Meditations | Study Guide

Marcus Aurelius

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Meditations | Book 2 | Summary



Aurelius starts off with a fairly pessimistic statement that likely reflects the bulk of his interactions with military personnel in the field. That is, each day is filled with unavoidable vexations caused by the ignorance of other people. He will meet with "the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial." He reminds himself not to worry about them, for they are made as nature intended them to be.

The author presents the important principles by which he can guide himself through these kinds of frustrations. As he will remind himself throughout Meditations in different ways, his life is brief and made up of "a little flesh and breath and the ruling part [intelligence]." Instead of worrying about what other people think or do, it is up to him to see to his own duty and to discipline his thoughts accordingly.

In this book Aurelius includes a debate about which is worse: desire or anger. He cites the philosopher Theophrastus's beliefs that offenses committed through desire "are more blameable" than those committed through anger. While anger colors one's reason, desire overpowers it. Regulation of "every act and thought" helps a man avoid falling under the influence of either emotion.


Aurelius's struggle with having to deal with difficult people is evident. He works on it by reminding himself of two points that will underpin his Meditations. First, having observed both "the good that is beautiful" and the "bad that is ugly," Aurelius finds himself neither benefitted nor injured by these opposites. They are but expressions of the divine, and it isn't up to him to judge one better, or more desirable, than the other. Second, by focusing on the tasks at hand, and by dealing only with that specific portion of the task and duty given to him by Providence, Aurelius is ruled by neither pleasure nor pain, but only by himself. Finally, he reminds himself of the temporary nature of his condition as a living human being. This would certainly be obvious to him on a daily basis on the battlefield.

As will be seen throughout the rest of the books, Aurelius interchangeably cites Providence, the universe, Fate, and God—or gods—as that inscrutable agency to which human beings are subject, and over which they have no control. Determining whether or not the "universe" is ordered and systematic (as would be consistent with the Stoic point of view), or random and chaotic (Epicurean world view), it is more important to Aurelius's philosophy that he not complain about the nature of his own lot in life, nor blame others who have very different allotments and duties.

Theophrastus continued as the leader of the Peripatetic school of thought after Aristotle. This school of thought was named for the peripatos, or the cloister in which the philosophers walked as they discussed their ideas. They taught free of charge, and lectures were open to the public. Theophrastus is credited with having expanded Aristotle's views to include natural sciences. Aurelius most likely looks to him when he speaks of "fidelity to nature" as an anecdote to the corruptions of arrogance and ostentation.

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