Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Roman history


OBSERVE that the least things and effects in nature are not without charm and beauty, as the little cracks in the crust of a loaf, though not intended by the baker, are agreeable and invite the appetite. Thus figs, when they are ripest, open and gape; and olives, when they are near decaying, are peculiarly attractive. The bending of an ear of corn, the frown of a lion, the foam of a boar, and many other like things, if you take them singly, are far from beautiful; but seen in their natural relations are characteristic and effective. So if a man have but inclination and thought to examine the product of the universe, he will find that the most unpromising appearances have their own appropriate charm.

Do not spend your thoughts upon other people, nor pry into the talk, fancies and projects of another, nor guess at what he is about, or why he is doing it. Think upon nothing but what you could willingly tell about, so that if your soul were laid open there would appear nothing but what was sincere, good-natured and public-spirited. A man thus qualified is a sort of priest and minister of the gods, and makes a right use of the divinity within him. Be cheerful; depend not at all on foreign supports, nor beg your happiness of another; do not throw away your legs to stand upon crutches.

If, in the whole compass of human life, you find anything preferable to justice and truth, temperance and fortitude, or to a mind self-satisfied with its own rational conduct and entirely resigned to fate, then turn to it as to your supreme happiness. But if there be nothing more valuable than the divinity within you, if all things are trifles in comparison with this, then do not divide your allegiance. Let your choice run all one way, and be resolute for that which is best. As for other speculations, throw them once for all out of your head.


IT is the custom of people to go to unfrequented places and to the seashore and to the hills for retirement; and you yourself have often desired this solitude. But, after all, this is only a vulgar fancy, for it is in your power to withdraw into yourself whenever you have a mind to it. One's own heart is a place the most free from crowd and noise in the world if only one's thoughts are serene and the mind well ordered. Make, therefore, frequent use of this retirement, therein to refresh your virtue. And to this end be always provided with a few short, uncontested notions, to keep your understanding true. Do not forget to retire to this solitude of yours; let there be no straining or struggling in the matter, but move at ease.

If understanding be common to us all, then reason, its cause, must be common, too. And so also must the reason which governs conduct by commands and prohibitions be common to us all. Mankind is therefore under one common law and so are fellow-citizens; and the whole world is but one commonwealth, for there is no other society in which mankind can be incorporated.

Do not suppose that you are hurt, and your complaint will cease.

If a man affronts you, do not defer to his opinion, or think just as he would have you do.

No; look upon things as reality presents them. When incense is thrown upon the altar, one grain usually falls before another; but it matters not.

Adhere to the principles of wisdom, and those who now take you for a monkey or a beast will make a god of you in a week.

A thing is neither better nor worse for being praised. Do virtues stand in need of a good word, or are they the worse for a bad one? An emerald will shine none the less though its worth be not spoken of.

Whatever is agreeable to You, O Universe, is so to me, too. Your operations are never mis-timed. Whatever Your seasons bring is fruit for me, O Nature. From You all things proceed, subsist in You, and return to You. The poet said, 'Dear City of Cecrops'; shall we not say, 'Dear City of God'?

The greater part of what we say and do is unnecessary; and if this were only retrenched we should have more leisure and less disturbance. This applies to our thoughts also, for impertinence of thought leads to unnecessary action.

Mankind are poor, transitory things; one day in life, and the next turned to ashes. Therefore manage this minute wisely and part with it cheerfully; and like a ripe fruit, when you drop, make your acknowledgments to the tree that bore you.


WHEN you feel unwilling to rise early in the morning, make this short speech to yourself: 'I am getting up now to do the business of a man; and am I out of humour for going about that I was made for, and for the sake of which I was sent into the world? Was I then designed for nothing but to doze beneath the counterpane?' Surely action is the end of your being. Look upon the plants and birds, the ants, spiders and bees, and you will see that they are all exerting their nature and busy in their station. Shall not a man act like a man?

Be not ashamed of any action which is in accordance with nature, and never be misled by the fear of censure or reproach. Where honesty prompts you to say or do anything, let not the opinion of others hold you back. Go straight forward, pursuing your own and the common interest.

Some men, when they do you a kindness, ask for the payment of gratitude; others, more modest, remember the favour and look upon you as their debtor. But there are yet other benefactors who forget their good deeds; and these are like the vine, which is satisfied by being fruitful in its kind and bears a bunch of grapes without expecting any thanks for it. A truly kind man never talks of a good turn that he has done, but does another as soon as he can, just like a vine that bears again the next season.

We commonly say that Aesculapius has prescribed riding for one patient, walking for another, a cold bath for a third. In the same way we may say that the nature of the universe has ordered this or that person a disease, loss of limbs or estate, or some such other calamity; For as, in the first case, the word 'prescribed' means a direction for the health of the patient, so, in the latter, it means an application suitable for his constitution and destiny.

Be not uneasy, discouraged or out of humour, because practice falls short of precept in some particulars. If you happen to be vanquished, come on again, and be glad if most of what you do is worthy of a man.

We ought to live with the gods. This is done by being contented with the appointment of providence and by obeying the orders of that divinity which is God's deputy; and this divine authority is no more or less than that soul and reason which every man carries within him.

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