When you wish to delight yourself, think of the virtues of those who live with you.
I am A Man of Letters. I’ve been reading lately, and I have found some words I would like to share. Today, The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Here are The Meditations Book Six, Parts Thirty-Seven through Fifty Nine.
He who has seen present things has seen all things, both everything which has taken place from all eternity and everything which will be for time without end. For all things are of one kin and of one form.
Consider frequently the connection of all things in the universe and their relation to one another. In a manner, all things are implicated with one another, and all in this way are friendly to one another. One thing comes in order after another, and this is by virtue of the active movement and mutual conspiration and the unity of the substance.
Adapt yourself to the things with which your lot has been cast, and the men among whom you have received your portion. Love them, sincerely.
Every instrument, tool and vessel, if it does that for which it has been made, is well, and yet he who made it is not there. Within the things which are held together by nature there abides the power which made them. It is fit to reverence this power, and to think that if you live and act according to its will, everything in you is in conformity to intelligence. And, in the universe, the things which belong to it are in conformity to intelligence.
Whatever things which are not within your power you suppose to be good or evil for you, it must of necessity be that if a bad thing befall you, or the loss of a good thing, you must blame the gods and hate men as those who are the cause of the misfortune or the loss, or those who are suspected of being likely to be the cause. We do much injustice because we do not regard these things as indifferent. But if we judge only those things which are in our power to be good or bad, there remains no reason either for finding fault with God or standing in a hostile attitude to man.
We are all working together to one end, some with knowledge and design, and others without knowing what they do. I think it is Heraclitus who said it is as men who are asleep are laborers and co-operators in the things which take place in the universe. Men co-operate after different fashions. The universe had need even of men who co-operate abundantly, who find fault with what happens and those who try to oppose it and to hinder it. It remains for you to understand among what kind of workmen you place yourself. He who rules all things will certainly make a right use of you, and He will receive you as one of the co-operators and of those whose labors conduce to one end. But be not you such a part as the mean and ridiculous verse in the play, which Chrysippus speaks of.
Does the sun undertake to do the work of the rain, or the god of healing the work of the god of fruit? And how is it with respect to each of the stars, are they not different? And yet they work together to the same end.
If the gods have determined the things which must happen to me, they have determined well, for it is not easy even to imagine a deity without forethought. As to doing me harm, why should they have any desire towards that? for what advantage would result to them from this, or to the whole, which is the special object of their providence? If they have not determined about me individually, they have certainly determined about the whole, and the things which happen by way of sequence in this general arrangement I ought to accept with pleasure and to be content with them. If they determine nothing (which it is wicked to believe, or if we do believe it, let us neither sacrifice nor pray nor swear by them, nor do anything else which we do as if the gods were present and lived with us) – if the gods determine none of the things which concern us, I am able to determine about myself, and I can inquire about that which is useful. What is useful to every man is conformable to his own constitution and nature. My nature is rational and social. My city and country, so far as I am Antoninus, is Rome, but so far as I am a man, it is the world. The things then which are useful to these cities are useful to me.
Whatever happens to every man, this is for the interest of the universal. This might be sufficient. You will also observe this as a general truth, if you observe that whatever is profitable to any man is profitable also to other men. But let the word ‘profitable’ be taken here in the common sense as said of things of the middle kind, neither good nor bad.
As it happens in the amphitheater and such places, that the continual sight of the same things, and the uniformity make the spectacle wearisome, so it is in the whole of life. For all things above and all things below are the same and from the same. How long then?
Think continually that all kinds of men, and men of all kinds of pursuits, and of all nations, are dead, so that your thoughts come down even to Philistion and Phoebus and Origanion. Now turn you thoughts to the other kinds of men. To that place then we must go, where there are so many great orators, and so many noble philosophers, Heraclitus, Pythagoras, Socrates – so many heroes of former days, and so many generals after them, and tyrants, and Eudoxus, Hipparchus, Archimedes, and other men of acute natural talents, great minds, lovers of labor, versatile, confident, mockers even of the perishable and ephemeral life of man, and Menippus, and such as are like him. Consider that all of these men have long been in the dust. What harm then is this dust to them? What harm is this dust to those whose names are altogether unknown? One thing here is worth a great deal, to pass your life in truth and justice, with a benevolent disposition even to liars and unjust men.
When you wish to delight yourself, think of the virtues of those who live with you. For instance, the activity of one, and the modesty of another, and the liberality of a third, and some other good quality of a fourth. Nothing delights so much as the examples of the virtues, when they are exhibited in the morals of those who live with us and present themselves in abundance, as far as is possible. This is why we must keep them near us.
You are not dissatisfied, I suppose, because you weigh only so much and not three hundred times more. Be not dissatisfied, then, that you must live only so many years and not more. As you are satisfied with the amount of substance which has been assigned to you, so be content with the time assigned to you.
Let us try to persuade men. But act against their will, when the principles of justice lead that way. If any man by using force stands in your way, return yourself to contentment, and tranquillity, and at the same time employ the hindrance towards the exercise of some other virtue. Remember that your effort was reserved, that you did not desire to do what is impossible. What then did you desire? ‘Some such effort as this.’ You attain your object if the things to which you would move are not accomplished.
He who loves fame considers another man’s activity to be his own good. He who loves pleasure, his own sensations. But he who has understanding considers his own acts to be his own good.
It is in our power to have no opinion about a thing, and not to be disturbed in our soul, for things themselves have no natural power to form our judgments.
Accustom yourself to attend carefully to what is said by another, and as much as it is possible to be in the speaker’s mind.
That which is not good for the swarm, neither is it good for the bee.
If sailors abused the helmsman, or the sick abused the doctor, would they listen to anybody else? How then could the helmsman secure the safety of those in the ship, or the doctor the health of those whom he attends?
How many together with whom I came into the world are already gone out of it.
To the jaundiced, honey tastes bitter. To those bitten by mad dogs, water causes fear. To little children, a toy is a fine thing. Why then am I angry? Do you think that a false opinion has less power than the bile in the jaundiced or the poison in him who is bitten by a mad dog?
No man will hinder you from living according to the reason of your own nature. Nothing will happen to you contrary to the reason of the universal nature.
What kind of people are those whom men wish to please, and for what objects, and by what kind of acts? How soon will time cover all things, and how many it has already covered.
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Until I return, I am… A Man of Letters.