1. Injustice is a kind of blasphemy. Nature designed rational beings for each other’s sake: to help—not harm—one another, as they deserve. To transgress its will, then, is to blaspheme against the oldest of the gods.
And to lie is to blaspheme against it too. Because “nature” means the nature of that which is. And that which is and that which is the case are closely linked, so that nature is synonymous with Truth—the source of all true things. To lie deliberately is to blaspheme—the liar commits deceit, and thus injustice. And likewise to lie without realizing it. Because the involuntary liar disrupts the harmony of nature—its order. He is in conflict with the way the world is structured. As anyone is who deviates toward what is opposed to the truth—even against his will. Nature gave him the resources to distinguish between true and false. And he neglected them, and now can’t tell the difference.
And to pursue pleasure as good, and flee from pain as evil—that too is blasphemous. Someone who does that is bound to find himself constantly reproaching nature—complaining that it doesn’t treat the good and bad as they deserve, but often lets the bad enjoy pleasure and the things that produce it, and makes the good suffer pain, and the things that produce pain. And moreover, to fear pain is to fear something that’s bound to happen, the world being what it is—and that again is blasphemy. While if you pursue pleasure, you can hardly avoid wrongdoing—which is manifestly blasphemous.
Some things nature is indifferent to; if it privileged one over the other it would hardly have created both. And if we want to follow nature, to be of one mind with it, we need to share its indifference. To privilege pleasure over pain—life over death, fame over anonymity—is clearly blasphemous. Nature certainly doesn’t.
And when I say that nature is indifferent to them, I mean that they happen indifferently, at different times, to the things that exist and the things that come into being after them, through some ancient decree of Providence—the decree by which from some initial starting point it embarked on the creation that we know, by laying down the principles of what was to come and determining the generative forces: existence and change, and their successive stages.
2. Real good luck would be to abandon life without ever encountering dishonesty, or hypocrisy, or self-indulgence, or pride. But the “next best voyage” is to die when you’ve had enough. Or are you determined to lie down with evil? Hasn’t experience even taught you that—to avoid it like the plague? Because it is a plague—a mental cancer—worse than anything caused by tainted air or an unhealthy climate. Diseases like that can only threaten your life; this one attacks your humanity.
3. Don’t look down on death, but welcome it. It too is one of the things required by nature. Like youth and old age. Like growth and maturity. Like a new set of teeth, a beard, the first gray hair. Like sex and pregnancy and childbirth. Like all the other physical changes at each stage of life, our dissolution is no different.
So this is how a thoughtful person should await death: not with indifference, not with impatience, not with disdain, but simply viewing it as one of the things that happen to us. Now you anticipate the child’s emergence from its mother’s womb; that’s how you should await the hour when your soul will emerge from its compartment.
Or perhaps you need some tidy aphorism to tuck away in the back of your mind. Well, consider two things that should reconcile you to death: the nature of the things you’ll leave behind you, and the kind of people you’ll no longer be mixed up with. There’s no need to feel resentment toward them—in fact, you should look out for their well-being, and be gentle with them—but keep in mind that everything you believe is meaningless to those you leave behind. Because that’s all that could restrain us (if anything could)—the only thing that could make us want to stay here: the chance to live with those who share our vision. But now? Look how tiring it is—this cacophony we live in. Enough to make you say to death, “Come quickly. Before I start to forget myself, like them.”
4. To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice—it degrades you.
5. And you can also commit injustice by doing nothing.
6. Objective judgment, now, at this very moment.
Unselfish action, now, at this very moment.
Willing acceptance—now, at this very moment—of all external events.
That’s all you need.
7. Blot out your imagination. Turn your desire to stone. Quench your appetites. Keep your mind centered on itself.
8. Animals without the logos are assigned the same soul, and those who have the logos share one too—a rational one. Just as all earthly creatures share one earth. Just as we all see by the same light, and breathe the same air—all of us who see and breathe.
9. All things are drawn toward what is like them, if such a thing exists. All earthly things feel the earth’s tug. All wet things flow together. And airy things as well, so they have to be forcibly prevented from mixing. Fire is naturally drawn upward by that higher fire, but ready to ignite at the slightest touch of other, earthly flame. So that anything drier than usual makes good fuel, because less of what hinders combustion is mixed in with it.
And things that share an intelligent nature are just as prone to seek out what is like them. If not more so. Because their superiority in other ways is matched by their greater readiness to mix and mingle with their counterparts.
Even in irrational beings we see swarms and herds, and nesting, and love not unlike ours. Because they do have souls, and the bonding instinct is found in a developed form—not something we see in plants, or stones, or trees. And it’s still more developed in rational beings, with their states, friendships, families, groups, their treaties and truces. And in those yet more developed there is a kind of unity even between separate things, the kind that we see in the stars. An advanced level of development can produce a sympathy even in things that are quite distinct.
But look how things are now. The rational things are the only ones that have lost that sense of attraction—of convergence. Only there do we not see that intermingling. But however much they try to avoid it, there’s no escaping. Nature is stronger. As you can see if you look closely.
Concrete objects can pull free of the earth more easily than humans can escape humanity.
10. Humanity, divinity, and the world: all of them bearing fruit. Each fruitful in its season. Normally we limit the word to vines and other plants. Unnecessarily. The fruit of the logos nourishes both us and it. And other things spring from it too—of the same species as the logos itself.
11. Convince them not to.
If you can.
And if not, remember: the capacity for patience was given us for a reason. The gods are patient with them too, and even help them to concrete things: health, money, fame.… Such is the gods’ goodness.
And yours, too, if you wanted. What’s stopping you?
Not to rouse pity, not to win sympathy or admiration. Only this:
As the logos of the state requires.
13. Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside.
14. Known by long experience, limited in life span, debased in substance—all of it.
Now as then, in the time of those we buried.
15. Things wait outside us, hover at the door. They keep to themselves. Ask them who they are and they don’t know, they can give no account of themselves.
What accounts for them?
The mind does.
16. Not being done to, but doing—the source of good and bad for rational and political beings. Where their own goodness and badness is found—not in being done to, but in doing.
17. A rock thrown in the air. It loses nothing by coming down, gained nothing by going up.
18. Enter their minds, and you’ll find the judges you’re so afraid of—and how judiciously they judge themselves.
19. Everything in flux. And you too will alter in the whirl and perish, and the world as well.
20. Leave other people’s mistakes where they lie.
21. When we cease from activity, or follow a thought to its conclusion, it’s a kind of death. And it doesn’t harm us. Think about your life: childhood, boyhood, youth, old age. Every transformation a kind of dying. Was that so terrible?
Think about life with your grandfather, your mother, your adopted father. Realize how many other deaths and transformations and endings there have been and ask yourself: Was that so terrible?
Then neither will the close of your life be—its ending and transformation.
22. Go straight to the seat of intelligence—your own, the world’s, your neighbor’s.
Your own—to ground it in justice.
The world’s—to remind yourself what it is that you’re part of.
Your neighbor’s—to distinguish ignorance from calculation. And recognize it as like yours.
23. You participate in a society by your existence. Then participate in its life through your actions—all your actions. Any action not directed toward a social end (directly or indirectly) is a disturbance to your life, an obstacle to wholeness, a source of dissension. Like the man in the Assembly—a faction to himself, always out of step with the majority.
24. Childish tantrums, children’s games, “spirits carrying corpses”; “Odysseus in the Underworld” saw more real life.
25. Identify its purpose—what makes it what it is—and examine that. (Ignore its concrete form.) Then calculate the length of time that such a thing was meant to last.
26. Endless suffering—all from not allowing the mind to do its job. Enough.
27. When you face someone’s insults, hatred, whatever … look at his soul. Get inside him. Look at what sort of person he is. You’ll find you don’t need to strain to impress him.
But you do have to wish him well. He’s your closest relative. The gods assist him just as they do you—by signs and dreams and every other way—to get the things he wants.
28. The world’s cycles never change—up and down, from age to age.
Either the world’s intelligence wills each thing (if so, accept its will), or it exercised that will once—once and for all—and all else follows as a consequence (and if so, why worry?).
One way or another: atoms or unity. If it’s God, all is well. If it’s arbitrary, don’t imitate it.
The earth will cover us all, and then be transformed in turn, and that too will change, ad infinitum. And that as well, ad infinitum.
Think about them: the waves of change and alteration, endlessly breaking. And see our brief mortality for what it is.
29. The design of the world is like a flood, sweeping all before it. The foolishness of them—little men busy with affairs of state, with philosophy—or what they think of as philosophy. Nothing but phlegm and mucus.
—Well, then what?
Do what nature demands. Get a move on—if you have it in you—and don’t worry whether anyone will give you credit for it. And don’t go expecting Plato’s Republic; be satisfied with even the smallest progress, and treat the outcome of it all as unimportant.
Who can change their minds? And without that change, what is there but groaning, slavery, a pretense of obedience? Go on and cite Alexander, Philip, Demetrius of Phalerum. Whether they knew nature’s will and made themselves its student is for them to say. And if they preferred to play the king? Well, no one forced me to be their understudy.
The task of philosophy is modest and straightforward. Don’t tempt me to presumption.
30. To see them from above: the thousands of animal herds, the rituals, the voyages on calm or stormy seas, the different ways we come into the world, share it with one another, and leave it. Consider the lives led once by others, long ago, the lives to be led by others after you, the lives led even now, in foreign lands. How many people don’t even know your name. How many will soon have forgotten it. How many offer you praise now—and tomorrow, perhaps, contempt.
That to be remembered is worthless. Like fame. Like everything.
31. Indifference to external events.
And a commitment to justice in your own acts.
Which means: thought and action resulting in the common good.
What you were born to do.
32. You can discard most of the junk that clutters your mind—things that exist only there—and clear out space for yourself:
… by comprehending the scale of the world
… by contemplating infinite time
… by thinking of the speed with which things change—each part of every thing; the narrow space between our birth and death; the infinite time before; the equally unbounded time that follows.
33. All that you see will soon have vanished, and those who see it vanish will vanish themselves, and the ones who reached old age have no advantage over the untimely dead.
34. What their minds are like. What they work at. What evokes their love and admiration.
Imagine their souls stripped bare. And their vanity. To suppose that their disdain could harm anyone—or their praise help them.
35. To decompose is to be recomposed.
That’s what nature does. Nature—through whom all things happen as they should, and have happened forever in just the same way, and will continue to, one way or another, endlessly.
That things happen for the worst and always will, that the gods have no power to regulate them, and the world is condemned to never-ending evil—how can you say that?
36. Disgust at what things are made of: Liquid, dust, bones, filth. Or marble as hardened dirt, gold and silver as residues, clothes as hair, purple dye as shellfish blood. And all the rest.
And the same with our living breath—transformed from one thing to another.
37. Enough of this wretched, whining monkey life.
What’s the matter? Is any of this new? What is it you find surprising?
The purpose? Look at it.
The material? Look at that.
That’s all there is.
And the gods? Well, you could try being simpler, gentler. Even now.
A hundred years or three.… No difference.
38. If they’ve injured you, then they’re the ones who suffer for it.
But have they?
39. Either all things spring from one intelligent source and form a single body (and the part should accept the actions of the whole) or there are only atoms, joining and splitting forever, and nothing else.
So why feel anxiety?
Say to your mind: Are you dead? damaged? brutal? dishonest?
Are you one of the herd? or grazing like one?
40. Either the gods have power or they don’t. If they don’t, why pray? If they do, then why not pray for something else instead of for things to happen or not to happen? Pray not to feel fear. Or desire, or grief. If the gods can do anything, they can surely do that for us.
—But those are things the gods left up to me.
Then isn’t it better to do what’s up to you—like a free man—than to be passively controlled by what isn’t, like a slave or beggar? And what makes you think the gods don’t care about what’s up to us?
Start praying like this and you’ll see.
Not “some way to sleep with her”—but a way to stop wanting to.
Not “some way to get rid of him”—but a way to stop trying.
Not “some way to save my child”—but a way to lose your fear.
Redirect your prayers like that, and watch what happens.
41. Epicurus: “During my illness, my conversations were not about my physical state; I did not waste my visitors’ time with things of that sort, but went on discussing philosophy, and concentrated on one point in particular: how the mind can participate in the sensations of the body and yet maintain its serenity, and focus on its own well-being. Nor did I let my doctors strut about like grandees. I went on living my life the way it should be lived.”
Like that. In illness—or any other situation.
Not to let go of philosophy, no matter what happens; not to bandy words with crackpots and philistines—good rules for any philosopher.
Concentrate on what you’re doing, and what you’re doing it with.
42. When you run up against someone else’s shamelessness, ask yourself this: Is a world without shamelessness possible?
Then don’t ask the impossible. There have to be shameless people in the world. This is one of them.
The same for someone vicious or untrustworthy, or with any other defect. Remembering that the whole class has to exist will make you more tolerant of its members.
Another useful point to bear in mind: What qualities has nature given us to counter that defect? As an antidote to unkindness it gave us kindness. And other qualities to balance other flaws.
And when others stray off course, you can always try to set them straight, because every wrongdoer is doing something wrong—doing something the wrong way.
And how does it injure you anyway? You’ll find that none of the people you’re upset about has done anything that could do damage to your mind. But that’s all that “harm” or “injury” could mean. Yes, boorish people do boorish things. What’s strange or unheard-of about that? Isn’t it yourself you should reproach—for not anticipating that they’d act this way? The logos gave you the means to see it—that a given person would act a given way—but you paid no attention. And now you’re astonished that he’s gone and done it. So when you call someone “untrustworthy” or “ungrateful,” turn the reproach on yourself. It was you who did wrong. By assuming that someone with those traits deserved your trust. Or by doing them a favor and expecting something in return, instead of looking to the action itself for your reward. What else did you expect from helping someone out? Isn’t it enough that you’ve done what your nature demands? You want a salary for it too? As if your eyes expected a reward for seeing, or your feet for walking. That’s what they were made for. By doing what they were designed to do, they’re performing their function. Whereas humans were made to help others. And when we do help others—or help them to do something—we’re doing what we were designed for. We perform our function.