“Some day my prince will come.…” Good old Walt Disney. Well, that may have worked out for Snow White. Back here on Earth, it’s a recipe for disappointment. In flesh-and-blood life, waiting for “some day” is no strategy for success, it’s a cop-out. What’s more, it’s one that the majority follow their whole lives. Someday, when my ship comes in … Someday, when I have the money … Someday, when I have the time … Someday, when I have the skill … Someday, when I have the confidence … How many of those statements have you said to yourself? Have I got some sobering news for you: “some day” doesn’t exist, never has, and never will. There is no “some day.” There’s only today. When tomorrow comes, it will be another today; so will the next day. They all will. There is never anything but today.”
-- Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness
The Meditations, by a Roman emperor who died in a plague named after him, has much to say about how to face fear, pain, anxiety and loss.
A great article from Donald Robertson, published by The Guardian:
Want to build-up resilience and will power? The stoics offer a daily dose of subjecting yourselves to the worst-case scenarios to your troubles. It’s a simple methodology where you focus on yourself and your immediate surroundings once the terrible event has befallen you. According to the stoics, factoring every tragedy in one’s life trajectory is key to letting nothing disturb your internal peace.
Here’s the vision of a stoic on the journey through Covid-19.
Everyday, think as you wake up, ‘today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.
-- Dalai Lama
"True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not"
-- Lucius Annaeus Seneca, De Vita Beata
Sales of works by ancient Roman Marcus Aurelius have seen a sharp uptick in recent months.
According to Penguin Random House, print sales of Meditations are up 28% for the first quarter of 2020 vs 2019, while print sales of Letters from a Stoic are up 42% for the same period. In the last four weeks, its ebook sales rose by 356%"
1. Our inward power, when it obeys nature, reacts to events
by accommodating itself to what it faces—to what is
possible. It needs no specific material. It pursues its own
aims as circumstances allow; it turns obstacles into fuel. As
a fire overwhelms what would have quenched a lamp.
What’s thrown on top of the conflagration is absorbed,
consumed by it—and makes it burn still higher.
2. No random actions, none not based on underlying
3. People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the
beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too.
Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like.
By going within.
Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of
interruptions—than your own soul. Especially if you have
other things to rely on. An instant’s recollection and there it
is: complete tranquillity. And by tranquillity I mean a kind of
So keep getting away from it all—like that. Renew
yourself. But keep it brief and basic. A quick visit should be
enough to ward off all < . . . > and send you back ready to
face what awaits you.
What’s there to complain about? People’s misbehavior?
But take into consideration:
• that rational beings exist for one another;
• that doing what’s right sometimes requires patience;
• that no one does the wrong thing deliberately;
• and the number of people who have feuded and envied
and hated and fought and died and been buried.
. . . and keep your mouth shut.
Or are you complaining about the things the world assigns
you? But consider the two options: Providence or atoms.
And all the arguments for seeing the world as a city.
Or is it your body? Keep in mind that when the mind
detaches itself and realizes its own nature, it no longer has
anything to do with ordinary life—the rough and the smooth,
either one. And remember all you’ve been taught—and
accepted—about pain and pleasure.
Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at
how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that
swallows it all. The emptiness of all those applauding hands.
The people who praise us—how capricious they are, how
arbitrary. And the tiny region in which it all takes place. The
whole earth a point in space—and most of it uninhabited.
How many people there will be to admire you, and who they
So keep this refuge in mind: the back roads of your self.
Above all, no strain and no stress. Be straightforward. Look
at things like a man, like a human being, like a citizen, like a
mortal. And among the things you turn to, these two:
i. That things have no hold on the soul. They stand there
unmoving, outside it. Disturbance comes only from
within—from our own perceptions.
ii. That everything you see will soon alter and cease to
exist. Think of how many changes you’ve already seen.
“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only
4. If thought is something we share, then so is reason—what
makes us reasoning beings.
If so, then the reason that tells us what to do and what not
to do is also shared.
And if so, we share a common law.
And thus, are fellow citizens.
And fellow citizens of something.
And in that case, our state must be the world. What other
entity could all of humanity belong to? And from it—from
this state that we share—come thought and reason and law.
Where else could they come from? The earth that
composes me derives from earth, the water from some other
element, the air from its own source, the heat and fire from
theirs—since nothing comes from nothing, or returns to it.
So thought must derive from somewhere else as well.
5. Death: something like birth, a natural mystery, elements
that split and recombine.
Not an embarrassing thing. Not an offense to reason, or our
6. That sort of person is bound to do that. You might as well
resent a fig tree for secreting juice. (Anyway, before very
long you’ll both be dead—dead and soon forgotten.)
7. Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed.
Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.
8. It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character.
Otherwise it cannot harm you—inside or out.
9. It was for the best. So Nature had no choice but to do it.
10. That every event is the right one. Look closely and you’ll
Not just the right one overall, but right. As if someone had
weighed it out with scales.
Keep looking closely like that, and embody it in your
actions: goodness—what defines a good person.
Keep to it in everything you do.
11. Not what your enemy sees and hopes that you will, but
what’s really there.
12. Two kinds of readiness are constantly needed: (i) to do
only what the logos of authority and law directs, with the
good of human beings in mind; (ii) to reconsider your
position, when someone can set you straight or convert you to
his. But your conversion should always rest on a conviction
that it’s right, or benefits others—nothing else. Not because
it’s more appealing or more popular.
13. You have a mind?
Well, why not use it? Isn’t that all you want—for it to do
14. You have functioned as a part of something; you will
vanish into what produced you.
Or be restored, rather.
To the logos from which all things spring.
By being changed.
15. Many lumps of incense on the same altar. One crumbles
now, one later, but it makes no difference.
16. Now they see you as a beast, a monkey. But in a week
they’ll think you’re a god—if you rediscover your beliefs
and honor the logos.
17. Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you.
Death overshadows you. While you’re alive and able—be
18. The tranquillity that comes when you stop caring what
they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do. (Is this fair? Is
this the right thing to do?)
< . . . > not to be distracted by their darkness. To run
straight for the finish line, unswerving.
19. People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that
the people who remember them will soon die too. And those
after them in turn. Until their memory, passed from one to
another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out.
But suppose that those who remembered you were
immortal and your memory undying. What good would it do
you? And I don’t just mean when you’re dead, but in your
own lifetime. What use is praise, except to make your
lifestyle a little more comfortable?
“ You’re out of step—neglecting the gifts of nature to hand
on someone’s words in the future. “
20. Beautiful things of any kind are beautiful in themselves
and sufficient to themselves. Praise is extraneous. The object
of praise remains what it was—no better and no worse. This
applies, I think, even to “beautiful” things in ordinary life—
physical objects, artworks.
Does anything genuinely beautiful need supplementing? No
more than justice does—or truth, or kindness, or humility.
Are any of those improved by being praised? Or damaged by
contempt? Is an emerald suddenly flawed if no one admires
it? Or gold, or ivory, or purple? Lyres? Knives? Flowers?
21. If our souls survive, how does the air find room for them
—all of them—since the beginning of time?
How does the earth find room for all the bodies buried in
it since the beginning of time? They linger for whatever
length of time, and then, through change and decomposition,
make room for others. So too with the souls that inhabit the
air. They linger a little, and then are changed—diffused and
kindled into fire, absorbed into the logos from which all
things spring, and so make room for new arrivals.
One possible answer.
But we shouldn’t think only of the mass of buried bodies.
There are the ones consumed, on a daily basis, by us and by
other animals. How many are swallowed up like that,
entombed in the bodies of those nourished by them, and yet
there is room for them all—converted into flesh and blood,
transformed to air and fire.
How is the truth of this determined?
Through analysis: material and cause.
22. Not to be driven this way and that, but always to behave
with justice and see things as they are.
23. To the world: Your harmony is mine. Whatever time you
choose is the right time. Not late, not early.
To nature: What the turn of your seasons brings me falls
like ripe fruit. All things are born from you, exist in you,
return to you.
The poet says “dear city of Cecrops . . .” Can’t you bring
yourself to say “of Zeus”?
24. “If you seek tranquillity, do less.” Or (more accurately)
do what’s essential—what the logos of a social being
requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double
satisfaction: to do less, better.
Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If
you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more
tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this
But we need to eliminate unnecessary assumptions as
well. To eliminate the unnecessary actions that follow.
25. And then you might see what the life of the good man is
like—someone content with what nature assigns him, and
satisfied with being just and kind himself.
26. You’ve seen that. Now look at this.
Don’t be disturbed. Uncomplicate yourself.
Someone has done wrong . . . to himself.
Something happens to you. Good. It was meant for you by
nature, woven into the pattern from the beginning.
Life is short. That’s all there is to say. Get what you can
from the present—thoughtfully, justly.
27. An ordered world or a mishmash. But still an order. Can
there be order within you and not in everything else? In
things so different, so dispersed, so intertwined?
28. Character: dark, womanish, obstinate. Wolf, sheep, child,
fool, cheat, buffoon, salesman, tyrant.
29. Alien: (n.) one who doesn’t know what the world
contains. Or how it operates.
Fugitive: (n.) one who evades his obligations to others.
Blind: (adj.) one who keeps the eyes of his mind shut tight.
Poor: (adj.) requiring others; not having the necessities of
life in one’s own possession.
Rebel: (n.) one who is rebellious, one who withdraws
from the logos of Nature because he resents its workings. (It
produced you; now it produces this.)
Schismatic: (n.) one who separates his own soul from
others with the logos. They should be one.
30. A philosopher without clothes and one without books. “I
have nothing to eat,” says he, as he stands there half-naked,
“but I subsist on the logos.” And with nothing to read, I
subsist on it too.
31. Love the discipline you know, and let it support you.
Entrust everything willingly to the gods, and then make your
way through life—no one’s master and no one’s slave.
32. The age of Vespasian, for example. People doing the
exact same things: marrying, raising children, getting sick,
dying, waging war, throwing parties, doing business,
farming, flattering, boasting, distrusting, plotting, hoping
others will die, complaining about their own lives, falling in
love, putting away money, seeking high office and power.
And that life they led is nowhere to be found.
Or the age of Trajan. The exact same things. And that life
Survey the records of other eras. And see how many others
gave their all and soon died and decomposed into the
elements that formed them.
But most of all, run through the list of those you knew
yourself. Those who worked in vain, who failed to do what
they should have—what they should have remained fixed on
and found satisfaction in.
A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness
varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving
the small things more time than they deserve.
33. Words once in common use now sound archaic. And the
names of the famous dead as well: Camillus, Caeso, Volesus,
Dentatus . . . Scipio and Cato . . . Augustus . . . Hadrian and
Antoninus, and . . .
Everything fades so quickly, turns into legend, and soon
oblivion covers it.
And those are the ones who shone. The rest—“unknown,
unasked-for” a minute after death. What is “eternal” fame?
Then what should we work for?
Only this: proper understanding; unselfish action; truthful
speech. A resolve to accept whatever happens as necessary
and familiar, flowing like water from that same source and
34. Hand yourself over to Clotho voluntarily, and let her spin
you into whatever she pleases.
35. Everything transitory—the knower and the known.
36. Constant awareness that everything is born from change.
The knowledge that there is nothing nature loves more than to
alter what exists and make new things like it. All that exists
is the seed of what will emerge from it. You think the only
seeds are the ones that make plants or children? Go deeper.
37. On the verge of dying and still weighed down, still
turbulent, still convinced external things can harm you, still
rude to other people, still not acknowledging the truth: that
wisdom is justice.
38. Look into their minds, at what the wise do and what they
39. Nothing that goes on in anyone else’s mind can harm you.
Nor can the shifts and changes in the world around you.
—Then where is harm to be found?
In your capacity to see it. Stop doing that and everything
will be fine. Let the part of you that makes that judgment keep
quiet even if the body it’s attached to is stabbed or burnt, or
stinking with pus, or consumed by cancer. Or to put it another
way: It needs to realize that what happens to everyone—bad
and good alike—is neither good nor bad. That what happens
in every life—lived naturally or not—is neither natural nor
40. The world as a living being—one nature, one soul. Keep
that in mind. And how everything feeds into that single
experience, moves with a single motion. And how everything
helps produce everything else. Spun and woven together.
41. “A little wisp of soul carrying a corpse.”—Epictetus.
42. There is nothing bad in undergoing change—or good in
emerging from it.
43. Time is a river, a violent current of events, glimpsed
once and already carried past us, and another follows and is
44. Everything that happens is as simple and familiar as the
rose in spring, the fruit in summer: disease, death,
blasphemy, conspiracy . . . everything that makes stupid
people happy or angry.
45. What follows coheres with what went before. Not like a
random catalogue whose order is imposed upon it arbitrarily,
but logically connected. And just as what exists is ordered
and harmonious, what comes into being betrays an order too.
Not a mere sequence, but an astonishing concordance.
46. Remember Heraclitus: “When earth dies, it becomes
water; water, air; air, fire; and back to the beginning.”
“Those who have forgotten where the road leads.”
“They are at odds with what is all around them”—the alldirecting
logos. And “they find alien what they meet with
“Our words and actions should not be like those of
sleepers” (for we act and speak in dreams as well) “or of
children copying their parents”—doing and saying only what
we have been told.
47. 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 recognize that the
difference between years from now and tomorrow is just as
48. Don’t let yourself forget how many doctors have died,
after furrowing their brows over how many deathbeds. How
many astrologers, after pompous forecasts about others’
ends. How many philosophers, after endless disquisitions on
death and immortality. How many warriors, after inflicting
thousands of casualties themselves. How many tyrants, after
abusing the power of life and death atrociously, as if they
were themselves immortal.
How many whole cities have met their end: Helike,
Pompeii, Herculaneum, and countless others.
And all the ones you know yourself, one after another. One
who laid out another for burial, and was buried himself, and
then the man who buried him—all in the same short space of
In short, know this: Human lives are brief and trivial.
Yesterday a blob of semen; tomorrow embalming fluid, ash.
To pass through this brief life as nature demands. To give
it upwithout complaint.
Like an olive that ripens and falls.
Praising its mother, thanking the tree it grew on.
49. To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It
stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.
49a. —It’s unfortunate that this has happened.
No. It’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained
unharmed by it—not shattered by the present or frightened of
the future. It could have happened to anyone. But not
everyone could have remained unharmed by it. Why treat the
one as a misfortune rather than the other as fortunate? Can
you really call something a misfortune that doesn’t violate
human nature? Or do you think something that’s not against
nature’s will can violate it? But you know what its will is.
Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice,
generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility,
straightforwardness, and all the other qualities that allow a
person’s nature to fulfill itself?
So remember this principle when something threatens to
cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to
endure it and prevail is great good fortune.
50. A trite but effective tactic against the fear of death: think
of the list of people who had to be pried away from life.
What did they gain by dying old? In the end, they all sleep six
feet under—Caedicianus, Fabius, Julian, Lepidus, and all the
rest. They buried their contemporaries, and were buried in
Our lifetime is so brief. And to live it out in these
circumstances, among these people, in this body? Nothing to
get excited about. Consider the abyss of time past, the infinite
future. Three days of life or three generations: what’s the
51. Take the shortest route, the one that nature planned—to
speak and act in the healthiest way. Do that, and be free of
pain and stress, free of all calculation and pretension.
1. Not just that every day more of our life is used up and less
and less of it is left, but this too: if we live longer, can we be
sure our mind will still be up to understanding the world—to
the contemplation that aims at divine and human knowledge?
If our mind starts to wander, we’ll still go on breathing, go
on eating, imagining things, feeling urges and so on. But
getting the most out of ourselves, calculating where our duty
lies, analyzing what we hear and see, deciding whether it’s
time to call it quits—all the things you need a healthy mind
for . . . all those are gone.
So we need to hurry.
Not just because we move daily closer to death but also
because our understanding—our grasp of the world—may be
gone before we get there.
2. We should remember that even Nature’s inadvertence has
its own charm, its own attractiveness. The way loaves of
bread split open on top in the oven; the ridges are just byproducts
of the baking, and yet pleasing, somehow: they
rouse our appetite without our knowing why.
Or how ripe figs begin to burst.
And olives on the point of falling: the shadow of decay
gives them a peculiar beauty.
Stalks of wheat bending under their own weight. The
furrowed brow of the lion. Flecks of foam on the boar’s
And other things. If you look at them in isolation there’s
nothing beautiful about them, and yet by supplementing nature
they enrich it and draw us in. And anyone with a feeling for
nature—a deeper sensitivity—will find it all gives pleasure.
Even what seems inadvertent. He’ll find the jaws of live
animals as beautiful as painted ones or sculptures. 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—things unnoticed by others. Things
seen only by those at home with Nature and its works.
3. Hippocrates cured many illnesses—and then fell ill and
died. The Chaldaeans predicted the deaths of many others; in
due course their own hour arrived. Alexander, Pompey,
Caesar—who utterly destroyed so many cities, cut down so
many thousand foot and horse in battle—they too departed
this life. Heraclitus often told us the world would end in fire.
But it was moisture that carried him off; he died smeared
with cowshit. Democritus was killed by ordinary vermin,
Socrates by the human kind.
You boarded, you set sail, you’ve made the passage. Time
to disembark. If it’s for another life, well, there’s nowhere
without gods on that side either. If to nothingness, then you no
longer have to put up with pain and pleasure, or go on
dancing attendance on this battered crate, your body—so
much inferior to that which serves it.
One is mind and spirit, the other earth and garbage.
4. Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about
other people—unless it affects the common good. It will
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 things that throw you off and
keep you from focusing on your own mind.
You need to avoid certain things in your train of thought:
everything random, everything irrelevant. And certainly
everything self-important or malicious. You need to get used
to winnowing your thoughts, so that if someone says, “What
are you thinking about?” you can respond at once (and
truthfully) that you are thinking this or thinking that. And it
would be obvious at once from your answer that your
thoughts were straightforward and considerate ones—the
thoughts of an unselfish person, one unconcerned with
pleasure and with sensual indulgence generally, with
squabbling, with slander and envy, or anything else you’d be
ashamed to be caught thinking.
Someone like that—someone who refuses to put off
joining the elect—is a kind of priest, a servant of the gods, in
touch with what is within him and what keeps a person
undefiled by pleasures, invulnerable to any pain, untouched
by arrogance, unaffected by meanness, an athlete in the
greatest of all contests—the struggle not to be overwhelmed
by anything that happens. With what leaves us dyed indelibly
by justice, welcoming wholeheartedly whatever comes—
whatever we’re assigned—not worrying too often, or with
any selfish motive, about what other people say. Or do, or
He does only what is his to do, and considers constantly
what the world has in store for him—doing his best, and
trusting that all is for the best. For we carry our fate with us
—and it carries us.
He keeps in mind that all rational things are related, and
that to care for all human beings is part of being human.
Which doesn’t mean we have to share their opinions. We
should listen only to those whose lives conform to nature.
And the others? He bears in mind what sort of people they
are—both at home and abroad, by night as well as day—and
who they spend their time with. And he cares nothing for
their praise—men who can’t even meet their own standards.
5. How to act:
Never under compulsion, out of selfishness, without
forethought, with misgivings.
Don’t gussy up your thoughts.
No surplus words or unnecessary actions.
Let the spirit in you represent a man, an adult, a citizen,
a Roman, a ruler. Taking up his post like a soldier
and patiently awaiting his recall from life. Needing
no oath or witness.
Cheerfulness. Without requiring other people’s help. Or
serenity supplied by others.
To stand up straight—not straightened.
6. If, at some point in your life, you should come across
anything better than justice, honesty, self-control, courage—
than a mind satisfied that it has succeeded in enabling you to
act rationally, and satisfied to accept what’s beyond its
control—if you find anything better than that, embrace it
without reservations—it must be an extraordinary thing
indeed—and enjoy it to the full.
But if nothing presents itself that’s superior to the spirit
that lives within—the one that has subordinated individual
desires to itself, that discriminates among impressions, that
has broken free of physical temptations (as Socrates used to
say), and subordinated itself to the gods, and looks out for
human beings’ welfare—if you find that there’s nothing more
important or valuable than that . . .
. . . then don’t make room for anything but it—for anything
that might lead you astray, tempt you off the road, and leave
you unable to devote yourself completely to achieving the
goodness that is uniquely yours. It would be wrong for
anything to stand between you and attaining goodness—as a
rational being and a citizen. Anything at all: the applause of
the crowd, high office, wealth, or self-indulgence. All of
them might seem to be compatible with it—for a while. But
suddenly they control us and sweep us away.
So make your choice straightforwardly, once and for all,
and stick to it. Choose what’s best.
—Best is what benefits me.
As a rational being? Then follow through. Or just as an
animal? Then say so and stand your ground without making a
show of it. (Just make sure you’ve done your homework
7. Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you
betray a trust, or lose your sense of shame, or makes you
show hatred, suspicion, ill will, or hypocrisy, or a desire for
things best done behind closed doors. If you can privilege
your own mind, your guiding spirit and your reverence for its
powers, that should keep you clear of dramatics, of wailing
and gnashing of teeth. You won’t need solitude—or a cast of
thousands, either. Above all, you’ll be free of fear and
desire. And how long your body will contain the soul that
inhabits it will cause you not a moment’s worry. If it’s time
for you to go, leave willingly—as you would to accomplish
anything that can be done with grace and honor. And
concentrate on this, your whole life long: for your mind to be
in the right state—the state a rational, civic mind should be
8. The mind of one set straight and purified: no pus, no dirt,
And not a life cut short by death, like an actor who stops
before the play is done, the plot wound up.
Neither servility nor arrogance. Neither cringing nor
disdain. Neither excuses nor evasions.
9. Your ability to control your thoughts—treat it with respect.
It’s all that protects your mind from false perceptions—false
to your nature, and that of all rational beings. It’s what makes
thoughtfulness possible, and affection for other people, and
submission to the divine.
10. Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and
remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant.
The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see. The
span we live is small—small as the corner of the earth in
which we live it. Small as even the greatest renown, passed
from mouth to mouth by short-lived stick figures, ignorant
alike of themselves and those long dead.
11. To the stand-bys above, add this one: always to define
whatever it is we perceive—to trace its outline—so we can
see what it really is: its substance. Stripped bare. As a
whole. Unmodified. And to call it by its name—the thing
itself and its components, to which it will eventually return.
Nothing is so conducive to spiritual growth as this capacity
for logical and accurate analysis of everything that happens
to us. To look at it in such a way that we understand what
need it fulfills, and in what kind of world. And its value to
that world as a whole and to man in particular—as a citizen
of that higher city, of which all other cities are mere
What is it—this thing that now forces itself on my notice?
What is it made up of? How long was it designed to last?
And what qualities do I need to bring to bear on it—
tranquillity, courage, honesty, trustworthiness,
straightforwardness, independence or what?
So in each case you need to say: “This is due to God.” Or:
“This is due to the interweavings and intertwinings of fate, to
coincidence or chance.” Or: “This is due to a human being.
Someone of the same race, the same birth, the same society,
but who doesn’t know what nature requires of him. But I do.
And so I’ll treat them as the law that binds us—the law of
nature—requires. With kindness and with justice.
And in inconsequential things? I’ll do my best to treat them
as they deserve.”
12. If you do the job in a principled way, with diligence,
energy and patience, if you keep yourself free of distractions,
and keep the spirit inside you undamaged, as if you might
have to give it back at any moment—
If you can embrace this without fear or expectation—can
find fulfillment in what you’re doing now, as Nature
intended, and in superhuman truthfulness (every word, every
utterance)—then your life will be happy.
No one can prevent that.
13. Doctors keep their scalpels and other instruments handy,
for emergencies. Keep your philosophy ready too—ready to
understand heaven and earth. In everything you do, even the
smallest thing, remember the chain that links them. Nothing
earthly succeeds by ignoring heaven, nothing heavenly by
ignoring the earth.
14. 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 savior while you can.
15. They don’t realize how much is included in stealing,
sowing, buying, resting, seeing to business (not with the
eyes, but another kind of sight).
16. Body. Soul. Mind.
Sensations: the body.
Desires: the soul.
Reasoning: the mind.
To experience sensations: even grazing beasts do that. To
let your desires control you: even wild animals do that—and
rutting humans, and tyrants (from Phalaris to Nero . . .).
To make your mind your guide to what seems best: even
people who deny the gods do that. Even people who betray
their country. Even people who do <. . .> behind closed
If all the rest is common coin, then what is unique to the
To welcome with affection what is sent by fate. Not to
stain or disturb the spirit within him with a mess of false
beliefs. Instead, to preserve it faithfully, by calmly obeying
God—saying nothing untrue, doing nothing unjust. And if the
others don’t acknowledge it—this life lived with simplicity,
humility, cheerfulness—he doesn’t resent them for it, and
isn’t deterred from following the road where it leads: to the
end of life. An end to be approached in purity, in serenity, in
acceptance, in peaceful unity with what must be.
ON THE RIVER GRAN, AMONG THE QUADI
1. When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The
people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful,
arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this
because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the
beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized
that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of
the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a
share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one
can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my
relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like
feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and
lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at
someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.
2. Whatever this is that I am, it is flesh and a little spirit and
an intelligence. Throw away your books; stop letting yourself
be distracted. That is not allowed. Instead, as if you were
dying right now, despise your flesh. A mess of blood, pieces
of bone, a woven tangle of nerves, veins, arteries. Consider
what the spirit is: air, and never the same air, but vomited out
and gulped in again every instant. Finally, the intelligence.
Think of it this way: You are an old man. Stop allowing your
mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to
kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future.
3. What is divine is full of Providence. Even chance is not
divorced from nature, from the inweaving and enfolding of
things governed by Providence. Everything proceeds from it.
And then there is necessity and the needs of the whole world,
of which you are a part. Whatever the nature of the whole
does, and whatever serves to maintain it, is good for every
part of nature. The world is maintained by change—in the
elements and in the things they compose. That should be
enough for you; treat it as an axiom. Discard your thirst for
books, so that you won’t die in bitterness, but in cheerfulness
and truth, grateful to the gods from the bottom of your heart.
4. Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how
many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them.
At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you
belong to; what power rules it and from what source you
spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if
you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will
5. Concentrate every minute like a Roman—like a man—on
doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine
seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing
yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do
everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your
life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions
override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical,
self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to
do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage
this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.
6. Yes, keep on degrading yourself, soul. But soon your
chance at dignity will be gone. Everyone gets one life. Yours
is almost used up, and instead of treating yourself with
respect, you have entrusted your own happiness to the souls
7. 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 against
the other kind 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.
8. Ignoring what goes on in other people’s souls—no one
ever came to grief that way. But if you won’t keep track of
what your own soul’s doing, how can you not be unhappy?
9. Don’t ever forget these things:
The nature of the world.
How I relate to the world.
What proportion of it I make up.
That you are part of nature, and no one can prevent you
from speaking and acting in harmony with it, always.
10. In comparing sins (the way people do) Theophrastus says
that the ones committed out of desire are worse than the ones
committed out of anger: which is good philosophy. The angry
man seems to turn his back on reason out of a kind of pain
and inner convulsion. But the man motivated by desire, who
is mastered by pleasure, seems somehow more selfindulgent,
less manly in his sins. Theophrastus is right, and
philosophically sound, to say that the sin committed out of
pleasure deserves a harsher rebuke than the one committed
out of pain. The angry man is more like a victim of
wrongdoing, provoked by pain to anger. The other man
rushes into wrongdoing on his own, moved to action by
11. You could leave life right now. Let that determine what
you do and say and think. If the gods exist, then to abandon
human beings is not frightening; the gods would never subject
you to harm. And if they don’t exist, or don’t care what
happens to us, what would be the point of living in a world
without gods or Providence? But they do exist, they do care
what happens to us, and everything a person needs to avoid
real harm they have placed within him. If there were anything
harmful on the other side of death, they would have made
sure that the ability to avoid it was within you. If it doesn’t
harm your character, how can it harm your life? Nature
would not have overlooked such dangers through failing to
recognize them, or because it saw them but was powerless to
prevent or correct them. Nor would it ever, through inability
or incompetence, make such a mistake as to let good and bad
things happen indiscriminately to good and bad alike. But
death and life, success and failure, pain and pleasure, wealth
and poverty, all these happen to good and bad alike, and they
are neither noble nor shameful—and hence neither good nor
12. The speed with which all of them vanish—the objects in
the world, and the memory of them in time. And the real
nature of the things our senses experience, especially those
that entice us with pleasure or frighten us with pain or are
loudly trumpeted by pride. To understand those things—how
stupid, contemptible, grimy, decaying, and dead they are—
that’s what our intellectual powers are for. And to
understand what those people really amount to, whose
opinions and voices constitute fame. And what dying is—and
that if you look at it in the abstract and break down your
imaginary ideas of it by logical analysis, you realize that it’s
nothing but a process of nature, which only children can be
afraid of. (And not only a process of nature but a necessary
one.) And how man grasps God, with what part of himself he
does so, and how that part is conditioned when he does.
13. Nothing is more pathetic than people who run around in
circles, “delving into the things that lie beneath” and
conducting investigations into the souls of the people around
them, never realizing that all you have to do is to be attentive
to the power inside you and worship it sincerely. To worship
it is to keep it from being muddied with turmoil and
becoming aimless and dissatisfied with nature—divine and
human. What is divine deserves our respect because it is
good; what is human deserves our affection because it is like
us. And our pity too, sometimes, for its inability to tell good
from bad—as terrible a blindness as the kind that can’t tell
white from black.
14. Even if you’re going to live three thousand more years, or
ten times that, remember: you cannot lose another life than
the one you’re living now, or live another one than the one
you’re losing. The longest amounts to the same as the
shortest. The present is the same for everyone; its loss is the
same for everyone; and it should be clear that a brief instant
is all that is lost. For you can’t lose either the past or the
future; how could you lose what you don’t have?
Remember two things:
i. that everything has always been the same, and keeps
recurring, and it makes no difference whether you see
the same things recur in a hundred years or two hundred,
or in an infinite period;
ii. that the longest-lived and those who will die soonest
lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give
up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have,
you cannot lose.
15. “Everything is just an impression.” —Monimus the
Cynic. And the response is obvious enough. But the point is a
useful one, if you take it for what it’s worth.
16. The human soul degrades itself:
i. Above all, when it does its best to become an
abscess, a kind of detached growth on the world. To be
disgruntled at anything that happens is a kind of
secession from Nature, which comprises the nature of
ii. When it turns its back on another person or sets out to
do it harm, as the souls of the angry do.
iii. When it is overpowered by pleasure or pain.
iv. When it puts on a mask and does or says something
artificial or false.
v. When it allows its action and impulse to be without a
purpose, to be random and disconnected: even the
smallest things ought to be directed toward a goal. But
the goal of rational beings is to follow the rule and law
of the most ancient of communities and states.
17. Human life.
Duration: momentary. Nature: changeable. Perception:
dim. Condition of Body: decaying. Soul: spinning around.
Fortune: unpredictable. Lasting Fame: uncertain. Sum Up:
The body and its parts are a river, the soul a dream and
mist, life is warfare and a journey far from home, lasting
reputation is oblivion.
Then what can guide us?
Which means making sure that the power within stays safe
and free from assault, superior to pleasure and pain, doing
nothing randomly or dishonestly and with imposture, not
dependent on anyone else’s doing something or not doing it.
And making sure that it accepts what happens and what it is
dealt as coming from the same place it came from. And
above all, that it accepts death in a cheerful spirit, as nothing
but the dissolution of the elements from which each living
thing is composed. If it doesn’t hurt the individual elements
to change continually into one another, why are people afraid
of all of them changing and separating? It’s a natural thing.
And nothing natural is evil.
A New Translation, with an Introduction, by Gregory Hays. THE MODERN LIBRARY
DEBTS AND LESSONS
1. MY GRANDFATHER VERUS
Character and self-control.
2. MY FATHER (FROM MY OWN MEMORIES AND HIS REPUTATION)
Integrity and manliness.
3. MY MOTHER
Her reverence for the divine, her generosity, her inability not
only to do wrong but even to conceive of doing it. And the
simple way she lived—not in the least like the rich.
4. MY GREAT-GRANDFATHER
To avoid the public schools, to hire good private teachers,
and to accept the resulting costs as money well-spent.
5. MY FIRST TEACHER
Not to support this side or that in chariot-racing, this fighter
or that in the games. To put up with discomfort and not make
demands. To do my own work, mind my own business, and
have no time for slanderers.
Not to waste time on nonsense. Not to be taken in by
conjurors and hoodoo artists with their talk about
incantations and exorcism and all the rest of it. Not to be
obsessed with quail-fighting or other crazes like that. To hear
unwelcome truths. To practice philosophy, and to study with
Baccheius, and then with Tandasis and Marcianus. To write
dialogues as a student. To choose the Greek lifestyle—the
camp-bed and the cloak.
The recognition that I needed to train and discipline my
Not to be sidetracked by my interest in rhetoric. Not to
write treatises on abstract questions, or deliver moralizing
little sermons, or compose imaginary descriptions of The
Simple Life or The Man Who Lives Only for Others. To steer
clear of oratory, poetry and belles lettres.
Not to dress up 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.
And for introducing me to Epictetus’s lectures—and
loaning me his own copy.
Independence and unvarying reliability, and to pay attention
to nothing, no matter how fleetingly, except the logos. And to
be the same in all circumstances—intense pain, the loss of a
child, chronic illness. And to see clearly, from his example,
that a man can show both strength and flexibility.
His patience in teaching. And to have seen someone who
clearly viewed his expertise and ability as a teacher as the
humblest of virtues.
And to have learned how to accept favors from friends
without losing your self-respect or appearing ungrateful.
An example of fatherly authority in the home. What it
means to live as nature requires.
Gravity without airs.
To show intuitive sympathy for friends, tolerance to
amateurs and sloppy thinkers. His ability to get along with
everyone: sharing his company was the highest of
compliments, and the opportunity an honor for those around
To investigate and analyze, with understanding and logic,
the principles we ought to live by.
Not to display anger or other emotions. To be free of
passion and yet full of love.
To praise without bombast; to display expertise without
10. THE LITERARY CRITIC ALEXANDER
Not to be constantly correcting people, and in particular not
to jump on them whenever they make an error of usage or a
grammatical mistake or mispronounce something, but just
answer their question or add another example, or debate the
issue itself (not their phrasing), or make some other
contribution to the discussion—and insert the right
To recognize the malice, cunning, and hypocrisy that power
produces, and the peculiar ruthlessness often shown by
people from “good families.”
12. ALEXANDER THE PLATONIST
Not to be constantly telling people (or writing them) that I’m
too busy, unless I really am. Similarly, not to be always
ducking my responsibilities to the people around me because
of “pressing business.”
Not to shrug off a friend’s resentment—even unjustified
resentment—but try to put things right.
To show your teachers ungrudging respect (the Domitius
and Athenodotus story), and your children unfeigned love.
14. [MY BROTHER] SEVERUS
To love my family, truth and justice. It was through him that I
encountered Thrasea, Helvidius, Cato, Dion and Brutus, and
conceived of a society of equal laws, governed by equality
of status and of speech, and of rulers who respect the liberty
of their subjects above all else.
And from him as well, to be steady and consistent in
And to help others and be eager to share, not to be a
pessimist, and never to doubt your friends’ affection for you.
And that when people incurred his disapproval, they always
knew it. And that his friends never had to speculate about his
attitude to anything: it was always clear.
Self-control and resistance to distractions.
Optimism in adversity—especially illness.
A personality in balance: dignity and grace together.
Doing your job without whining.
Other people’s certainty that what he said was what he
thought, and what he did was done without malice.
Never taken aback or apprehensive. Neither rash nor
hesitant—or bewildered, or at a loss. Not obsequious
—but not aggressive or paranoid either.
Generosity, charity, honesty.
The sense he gave of staying on the path rather than
being kept on it.
That no one could ever have felt patronized by him—or
in a position to patronize him.
A sense of humor.
16. MY ADOPTED FATHER
Compassion. Unwavering adherence to decisions, once he’d
reached them. Indifference to superficial honors. Hard work.
Listening to anyone who could contribute to the public
His dogged determination to treat people as they deserved.
A sense of when to push and when to back off.
Putting a stop to the pursuit of boys.
His altruism. Not expecting his friends to keep him
entertained at dinner or to travel with him (unless they
wanted to). And anyone who had to stay behind to take care
of something always found him the same when he returned.
His searching questions at meetings. A kind of singlemindedness,
almost, never content with first impressions, or
breaking off the discussion prematurely.
His constancy to friends—never getting fed up with them,
or playing favorites.
Self-reliance, always. And cheerfulness.
And his advance planning (well in advance) and his
discreet attention to even minor things.
His restrictions on acclamations—and all attempts to
His constant devotion to the empire’s needs. His
stewardship of the treasury. His willingness to take
responsibility—and blame—for both.
His attitude to the gods: no superstitiousness. And his
attitude to men: no demagoguery, no currying favor, no
pandering. Always sober, always steady, and never vulgar or
a prey to fads.
The way he handled the material comforts that fortune had
supplied him in such abundance—without arrogance and
without apology. If they were there, he took advantage of
them. If not, he didn’t miss them.
No one ever called him glib, or shameless, or pedantic.
They saw him for what he was: a man tested by life,
accomplished, unswayed by flattery, qualified to govern both
himself and them.
His respect for people who practiced philosophy—at
least, those who were sincere about it. But without
denigrating the others—or listening to them.
His ability to feel at ease with people—and put them at
their ease, without being pushy.
His willingness to take adequate care of himself. Not a
hypochondriac or obsessed with his appearance, but not
ignoring things either. With the result that he hardly ever
needed medical attention, or drugs or any sort of salve or
This, in particular: his willingness to yield the floor to
experts—in oratory, law, psychology, whatever—and to
support them energetically, so that each of them could fulfill
That he respected tradition without needing to constantly
congratulate himself for Safeguarding Our Traditional
Not prone to go off on tangents, or pulled in all directions,
but sticking with the same old places and the same old things.
The way he could have one of his migraines and then go
right back to what he was doing—fresh and at the top of his
That he had so few secrets—only state secrets, in fact, and
not all that many of those.
The way he kept public actions within reasonable bounds
—games, building projects, distributions of money and so on
—because he looked to what needed doing and not the credit
to be gained from doing it.
No bathing at strange hours, no self-indulgent building
projects, no concern for food, or the cut and color of his
clothes, or having attractive slaves. (The robe from his farm
at Lorium, most of the things at Lanuvium, the way he
accepted the customs agent’s apology at Tusculum, etc.)
He never exhibited rudeness, lost control of himself, or
turned violent. No one ever saw him sweat. Everything was
to be approached logically and with due consideration, in a
calm and orderly fashion but decisively, and with no loose
You could have said of him (as they say of Socrates) that
he knew how to enjoy and abstain from things that most
people find it hard to abstain from and all too easy to enjoy.
Strength, perseverance, self-control in both areas: the mark
of a soul in readiness—indomitable.
17. THE GODS
That I had good grandparents, a good mother and father, a
good sister, good teachers, good servants, relatives, friends
—almost without exception. And that I never lost control of
myself with any of them, although I had it in me to do that,
and I might have, easily. But thanks to the gods, I was never
put in that position, and so escaped the test.
That I wasn’t raised by my grandfather’s girlfriend for
longer than I was. That I didn’t lose my virginity too early,
and didn’t enter adulthood until it was time—put it off, even.
That I had someone—as a ruler and as a father—who
could keep me from being arrogant and make me realize that
even at court you can live without a troop of bodyguards, and
gorgeous clothes, lamps, sculpture—the whole charade. That
you can behave almost like an ordinary person without
seeming slovenly or careless as a ruler or when carrying out
That I had the kind of brother I did. One whose character
challenged me to improve my own. One whose love and
affection enriched my life.
That my children weren’t born stupid or physically
That I wasn’t more talented in rhetoric or poetry, or other
areas. If I’d felt that I was making better progress I might
never have given them up.
That I conferred on the people who brought me up the
honors they seemed to want early on, instead of putting them
off (since they were still young) with the hope that I’d do it
That I knew Apollonius, and Rusticus, and Maximus.
That I was shown clearly and often what it would be like
to live as nature requires. The gods did all they could—
through their gifts, their help, their inspiration—to ensure that
I could live as nature demands. And if I’ve failed, it’s no
one’s fault but mine. Because I didn’t pay attention to what
they told me—to what they taught me, practically, step by
That my body has held out, especially considering the life
That I never laid a finger on Benedicta or on Theodotus.
And that even later, when I was overcome by passion, I
recovered from it.
That even though I was often upset with Rusticus I never
did anything I would have regretted later.
That even though she died young, at least my mother spent
her last years with me.
That whenever I felt like helping someone who was short
of money, or otherwise in need, I never had to be told that I
had no resources to do it with. And that I was never put in
that position myself—of having to take something from
That I have the wife I do: obedient, loving, humble.
That my children had competent teachers.
Remedies granted through dreams—when I was coughing
blood, for instance, and having fits of dizziness. And the one
That when I became interested in philosophy I didn’t fall
into the hands of charlatans, and didn’t get bogged down in
writing treatises, or become absorbed by logic-chopping, or
preoccupied with physics.
All things for which “we need the help of fortune and the