The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Below is a collection of my favorite quotes from the Robin Hard translation of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

Book 4

“When the ruling power within us is in harmony with nature, it confronts events in such a way that it always adapts itself readily to what is fesible and is granted to it.” - 4:1

“People seek retreats for themselves in the countryside, by the seashore, in the hills; and you too have made it your habit to long for that above all else. But this is altogether unphilosophical, when it is possible for you to retreat into yourself whenever you please; for nowhere can one retreat into greater peace or freedom from care than within one’s own soul.” - 4:3

“If intelligence is common to us all, then so is the reason that makes us rational beings; and if that be so, then so is the reason that prescribes what we should do or not do. If that be so, there is a common law also; if that be so, we are fellow citizens; and if that be so, the world is a kind of state.” - 4:4

“Nothing proceeds from nothing, just as nothing returns to nothing–so our intelligence also has come from some particular source.” - 4:4

“You entered this world as a part, and you will vanish back into that which brought you to birth.” - 4:14

“What ease of mind a person gains if he casts no eye on what his neighbor has said, done, or thought, but looks only to what he himself is doing, to ensure that his own action may be just, and holy, and good in every regard.” - 4:18

“One who feels a passionate desire for posthumous fame fails to recognize that everyone who remembers him will die very swiftly in his turn, and then again the one who takes over from him, until all memory is utterly extinguished as it passes from one person to another and each in succession is lit and then snuffed out.” - 4:19

“I hardly need say that praise means nothing to the dead; but what does it mean to the living, unless, perhaps, it serves some secondary purpose? For you are rejecting inopportunely the gift that nature grants to you in the present, and are setting your mind on what others may say of you.” - 4:19

“Everything that is in any way beautiful is beautiful of itself and complete in itself, and praise has no part in it; for nothing comes to be better or worse for being praised.” - 4:20

“Everything suits me that suits your designs, O my universe. Nothing is too early or too late for me that is in your own good time. All is fruit for me that your seasons bring, O nature. All proceeds from you, all subsists in you, and to you all things return.” - 4:23

“Either an ordered universe, or a heterogeneous mass heaped together which forms no proper order; or can it be that a certain order subsists in you, but disorder in the whole, and that too when things are distinct and yet interfused and bound together by a common sympathy?” - 4:27

“Love the art that you have learned and take your rest in it; and pass through the rest of your life as one who has entrusted all that he has, with a full heart, to the gods, and makes himself neither a tyrant nor a slave to any man.” - 4:31

“Call to mind, say, the time of Vespasian, and you will see the same old things: people marrying, bringing up children, falling sick, dying, fighting wars, feasting, trading, working the land, flattering, putton on airs, suspecting their fellows, hatching plots, praying for the death of others, grumbling at their present lot, falling in love, piling up fortunes, lusting for high office or a crown; and now that the life of theirs is utterly dead and nowhere to be seen. And then pass on to the time of Trajan. Once again the same old things; and that life too is dead. Consider likewise the annals of other ages and of entire nations, and see how many people, after their brief exertions, soon fell prey to death and were resolved into their elements. But above all, you should run over in your mind those whom you yourself have known, who, distracted by vain pursuits, have neglected to do what their own constitution demanded, and to hold firm to this and reset content. And here it is essential to remember that the care bestowed on each action should be proportionate to its worth; for then you will not lose heart and give up, if you are not busying yourself with lesser matters to a greater extent than they deserve.” - 4:32

“All is ephemeral, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.” - 4:35

“There is a stream of things entering into being, and time is a raging torrent; for no sooner does each thing enter our sight than it has been swept away, and another is passing in its place, and that too will be swept away.” - 4:43

“Alwayws remember the saying of Heraclitus, that the death of earth is birth for water, and the death of water is birth for air, and that of air for fire, and conversely.” - 4:46

“If one of the gods informed you, ‘You will die tomorrow or, at any rate, the day after tomorrow’, you would consider it no great matter whether it were the day after tomorrow rather than tomorrow, unless, indeed, you were a terrible coward, for the difference is minimal; so likewise, consider it no great matter whether you will die after many a long year rather than tomorrow.” - 4:47

“In a word, never cease to observe how evanescent are all things human, and how worthless: today a drop of mucus, and tomorrow a mummy or a pile of ash. So make your way through this brief moment of time as one who is obedient to nature, and accept your end with a cheerful heart, just as an olive might ripen and fall, blessing the earth that bore it and grateful to the tree that gave it growth.” - 4:48

“Be like the headland, with wave after wave breaking against it, which yet stands firm and sees the boiling waters round it fall to rest. ‘Unfortunate am I that this has befallen me.’ No, quite the contrary: ‘Fortunate am I, that when such a thing has befallen me, I remain undisturbed, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of what is to come.’ For such a thing could have happened to anyone, but not everyone would have remained undisturbed in the face of such a blow.” - 4:49

Book 5

“So were you born for pleasure or, in general, for feeling, or for action? Do you not see how the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees, each do their own work and play their part in the proper running of the universe? And will you, then, for your part, refuse to do the work of a human being? Will you not hasten to do what your nature requires of you?” - 5:1

“They cannot admire you for the sharpness of your mind. So be it, but there is much else of which you cannot say, ‘I have no gift for that.’ So display the qualities that are wholly within your power, sincerity, dignity, endurance, disdain for sensual pleasure, satisfaction with your lot, contentment with little, kindness, freedom, frugality, avoidance of idle character, and elevation of mind. Do you not see how many fine qualities you are already able to display, for which you can offer no excuse of want of natural talent or lack of aptitude?” - 5:5

“And so such a person, when he has done a good deed, does not shout about it, but passes straight on to the next one, as the vine yields new clusters of grapes when the season comes around.” - 5:6

“I am composed of the formal and the material; and neither of these will perish into nothingness, just as neither arose from nothingness. Thus every part of me will be appointed by change to a new position of some part of the universe, and that again will be changed to form another part of the universe, and so on to infinity.” - 5:13

“Revere the highest power in the universe, the power that makes use of all things and presides over all. And likewise, revere the highest power in yourself: and this power is of one kind with the other. For in yourself too, this is what makes use of everything else, and your life is governed by it.” - 5:21

“Think of substance in its entirety, of which you have the smallest of shares; and of time in its entirety, of which a brief and momentary span has been assigned to you; and of the works of destiny, and how very small is your part in them.” - 5:24

“Live with the gods. And he is living with the gods who constantly displays to them a soul that is satisfied with the lot assigned to it, and who is obedient to the will of the guardian-spirit which Zeus has granted to each of us as a portion of his own being to serve as our overseer and guide; and this guardian-spirit is the mind and reason of each one of us.” - 5:27

Book 6

“Let it make no difference to you whether you are shivering or warm if only you are doing your duty, or whether you are over-tired or have had sufficient sleep, or are greeted with disparagement or praise, or are in the process of dying, or are busy with something else. For even the act of dying is one of the acts of our life; and so in that, too, it is enough to make good use of what the moment brings.” - 6:2

“The ruling centre is that which arouse itself, and adapts itself, and fashions itself according to its will, and makes what ever happens to it appear to itself as it wishes it to be.” - 6:8

“Either a hotchpotch and the entangling of atoms and their dispersal, or else unity, order, and providence. If the first thought is true, why should I even wish to linger in such a random assemblage and chaotic disarray? Why should I be concerned about anything other than how, one day, I shall ‘turn to earth’? And why, indeed, should that trouble me? For dispersal will be my lot whatever I do. But if the other alternative is true, I submit reverently, I stand secure, I place my trust in the power that governs all.” - 6:10

“When you have savouries and fine dishes set before you, you will gain an idea of their nature if you tell yourself that this is the corpse of a fish, and that the corpse of a bird or a pig; or again, that fine Falernian wine is merely grape-juice, and this purple robe some sheep’s wool dipped in the blood of a shellfish; and as for sexual intercourse, it is the friction of a piece of gut and, following a sort of convulsion, the expulsion of some mucus. Thoughts such as these reach through to the things themselves and strike to the heart of them, allowing us to see them as they truly are. So follow this practice throughout your life, and where things seem most worthy of your approval, lay them naked, and see how cheap they are, and strip them of the pretences of which they are so vain.” - 6:13

“At all times some things are hastening to come into being, and others to be no more; and of that which is coming to be, some part is already extinct. Flux and transformation are forever renewing the world, as the ever-flowing stream of time makes boundless eternity forever young. So in this torrent, in which one can find no place to stand, which of the things that go rushing past should one value at any great price? It is as though one began to lose one’s heart to a little sparrow flitting by, and no sooner has one done so than it has vanished from sight. Indeed, the very life of every one of us is like an exhalation from our blood or inhalation from the atmosphere; for such as it is to draw a breath of air into your lungs and then surrender it, so it is to surrender your power of respiration as a whole, which you acquired but yesterday or the day before at the time of your birth, and are now surrendering to the source from which you first drew it.” - 6:15

“If anyone can give me good reason to think that I am going astray in my thoughts or my actions, I will gladly change my ways. For I seek the truth, which has never caused harm to anyone; no, the person who is harmed is one who persists in his self-deception and ignorance.” - 6:21

“Alexander the Great and his stable boy were brought to the same level in death; for they were either taken back into the same generative principle of the universe or were scattered one and both into atoms.” - 6:24

“Death is a rest from the recalcitrance of sense, and from the impulses that pull us around like a puppet, and from the vagaries of discursive thought, and from our service to the flesh.” - 6:28

“Recover your senses, call yourself back, and now that you have roused yourself from your sleep and realized that these were mere dreams that were troubling you, look at these things as you looked at those.” - 6:31

“In this world there is only one thing of real value, to pass our days in truth and justice, and yet be gracious to those who are false and unjust.” - 6:47

“The glory-hunter holds that his own good lies in the activity of others, and the pleasure-seeker that it lies in his own sensations; but one who has understanding holds that it lies in his own activity.” - 6:51

“If the crew spoke ill of the captain or the patients of the doctor, would they be concerned with anything other than how that person could ensure the safety of his crew or the health of his patients?” - 6:55

“No one can prevent you from living according to the rule of your own nature; and nothing can happen to you which is contrary to the rule of universal nature.” - 6:58