Favorite Quotes from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

About a week ago, I finished reading the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius was one of the emperors of ancient Rome, but is better remembered as one of the most important Stoic philosophers. This doesn’t include every good quote from the Meditations, but these are the ones I liked the most.

With a few exceptions, all of these quotes are from the Hays translation, with a few from the Long translation.

2.5: “Concentrate every minute like a Roman—like a man—on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can—if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.”

4.7: “Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.”

4.49: “To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.”

5.1: “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?”

5.11: “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?”

5.23: “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.”

5.37: “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.”

6.6: “The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.”

6.12: “If you had a stepmother and a real mother, you would pay your respects to your stepmother, yes… but it’s your real mother you’d go home to. The court… and philosophy: Keep returning to it, to rest in its embrace. It’s all that makes the court—and you— endurable.”

6.18: “The way people behave. They refuse to admire their contemporaries, the people whose lives they share. No, but to be admired by Posterity—people they’ve never met and never will—that’s what they set their hearts on. You might as well be upset at not being a hero to your great-grandfather.”

6.51: “Ambition means tying your well-being to what other people say or do. Self-indulgence means tying it to the things that happen to you. Sanity means tying it to your own actions.”

6.53: “Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their minds.”

7.7: “Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?”

7.15: “No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be good. Like gold or emerald or purple repeating to itself, ‘No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be emerald, my color undiminished.'”

7.22: “To feel affection for people even when they make mistakes is uniquely human. You can do it, if you simply recognize: that they’re human too, that they act out of ignorance, against their will, and that you’ll both be dead before long. And, above all, that they haven’t really hurt you. They haven’t diminished your ability to choose.”

7.69: “Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretense.”

7.71: “It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.”

8.12: “When you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, remember that your defining characteristic—what defines a human being—is to work with others. Even animals know how to sleep. And it’s the characteristic activity that’s the more natural one—more innate and more satisfying.”

8.16: “Remember that to change your mind and to accept correction are free acts too. The action is yours, based on your own will, your own decision—and your own mind.”

8.44: “Give yourself a gift: the present moment. People out for posthumous fame forget that the Generations To Come will be the same annoying people they know now. And just as mortal. What does it matter to you if they say x about you, or think y?”

8.53: “You want praise from people who kick themselves every fifteen minutes, the approval of people who despise themselves. (Is it a sign of self-respect to regret nearly everything you do?)”

9.4: “To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice—it degrades you.”

9.5: “And you can also commit injustice by doing nothing.”

10.3: “Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining. If it’s unendurable… then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well. Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so. In your interest, or in your nature.”

10.16: “[S]top talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.”

10.37: “Learn to ask of all actions, ‘Why are they doing that?’ Starting with your own.”

11.7: “It stares you in the face. No role is so well suited to philosophy as the one you happen to be in right now.”

12.4: “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If a god appeared to us—or a wise human being, even—and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions—instead of our own.”

12.9: “The student as boxer, not fencer. The fencer’s weapon is picked up and put down again. The boxer’s is part of him. All he has to do is clench his fist.”

12.29: “Salvation: to see each thing for what it is—its nature and its purpose. To do only what is right, say only what is true, without holding back. What else could it be but to live life fully—to pay out goodness like the rings of a chain, without the slightest gap.”