myself and to put through business efficiently, without drudging or complaint.

From my adoptive father I learnt a smooth and inoffensive temper and a greatness proof against vanity and the impressions of pomp and power; I learnt that it was the part of a prince to check flattery, to have his exchequer well furnished, to be frugal in his expenses, not to worship the gods to superstition, but to be reserved, vigilant and well poised.

I thank the gods that my grandfathers, parents, sister, preceptors, relatives, friends and domestics were almost all persons of probity and that I never happened to disoblige any of them. By the goodness of the gods I was not provoked to expose my infirmities. I owe it to them also that my wife is so deferential, affectionate and frugal; and that when I had a mind to look into philosophy I did not spend too much time in reading or logic-chopping. All these points could never have been guarded without a protection from above.


PUT yourself in mind, every morning, that before that night you will meet with some meddlesome, ungrateful and abusive fellow, with some envious or unsociable churl. Remember that their perversity proceeds from ignorance of good and evil; and that since it has fallen to my share to understand the natural beauty of a good action and the deformity of an ill one; since I am satisfied that the disobliging person is of kin to me, our minds being both extracted from the Deity; since no man can do me a real injury because no man can force me to misbehave myself; I cannot therefore hate or be angry with one of my own nature and family. For we are all made for mutual assistance, no less than the parts of the body are for the service of the whole; whence it follows that clashing and opposition are utterly unnatural.

This being of mine consists of body, breath and that part which governs. Put away your books and face the matter itself. As for your body, value it no more than if you were just expiring; it is nothing but a little blood and bones. Your breath is but a little air pumped in and out. But the third part is your mind. Here make a stand. Consider that you are an old man, and do not let this noble part of you languish in slavery any longer. Let it not be overborne with selfish passions; let it not quarrel with fate, or be uneasy at the present, or afraid of the future. Providence shines clearly through the work of the gods. Let these reflections satisfy you, and make them your rule to live by. As for books, cease to be eager for them, that you may die in good humour heartily thanking the gods for what you have had.

Remember that you are a man and a Roman, and let your actions be done with dignity, gravity, humanity, freedom and justice; let every action be done as though it were your last. Have neither insincerity nor self-love. Man has to gain but few points in order to live a happy and godlike life.

And what, after all, is there to be afraid of in death? If the gods exist, you can suffer no harm; and if they do not exist, or take no care of us mortals, a world without gods or Providence is not worth a man's while to live in. But the being of the gods, and their concern in human affairs, is beyond dispute; and they have put it in every man's power not to fall into any calamity properly so called.

Living and dying, honour and infamy. Pleasure and pain, riches and poverty--all these are common to the virtuous and the depraved, and therefore intrinsically neither good not evil. We live but for a moment; our being is in a perpetual flux, our faculties are dim, our bodies tend ever to corruption; the soul is an eddy, fortune is not to be guessed at and posthumous fame is oblivion. To what, then, may we trust? Why, to nothing but philosophy. This is, to keep the interior divinity from injury and disgrace, and superior to pleasure and pain, without any dissembling and pretence, and to acquiesce in one's appointed lot.

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