In this blog post, I will focus on Chapters II-VI of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, which follow his reflections in Chapter I of the Virtues taught to him [see previous post]. There are twelve chapters in all. At times, I feel that I am reading the book of Proverbs or a selection from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. Here are some highlights from section II-VI of The Meditations:
- To act against one another is contrary to nature
- Whatever this is that I am, it is a little flesh and breath. Throw away thy books; no longer distract thyself: it is not allowed. Thou art an old man, no longer be either dissatisfied with thy present lot, or shrink from the future.
- We must make haste not only because we are daily nearer to death, but also because the conception of things and the understanding of them cease first.
- Do not waste the remainder of thy life in thoughts about others, when thou dost not refer thy thoughts to some object of common utility. What is such a person doing, and why, and what is he saying, and what is he thinking of, and what is he contriving, and whatever else of the kind makes us wander away from the observation of our own ruling power.
- Labour not unwillingly, nor without regard to the common interest, nor without due consideration, nor with distraction; nor let studied ornament set off thy thoughts, and be not either a man of many words, or busy about too many things.
- Never value anything as profitable to thyself which shall compel thee to break thy promise, to lose thy self-respect, to hate any man, to suspect, to curse, to act the hypocrite, to desire anything which needs walls and curtains…
- Reverence the faculty which produces opinion.
- Every man lives life only this present time, which is an indivisible point, and that all the rest of his life is either past or it is uncertain.
- As physicians have always their instruments and knives ready for cases which suddenly require their skill, so do thou have principles ready for the understanding of things divine and human, and doing everything, even the smallest, with a recollection of the bond which unites the divine and human to one another.
- Body, soul, intelligence: to the body belong sensations, to the soul appetites, to the intelligence principles.
- How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself, that it may be just and pure; or as Agathon says, look not round at the depraved morals of others, but run straight along the line without deviating from it.
- Unhappy am I , because this happened to me—Not so, but Happy am I, though this has happened to me, because I continue free from pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearing the future.
- It is no evil for things to undergo change, and no good for things to subsist in consequence of change.
- Judge every word and deed which are according to nature to be fit for thee; and be not diverted by the blame which follows from any people, nor by their words, but if a thing is good to be done or said, do not consider it unworthy of thee.
- Look within. Let neither the peculiar quality of anything nor its value escape thee.
- Take pleasure in one thing and rest in it, in passing from one social act to another social act, thinking of God.
- When thou has been compelled by circumstances to be disturbed in a manner, quickly return to thyself and do not continue out of tune longer than the compulsion lasts; for thou wilt have more mastery over the harmony by continually recurring it.
- Asia, Europe are corners of the universe; all the sea a drop in the universe…Do not imagine that they are of another kind from that which thou dost venerate, but form a just opinion of the source of all.
- Adapt thyself to the things with which thy lot has been cast; and the men among whom thou hast received thy portion, love them, but do it truly [sincerely].
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. (1909). The Harvard Classics. New York: P. F. Collier & Son. 200-245.
The Martin Hammond translation (Penguin, 2006), is a lot less like the Proverbs, because it drops ‘thee’ and ‘thou’. For example,
“Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil is what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offended himself is akin to my own — not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong. Nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like hands, like feet, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature: and anger or rejection is opposition”. (Bk2, para 1, p10.)
To me, that reads beautifully, and much better than my old Staniforth translation, also Penguin but 1964.
If I had a Latin edition, I’d be able to see which word becomes ‘aggressive’ in the Hammond, and ‘insolence’ in the Staniforth; and ‘unsocial’ becomes ‘selfishness’. They have quite different meanings IMO.
Hi Lisa, I do appreciate the modern translations as well. My Aurelius quest originates from a 1909 Harvard Classics edition that belonged to my Father-in-law when he was in college in the 1950’s. He was also an English major. He passed his 23 volume collection on to me and I’m going through each volume, appreciating his marginalia and his thoughtfulness to share them with me. I appreciate you sharing the Hammond translation and the consideration of the original Latin. Robyn
How lovely to have such a legacy. My father was such a huge influence on my reading, I would love to have had some books from his personal library, but because we moved around so much, books were usually among the first items to be left behind…
Hi Lisa, did your father discuss the books he was reading with you? Or did he influence you by the act of reading— or both?
Well both, and more than that. Everywhere we lived he joined us up to the local library and took us there every Saturday to borrow as much as we could. Then when I’d outgrown children’s books and was borrowing at random from the adult section, he would suggest books from his own collection so I read Orwell, Huxley, CP Snow and the usual classics: Austen, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Thackeray, Thomas Hardy, the Russians and so on. We used to talk books, his and mine right through my university years and kept it up every Saturday afternoon until they moved interstate in retirement. We both missed it dreadfully, and his hearing wasn’t great, so we exchanged regular letters about our books right up until he went into aged care.
This is my little tribute to him: https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/04/12/vale-to-the-man-who-taught-me-to-love-books/
I miss him every day.
I love this! What a blessing to be his little girl. His love of literature lives through you and your wonderful, inspiring blogs. Thank you for sharing this.