Author Marcus Aurelius
Read December 9, 2020
Categories Stoicism Philosophy Meditations
People Marcus-Aurelius
Links LibraryThing

I read the translation by Gregory Hays.


Lived 121 - 180 CE. Was a Roman emperor and philosopher (in some sense).

Philosophical background

Some notes on the philosophical backdrop for the stage that the Meditations are played on.

Practical philosophy

On philosophy as a provider of practical ways to live:

It was not merely a subject to write or argue about, but one that was expected to provide a “design for living” - a set of rules to live one’s life by. This was a need not met by ancient religion, which privileged ritual over doctrine and provided little in the way of moral and ethical guidelines.

Roman stoicism

On the distinctness of Roman Stoicism as opposed to early/middle Stoisicim:

Eary and middle Stoicism was a holistic system. It aimed to embrace all knowledge, and its focus was speculative and theoretical. Roman stoicism, by contrast, was a practical discipline - not an abstract system of thought, but an attitude to life.

Triadic division of Stoicism by Chrysippus

The three “disciplines”

Central to the philosophy of the Meditations (and to Epictetus) are the three stoic “disciplines”:


  1. Not to dress ut just to stroll around the house, or things like that. To write straightforward letters (like the one he sent my mother from Sinuessa). And to behave in a conciliatory way when people who have angered or annoyed us want to make up. To read attentively - not to be satisfied with “just getting the gist of it.” And not to fall for every smooth talker.

    Book 1 - 7

  2. To show intuitive sympathy for friends, tolerance to amateurs and sloppy thinkers.

    Book 1 - 9

  3. Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile; stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions. But make sure you guard agains the other kinnd of confusion. People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time - even when hard at work.

    Book 2 - 7

  4. He’ll look calmly at the distinct beauty of old age in men, women, and at the loveliness of children. And other things like that will call out to him constantly - tings unnoticed by others. Things seen only by those at home with Nature and its works.

    Book 3 - 2

  5. Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people . unless it affects the common good, It wikl keep you from doing anything useful. You’ll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and what they’re up to , and all the other tings that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your mind.

    Book 3 - 4

  6. Stop drifting. You’re not going to re-read your Brief comments, your Deeds of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, the commonplace books you saved for your old age. Sprint for the finish. Write off your hopes and if your well-being matters to you, be your own saviour while you can.

    Book 3 - 14

  7. People try to get away from it all - to the country, to the beach, to the mountainns. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. By going within

    Book 4 - 3

  8. Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you. Death overshadows you, While you’re alive and able - be good.

  9. People who are excited by poshumous fame forget that the people who rememer them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passed from one another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out.

    Book 4 - 19

  10. Beautiful thinngs of anny kind ar beautiful in themselves and sufficient to themselves. Praise is extraneous.

    Book 4 - 20 (Allusion to Seneca?)

  11. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can elimintat it, you’ll have more time. ad more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment. “Is this necessary?”

    Book 4 - 24

  12. Suppose that a god announced that you were going to die tomorrow “or the day after.” Unless you were a complete coward you wouldn’t kick up a fuss about which day it was - what difference could it make? Now recognise that the difference between years from now and tomorrow is jus as small.

    Book 4 - 47

  13. To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.

    Book 4 - 49

  14. So there are two reasons to embrace what happens. One is that it’s happening to you. It was prescribed for you, and it pertains to you. The thread was spun long ago, by the oldest cause of all. …

    Book 5 - 8

  15. Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral acions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human - however imperfectly - and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.

    Book 5 - 9

  16. Honor and revere the gods, treat human being as they deserve, ve tolerant with others and strict with yourself. Remember, nothing belongs to your flesh and blood - and onthing else is under your control.

    Book 5 - 33

  17. I was once a fortunate man but at some point fortune abandoned me. But true good fortune is what you make for yourself. Good fortune: good character, good intentions, and good actions.

    Book 5 - 37

  18. When jarred, unavoidably, by circumstances, revert at onnce to yourself, and don’t lose the rythm more that you can help. You’ll have a better grasp of the harmony if you keep on going back to it.

    Book 6 - 11

  19. If anyone can refute me - show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective - I’ll gladly change.

    Book 6 - 21

  20. The things ordained for you - teach yourself to be at onne with thos. And the people who share them with you - treat them with love. With real love.

    Book 6 - 39

  21. Whe you need encouragement, thinnk of the qualities the poeple aroud you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s gennerosity, and so onn. Nothing is as encouraging as whe nvirtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them. It’s good to keep this in mind.

    Book 6 - 48

  22. Practise really hearing what people say. Do your bes to get inside their minds.

    Book 6 - 53

  23. Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?

    Book 7 - 7

  24. No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be good. Like fold or emerald or purple repeating to itself, “No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be emerald, my colour undiminished.

    Book 7 - 15

  25. ”To harvest life like standing stalks of grain. Grodn and cut down in turn.”

    Book 7 - 40

  26. Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.

    Book 7 - 56

  27. Take care that you don’t treat inhumanity as it treats human beings.

    Book 7 - 65

  28. Nature did not blend things so inextricably that you can’t draw your own boundaries - place you own well-being in your own hands. It’s quite possible ot be a good man without anyone realising it. And this too: you don’t need much to live happily. And just because you’ve abandoned your hopes of becoming a great thinker or scientist, don’t give up on attaining freedom, achieving humility, serving others, obeying God.

    Book 7 - 67

  29. Perfection of character: to live your last day, every day, without frenzy of sloth, or pretense.

    Book 7 - 69

  30. It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.

    Book 7 - 71

  31. The first step: Don’t be ancious. Nature controls it all. ad before long you’ll be on one nowhere - like Hadrian, like Augustus. The second step: Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself that your task is to be agood human being; remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy.

    Book 8 - 5

  32. This is what you deserve. You could be good today. But instead you choose tomorrow.

    Book 8 - 22a

  33. To speak to the Senate - or anyone - in the right tone, without being overbearing. To choose the right words.

    Book 8 - 30

  34. You have to assemble your life yourself - action by action. Ad be satisfied if each one achieves its goal, as far as it can. No one can keep that from happening.

    -But there are external obstacles…

    Not to behaving with justice, self-control, and good sense.

    -Well, but perhaps to some more concrete action.

    But if you accept the obstacle and work with what you’re given, an alternative will present itself. - another piece of what you’re trying to assemble. Action by action.

    Book 8 - 32

  35. I have no right to do myself an injury. Have I ever innjured anyone else if I could avoid it?

    Book 8 - 42

  36. People find pleasure in different ways. I find id i keeping my mid clear. In not turnning away from people or the things that happen to them. In accepting and welcominng everything I see. In treatig each thing as it deserves.

    Book 8 - 43

  37. A man standing by a spring of clear water and cursing it. While the fresh water keeps o bubblig up. He can shovel mud into it, or dung, ad the stream will carry it away, wash itself clean, remain unstained.

    Book 8 - 51

  38. You can discard most of the junnk that clutters your mind - things that exist only there - and clear out space for yourself: …by comprehending the scale of the world … by contemplating infinite time …by thinking of the speed with which things change - each part of every thing; the narrow space betweeen our birth and death; the infinite time before; the equally unnbounded time that follows.

    Book 9 - 32

  39. If they’ve made a mistake, correct them gently ad show them where they went wrong. If you can’t do that, the nthe blame lies with you. Or no one.

    Book 10 - 4

  40. Whatever happens to you has been waiting to happen since the beginning of time. the twining strangs of fate wove both of them together: your ownn existence and the things that happen to you

    Book 10 - 5

  41. Epithets for yourself: Upright. Modest. Straightforward. Sane. cooperative. Disinterested.

    Book 10 - 8

  42. Set sail, then, with this handful of epiteths to guide you. And steer a steady course, if you can.

    Book 10 - 8

  43. To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.

    Book 10 - 16

  44. Continual awareness of all time and spacem of the size and life-span of the things around us. A grape seed in infinite space. A half twist of a corkscrew against eternity.

    Book 10 - 17

  45. When faced with people’s bad behaviour, turn around and ask when you have acted like that. When you saw money as a good, or pleasure, or social position. Your anger will subside as soon as you regognise that they acted under compulsion (What else could they do?).

    Book 10 - 30

  46. That you don’t know for sure it is a mistake. A lot of things are means to some other end. You have to know an awful lot before you can judge other people’s actions with real understanding.

    Book 11 - 18v

  47. That kindness is invincible, provided it’s sincere - not ironic or an act. …

    Book 11 - 18ix

  48. The foolishness of people who are surprised by anything that happens. Like travelers amazed at foreing customs.

    Book 12 - 13

  49. Throw out your misperceptions and you’ll be fine. (And who’s stopping you from throwing them out?)

    Book 12 - 25

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