Meditations | Study Guide

Marcus Aurelius

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Meditations | Book 8 | Summary

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Summary

Book 8 begins with Aurelius attempting to identify his reasons for feeling disturbed by external impressions, and finding a degree of resolution by discovering "what is fit and useful." The idea is that this exercise helps put aside the desire for fame and wealth that is impressive to the masses for only a brief period of time. While only a few men have the destiny to become a Caesar or an Alexander and rule the world, all men, regardless of their station in life, have access to the disciplines of philosophical perspective of the most noted philosophers. Aurelius speculates on the control power and influence have over those who appear to wield it. In contrast, a simplicity of life and contentment with what is needed to sustain life while it lasts places a person in perfect control of himself. Within its own domain, he says, nobody can frustrate the mind. He quotes the philosopher Empledocles to support this thought: "The globe, once orbed and true, remains a sphere."

The interconnected concerns of individual and social life are one and the same. Be willing to show others the error of their ways with humility, Aurelius says; and at the same time, take what is valuable from the advice of others. Do not blame others.

An attachment to all that is temporary and subject to change means there is no way to avoid what is not wanted, just as there is no way to keep what is wanted. Knowing one's own nature and how to act on it is crucial to maintaining an even balance. Since everything exists for a reason, reason sustains the oppositions of certainty and uncertainty by establishing a middle ground.

Analysis

Underlying Aurelius's Meditations in Book 8 is his main theme of the transience of life. He writes that by turning away from wondering over the "why" of things and their conditions, people should simply adhere to what is, because there is no answer available. In this kind of thinking Aurelius appears to be taking more the side of a random universe than the side of the Stoics and a systematic one.

The mystic concept of the self-contained soul as a sphere has played in and out of philosophy across the centuries. The idea adheres to the Greek concept of "perfect geometry," of which a sphere is considered to be the best example. The quote "A sphere once formed remains round and true" is attributed to the poet and pre-Socratic philosopher Empledocles, who viewed the cosmos as one of never-ending change and transmutation (including the soul), growth, and decay. The ideas of Empledocles certainly come forward in this book in its discussion of shifting change and cycle.

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