Marcus Aurelius

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The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.

Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (26 April 12117 March 180) was a Stoic philosopher, and Roman Emperor from 161 to his death in 180; born Marcus Annius Catilius Severus, at marriage he took the name Marcus Annius Verus. When named Emperor, he was given the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and afterwards became known as the last of the "Five Good Emperors."

Sourced

The Meditations

Writings of Aurelius as reminders to himself of ideas to bear in mind. There are many different translations of these, often with different nuances of interpretation (and sometimes different arrangements).

  • Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill.
    • II, 1
  • You will find rest from vain fancies if you perform every act in life as though it were your last.
    • II, 5
  • The longest-lived and the shortest-lived man, when they come to die, lose one and the same thing.
    • II, 14
  • A man should be upright, not kept upright.
    • III, 5
  • Never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.
    • III, 7
  • By a tranquil mind I mean nothing else than a mind well ordered.
    • IV, 3
  • Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul
    • IV, 3
  • The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.
    • Variant: The universe is flux, life is opinion.
    • IV, 3
  • If mind is common to us, then also the reason, whereby we are reasoning beings, is common. If this be so, then also the reason which enjoins what is to be done or left undone is common. If this be so, law also is common; if this be so, we are citizens; if this be so, we are partakers in one constitution; if this be so, the Universe is a kind of Commonwealth.
    • IV, 4 (as translated by ASL Farquharson)
  • Whatever happens at all happens as it should; you will find this true, if you watch narrowly.
    • IV, 10
  • Death hangs over thee: whilst yet thou livest, whilst thou mayest, be good.
    • IV, 14 (trans. Meric Casaubon)
    • Variant: Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good.
      • IV, 17 (trans. George Long)
  • How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.
    • IV, 18
  • Whatever is in any way beautiful hath its source of beauty in itself, and is complete in itself; praise forms no part of it. So it is none the worse nor the better for being praised.
    • IV, 20
  • All that is harmony for you, my Universe, is in harmony with me as well. Nothing that comes at the right time for you is too early or too late for me. Everything is fruit to me that your seasons bring, Nature. All things come of you, have their being in you, and return to you.
    • IV, 23
  • "Let your occupations be few," says the sage, "if you would lead a tranquil life."
    • IV, 24
  • Remember this— that there is a proper dignity and proportion to be observed in the performance of every act of life.
    • IV, 32
  • All is ephemeral - fame and the famous as well.
    • IV, 35
Search men's governing principles, and consider the wise, what they shun and what they cleave to.
  • Search men's governing principles, and consider the wise, what they shun and what they cleave to.
    • IV, 38
  • Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web.
    • IV, 40
  • Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.
    • IV, 43
  • Mark how fleeting and paltry is the estate of man - yesterday in embryo, tomorrow a mummy or ashes. So for the hairsbreadth of time assigned to thee, live rationally, and part with life cheerfully, as drops the ripe olive, extolling the season that bore it and the tree that matured it.
    • IV, 48
  • At dawn of day, when you dislike being called, have this thought ready: "I am called to man's labour; why then do I make a difficulty if I am going out to do what I was born to do and what I was brought into the world for?"
    • V, 1 (as translated by ASL Farquharson)
  • Nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear.
    • V, 18
  • Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee.
    • VI, 3
  • Do not think that what is hard for you to master is humanly impossible; but if a thing is humanly possible, consider it to be within your reach.
    • VI, 19
  • Take heed not to be transformed into a Caesar, not to be dipped in the purple dye, for it does happen. Keep yourself therefore, simple, good, pure, grave, unaffected, the friend of justice, religious, kind, affectionate, strong for your proper work. Wrestle to be the man philosophy wished to make you. Reverence the gods, save men. Life is brief; there is but one harvest of earthly existence, a holy disposition and neighborly acts.
    • VI, 30
  • What is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee.
    • VI, 54
Whatever may befall you, it was preordained for you from everlasting.
  • All things are implicated with one another, and the bond is holy; and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other things. For things have been co-ordinated, and they combine to make up the same universe. For there is one universe made up of all things, and one god who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, and one reason.
    • VII, 9
  • It is man's peculiar duty to love even those who wrong him.
    • VII, 22
  • Very little is needed to make a happy life.
    • VII, 67
  • To change your mind and to follow him who sets you right is to be nonetheless the free agent that you were before.
    • VIII, 16
  • Look to the essence of a thing, whether it be a point of doctrine, of practice, or of interpretation.
    • VIII, 22
  • Be not careless in deeds, nor confused in words, nor rambling in thought.
    • VIII, 51
  • All men are made one for another: either then teach them better, or bear with them.
    • VIII, 56 (trans. Meric Casaubon)
    • Variant: Men exist for the sake of one another. Teach them then or bear with them.
      • VIII, 59 (trans. George Long)
  • Think not disdainfully of death, but look on it with favor; for even death is one of the things that Nature wills.
    • IX, 3
  • A wrongdoer is often a man who has left something undone, not always one who has done something.
    • IX, 5
  • Whatever may befall you, it was preordained for you from everlasting.
    • X, 5
Everything harmonizes with me, which is harmonious to thee, O Universe. Nothing for me is too early or too late, which is in due time for thee
  • Everything harmonizes with me, which is harmonious to thee, O Universe. Nothing for me is too early or too late, which is in due time for thee. There is one light of the sun, though it is interrupted by walls, mountains and infinite other things. There is one common substance, though it is distributed among countless bodies which have their several qualities. There is one soul, though it is distributed among several natures and individual limitations. There is one intelligent soul, though it seems to be divided.
    • XII, 30

Unsourced

Most statements attributed to Aurelius, where genuine, are very likely to be from translations of the Meditations, though different translators may phrase things differently, and sometimes with very different connotations.

  • Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too.
  • How much more grievous are the consequences of an event than the causes of it.
  • Everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be.
  • If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; if we begin with doubts, and are patient, we shall end in certainties.
  • If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.
  • In life the three acts are the whole drama; for what shall be a complete drama is determined by him who was once the cause of its composition, and now of its dissolution: but thou art not the cause of neither. Depart then satisfied; for he also who releases thee is satisfied.
  • Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.
    • See also: More quotes on the Future
  • One can live well even in a palace.
    • (In this statement emphasis is placed upon a "good life" of good actions, rather than a life of dangerous excesses, shallow pursuits and unjust oppressions)
  • Living calls for the art of the wrestler, not the dancer. Staying on your feet is all; there is no need for pretty steps.
  • The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts, therefore guard accordingly; and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue, and reasonable nature.
  • Think of the totality of all Being, and what a mite of it is yours; think of all Time, and the brief fleeting instant of it that is allotted to yourself; think of Destiny, and how puny a part of it you are.
  • Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.
  • We are all working together to one end, some with knowledge and design, and others without knowing what they do.

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