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Book 7

1. What is evil? A thing you have seen times out of number. Likewise with every other sort of occurrence also, be prompt to remind yourself that this, too, you have witnessed many times before. For everywhere, above and below, you will find nothing but the selfsame things; they fill the pages of all history, ancient, modern, and contemporary; and they fill our cities and homes today. There is no such thing as novelty; all is as trite as it is transitory.

2. Principles can only lose their vitality when the first impressions from which they derive have sunk into extinction; and it is for you to keep fanning these continually into fresh flame. I am well able to form the right impression of a thing; and given this ability, there is no need to disquiet myself.  (As for things that are beyond my understanding, they are no concern of my  understanding.) Once learn this, and you stand erect. A new life lies within your  grasp. You have only to see things once more in the light of your first and earlier vision, and life begins anew.

3. An empty pageant; a stage play; flocks of sheep, herds of cattle; a tussle of spearmen; a bone flung among a pack of curs; a crumb tossed into a pond of fish; ants, loaded and laboring; mice, scared and scampering; puppets, jerking on their strings; that is life. In the midst of it all you must take your stand, good-temperedly and without disdain, yet always aware that a man's worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions.

4. In talk, mark carefully what is being said, and when action is afoot, what is being done. In the latter case, look at once to see what is purposed; and in the other, make certain what is meant.

5. Is my understanding equal to this task, or not? If it is, I apply it to the work as a tool presented to me by Nature. If not, then either I make way -- if my duty permits it -- for someone more capable of doing the business, or else I do the best I can with the help of some assistant, who will avail himself of my inspiration to achieve what is timely and serviceable for the community. For everything I do, whether by myself or with another, must have as its sole aim the service and harmony of all.

6. How many whose praises used once to be sung so loudly are now relegated to oblivion; and how many of the singers themselves have long since passed from our sight!

7. Think it no shame to be helped. Your business is to do your appointed duty, like a soldier in the breach. How, then, if you are lame, and unable to scale the battlements yourself, but could do it if you had the aid of a comrade?

8. Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.

9. All things are interwoven with one another; a sacred bond unites them; there is scarcely one thing that is isolated from another. Everything is coordinated, everything works together in giving form to the one universe. The world-order is a unity made up of multiplicity: God is one, pervading all things; all being is one, all law is one (namely, the common reason which all thinking creatures possess) and all truth is one -- if, as we believe, there can be but one path to perfection for beings that are alike in kind and reason.

10. Swiftly each particle of matter vanishes into the universal Substance; swiftly each item of causation is reassumed into the universal Reason; swiftly the remembrance of all things is buried in the gulf of eternity.

11. To a reasoning being, an act that accords with nature is an act that accords with reason.

12. To stand up -- or be set up?

13. In a system comprising diverse elements, those which possess reason have the same part to play as the bodily limbs in an organism that is a unity; being similarly constituted for mutual cooperation. This reflection will impress you  more forcibly if you constantly tell yourself, 'I am a "limb" (melos) of the whole complex of rational things.' If you think of yourself as a 'part' (meros) only, you have as yet no love from the heart for mankind, and no joy in the performance of acts of kindness for their own sake. You do them as a bare duty, and not yet as good offices to yourself.

14. Come what will upon such parts of me as can be affected by its incidence; they may complain of it if they will. As for myself, if I do not view the thing as an evil, I take no hurt. And nothing compels me to view it so.

15. Whatever the world may say or do, my part is to keep myself good; just as a gold piece, or an emerald, or a purple robe insists perpetually, "Whatever the world may say or do, my part is to remain an emerald and keep my color true."

16. The master-reason is never the victim of any self-disturbance; it never, for example, excites passions within itself. If another can inspire it with terror or pain, let him do so; but by itself it never permits its own assumptions to mislead it into such moods. By all means let the body take thought for itself to avoid hurt, if it can; and if it be hurt, let it say so. But the soul, which alone can know fear or pain, and on whose judgment their existence depends, takes no harm; you cannot force the verdict from it. The master-reason is self-sufficient, knowing no needs except those it creates for itself, and by the same token can experience no disturbances or obstructions unless they be of its own making.

17. Happiness, by derivation, means 'a good god within'; [1] that is, a good master-reason. Then what, vain Fancy, are you doing here? Be off, in heaven's name, as you came; I want none of you. I know it is long habit that brings you here, and I bear no ill-will; but get you gone.

18. We shrink from change; yet is there anything that can come into being without it? What does Nature hold dearer, or more proper to herself? Could you have a hot bath unless the firewood underwent some change? Could you be nourished if the food suffered no change? Is it possible for any useful thing to be achieved without change? Do you not see, then, that change in yourself is of the same order, and no less necessary to Nature?

19. All bodies pass through the universal substance, as it were into and out of a rushing stream; cohering and cooperating with the whole, as do our physical members with one another. How many a Chrysippus, a Socrates, an Epictetus has been engulfed by time! Remember this where you have to do with any man or thing whatsoever.

20. One thing alone troubles me: the fear that I may do something which man's constitution disallows, or would wish to be done in some other way, or forbids till a future day.

21. Soon you will have forgotten the world, and soon the world will have forgotten you.

22. It is man's peculiar distinction to love even those who err and go astray. Such a love is born as soon as you realize that they are your brothers; that they are stumbling in ignorance, and not wilfully; that in a short while both of you will be no more; and, above all, that you yourself have taken no hurt, for your master-reason has not been made a jot worse than it was before.

23. Out of the universal substance, as out of wax, Nature fashions a colt, then breaks him up and uses the material to form a tree, and after that a man, and next some other thing; and not one of these endures for more than a brief span. As for the vessel itself, it is no greater hardship to be taken to pieces than to be put together.

24. An angry look on the face is wholly against nature. If it be assumed frequently, beauty begins to perish, and in the end is quenched beyond rekindling. You must try to realize that this shows the unreasonableness of it;  for if we lose the ability to perceive our faults, what is the good of living on?

25. Only a little while, and Nature, the universal disposer, will change everything you see, and out of their substance will make fresh things, and yet again others from theirs, to the perpetual renewing of the world's youthfulness.

26. When anyone offends against you, let your first thought be, Under what conception of good and ill was this committed? Once you know that, astonishment and anger will give place to pity. For either your own ideas of what is good are no more advanced than his, or at least bear some likeness to them, in which case it is clearly your duty to pardon him; or else, on the other hand, you have grown beyond supposing such actions to be either good or bad, and therefore it will be so much the easier to be tolerant of another's blindness.

27. Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours. At the same time, however, beware lest delight in them leads you to cherish them so dearly that their loss would destroy your peace of mind.

28. Withdraw into yourself. Our master-reason asks no more than to act justly, and thereby to achieve calm.

29. Do away with all fancies. Cease to be passion's puppet. Limit time to the present. Learn to recognize every experience for what it is, whether it be your own or another's.  Divide and classify the objects of sense into cause and  matter. Meditate upon your last hour. Leave your neighbor's wrongdoing to rest with him who initiated it.

30. Fix your thought closely on what is being said, and let your mind enter fully into what is being done, and into what is doing it.

31. Put on the shining face of simplicity and self-respect, and of indifference to everything outside the realms of virtue or vice. Love mankind. Walk in God's ways. 'All under law,' quoth the sage; and what though his saying had reference to atoms alone? For us, it suffices to remember that all things are indeed under law. Three words, but enough.

32. Of Death. Dispersion, if the world be a concourse of atoms: extinction or transmutation, if it be a unity.

33. Of Pain. If it is past bearing, it makes an end of us; if it lasts, it can be borne. The mind, holding itself aloof from the body, retains its calm, and the master-reason remains unaffected. As for the parts injured by the pain, let them, if they can, declare their own grief.

34. Of Fame. Take a look at the minds of her suitors, their ambitions and their aversions. Furthermore, reflect how speedily in this life the things of today are buried under those of tomorrow, even as one layer of drifting sand  is quickly covered by the next.

35. 'If a man has greatness of mind, and the breadth of vision to contemplate all time and all reality, can he regard human life as a thing of any great consequence? -- 'No, he cannot.' --  'So he won't think death anything to be afraid of?' -- 'No.' (From Plato. [2])

36. 'It is the fate of princes to be ill spoken of for well-doing.' (From Antisthenes.)

37. It is a shame for the features to order and dispose themselves obediently as the mind directs, while the same mind refuses to order and dispose itself.

38. 'Vex not thy spirit at the course of things; They heed not thy vexation.' [3]

39. 'To the deathless gods and likewise to ourselves give joy.' [4]

40. 'Like ears of corn the lives of men are reaped; This one is left to stand, and that cut down.' [5]

4I. 'If Heav'n care nought for me and my two boys, There must be some good reason even for this.' [6]

42. 'Right and good fortune both are on my side.' [7]

43. 'No tears with those who wail, no quickening of the pulse.' [8]

44. 'I might fairly reply to him, You are mistaken, my friend, if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action: that is, whether he is acting rightly or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one.' (From Plato. [9])

45. 'The truth of the matter is this, gentlemen. When a man has once taken up his stand, either because it seems best to him or in obedience to orders,  there I believe he is bound to remain and face the danger, taking no account of death or anything else before dishonor.' (From Plato. [10])

46. 'But I beg you, my friend, to think it possible that nobility and goodness may be something different from keeping oneself and one's friends from danger, and to consider whether a true man, instead of clinging to life at all  costs, ought not to dismiss from his mind the question how long he may have to live. Let him leave that to the will of God, in the belief that the womenfolk  are right when they tell us that no man can escape his destiny, and let him devote himself to the next problem, how he can best live the life allotted to him.' (From Plato. [11])

47. Survey the circling stars, as though yourself were in mid-course with them. Often picture the changing and re-changing dance of the elements. Visions of this kind purge away the dross of our earth-bound life.

48. Plato has a fine saying, that he who would discourse of man should survey, as from some high watchtower, the things of earth; its assemblies for peace or war, its husbandry, matings, and partings, births and deaths, noisy law-courts, lonely wastes, alien peoples of every kind, feasting, mourning, bargaining--observing all the motley mixture, and the harmonious order that is wrought out of contrariety.

49. Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too. Its pattern will be the same, down to the last detail; for it cannot break step with the steady march of creation. To view the lives of men for forty years or forty thousand is therefore all one; for what more will there be for you to see?

50. All born of earth must unto earth return; All growths of heav'nly seed to heav'n revert.' [12] -- by the disintegration, that is, of their atomic structure and the dispersion of their uncaring elements.

51. 'What, turn aside with meats and drinks and charms The tides of Destiny, and so 'scape Death?' [13] 'The gales that blow from God must needs be faced With laboring oars and uncomplaining hearts.' [14]

52. 'More crafty in the ring,' [15] no doubt -- but not more public spirited, more self-effacing, more disciplined to circumstance, more indulgent to a neighbor's oversights.

53. If a deed can be accomplished to accord with that reason which men share with gods, there is nothing to fear. Where a chance of service presents itself, by some action that will go smoothly forward in obedience to the laws of our being, we need look for no harm.

54. In your power at all times and places there lies a pious acceptance of the day's happenings, a just dealing towards the day's associates, and a  scrupulous attention to the day's impressions, lest any of them gain an entrance unverified.

55. Cast no side-glance at the instincts governing other men, but keep your eyes fixed on the goal whereto nature herself guides you -- the World-Nature speaking through circumstance, and your own nature speaking through the calls of duty. The acts of man should accord with his natural constitution; and while all other created things are constituted or the service of rational beings (in accordance with the general law by which the lower exists for the good of the higher), these latter are constituted to serve one  another. Chief of all features in a man's constitution, therefore, is his duty to his kind. Next after that comes his obligation to resist the murmurs of the flesh; for it is the particular office of his reason and intellect to maintain such a fence around their own workings that they are not overborne by those of the senses or the impulses, both of which are animal in quality. Mind demands the premier place, and will not bow to their yoke;  and rightly so, since nature has formed it to make use of all the rest. And thirdly, the constitution of a rational being should make him incapable of indiscretion, and proof against imposture. Let but Reason, the helmsman, steer a straight course, holding fast by these three principles, and be sure it will come by its own. 

56. Take it that you have died today, and your life's story is ended; and henceforward regard what further time may be given you as an uncovenanted surplus, and live it out in harmony with nature.

57. Love nothing but that which comes to you woven in the  pattern of your destiny. For what could more aptly fit your needs?

58. In any predicament, have before your eyes the case of other men who greeted a like crisis with indignation, astonishment, and outcry. Where are they now? Nowhere. Then why wish to follow their example? Rather, leave another's humors to their own master or servant, and give all your attention to turning the event itself to some good account. In this way you will be making the best use of it, and it will serve you as working material. In every action let your own self-approval be the sole aim both of your effort and of your intention; bearing in mind that the event itself which prompted your action is a thing of no consequence to either of them.

59. Dig within. There lies the well-spring of good: ever dig, and it will ever flow.

60. Also let your bodily carriage be firm, and without contortions, whether in motion or at rest. As the mind reveals itself in the face, by keeping the  features composed and decent, so the same should be required of it in respect of the whole body. All this, however, must be ensured without any sort of  affectation.

61. The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, in as much as it, too, demands a firm and watchful stance against any unexpected onset.

62. Always get to know the characters of those whose approval you wish to earn, and the nature of their guiding principles. Look into the sources of their opinions and their motives, and then you will not blame any of their involuntary offences, or feel the want of their  approbation.

63. 'No soul', it has been said, 'forfeits truth wilfully.' And the same holds good for justice, self-control, kindliness, or any other virtue. Nothing needs to be kept in mind more constantly than this; it will help you to greater gentleness in all your dealings with people.

64. When in pain, always be prompt to remind yourself that there is nothing shameful about it and nothing prejudicial to the mind at the helm, which suffers no injury either in its rational or its social aspect. In most cases the  saying of Epicurus should prove helpful, that 'Pain is never unbearable or  unending, so long as you remember its limitations and do not indulge in fanciful exaggerations.' Bear in mind also that, though we do not realize it, many other things which we find uncomfortable are, in fact, of the same nature as pain: feelings of lethargy, for example, or a feverish temperature, or loss of appetite. When inclined to grumble at any of  these, tell yourself that you are giving in to pain.

65. When men are inhuman, take care not to feel towards them as they do towards other humans.

66. How do we know that Telauges [16] may not have been a better man than Socrates? It is all very well to argue that Socrates died a finer death, or disputed more acutely with the sophists, or stood up more hardily to the rigors of a frosty night; that he spiritedly resisted the order to arrest Leon of Salamis, [18] or 'stalked the streets in majesty' [19] (though the truth of this last may well be questioned)--but the real point to consider is, What kind of a soul did he have? Did he ask nothing more than to be found just towards men and pure before the gods? Did he avoid either resentment at the vices of others or submission to their ignorance? Did he accept what destiny assigned to him, not looking on it as something unnatural, nor suffering it as an unbearable affliction, nor allowing his mind to be influenced by the experiences of the flesh?

67. Nature has not blended mind so inextricably with body as to prevent it from establishing its own frontiers and controlling its own domain. It is  perfectly possible to be godlike, even though unrecognized as such. Always keep that in mind; and also remember that the needs of a happy life are very  few. Mastery of dialectics or physics may have eluded you, but that is no  reason to despair of achieving freedom, self-respect, unselfishness, and obedience to the will of God. 

68. Live out your days in untroubled serenity, refusing to be coerced though the whole world deafen you with its demands, and though wild beasts rend piecemeal this poor envelope of clay. In all that, nothing can prevent the mind from possessing itself in peace, from correctly assessing the events around it, and from making prompt use of the material thus offered; so that judgment may say to the event, 'This is what you are in essence, no matter how rumor paints you,' and service may say to the opportunity, 'You are what I was looking for.' The occurrence of the moment is always good material for the employment of reason and brotherliness -- in a word, for the practices proper to men or  gods. For not a thing ever happens but has its special pertinence to god or man; it arrives as no novel intractable problem, but as an old and serviceable friend.

69. To live each day as though one's last, never flustered, never apathetic, never attitudinizing--here is the perfection of character.

70. The gods, though they live for ever, feel no resentment at having to put up eternally with the generations of men and their misdeeds; nay more, they even show every possible care and concern for them. Are you, then, whose abiding is but for a moment, to lose patience -- you who are yourself one of the culprits?

71. How ridiculous not to flee from one's own wickedness, which is possible, yet endeavor to flee from another's, which is not.

72. Whatever the reasoning and social faculty finds unthinking or unbrotherly, it can reasonably pronounce interior to itself.

73. When you have done a good action, and another has had the benefit of it, why crave for yet more in addition -- applause for your kindness, or some favor in return -- as the foolish do?

74. No man tires of receiving benefits. But benefit comes from doing acts that accord with nature. Never tire, then, of receiving such benefits through the very act of conferring them.

75. Universal Nature's impulse was to create an orderly world. It follows, then, that everything now happening must follow a logical sequence; if it were  not so, the prime purpose towards which the impulses of the World-Reason are directed would be an irrational one. Remembrance of this will help you to face many things more calmly.

_________________

Notes:

1.  This is the meaning of eudaimonia, the Greek word for happiness.

2. Republic, 486

3. Euripedes, Bellerophon, Frag. 289.

4. Source unknown.

5. Euripedes, Hypsipyle, Frag. 757

7. Euripedes, Frag. 910

8. Source Unknown

9. Apology, 28 B.

10. Apology, 28E.

11. Gorgias, 512 DE.

12. In the Greek, literally 'a better thrower-down'. The word occurs in one of Plutarch's anecdotes, where a crestfallen Spartan wrestler complains that his victorious opponent was 'not any brainier, not any brawnier, merely a better thrower-down'. The story seems to have put Marcus in mind of some contemporary political figure.

13. Euripides, Chrysippus, Frag. 836

14. Euripides, Suppliants, 1110.

15. Source unknown

16. The son of Pythagoras, and according to some the teacher of Empedocles (Diogenes Laertius, viii, 43).

17. Plato, quoted by Epictetus (I, xxviii, 4).

18. During the reign of terror by the Thirty which succeeded the overthrow of democracy at Athens in 403 B.C., many unoffending persons were put to death. When Socrates, with four others, was commanded to arrest an honest citizen, Leon of Salamis, he sturdily refused to carry out the tyrants' bidding.

19. One of Aristophane's many gibes at Socrates (Clouds, 362)

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