1. At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
—But it’s nicer here.…
So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
—But we have to sleep sometime.…
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota.
You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat. Do you have less respect for your own nature than the engraver does for engraving, the dancer for the dance, the miser for money or the social climber for status? When they’re really possessed by what they do, they’d rather stop eating and sleeping than give up practicing their arts.
Is helping others less valuable to you? Not worth your effort?
2. To shrug it all off and wipe it clean—every annoyance and distraction—and reach utter stillness.
3. If an action or utterance is appropriate, then it’s appropriate for you. Don’t be put off by other people’s comments and criticism. If it’s right to say or do it, then it’s the right thing for you to do or say.
The others obey their own lead, follow their own impulses. Don’t be distracted. Keep walking. Follow your own nature, and follow Nature—along the road they share.
4. I walk through what is natural, until the time comes to sink down and rest. To entrust my last breath to the source of my daily breathing, fall on the source of my father’s seed, of my mother’s blood, of my nurse’s milk. Of my daily food and drink through all these years. What sustains my footsteps, and the use I make of it—the many uses.
5. No one could ever accuse you of being quick-witted.
All right, but there are plenty of other things you can’t claim you “haven’t got in you.” Practice the virtues you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don’t you see how much you have to offer—beyond excuses like “can’t”? And yet you still settle for less.
Or is it some inborn condition that makes you whiny and grasping and obsequious, makes you complain about your body and curry favor and show off and leaves you so turbulent inside?
No. You could have broken free a long way back. And then you would have been only a little slow. “Not so quick on the uptake.”
And you need to work on that as well—that slowness. Not something to be ignored, let alone to prize.
6. Some people, when they do someone a favor, are always looking for a chance to call it in. And some aren’t, but they’re still aware of it—still regard it as a debt. But others don’t even do that. They’re like a vine that produces grapes without looking for anything in return.
A horse at the end of the race …
A dog when the hunt is over …
A bee with its honey stored …
And a human being after helping others.
They don’t make a fuss about it. They just go on to something else, as the vine looks forward to bearing fruit again in season.
We should be like that. Acting almost unconsciously.
—Yes. Except conscious of it. Because it’s characteristic of social beings that they see themselves as acting socially. And expect their neighbors to see it too!
That’s true. But you’re misunderstanding me. You’ll wind up like the people I mentioned before, misled by plausible reasoning. But if you make an effort to understand what I’m saying, then you won’t need to worry about neglecting your social duty.
7. Prayer of the Athenians:
Zeus, rain down, rain down
On the land and fields of Athens.
Either no prayers at all—or one as straightforward as that.
8. Just as you overhear people saying that “the doctor prescribed such-and-such for him” (like riding, or cold baths, or walking barefoot …), say this: “Nature prescribed illness for him.” Or blindness. Or the loss of a limb. Or whatever. There “prescribed” means something like “ordered, so as to further his recovery.” And so too here. What happens to each of us is ordered. It furthers our destiny.
And when we describe things as “taking place,” we’re talking like builders, who say that blocks in a wall or a pyramid “take their place” in the structure, and fit together in a harmonious pattern.
For there is a single harmony. Just as the world forms a single body comprising all bodies, so fate forms a single purpose, comprising all purposes. Even complete illiterates acknowledge it when they say that something “brought on” this or that. Brought on, yes. Or prescribed it. And in that case, let’s accept it—as we accept what the doctor prescribes. It may not always be pleasant, but we embrace it—because we want to get well. Look at the accomplishment of nature’s plans in that light—the way you look at your own health—and accept what happens (even if it seems hard to accept). Accept it because of what it leads to: the good health of the world, and the well-being and prosperity of Zeus himself, who would not have brought this on anyone unless it brought benefit to the world as a whole. No nature would do that—bring something about that wasn’t beneficial to what it governed.
So there are two reasons to embrace what happens. One is that it’s happening to you. It was prescribed for you, and it pertains to you. The thread was spun long ago, by the oldest cause of all.
The other reason is that what happens to an individual is a cause of well-being in what directs the world—of its well-being, its fulfillment, of its very existence, even. Because the whole is damaged if you cut away anything—anything at all—from its continuity and its coherence. Not only its parts, but its purposes. And that’s what you’re doing when you complain: hacking and destroying.
9. Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.
And not to think of philosophy as your instructor, but as the sponge and egg white that relieve ophthalmia—as a soothing ointment, a warm lotion. Not showing off your obedience to the logos, but resting in it. Remember: philosophy requires only what your nature already demands. What you’ve been after is something else again—something unnatural.
—But what could be preferable?
That’s exactly how pleasure traps us, isn’t it? Wouldn’t magnanimity be preferable? Or freedom? Honesty? Prudence? Piety? And is there anything preferable to thought itself—to logic, to understanding? Think of their surefootedness. Their fluent stillness.
10. Things are wrapped in such a veil of mystery that many good philosophers have found it impossible to make sense of them. Even the Stoics have trouble. Any assessment we make is subject to alteration—just as we are ourselves.
Look closely at them—how impermanent they are, how meaningless. Things that a pervert can own, a whore, a thief.
Then look at the way the people around you behave. Even the best of them are hard to put up with—not to mention putting up with yourself. In such deep darkness, such a sewer—in the flux of material, of time, of motion and things moved—I don’t know what there is to value or to work for.
Quite the contrary. We need to comfort ourselves and wait for dissolution. And not get impatient in the meantime, but take refuge in these two things:
i. Nothing can happen to me that isn’t natural.
ii. I can keep from doing anything that God and my own spirit don’t approve. No one can force me to.
11. What am I doing with my soul?
Interrogate yourself, to find out what inhabits your so-called mind and what kind of soul you have now. A child’s soul, an adolescent’s, a woman’s? A tyrant’s soul? The soul of a predator—or its prey?
12. Another way to grasp what ordinary people mean by “goods”:
Suppose you took certain things as touchstones of goodness: prudence, self-control, justice, and courage, say. If you understood “goods” as meaning those, you wouldn’t be able to follow that line about “so many goods.…” It wouldn’t make any sense to you. Whereas if you’d internalized the conventional meaning, you’d be able to follow it perfectly. You’d have no trouble seeing the author’s meaning and why it was funny.
Which shows that most people do acknowledge a distinction. Otherwise we wouldn’t recognize the first sense as jarring and reject it automatically, whereas we accept the second—the one referring to wealth and the benefits of celebrity and high living—as amusing and apropos.
Now go a step further. Ask yourself whether we should accept as goods—and should value—the things we have to think of to have the line make sense—the ones whose abundance leaves their owner with “… no place to shit.”
13. I am made up of substance and what animates it, and neither one can ever stop existing, any more than it began to. Every portion of me will be reassigned as another portion of the world, and that in turn transformed into another. Ad infinitum.
I was produced through one such transformation, and my parents too, and so on back. Ad infinitum.
N.B.: Still holds good, even if the world goes through recurrent cycles.
14. The logos and its employment are forces sufficient for themselves and for their works. They start from their own beginning, they proceed to the appointed end. We call such activities “directed,” from the directness of their course.
15. Nothing pertains to human beings except what defines us as human. No other things can be demanded of us. They aren’t proper to human nature, nor is it incomplete without them. It follows that they are not our goal, or what helps us reach it—the good. If any of them were proper to us, it would be improper to disdain or resist it. Nor would we admire people who show themselves immune to it. If the things themselves were good, it could hardly be good to give them up. But in reality the more we deny ourselves such things (and things like them)—or are deprived of them involuntarily, even—the better we become.
16. The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts. Color it with a run of thoughts like these:
i. Anywhere you can lead your life, you can lead a good one.
—Lives are led at court.…
Then good ones can be.
ii. Things gravitate toward what they were intended for.
What things gravitate toward is their goal.
A thing’s goal is what benefits it—its good.
A rational being’s good is unselfishness. What we were born for. That’s nothing new. Remember? Lower things for the sake of higher ones, and higher ones for one another. Things that have consciousness are higher than those that don’t. And those with the logos still higher.
17. It is crazy to want what is impossible. And impossible for the wicked not to do so.
18. Nothing happens to anyone that he can’t endure. The same thing happens to other people, and they weather it unharmed—out of sheer obliviousness or because they want to display “character.” Is wisdom really so much weaker than ignorance and vanity?
19. Things have no hold on the soul. They have no access to it, cannot move or direct it. It is moved and directed by itself alone. It takes the things before it and interprets them as it sees fit.
20. In a sense, people are our proper occupation. Our job is to do them good and put up with them.
But when they obstruct our proper tasks, they become irrelevant to us—like sun, wind, animals. Our actions may be impeded by them, but there can be no impeding our intentions or our dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting.
The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.
21. Honor that which is greatest in the world—that on whose business all things are employed and by whom they are governed.
And honor what is greatest in yourself: the part that shares its nature with that power. All things—in you as well—are employed about its business, and your life is governed by it.
22. If it does not harm the community, it does not harm its members.
When you think you’ve been injured, apply this rule: If the community isn’t injured by it, neither am I. And if it is, anger is not the answer. Show the offender where he went wrong.
23. Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone—those that are now, and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river: the “what” is in constant flux, the “why” has a thousand variations. Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here. The infinity of past and future gapes before us—a chasm whose depths we cannot see.
So it would take an idiot to feel self-importance or distress. Or any indignation, either. As if the things that irritate us lasted.
Matter. How tiny your share of it.
Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it.
Fate. How small a role you play in it.
25. So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature, what I do by my own.
26. The mind is the ruler of the soul. It should remain unstirred by agitations of the flesh—gentle and violent ones alike. Not mingling with them, but fencing itself off and keeping those feelings in their place. When they make their way into your thoughts, through the sympathetic link between mind and body, don’t try to resist the sensation. The sensation is natural. But don’t let the mind start in with judgments, calling it “good” or “bad.”
27. “To live with the gods.” And to do that is to show them that your soul accepts what it is given and does what the spirit requires—the spirit God gave each of us to lead and guide us, a fragment of himself. Which is our mind, our logos.
28. Don’t be irritated at people’s smell or bad breath. What’s the point? With that mouth, with those armpits, they’re going to produce that odor.
—But they have a brain! Can’t they figure it out? Can’t they recognize the problem?
So you have a brain as well. Good for you. Then use your logic to awaken his. Show him. Make him realize it. If he’ll listen, then you’ll have solved the problem. Without anger.
28a. Neither player-king nor prostitute.
29. You can live here as you expect to live there.
And if they won’t let you, you can depart life now and forfeit nothing. If the smoke makes me cough, I can leave. What’s so hard about that?
Until things reach that point, I’m free. No one can keep me from doing what I want. And I want what is proper to rational beings, living together.
30. The world’s intelligence is not selfish.
It created lower things for the sake of higher ones, and attuned the higher ones to one another. Look how it subordinates, how it connects, how it assigns each thing what each deserves, and brings the better things into alignment.
31. How have you behaved to the gods, to your parents, to your siblings, to your wife, to your children, to your teachers, to your nurses, to your friends, to your relatives, to your slaves? Have they all had from you nothing “wrong and unworthy, either word or deed”?
Consider all that you’ve gone through, all that you’ve survived. And that the story of your life is done, your assignment complete. How many good things have you seen? How much pain and pleasure have you resisted? How many honors have you declined? How many unkind people have you been kind to?
32. Why do other souls—unskilled, untrained—disturb the soul with skill and understanding?
—And which is that?
The one that knows the beginning and the end, and knows the logos that runs through all things and that assigns to all a place, each in its allotted span, throughout the whole of time.
33. Soon you’ll be ashes, or bones. A mere name, at most—and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, and trivial. Dogs snarling at each other. Quarreling children—laughing and then bursting into tears a moment later. Trust, shame, justice, truth—“gone from the earth and only found in heaven.”
Why are you still here? Sensory objects are shifting and unstable; our senses dim and easily deceived; the soul itself a decoction of the blood; fame in a world like this is worthless.
Wait for it patiently—annihilation or metamorphosis.
—And until that time comes—what?
Honor and revere the gods, treat human beings as they deserve, be tolerant with others and strict with yourself. Remember, nothing belongs to you but your flesh and blood—and nothing else is under your control.
34. You can lead an untroubled life provided you can grow, can think and act systematically.
Two characteristics shared by gods and men (and every rational creature):
i. Not to let others hold you back.
ii. To locate goodness in thinking and doing the right thing, and to limit your desires to that.
· this evil is not of my doing,
· nor the result of it,
· and the community is not endangered, why should it bother me?
Where’s the danger for the community?
36. Not to be overwhelmed by what you imagine, but just do what you can and should. And if <…> suffer in inessentials, not to treat that as a defeat. (Bad habit.)
Like the old man asking for the orphan’s toy on the way out—even though he knew that’s all it was. Like that.
36a. † Up on the platform. †
Have you forgotten what’s what?
—I know, but it was important to them.
And so you have to be an idiot as well?
37. I was once a fortunate man but at some point fortune abandoned me.
But true good fortune is what you make for yourself. Good fortune: good character, good intentions, and good actions.