My Favourite Marcus Aurelius Quotes
Marcus Aurelius was Roman emperor from 161 to 180, but more importantly for our purposes here, a stoic philosopher. The quotes you are about to read were not intended for your eyes, they were a private diary. They are useful stories, ideas, and maxims that Aurelius reflected upon in order to help him live a better life.
p.8: Begin in the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I, who have seen the nature of good that is beautiful, and of the bad that is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, not can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him. For we are made for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and that is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.
p.23: Either it is a well-arranged universe of a chaos huddled together, but still a universe. But can certain order subsist in you and disorder in the All? And this, too, when all things are so separated and diffused any sympathetic.
p.25: You are a little soul bearing up a corpse, as Epictetus used to say.
p.27: “I am unhappy, because this has happened to me.” Not so: say, “I am happy, though this has happened to me, because I continue free from pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearing the future.”
p.27: Do not consider life a thing of any value. For look to the immensity of time behind you and to the time that is ahead of you, another boundless space. In this infinity, then, what is the difference between him who lives three days and him who lives three generations?
p.28: In the morning, when you rise unwillingly, let this thought be present: I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if i am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie under the blankets and keep myself warm? But this is more pleasant. Do you exist then to take your pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Do you not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their separate parts of the universe? And are you unwilling to do the work of a human being, and do you not make haste to do that which is according to your nature? But it is necessary to take rest also. It is necessary: nature, however, has fixed bounds to this, too: she has fixed bounds both to eating and drinking, and yet you go beyond these bounds, beyond what is sufficient; yet in your acts it is not so, but you stop short of what you can do. So you do not love yourself, for if you did, you would love your nature and her will. But those who love their several arts exhaust themselves in working at them unwashed and without food; but you value your own nature less than the engraver values the engraving art, or the dancer the dancing art, or the lover of money values his money, or the vainglorious man his little glory. And such men, when they have an ardent passion for a thing, choose neither to eat nor sleep rather that to perfect things that they care for. But are the acts that concern society more vile in your eyes and less worthy of your labor?
p.29: Show those qualities then that are altogether in your power: sincerity, gravity, endurance of labor, aversion to pleasure, contentment with your portion and with a simple life, benevolence, frankness, no love of superfluity, freedom from trifling malevolence.
p.34: Let the part of your soul that leads and governs be undisturbed by the movements in the flesh, whether of leisure or of pain; and let it not unite with them, but let it circumscribe itself and limit those affects to their parts. But when these affects rise up to the mind by virtue of that other sympathy that naturally exists in a body that is all one, then you must not strive to resist the sensation, for it is natural: but do not let the ruling part of itself add to the sensation the opinion that it is either good or bad.
p.35: The intelligence of the universe is social. Accordingly is has made the inferior things for the sake of the superior, and it has fitted the superior to one another.
p.38: When we have meat before us and such eatables, we receive the impression that this is the dead body of a fish, and this is the dead body of a bird or of a pig; and again, that this Falernian is only a little grape juice, and this purple robe some sheep’s wool dyed with the blood of a shellfish; or, in the matter of secual intercourse, that it is merely an internal attrition and the spasmodic expulsion of semen: such then are these impressions, and they reach the things themselves and penetrate them, and so we see things as they truly are. -Marcus Aurelius
p.38: Most of the things that the multitude admire may be classed as objects of the most general kind, those that are held together by cohesion or natural organization, such as stones, fig trees, vines, olives. But those that are admired by men who are a little more reasonable may be classed as things that are held together by a rational soul, not however a universal soul, but rational so far as it is a soul skilled in some art, or expert in some other way, or simply rational so far as it possesses a number of slaves. But he who values a rational soul, a soul universal and fitted for political life, regards nothing else except this; and above all things he keeps his soul in a condition and in an activity comfortable to reason and social life, and he cooperates to this end with those who are of the same kind as himself. -Marcus Aurelius
p.43: Frequently consider the connection of all things in the universe and their relation to one another. For in a manner all things are implicated with one another, and all in this way are friendly to one another; for ine thing comes in order after another, and this by virtue of the active movement and mutual conspiration and the unity of substance. -Marcus Aurelius
p.50: When a man has done you wrong, immediately consider with what opinion about good or evil he has done wrong. For when you have seen this, you will pity him, and will neither wonder nor be angry. For either you think the same thing to be good that he does or another thing of the same kind. It is your duty then to pardon him. But if you do not think such things to be good or evil, you will more readily be disposed to him who is in error. -Marcus Aurelius
p.50: Wipe out the imagination. Stop the pulling of the strings. Confine yourself to the present. Understand well what happens either to you or another.-Marcus Aurelius
p.54: In every pain let this thought be present, that there is no dishonor in it, nor does it make the governing intelligence worse, for it does not damage the intelligence either so far as the intelligence is rational or so far as it is social. Indeed in the case of most pains let this remark of Epicurus aid you, that pain is neither intolerable nor everlasting f you bear in mind that it has its limits, and if you add nothing to it in your imagination: and remember this, too, that we do not perceive that many things that are disagreeable to us are the same as pain, such as excessive drowsiness, and being scorched by heat, and having no appetite. When you are discontented about any of these things, say to yourself you are yielding to pain. -Marcus Aurelius
p.63: If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now. But if anything in your own disposition gives you pain, who hinders you from correcting your opinion? And even if you are pained because you are not doing some particular thing that seems to you to be right, why do you not rather act than complain?-Marcus Aurelius
p.64: “But some insuperable obstacle is in the way.” Do not be grieved then, for the cause of its not being done depends not on you. “But it is not worthwhile to live if this cannot be done.” Take your departure then from life contentedly, just as he dies who is in full activity, and well pleased, too, with the things that are obstacles. -Marcus Aurelius
p.65: No longer let your breathing act in concert with the air that surrounds you, but let your intelligence also now be in harmony with the intelligence that embraces all things. For the intelligent power is diffused in all parts and pervades all things for him who is willing to draw it to him no less than the aerial power for him who can breathe. -Marcus Aurelius
p.66: He who fears death fears either the loss of sensation or a different kind of sensation. But if you shall have no sensation, neither will you feel any harm; and if you will acquire another kind of sensation, you will be a different kind of living being and you will not cease to live. -Marcus Aurelius
p.68: It would be a man’s happiest lot to depart from mankind without having had any taste of lying and hypocrisy and luxury and pride. However, to breathe out one’s life when a man has had enough of these things is the next best voyage, as the saying goes. -Marcus Aurelius
p.73: And he who dies at the extremest old age will be brought into the same condition with him who dies prematurely. -Marcus Aurelius
p.77: Whether the universe is a concourse of atoms, or nature is a system, let this first be established: that I am part of the whole that is governed by nature; next, that I stand in some intimate connection with other kindred parts. For remembering this, inasmuch as I am part, I shall be discontented with none of the things that are assigned to me out of the whole; for nothing is injurious to the part if it is for the advantage of the whole. For the whole contains nothing that is not for its advantage; and all natures indeed have this common principle, but the nature of the universe has this principle besides, that it cannot be compelled even by any external cause to generate anything harmful to itself. By remembering, then, that I am part of such a hole, I shall be content with everything that happens. And inasmuch as I am in a manner intimately related to kindred parts, I shall do nothing unsocial, but I shall rather direct myself to the things that are akin to me, and I shall turn all my effort to the common interest and withhold it from the contrary. Now, if these things are done so, life must flow on happily, just as you may observe that a happy citizen is one who continues a course of action that is advantageous to his fellow-citizens and is content with whatever the state may assign to him. -Marcus Aurelius
p.80: You have but a short time left to live. Live as on a mountain. For it makes no difference whether a man lives there or here, if he lives everywhere in the world as in a state (political community). Let men see, let them know a real man who lives according to nature. If they cannot endure him, let them kill him. For that is better to live thus as men do. -Marcus Aurelius
p.82: When you are offended at any man’s fault, immediately turn to yourself and reflect in what manner you yourself have erred: for example, in thinking that money is a good thing or pleasure, or a bit of reputation, and the like. For by attending to this you will quickly forget your anger if you consider that the man is compelled: for what else could he do? Or, if you are able, take away from him the compulsion. -Marcus Aurelius
p.85: You will set little value on pleasant song and dancing and the pancratium [ancient mma], if you will analyze the melody of the voice into its several sounds, and ask yourself as to each, “Am I mastered by this?”; for you will be ashamed to confess it. The same holds for dancing, if at each movement and posture you will do a similar analysis; and the like also in the matter of the pancratium. In all things, then except virtue and the acts of virtue, remember to apply yourself to their several parts, and by division to come to value them little: and apply this rule also to your whole life. -Marcus Aurelius
p.86: A branch cut off from the adjacent branch must of necessity be cut off from the whole tree also. So, too, a man, when he is separated from another man, has fallen off from the whole social community. Now as to a branch, another cuts it off, but a man by his own act separates himself from this neighbor when he hates him and turns away from him, and he does not know that he has at the same time cut himself off from the whole social system. Yet he has this privilege certainly from Zeus, who framed society, for it is in our power to grow again to that which is near to us, and again become a part that helps make up the whole. -Marcus Aurelius
p.88: Nothing is more disgraceful than a wolfish friendship (false friendship). Avoid this most of all. The good and simple and benevolent show all these things in the eyes, and there is no mistaking it. -Marcus Aurelius
p.89: But examine from first principles, from this: If all things are not mere atoms, it is nature that orders all things: if this is so, the inferior things exist for the sake of the superior, and these for the sake of one another. -Marcus Aurelius
p.90: But you must avoid flattering men and being vexed at them, for both are unsocial and lead to harm. And let this truth be present to you in the excitement of anger, that to be moved by passion is not manly, but that mildness and gentleness, as they are more agreeable to human nature, so also are they more manly; and he who possesses these qualities possesses strength, nerves and courage, and not the man who is subject to fits of passion and discontent. -Marcus Aurelius
p.90: For he who yields to pain and he who yields to and he are both wounded and both submit. -Marcus Aurelius
p.92: Neither in writing or in reading will you be able to lay down rules for others before you shall have first learned to obey rules yourself. Much more so in life. -Marcus Aurelius
p.94: I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets les value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others. -Marcus Aurelius
p.95: In the application of your principles you must be like the pancratiast, not like the gladiator (or, like the prizefighter, not the duelist). For the latter lay aside the blade he uses, and take it up again, but the former always has his hands and needs only to clench. -Marcus Aurelius
p.97: For the pride that is proud of its want of pride is the most intolerable of all. -Marcus Aurelius