Meditations | Study Guide

Marcus Aurelius

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Meditations | Book 5 | Summary



This section begins with outlining the relationship between labor and rest. Just as it is necessary to allocate sufficient time in the day for eating and drinking, so is it necessary to set aside appropriate periods for work and leisure in such a way that these daily routines follow the principles of a person's individual nature. Aurelius explains that attachment to one part of it over another is on par with doing service to another person and then expecting to be thanked for it.

The problem with being disappointed or setting up an expectation of reward is parallel to the problem of being attached to rest more than to work, or vice versa, or to being overly concerned with eating and drinking to the exclusion of other activities. In a similar fashion, placing either body or soul as more important than the other makes it difficult to recognize the dichotomy of body and soul without undue attachment to either. To that end, Aurelius suggests that if prayers are offered to a divinity, such prayers should be simple, straightforward, and with an acknowledgement that nature dictates both.


The leading principle of a person's own nature is brought forward in this book as a means to explore the interconnection between a man's own interests that serve, and are served by, the common good. To this end, Aurelius presents animals and plants that are the perfection of nature simply because they follow the nature of their own being. He advises himself to continually observe the behavior of other people in the same light, that is, without judgment. Aurelius reminds himself that no one can compel another to forget the nature of the universe, or to act against "my god and daimon." In this way he is reassured that all is to the ultimate good, and he need not be distressed by any adverse condition.

In this argument, Aurelius seems to be arguing more prominently on the side of the Stoics, who generally affirmed an orderly and systematic cosmos. The idea of order tended to support the notion of a god (Zeus) in command of the universe. To act on that assertion was to produce "right acts" or catorthoseis. By allowing right thought to guide rightness of action, a man naturally performs the duty for which he has been designed to carry out—every bit as much as a dog, a horse, a bee, or a fig tree.

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