Meditations | Study Guide

Marcus Aurelius

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Meditations | Book 10 | Summary



In Book 10 Aurelius first reminds himself to be attentively aware of the distinctions between the needs of his soul, which are simple, direct, and good, and the wants of an ever-restless and discontented body. To this end, he appeals to a sense of his own nature in a "whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger" approach. He expands on the issue of nature and its inevitable unfolding through his life. Nature affects him as an individual, and also acts upon the "community with gods and men." This line of discussion provides him with a neutrality that does not waste energy in finding fault and condemnation on a personal or social level.

Much of Aurelius's thought in this book is centered on the intertwined relationships between the part and the whole. He refers to the incorporation of body and soul as similar to the relationship between the individual and the community to which he belongs, and of which he is an indelible part. He also draws upon concrete examples of people, places, and things to illustrate the principles of sensations. The emphasis here is on a duality of condition resolved by the conclusion of life. The final paragraph of Book 10 reflects on his opening statements about body and soul, observing that although the body contains the soul, it is the hidden soul within that "pulls the strings," using the tool of the body to express itself. The implication is that it is more important to understand the soul than to be concerned with the functions of the body.


Book 10 begins with a contradiction. Aurelius seems to be asking if the needs of his own soul will ever surpass the wants of the body. However, this tension reflects specifically upon the nature of soul and body. That is, while the body is material and temporary, the soul is eternal and imperishable, and the only possession a man is able to keep. It is not that one is "better" or more important than the other. Rather, it is a matter of natural order to look to the source instead of looking to the manifestation of what the source produces. In other words, Aurelius reminds himself not to be fooled by appearances the way children might be fooled into believing that the characters of a puppet show are acting of their own volition.

Aurelius draws upon several examples—both positive and negative—to make his point. One example is a pig that "is sacrificed and kicks and screams." This likely refers to the Greek story of Odysseus, in which his men were turned into a herd of pigs by the sorceress Circe because of their physical greed. In a sense, what Circe did was merely reveal the men as they were, centered more in body than in soul.

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