Meditations | Study Guide

Marcus Aurelius

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Meditations | Book 11 | Summary

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Summary

Aurelius continues his discussion on the relativity of body and soul in Book 11, but shifts his perspective toward reality and illusion to make his point. To this end, he proceeds to examine the properties of "the rational soul," by which it recognizes, understands, and thereby "owns" itself as its only true and enduring property. This ownership makes it possible to perceive the universe as not only orderly and systematic but also cyclic. The idea brings forward an understanding that nothing new ever happens in the universe, and that, although one's own experiences are new to oneself, they are not unique. Aurelius says, "Happy [is] the soul" that accepts death as inevitable. However, unlike the Christians, a person must accept death "without heroics."

Having opened the discussion in this way, Aurelius continues to examine the art of the self. He discusses why one man may have a false sense of separation from the community of which he is an integral part. Just as art mimics life, he reasons, so too does the artifice of appearances mimic the true nature of a person. He goes on to assert that words are one thing, but the genuine scale of a person's worth is balanced in actions.

Aurelius also outlines the nine considerations to bring into play when someone offends another person. They are:

  1. to remember the common bond among all people
  2. to consider reputation, the kind of person the offender is
  3. to remember that wrong-doing is often a matter of ignorance
  4. to remember that one's own self also offends
  5. to be aware that all the circumstances leading to the offense may not be known
  6. to remember how brief life is
  7. to know that a discipline of perception makes one realize that it is not the person who has offended one, but only one's perception of the offense
  8. to remember that being angry does harm to a person
  9. to rest assured that a genuinely good disposition is an invincible shield from any harm

The implication is that no one can harm a person's soul unless the person allows it to happen, even though harm to the body may occur.

Analysis

Underlying the insights in Book 11 is the reminder that if the soul is understood as distinct from the body, then all things that render the body temporary and perishable cannot affect the soul.

Although Aurelius never specifically names Aristotle directly here, he expresses a thorough understanding of the nature of art/artifice as detailed by the philosopher. Playing roles, however, does not mean that a person should attach himself to any one of them to the exclusion of others. It is the balance between them that sustains society and thereby also sustains the individual.

Book 11 is the only one in which Aurelius mentions the Christians, and he does so rather dismissively, commenting on their obsession with death. Although he did not seem to go out of his way to persecute this sect, he also didn't do much to curb the efforts of officials and governors in outlying territories to provide the bloody entertainment of their martyrdom in the arenas.

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