Literary Notes - Meditations
All quotes are derived from the George Long translation, made available in the Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading version. Direct quotes are in quotations, while paraphrases are not.
“The offences which are committed through desire are more blamable than those which are committed through anger. For he who is excited by anger seems to turn away from reason with a certain pain and unconscious contraction; but he who offends through desire, being overpowered by pleasure, seems to be in a manner more intemperate and more womanish in his offences. Rightly then, and in a way worthy of philosophy, he said that the offence which is committed with pleasure is more blamable than that which is committed with pain; and on the whole the one is more like a person who has been first wronged and through pain is compelled to be angry; but the other is moved by his own impulse to do wrong, being carried toward doing something by desire” (II.10).
Aurelius here seems to line up rather well with the Buddhists in his renouncing of desire as the root cause of at least the greatest, if not all, human suffering.
“The soul of man does violence to itself, first of all when it becomes an abscess and, as it were, a tumor on the universe, so far as it can. For to be vexed at anything which happens is a separation of ourselves from nature, in some part of which the natures of all other things are contained. In the next place, the soul does violence to itself when it turns away from any man, or even moves towards him with the intention of injuring, such as are the souls of those who are angry. In the third place, the soul does violence to itself when it is overpowered by pleasure or by pain. Fourthly, when it plays a part, and does or says anything insincerely and untruly. Fifthly, when it allows any act of its own and any movement to be without an aim, and does anything thoughtlessly and without considering what I is, it being right that even the smallest things be done with reference to an end; and the end of rational animals is to follow the reason and the law of the most ancient city and polity” (II.12).
“A man cannot lose either the past or the future: for what a man has not, how can anyone take this from him? These two things then thou must bear in mind: the one, that all things from eternity are of life forms and come round in a circle, and that it makes no difference whether a man shall see the same things during a hundred years or two hundred, or an infinite time; and the second, that the longest liver and he who will die soonest lose just the same. For the present is the only thing of which a man can be deprived, if it is true that this the only thing which he has, and that a man cannot lose a thing if he has it not” (II.14).
“Nothing is evil which is according to nature” (II.17).
Aurelius' famous saying seems in accordance with those of Lao Tzu. Aurelius here is stressing that there is some sort of natural order that, in its being natural, is inherently good. Lao Tzu names this the Tao, and makes it the center of his entire philosophy. Literary notes on Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching can be found here.
III.2 speaks of the beauty inherent in nature and all of its works. It states that we should not only admire the beauty of that which is intuitively appealing, but also that which seems off-putting or even revolting at first sight. These things, too, are part of the overarching order of nature, and thus, they should have the same respect as all beautiful things bestowed upon them. Beauty is subjective – some may even say an illusion – and as such, we should not conflate beauty with superiority.
“Bear in mind that every man lives only this present time, which is an indivisible point, and that all the rest of his life is either past or it is uncertain. Short then is the time which every man lives, and small the nook of the earth where he lives; and short too the longest posthumous fame, and even this only continued by a succession of poor human beings, who will very soon die, and who know not even themselves, much less him who died long ago” (III.10).
Aurelius almost seems here to pouring out existential angst before it was cool.
“Let no act be done without a purpose, nor otherwise than according to the perfect principles of art” (IV.2).
“Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away (IV.7).
“Alexander the Macedonian and his groom by death were brought to the same state; for either they were received among the same seminal principles of the universe, or they were alike dispersed among the atoms” (VI.24).
“All things are implicated with one another, and the bond is holy; and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other thing. For things have been coordinated, and they combine to form the same universe [order]. For there is one universe made up of all things, and one god who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, [one] common reason in all intelligent animals, and one truth; if indeed there is also one perfection for all animals which are of the same stock and participate in the same reason” (VII.9).
“Take care not to feel towards the inhuman as they feel towards men” (VII.65).
“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others” (XII.4).