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Meditations | Quotes

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1.

I did not fall into the hands of any sophist ... or occupy myself about the investigations of ... the heavens ... these things require ... gods and fortune.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 1

Here Aurelius reminds himself of the fact that he received good instruction from people who helped him discern the differences between empty or hollow activities, and those which actually improve a person's life. A sophist argued pretty much for the sake of winning an argument rather than seeking the truth of the matter.

Similarly, Aurelius considers astrology something of a con job, because a person's fate is determined by forces beyond human understanding.

2.

Whatever this is that I am, it is a little flesh and breath, and the ruling part.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 2

This statement is something of a recurring reduction of the self to basic essence. The flesh—or the corporeal body and the breath that supports it—are transient, changeable, and therefore subject to ultimate decay and death. However, the "ruling part," or intelligence, is seated in the eternal soul.

Aurelius goes back and forth a bit on whether or not the soul has an existence after death, much as he wavers between arguments of the Stoic order of the cosmos versus random occurrences as explained by Epicurean philosophy.

3.

Failure to observe ... the mind of another has seldom made a man unhappy; but those who do not observe ... their own minds must ... be unhappy.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 2

This statement recurs often throughout Meditations, as Aurelius catches himself wondering what others think of him, or concerns himself with their opinions. Being pulled about by these thoughts has been identified as a constant source of distress that Aurelius decides he can certainly do without, especially when it comes to the self-confidence of decision-making a warrior emperor must practice.

Instead, he resolves to study carefully his own motivations and thinking to attain at least a measure of satisfaction.

4.

For the lot that is assigned to each man is carried along with him and carries him along with it.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 3

This statement can be considered in a linear relationship of reasoning with Aurelius's ideas on mutually defining and supporting conditions. If a man will attend to what he has been given to do with a sincere sense of duty toward his community, the process of carrying out that duty will also serve him every bit as much as the community.

5.

Every man lives only in the present, which is an invisible point, and ... all the rest of his life is either past or ... uncertain.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 3

Living only in the present is the main defense Aurelius identifies as a balanced state of tranquility undisturbed by extremes of pleasure or pain. The present is essentially all a person has, and it does not benefit him to dwell on past mistakes or accomplishments, or to fret over fears of what may come in the future. In this instance, Aurelius comes closest to an Epicurean point of view.

6.

Tranquility is nothing else than the good ordering of the mind.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 4

The author here specifically makes a distinction between "tranquility," or peace of mind, as a continuously sustainable state in opposition to "happiness," which is not sustainable because pain and suffering define it.

7.

The universe is transformation: life is opinion.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 4

This comment is one way Aurelius has of "running around to the other side of the table" from his Stoic base to take a distinctly opposing and refreshing view supported by Epicureans. While Stoics employed skepticism (an element of doubt that spurs investigation and inquiry) and cynicism (to live by the bare necessities of life only in pursuit of virtue), Epicureans would ask, "What for? It's all in your own head; nothing is permanent, not even the random disorganized universe."

It expresses the possibility that maybe it isn't all an organized system after all, in which case, Aurelius reminds himself the ultimate answer is not his to know. Only by doing his best will he live nobly and meaningfully.

8.

Soon, very soon, you will be ashes or a skeleton, and either a name or not even a name.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 5

As a soldier and emperor on the battlefield, Aurelius encountered more than his share of images of death, decay, and corruption of the perishable and limited human body. By extension, a person's name also fades away over time—even the names of emperors. Aurelius reminds himself that he is ultimately accountable to no one but himself—the "you" throughout Meditations is Aurelius addressing himself.

9.

Let ... court and philosophy ... be stepmother and mother to you ... whom ... you meet ... in ... court appears tolerable to you, and you appear tolerable in ... court.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 6

While the public and private lives of the emperor appear to be different, they are related in the same way as a mother and a stepmother might be.

Aurelius loved philosophy, but here he reminds himself that he also has to act effectively in public to the good of his empire, even if it doesn't hold his heart. By putting on a good face, he is able to fulfill his duties both to his private and his public self.

10.

Remember that to change your opinion and to follow him who corrects your error is as consistent with freedom as it is to persist in your error.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 8

A note of humility sets in here. Aurelius is reminding himself that nobody is right all the time. He accepts the notion that someone else, regardless of status (even a laborer or slave), might have something useful to offer. All people are on the journey of life together, and not every encounter is designed to derail efforts to improve.

11.

Speak both in the senate and to every man, whoever he may be, appropriately, without affectation: use plain discourse.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 8

Aurelius counted himself fortunate to have avoided the elaborations of speech for its own sake to the awe and admiration of others. He considered such practice vain, because to do so was to look down on listeners as lesser beings who couldn't possibly understand. As commander of military forces during long foreign campaigns, his success depended upon quick and concise communication.

12.

If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 8

The idea here is on par with, "as a man thinks, so it is true." The reminder is that pain and its opposite, pleasure, have nothing to do with a particular condition, but rather how an individual responds to it. His references to many of the philosophers he admired are examples of utter indifference to both luxuries and want, so long as possession of one's own self is firmly in hand.

13.

Do not despise death, but be well content with it, since this, too, is one of those things that nature wills.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 9

There are many constant reminders of the presence of death implicit in every moment of a person's life. Aurelius gives many examples of how death eventually brings down the mightiest of men, and even those who remember and mourn them also turn to ashes in the end. Since death comes to all who live, Aurelius tells himself to neither look forward to it, nor attempt to avoid its natural progression.

14.

For this is something like what gardeners mean when they say it grows with the rest of the tree but that it is not of one mind with it.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 11

This comment suggests a discernment of the difference between appearances and reality. A branch grafted onto a tree may look like it belongs there, but it is not the same as a branch that has grown naturally from that tree. In a similar manner, men may act with the appearance of virtue while actually working for their own benefit—a common enough occurrence in political life.

15.

Practice that also wherein you have no expectation of success.


Marcus Aurelius, Book 12

This idea also reflects upon the habit of remaining untroubled by either praise or condemnation. The point is to have confidence in actions taken in order to be faithful to the self.

Aurelius reminds himself here that any expectation of good or ill stemming from his efforts sets him up for being attached to the gratification of his own accomplishments (arrogance), and a corresponding lack of self-confidence attached to failure. As with pleasure and pain, the effort is to neither avoid nor seek out, but remain constantly balanced between extremes.

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