Quotes from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Meditations (Medieval Greek: Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν, romanized: Ta eis heauton, lit. 'things to one's self') is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy.

Marcus Aurelius wrote the 12 books of the Meditations in Koine Greek as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement.

Quotes


Be like a rocky promontory against which the restless surf continually pounds; it stands fast while the churning sea is lulled to sleep at its feet. I hear you say, "How unlucky that this should happen to me!" Not at all! Say instead, "How lucky that I am not broken by what has happened and am not afraid of what is about to happen. The same blow might have struck anyone, but not many would have absorbed it without capitulation or complaint."

— IV. 49, trans. Hicks

If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this that disturbs thee, but thy own judgment about it. And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgment now.'

— VIII. 47, trans. George Long

A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, "And why were such things made in the world?"

— VIII. 50, trans. George Long

Put an end once for all to this discussion of what a good man should be, and be one.

— X. 16,[28]

Soon you'll be ashes or bones. A mere name at most—and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, trivial.

— V. 33, trans. Gregory Hays

Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust or lose your sense of shame or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill-will or hypocrisy or a desire for things best done behind closed doors.

— III. 7, trans. Gregory Hays

Not to feel exasperated or defeated or despondent because your days aren't packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit you've embarked on.

— V. 9, trans. Gregory Hays

Let opinion be taken away, and no man will think himself wronged. If no man shall think himself wronged, then is there no more any such thing as wrong.

— IV. 7, trans. Méric Casaubon

Take away your opinion, and there is taken away the complaint, [...] Take away the complaint, [...] and the hurt is gone

— IV. 7, trans. George Long

[...] As for others whose lives are not so ordered, he reminds himself constantly of the characters they exhibit daily and nightly at home and abroad, and of the sort of society they frequent; and the approval of such men, who do not even stand well in their own eyes has no value for him.

— III. 4, trans. Maxwell Staniforth

Shame on the soul, to falter on the road of life while the body still perseveres.

— VI. 29, trans. Maxwell Staniforth

Whatever happens to you has been waiting to happen since the beginning of time. The twining strands of fate wove both of them together: your own existence and the things that happen to you.

— V. 8, trans. Gregory Hays

In your actions, don't procrastinate. In your conversations, don't confuse. In your thoughts, don't wander. In your soul, don't be passive or aggressive. In your life, don't be all about business.

— VIII. 51[29]

[Before making a decision] The first thing to do--don't get worked up. For everything happens according to the nature of all things, and in a short time you'll be nobody and nowhere even as the great emperors Hadrian and Augustus are now. The next thing to do--consider carefully the task at hand for what it is, while remembering that your purpose is to be a good human being. Get straight to doing what nature requires of you, and speak as you see most just and fitting--with kindness, modesty, and sincerity.

— VIII. 5[30]

What if someone despises me? Let me see to it. But I will see to it that I won't be found doing or saying anything contemptible. What if someone hates me? Let me see to that. But I will see to it that I'm kind and good-natured to all, and prepared to show even the hater where they went wrong. Not in a critical way, or to show off my patience, but genuinely and usefully.

— XI. 13[31]

Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good.

— IV. 17, trans. George Long

Of the life of man the duration is but a point.

— II. 17, trans. C.R. Haines

A person who doesn't know what the universe is, doesn't know who they are. A person who doesn't know their purpose in life doesn't know who they are or what the universe is. A person who doesn't know any of these things doesn't know why they are here. So what to make of people who seek or avoid the praise of those who have no knowledge of where or who they are?

— VIII. 52 [32]

Often injustice lies in what you aren't doing, not only in what you are doing.

— IX. 5 [33]

Whenever you suffer pain, keep in mind that it's nothing to be ashamed of and that it can't degrade your guiding intelligence, nor keep it from acting rationally and for the common good. And in most cases you should be helped by the saying of Epicurus, that pain is never unbearable or unending, so you can remember these limits and not add to them in your imagination. Remember too that many common annoyances are pain in disguise, such as sleepiness, fever and loss of appetite. When they start to get you down, tell yourself you are giving in to pain.

— VII. 64 [34]

Enough of this miserable, whining life. Stop monkeying around! Why are you troubled? What’s new here? What’s so confounding? The one responsible? Take a good look. Or just the matter itself? Then look at that. There’s nothing else to look at. And as far as the gods go, by now you could try being more straightforward and kind. It’s the same, whether you’ve examined these things for a hundred years, or only three.

— IX. 37 [35]

Keep this thought handy when you feel a bit of rage coming on--it isn't manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real person doesn't give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance--unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.

— XI 11.18.5b [36]

Don't tell yourself anything more than what the initial impressions report. It's been reported to you that someone is speaking badly about you. This is the report--the report wasn't that you've been harmed. I see that my son is sick--but not that his life is at risk. So always stay within your first impressions, and don't add to them in your head--this way nothing can happen to you.

— VIII. 49 [37]

Drama, combat, terror, numbness, and subservience--every day these things wipe out your sacred principles, whenever your mind entertains them uncritically or lets them slip in.

— X. 9 [38]

I'm constantly amazed by how easily we love ourselves above all others, yet we put more stock in the opinions of others than in our own estimation of self....How much credence we give to the opinions our peers have of us and how little to our very own!

— XII. 4[39]

Does the light of a lamp shine and keep its glow until its fuel is spent? Why shouldn't your truth, justice, and self-control shine until you are extinguished?

— XII. 15 [40]

Words that everyone once used are now obsolete, and so are the men whose names were once on everyone's lips: Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus, and to a lesser degree Scipio and Cato, and yes, even Augustus, Hadrian, and Antoninus are less spoken of now than they were in their own days. For all things fade away, become the stuff of legend, and are soon buried in oblivion. Mind you, this is true only for those who blazed once like bright stars in the firmament, but for the rest, as soon as a few clods of earth cover their corpses, they are 'out of sight, out of mind.' In the end, what would you gain from everlasting remembrance? Absolutely nothing. So what is left worth living for? This alone: justice in thought, goodness in action, speech that cannot deceive, and a disposition glad of whatever comes, welcoming it as necessary, as familiar, as flowing from the same source and fountain as yourself.

— IV. 33, trans. Scot and David Hicks

Do not then consider life a thing of any value. For look at the immensity of time behind thee, and to the time which is before thee, another boundless space. In this infinity then what is the difference between him who lives three days and him who lives three generations?

— IV. 50, trans. George Long

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine.

— II. 1, trans. Gregory Hays

All things are interwoven with one another; a sacred bond unites them; there is scarcely one thing that is isolated from another. Everything is coordinated, everything works together in giving form to one universe. The world-order is a unity made up of multiplicity: God is one, pervading all things; all being is one, all law is one (namely, the common reason which all thinking persons possess) and all truth is one -- if, as we believe, there can be but one path to perfection for beings that are alike in kind and reason.

— VII. 9, trans. Maxwell Staniforth

Marcus Aurelius wrote the following about Severus (a person who is not clearly identifiable according to the footnote): Through him [...] I became acquainted with the conception of a community based on equality and freedom of speech for all, and of a monarchy concerned primarily to uphold the liberty of the subject.

— I. 14, trans. Maxwell Staniforth

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