Book Review (Part II): The Essential Marcus Aurelius
Newly translated and introduced by Jacob Needleman & John P. Piazza
This is part II of the book review [you may read Part I here ] I will proceed to shamelessly copy entire lengthy quotes from the book that I found inspiring--an action that i'm sure Marcus would forgive...
4.3. "People seek retreats for themselves in the country, by the sea, and near the mountains; and you too are especially prone to desire such things. But this is a sign of ignorance, since you have the power to retire within yourself whenever you wish...Continually give yourself this kind of retreat and regenerate yourself, but keep your rules of living brief and basic so that, when consulted, they will immediately wash away all distress and send you back to your work without resentment."
4.47. "If some god told you that you would die tomorrow, or the next day at the latest, you would not consider death on the third day to be anything better than death on the second day. And so just the same, do not think that living many years is any better than dying tomorrow."
5.1. "Early in the morning, when you are reluctant in your laziness to get up, let this thought be at hand: 'I am rising to do the work of a human being.' Even though I know this, why am I still resentful if I am going out to do that for which I was born and that for which I was brought into the Cosmos? Or was I created so that I could lie under my covers and keep warm? 'But this is more pleasant,' you might say. Were you brought into this world simply to feel pleasure, that is, to be acted upon by feelings rather than to act? Have you not considered the plants, the birds, the ants, the spiders, and the bees, all doing their specific work and contributing to the Cosmos, each according to their unique capacities? And still you do not wish to do the work of a human being? You do not love yourself, or else you surely would love your nature and what it intends for you"
5.11. "'Toward what end am I now making use of my soul?' Each day question and cross-examine yourself: What is really my own within this very part which people like to call the 'ruling part' and which is often that in name only? What kind of soul do I have at this very moment: That of a child? Of an adolescent? Of a tyrant? Of a livestock? Of a beast?"
7.57. "Whatever should happen to you, love that alone, for it has been spun for you by the Fates themselves. Could anything be more fitting?"
9.5. "Very often an unjust act is done by not doing something, not only by doing something."
11.18. Nine principles to remember when dealing with those who offend you. "If any have offended against thee, consider first: What is my relation to men, and that we are made for one another; and in another respect, I was made to be set over them, as a ram over the flock or a bull over the herd. But examine the matter from first principles, from this: If all things are not mere atoms, it is nature which 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.
Second, consider what kind of men they are at table, in bed, and so forth: and particularly, under what compulsions in respect of opinions they are; and as to their acts, consider with what pride they do what they do.
Third, that if men do rightly what they do, we ought not to be displeased; but if they do not right, it is plain that they do so involuntarily and in ignorance. For as every soul is unwillingly deprived of the truth, so also is it unwillingly deprived of the power of behaving to each man according to his deserts. Accordingly men are pained when they are called unjust, ungrateful, and greedy, and in a word wrong-doers to their neighbours.
Fourth, consider that thou also doest many things wrong, and that thou art a man like others; and even if thou dost abstain from certain faults, still thou hast the disposition to commit them, though either through cowardice, or concern about reputation, or some such mean motive, thou dost abstain from such faults.
Fifth, consider that thou dost not even understand whether men are doing wrong or not, for many things are done with a certain reference to circumstances. And in short, a man must learn a great deal to enable him to pass a correct judgement on another man's acts.
Sixth, consider when thou art much vexed or grieved, that man's life is only a moment, and after a short time we are all laid out dead.
Seventh, that it is not men's acts which disturb us, for those acts have their foundation in men's ruling principles, but it is our own opinions which disturb us. Take away these opinions then, and resolve to dismiss thy judgement about an act as if it were something grievous, and thy anger is gone. How then shall I take away these opinions? By reflecting that no wrongful act of another brings shame on thee: for unless that which is shameful is alone bad, thou also must of necessity do many things wrong, and become a robber and everything else.
Eighth, consider how much more pain is brought on us by the anger and vexation caused by such acts than by the acts themselves, at which we are angry and vexed.
Ninth, consider that a good disposition is invincible, if it be genuine, and not an affected smile and acting a part. For what will the most violent man do to thee, if thou continuest to be of a kind disposition towards him, and if, as opportunity offers, thou gently admonishest him and calmly correctest his errors at the very time when he is trying to do thee harm, saying, Not so, my child: we are constituted by nature for something else: I shall certainly not be injured, but thou art injuring thyself, my child.- And show him with gentle tact and by general principles that this is so, and that even bees do not do as he does, nor any animals which are formed by nature to be gregarious. And thou must do this neither with any double meaning nor in the way of reproach, but affectionately and without any rancour in thy soul; and not as if thou wert lecturing him, nor yet that any bystander may admire, but either when he is alone, and if others are present...
Remember these nine rules, as if thou hadst received them as a gift from the Muses, and begin at last to be a man while thou livest. But thou must equally avoid flattering men and being angry at them, for both are unsocial and lead to harm. And let this truth be present to thee 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. For in the same degree in which a man's mind is nearer to freedom from all passion, in the same degree also is it nearer to strength: and as the sense of pain is a characteristic of weakness, so also is anger. For he who yields to pain and he who yields to anger, both are wounded and both submit.
12.4. "I have often been amazed at how every person loves himself more than he loves others yet places less value on his own judgment of himself than on the judgments of others concerning him. If a god or some wise teacher were to stand next to him and order him not to think or conceive of anything without at the same time speaking it for all to hear, he would not be able to endure it even for a single day. This shows us that what others think of us counts more for us than our own estimation of ourselves."
Now take a moment whereever you may be and look out your front door or front window and imagine what the view must have looked like 50 years ago. How about 100 years ago? 1000 years ago? The past is humbling.
Just like Marcus Aurelius, we to will just be a forgotten memory... Is it not then that much more important to forgive our enemies, to let go of past hurts and build relationships with those that matter?
It’s never too late to thank those that you love and to reach out to those you wish you could have apologized.
Until next time.
Note: This is part II of the book review [you may read Part I here ]
Arthur Martin ©2016
Arthur was originally born in the Soviet Union and immigrated legally to Alaska when he was young. He graduated from Craig, Alaska. Holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and worked for the Alaska State Legislature for three sessions.
Arthur now lives on Prince of Wales Island. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org - This column has been edited by the author.
Arthur Martin is the Editor of the P.O.W. AK Report
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