Posted in Marcus Aurelius


Please Listen Whilst you Read:



These dogmas, or foundational and fundamental rules, were the subject of demonstrations within the Stoic schools.  Marcus learned such demonstrations from his Stoic teachers Junius Rusticus, Apollonius, and Sextus, to whom he renders homage to the first book of the Meditations. Above all, he read about them in the Discourses of Epictetus as collected by Arrian. In his Meditations, Marcus mentions “the large number of proofs by which it is demonstrated that the world is like a city,” or else the teachings he has received on the subject of pleasure and pain, and to which he has given his assent (IV, 3, 5, 6).

With the aid of these demonstrations, the dogmas imposed themselves upon Marcus with absolute certainty, and he usually restricts himself to formulating them in form of a simple proposition, as he does in Book II, I, 3.  The nature of the good, he says there, is moral good (to kalon); while that of evil is moral evil (to aischron). This condensed form is sufficient to evoke the theoretical demonstration of which they were the subject, and it allows the inner disposition which was a result of his clear view of these principles—that is, the resolution to do good—to be re-awakened within his soul.  To repeat the dogmas to oneself, or write them down for oneself, is “to retreat,” as Marcus says (IV,3, I). “not to the countryside, the seashore, or the mountains,” but within oneself.  It is there that one can find the formulas “which shall renew us.” “Let them be concise and essential,” Marcus continues, in order that their efficacy be complete.  This is why, in order to be ready to apply the three rules of action, Marcus sometimes gathers together a series of chapter-heads(kepahlaia), extremely brief in form, which constitute an enumeration of points which, by their very accumulation, can increase their psychic efficacy (II, I; IV,3; IV,26; VII, 22, 2; VIII, 21, 2; XI, 18; XII, 7; XII, 8; XII, 26).

One example of the above being (XII, 26) in which eight kephalaia, or fundamental points, provide a group if resources with a view to the practice of that rule of action which prescribes that we must serenely accept that which happens to us, but does not depend on our will:

If you are annoyed at something, it is because you have forgotten:

(1) that everything happens in accordance with universal Nature;

(2) that whatever fault was committed is not your concern;

(3) and, moreover, that everything that happens has always happened thus and will always happen thus,  and is, at this very moment, happening thus elsewhere;

(4) how close the relationship between man and the whole human race: for this is no community of blood or of seed, but of the intellect.

You have also forgotten that:

(5) that the intellect of each person is God, and that it flowed down here from above;

(6) and that nothing belongs to any of us in the strict sense, but that our child, our body, and our soul, come from above;

(7) and that everything is a judgment-value;

(8) and the only thing that each of us lives and loses is the present.

From the absolutely primary principle according to which the only good is moral good and the only evil is moral evil (II, I, 3), it follows that neither pleasure nor pain are evils (IV, 3, 6; XII, 8); that the only thing shameful is moral evil (II, I, 3); that faults committed against us cannot touch us (II, 1, 3; XII, 26); that he who commits a fault hurts only himself (IV, 26, 3); and that the fault cannot be found elsewhere than within oneself (VII, 29, 7; XII, 26).  It further follows that I can suffer no harm whatsoever from the actions of anyone else (II, 1, 3; VII, 22, 2). 

From the general principles

1. only that which depends on us can either be good or bad

2. our judgment and our assent depend on us (XII, 22),

It follows that the only evil or trouble there can be for us resides in our own judgment; that is to say, in the way we represent things to ourselves (IV, 3, 10; XI, 18, II); and that people are the authors of their own problems (IV, 26, 2; XII, 8).  Everything, therefore, is a matter of judgment (XII, 8; XII, 22; XII, 26).  The intellect is independent of the body (IV, 3, 6), and things do not come inside us in order to trouble us (IV, 3, 10).  If everything is a matter of judgment, and proceeds from ignorance (II, I, 2; IV, 3, 4; XI, 18, 4-5).

In the enumeration of kephalaia in Book XI (XI, 18, 2), Marcus tells himself:

Go higher up still, starting from the principle that if we reject atoms, it must be Nature which governs the All.

In the list in Book IV, he says:

Remember the disjunction: either providence or atoms.


Translated by: Michael Chase



Posted in Marcus Aurelius



Here is an nice accompaniment whilst you read (mind the shoddy sound quality)…it is still very worth a listen:

The Meditations have only one theme: philosophy.  We can see this from passages such as the following:

What is it that can escort you in order to protect you in this life? Only one thing: philosophy.   It consists in keeping your inner god free from pollution and from damage (II, 17, 3).

Be careful of becoming “caesarized”…Keep yourself simple, good, pure, grave, natural, a friend of justice.  Revere the gods, be benevolent, affectionate, and firm in accomplishing your duties.  Fight in order to remain as philosophy has wished you to be (VI, 30, 1-3).

For the ancients in general, but particularly for the Stoics and for Marcus Aurelius, philosophy was, above all, a way of life.  This is why the Meditations strive, by means of an ever-renewed effort, to describe this way of life and to sketch the model that one must have constantly in view: that of the ideal good man.  Ordinary people are content to think in any old way, to act haphazardly, and to undergo grudgingly whatever befalls them.  The good man, however, will try, insofar as he is able, to act justly in the service of other people, to accept serenely those events which do not depend on him, and to think with rectitude and veracity. (VII, 54):

Always and everywhere, it depends on you piously to be satisfied with the present conjunction of events, to conduct yourself justly toward whatever other people are present and to apply the rules of discernment to the inner representation you are having now, so that nothing which is not objective may infiltrate its way into you.

Marcus himself gives us good examples of the relationship between general principles and rules of life.  We have seen that one of the rules of life he proposes consists in consenting with serenity to events willed by Destiny, which do not depend on us.  But he also exhorts himself , in the following terms (IV, 49, 6):

On the occasion of everything that causes you sadness, remember to use this “dogma”: not only is this not a misfortune, but it is a piece of good fortune for you to bear it up courageously.

This dogma is deduced from the fundamental dogma of Stoicism, which is the foundation for all Stoic behavior: only moral good, or virtue , is a good, and only moral evil, or vice, is an evil.  Marcus formulates this explicitly elsewhere (VIII, I, 6):

What does happiness consist of?  It consists of doing that which the nature of mankind desires.  How shall we do this?  By possessing those dogmas which are the  principles of impulses and of action.  Which dogmas?  Those which pertain to the distinction of what is good from what is bad: there is no good for mankind but that which renders him just, temperate, courageous, and free, and there is no evil for mankind, except that which brings about in him the contrary vices.

Marcus also employs the word  theôrêma to designate the “dogmas,” inasmuch as every art entails principles, and consequently so too does that art of living called philosophy (XI, 5):

What art do you practice?  That of being good.  How can you practice this except by starting out from theorems, some of which concern the Nature of the All, and others of which deal with the constitution proper to mankind?

Dogmas, as Marcus says (VII, 2), run the risk of dying out, if one does not constantly reignite those inner images, or phantasiai, which make them present to us.

Thus, we can say that the Meditations—with the exception of Book I—are wholly made up of the repeated, ever-renewed formulation of the three rules of action which we have just seen, and of the various dogmas which are their foundation.

Translated by: Michael Chase



Posted in Marcus Aurelius


The fate of a text

In our time, now that the printing and distribution of books are banal, everyday operations, we no longer realize to what extent the survival of any work of antiquity represented  an almost miraculous adventure.  If after having been dictated or written onto relatively fragile materials, and then having been more or less disfigured by copyists’ mistakes, a text managed to survive until the birth of printing, it was only because it had the good fortune not to be burned in one of the numerous library fires of antiquity, or else simply did not fall into useless pieces.  The odyssey of Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations seems to have been particularly risky.

In all probability, the emperor wrote for himself and his own private use, rather than by dictation. At his death, the notes Marcus wrote in this way were saved and conserved by a family member, a friend, or an admirer.  Was it ever published, that is to say, copied down and distributed to bookstores?  It is difficult to say.  Some scholars have thought that they recognize analogies between the Meditations and the speech which according to the historian Cassius Dio, writing a few years after the Emperor’s death, Marcus delivered before his soldiers on the occasion of the rebellion of Avidius Cassius.  In fact, however, the analogies in expression are not very specific; these were formulas which were fairly widespread in the philosophical and literary tradition.

It does seem that, two centuries after Marcus, the philosopher Themistius knew of the existence of the work: He speaks of paraggelmata or “exhortations” written by Marcus.  The historian Aurelius Victor and the Historia Augusta claim that Marcus, before leaving on his expedition to the Danubian front, had publicly set forth the precepts of his philosophy in the form of a series of exhortations.  This is an interesting detail, for it reveals that the writing of the Meditations was linked in a confused way with the ward against the Germans, which is not completely false.  Much later, in the fourteenth century, it would be imagined that the work was a book composed with a view to the education of Marcus’ son Commodus.  In any case, it seems that none of these authors had direct access to the book of which they were speaking.

We can only surmise that it is only a matter of luck that we happen to know the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.  We must admit, however, that in the case of a number of passages–fortunately not very numerous–the state of the text as now we possess it is less than satisfactory; and given the small number of manuscripts, it is difficult to improve upon the text.  In order to re-establish the text with the highest degree of probability, therefore, we are sometimes reduced to making conjectures.

Translated by: Michael Chase