Meditations | Study Guide

Marcus Aurelius

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Meditations | Book 12 | Summary



In Book 12 Aurelius returns to the idea that the best course of action in time and space is to remember death can come at any time. He urges himself to shake free of both past regrets or nostalgia and the fearful anticipation of an uncertain future. He seems hopeful that the universe is ordered and reasoned according to divine plan, and whether or not that plan is in part or whole understood is beside the point—the perspective of humans is necessarily limited. The left hand is practiced in holding the bridle of a horse, even though it does not do well in other tasks. And in management of principles, Aurelius says, follow the example of the boxer and not the swordsman. One can put down a sword but always has one's hands.

Whether ordered or disordered, Providence can take away only the poor flesh and the poor breath—never a person's intelligence. If he practices using his intelligence every day of his life, it will strengthen beyond life itself. The conclusion of this last book presents the idea that death comes at the right time regardless of the length of one's life, and when it does come, a satisfied God releases a person's very essence from those appearances.


It is unclear whether Aurelius meant this book as a summary of the previous 11 books. However, he does return to specific ideas regarding the brevity of life and the responsibility of a person to depend confidently on his own ideas.

While it is the duty of a person to take reasonable care of the body and breath, it is intelligence that must be carefully guarded. The advice here is to protect it well and hold it above all various opinions, praise, or condemnation that others would apply. If a person adheres to confidence in his own opinion instead of seeking outside himself for evaluation, then there is nothing to fear from any condition of life and death.

Aurelius makes the point that a boxer uses his own hands to fight, while a gladiator wields a gladius, or short sword, as an extension of his own hand. What Aurelius seems to be putting forward here is a preference of immediate self-reliance on one's own faculties, instead of using an extension that is eventually removed from the unadorned body.

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