Meditations 03

3 Meditations (Medieval Greek: Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν, romanized: Ta eis he'auton, lit. 'things to one's self') is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from AD 161 to 180, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy.

Marcus Aurelius wrote the 12 books of the Meditations in Koine Greek as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. It is possible that large portions of the work were written at Sirmium, where he spent much time planning military campaigns from 170 to 180. Some of it was written while he was positioned at Aquincum on campaign in Pannonia, because internal notes tell us that the first book was written when he was campaigning against the Quadi on the river Granova (modern-day Hron) and the second book was written at Carnuntum.

It is unlikely that Marcus Aurelius ever intended the writings to be published. The work has no official title, so "Meditations" is one of several titles commonly assigned to the collection. These writings take the form of quotations varying in length from one sentence to long paragraphs.


By Marcus Aurelius


To a thoughtful mind such a religion as that of Rome would give small satisfaction. Its legends were often childish or impossible; its teaching had little to do with morality. The Roman religion was in fact of the nature of a bargain: men paid certain sacrifices and rites, and the gods granted their favour, irrespective of right or wrong. In this case all devout souls were thrown back upon philosophy, as they had been, though to a less extent, in Greece. There were under the early empire two rival schools which practically divided the field between them, Stoicism and Epicureanism. The ideal set before each was nominally much the same. The Stoics aspired to ἁπάθεια, the repression of all emotion, and the Epicureans to ἀταραξία, freedom from all disturbance; yet in the upshot the one has become a synonym of stubborn endurance, the other for unbridled licence. With Epicureanism we have nothing to do now; but it will be worth while to sketch the history and tenets of the Stoic sect.

(Stoics, a philosophic system founded by Zeno (4th century B.C.), and systematised by Chrysippus (3rd century B.C.). Their physical theory was a pantheistic materialism, their summum bonum "to live according to nature." Their wise man needs nothing, he is sufficient to himself; virtue is good, vice bad, external things indifferent.)

(Epicureans, a sect of philosophers founded by Epicurus, who "combined the physics of Democritus," i.e. the atomic theory, "with the ethics of Aristippus." They proposed to live for happiness, but the word did not bear that coarse and vulgar sense originally which it soon took.)

(Sceptics, a school of philosophy founded by Pyrrho (4th century B.C.). He advocated "suspension of judgment," and taught the relativity of knowledge and impossibility of proof. The school is not unlike the Agnostic school.)

Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was born in Cyprus at some date unknown, but his life may be said roughly to be between the years 350 and 250B.C. Cyprus has been from time immemorial a meeting-place of the Eastand West, and although we cannot grant any importance to a possibles train of Phoenician blood in him (for the Phœnicians were no philosophers), yet it is quite likely that through Asia Minor he may have come in touch with the Far East. He studied under the cynic Crates, but he did not neglect other philosophical systems. After many years' study he opened his own school in a colonnade in Athens called the Painted Porch, or Stoa, which gave the Stoics their name. Next to Zeno, the School of the Porch owes most to Chrysippus (280--207 b.c.),who organised Stoicism into a system. Of him it was said,

'But for Chrysippus, there had been no Porch.'

(Crates, a Cynic philosopher of the 4th century B.C.)

The Stoics regarded speculation as a means to an end and that end was, as Zeno put it, to live consistently (ὁμολογουμένος ζῆν), or as it was later explained, to live in conformity with nature (ὁμολογουμένος τῇ φύσει ζῆν). This conforming of the life to nature was the Stoic idea of Virtue. This dictum might easily be taken to mean that virtue consists in yielding to each natural impulse; but that was very far from the Stoic meaning. In order to live in accord with nature, it is necessary to know what nature is; and to this end a threefold division of philosophy is made—into _Physics_, dealing with the universe and its laws, the problems of divine government and teleology; _Logic_, which trains the mind to discern true from false; and _Ethics_, which applies the knowledge thus gained and tested to practical life.

The Stoic system of physics was materialism with an infusion of pantheism. In contradiction to Plato's view that the Ideas, or Prototypes, of phenomena alone really exist, the Stoics held that material objects alone existed; but immanent in the material universe was a spiritual force which acted through them, manifesting itself under many forms, as fire, æther, spirit, soul, reason, the ruling principle.

(Plato of Athens, 429-347 B.C. He used the dialectic method invented by his master Socrates. He was, perhaps, as much poet as philosopher. He is generally identified with the Theory of Ideas, that things are what they are by participation with our eternal Idea. His "Commonwealth" was a kind of Utopia.)

The universe, then, is God, of whom the popular gods are manifestations; while legends and myths are allegorical. The soul of man is thus an emanation from the godhead, into whom it will eventually be re-absorbed. The divine ruling principle makes all things work together for good, but for the good of the whole. The highest good of man is consciously to work with God for the common good, and this is the sense in which the Stoic tried to live in accord with nature. In the individual it is virtue alone which enables him to do this; as Providence rules the universe, so virtue in the soul must rule man.

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