Meditations 54

54 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


[26]'Well, if the ancient Greeks ever wrote anything like this, let those who know decide it: for me, if I dare say so, I never read any invective of Cato's so fine as your encomtum. O if my Lord[27] could be sufficiently praised, sufficiently praised he would have been undoubtedly by you! This kind of thing is not done nowadays.[28] It were easier to match Pheidias, easier to match Apelles, easier in a word to match Demosthenes himself, or Cato himself; than to match this finisht and perfect work. Never have I read anything more refined, anything more after the ancient type, anything more delicious, anything more Latin. O happy you, to be endowed with eloquence so great! O happy I, to be tinder the charge of such a master! O arguments,[29] O arrangement, O elegance, O wit, O beauty, O words, O brilliancy, O subtilty, O grace, O treatment, O everything! Mischief take me, if you ought not to have a rod put in your hand one day, a diadem on your brow, a tribunal raised for you; then the herald would summon us all-why do I say "us"? Would summnon all, those scholars and orators: one by one you would beckon them forward with your rod and admonish them. Hitherto I have had no fear of this admonition; many things help me to enter within your school. I write this in the utmost haste; for whenas I am sending you so kindly a letter from my Lord, what needs a longer letter of mine? Farewell then, glory of Roman eloquence, boast of your friends, magnifico, most delightful man, most distinguished consul, master most sweet.

(Pheidias, the most famous sculptor of antiquity.)

(Apelles, a famous painter of antiquity.)

[26] Ad M. Caes., ii. 3.

[27] The Emperor Antoninus Pius is spoken of as _dominus meus_.

[28] This sentence is written in Greek.

[29] Several of these words are Greek, and the meaning is not quite clear.

'After this you will take care not to tell so many fibs of me, especially in the Senate. A monstrous fine speech this is! O if I could kiss your head at every heading of it! You have looked down on all with a vengeance. This oration once read, in vain shall we study, in vain shall we toil, in vain strain every nerve. Farewell always, most sweet master.'

Sometimes Fronto descends from the heights of eloquence to offer practical advice; as when he suggests how Marcus should deal with his suite. It is more difficult, he admits, to keep courtiers in harmony than to tame lions with a lute; but if it is to be done, it must be by eradicating jealousy. 'Do not let your friends,' says Fronto,'[30] 'envy each other, or think that what you give to another is filched from them.

[30] Ad M Caes., iv. 1.

Keep away envy from your suite, and you will find your friends kindly and harmonious.'

Here and there we meet with allusions to his daily life, which we could wish to be more frequent. He goes to the theatre or the law-courts,[31] or takes part in court ceremony, but his heart is always with his books. The vintage season, with its religious rites, was always spent by Antoninus Pius in the country. The following letters give sonic notion of a day's occupation at that time:(3)

[31] ii. 14

[32] iv. 5,6.

'MY DEAREST MASTER,--I am well. To-day I studied from the ninth hour of the night to the second hour of day, after taking food. I then put on my slippers, and from time second to the third hour had a most enjoyable walk up and down before my chamber. Then booted and cloaked-for so we were commanded to appear-I went to wait upon my lord the emperor. We went a-hunting, did doughty deeds, heard a rumour that boars had been caught, but there was nothing to see. However, we climbed a pretty steep hill, and in the afternoon returned home. I went straight to my books. Off with the boots, down with the cloak; I spent a couple of hours in bed. I read Cato's speech on the Property of Pulchra, and another in which he impeaches a tribune. Ho, ho! I hear you cry to your man, Off with you as fast as you can, and bring me these speeches from the library of Apollo. No use to send: I have those books with me too. You must get round the Tiberian librarian; you will have to spend something on the matter; and when I return to town, I shall expect to go shares with him. Well, after reading these speeches I wrote a wretched trifle, destined for drowning or burning. No, indeed my attempt at writing did not come off at all to-day; the composition of a hunter or a vintager, whose shouts are echoing through my chamber, hateful and wearisome as the law-courts. What have I said? Yes, it was rightly said, for my master is an orator. I think I have caught cold, whether from walking in slippers or from writing badly, I do not know. I am always annoyed with phlegm, but to-day I seem to snivel more than usual. Well, I will pour oil on my head and go off to sleep. I don't mean to put one drop in my lamp to-day, so weary am I from riding and sneezing. Farewell, dearest and most beloved master, whom I miss, I may say, more than Rome itself.'

'MY BELOVED MASTER,-I am well. I slept a little more than usual for my slight cold, which seems to be well again. So I spent the time from the eleventh hour of the night to the third of the day partly in reading in Cato's Agriculture, partly in writing, not quite so badly as yesterday indeed. Then, after waiting upon my father, I soothed my throat with honey-water, ejecting it without swallowing: I might say _gargle_, but I won't, though I think the word is found in Novius and elsewhere. After attending to my throat I went to my father, and stood by his side as he sacrificed. Then to luncheon. What do you think I had to eat? A bit of bread so big, while I watched others gobbling boiled beans, onions, and fish full of roe. Then we set to work at gathering the grapes, with plenty of sweat and shouting, and, as the quotation runs, "A few high-hanging clusters did we leave survivors of the vintage." After the sixth hour we returned home. I did a little work, and poor work at that. Then I had a long gossip with my dear mother sitting on the bed. My conversation was: What do you think my friend Fronto is doing just now? She said: And what do you think of my friend Gratia?'[33] My turn now: And what of our little Gratia,[34] the sparrowkin? After this kind of talk, and an argument as to which of you loved the other most, the gong sounded, the signal that my father had gone to the bath. We supped, after ablutions in the oil-cellar-I mean we supped after ablutions, not after ablutions in the oil-cellar; and listened with enjoyment to the rustics gibing. After returning, before turning on my side to snore, I do my task and give an account of the day to my delightful master, whom if I could long for a little more, I should not mind growing a trifle thinner. Farewell, Fronto, wherever you are, honey-sweet, my darling, my delight. Why do I want you? I can love you while far away.'

[33] Fronto's wife.

[34] Fronto's daughter

One anecdote puts Marcus before us in a new light:[35]

[35] Ad M. Caes ii. 12.

'When my father returned home from the vineyards, I mounted my horse as usual, and rode on ahead some little way. Well, there on the road was a herd of sheep, standing all crowded together as though the place were a desert, with four dogs and two shepherds, but nothing else. Then one shepherd said to another shepherd, on seeing a number of horsemen: 'I say,' says he, 'look you at those horsemen; they do a deal of robbery.' When I heard this, I clap spurs to my horse, and ride straight for the sheep. In consternation the sheep scatter; hither and thither they are fleeting and bleating. A shepherd throws his fork, and the fork falls on the horseman who came next to me. We make our escape.' We like Marcus none the worse for this spice of mischief.

Another letter[36] describes a visit to a country town, and shows the antiquarian spirit of the writer:—

'M. CÆSAR to his MASTER M. FRONTO, greeting.

'After I entered the carriage, after I took leave of you, we made a journey comfortable enough, but we had a few drops of rain to wet us. But before coming to the country-house, we broke our journey at Anagnia, a mile or so from the highroad. Then we inspected that ancient town, a miniature it is, but has in it many antiquities, temples, and religious ceremonies quite out of the way. There is not a corner without its shrine, or fane, or temple; besides, many books written on linen, which belongs to things sacred. Then on the gate as we came out was written twice, as follows: "Priest don the fell."[37] I asked one of the inhabitants what that word was. He said it was the word in the Hernican dialect for the victim's skin, which the priest puts over his conical cap when he enters the city. I found out many other things which I desired to know, but the only thing I do not desire is that you should be absent from me; that is my chief anxiety. Now for yourself, when you left that place, did you go to Aurelia or to Campania? Be sure to write to me, and say whether you have opened the vintage, or carried a host of books to the country-house; this also, whether you miss me; I am foolish to ask it, whenas you tell it me of yourself. Now if you miss me and if you love me, send me your letters often, which is a comfort and consolation to me. Indeed I should prefer ten times to read your letters than all the vines of Gaurus or the Marsians; for these Signian vines have grapes too rank and fruit too sharp in the taste, but I prefer wine to must for drinking. Besides, those grapes are nicer to eat dried than fresh-ripe; I vow I would rather tread them under foot than put my teeth in them. But I pray they may be gracious and forgiving, and grant me free pardon for these jests of mine. Farewell, best friend, dearest, most learned, sweetest master. When you see the must ferment in the vat, remember that just so in my heart the longing for you is gushing and flowing and bubbling. Good-bye.'

[36] Ad Verum. Imp ii. 1, s. fin.

[37] Santentum

Making all allowances for conventional exaggerations, it is clear from the correspondence that there was deep love between Marcus and his preceptor. The letters cover several years in succession, but soon after the birth of Marcus's daughter, Faustina, there is a large gap. It does not follow that the letters ceased entirely, because we know part of the collection is lost; but there was probably less intercourse between Marcus and Fronto after Marcus took to the study of philosophy under the guidance of Rusticus.

When Marcus succeeded to the throne in 161, the letters begin again, with slightly increased formality on Fronto's part, and they go on for some four years, when Fronto, who has been continually complaining of ill-health, appears to have died. One letter of the later period gives some interesting particulars of the emperor's public life, which are worth quoting. Fronto speaks of Marcus's victories and eloquence in the usual strain of high praise, and then continues.[38]

'The army when you took it in hand was sunk in luxury and revelry, and corrupted with long inactivity. At Antiochia the soldiers had been Wont to applaud at the stage plays, knew more of the gardens at the nearest restaurant than of the battlefield. Horses were hairy from lack of grooming, horsemen smooth because their hairs had been pulled out by the roots[39] a rare thing it was to see a soldier with hair on arm or leg. Moreover, they were better drest than armed; so much so, that Laelianus Pontius, a strict man of the old discipline, broke the cuirasses of some of them with his finger-tips, and observed cushions on the horses' backs. At his direction the tufts were cut through, and out of the horsemen's saddles came what appeared to be feathers pluckt from geese. Few of the men could vault on horseback, the rest clambered up with difficulty by aid of heel and knee and leg not many could throw a lance hurtling, most did it without force or power, as though they were things of wool-dicing was common in the camp, sleep lasted all night, or if they kept watch it was over the winecup. By what regulations to restrain such soldiers as these, and to turn them to honesty and industry, did you not learn from Hannibal's sternness, the discipline of Africanus, the acts of Metellus recorded in history.

[38] Ad Verum. imp., ii. I, s.fin.

[39] A common mark of the effeminate at Rome.

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Meditations 55

55 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…

Meditations 53

53 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…

Meditations 52

52 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…


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