The Essential Marcus Aurelius
Available January 10th, 2008.
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"Set aside all your contemporary self-help books and read this classic
slowly, in pieces, at your leisure. It is beautifully translated,
presented, and introduced. It is calming, inspiring, solid, and useful.
A book to keep at hand, ready for emergencies, a steady companion."
Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and A Life's Work.
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Stop philosophizing about what a good man is and be one.
– Marcus Aurelius
The late antique world possessed no voice like that of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD). His meditations on what constitutes a good life have withstood the centuries and reach us today with a force that has not diminished.
In this remarkable new translation, philosopher Jacob Needleman and classics scholar John P. Piazza reveal Marcus Aurelius not only in light of his philosophical ideas, but as a great practitioner who struggled to live according to those ideas. The voice that emerges from their translation is a universal one which stands within the stream of the wisdom traditions of every historic faith. While rooted in the Stoic philosophy of Greece and Rome, it is recognizable to students of early Christianity and Buddhism, of the Vedas and the Talmud, and to all who seriously search for meaning in contemporary life.
The translators' selection process has also been guided by the intention of making Marcus's thought vividly accessible to the general reader. They frame the translation with concise, relevant introductions that tell who Marcus was and provide a fresh, while historically grounded, way of entering this deeply powerful work. Also included are a glossary of terms; spare yet helpful notes that do not cloud the text; and recommendations for further reading.
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Whenever you are troubled by anything, you have forgotten. You have forgotten that all things happen in accordance with the whole of Nature; you have forgotten that the mistake of another is not your concern; you have also forgotten that everything that happens always happens in this way, has always happened, will happen again, and now happens everywhere; you have forgotten how great the kinship is between one man and the whole of mankind—not simply in blood and parentage, but as a Community of the Mind. You have also forgotten that each mind is a god which has come down from above. You have forgotten that nothing belongs to anyone, but even a person's child, body and breath all come from that source. You have forgotten that all this is merely what we judge it to be, and that each person only lives the present life, and this is what he loses.
Begin your day by saying this: Today I am going to encounter the ungrateful, the arrogant, the deceitful, the envious, and the anti‑social. All these characteristics have befallen them because of their ignorance of what is good and what is bad. But insofar as I have comprehended the true nature of what is good, namely that it is fine and noble, and the true nature of what is bad, that it is shameful, and the true nature of the person who has gone astray, that he is just like me, not only in blood and origin, but also with respect to intelligence and having a portion of the divine—insofar as I have comprehended all this, I can neither be harmed by any of them, for no one can involve me in what is shameful and debasing, nor can I be angry with my fellow man, or hate him, for we have been made for cooperation, just like the feet, the hands, the eyelids, and the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to Nature, and we act against one another when we are angry and turn away from each other.
Just as doctors always keep their implements and scalpels ready at hand in case of an emergency treatment, so should you have your guiding principles ready in order to understand things human and divine, and for the doing of everything, even the smallest deed, being aware at all times of the bond that unites these two realms. For you can never do anything well which concerns humans unless you consult the divine, nor can you do anything well concerning the divine without first consulting the human realm.
When you see the shameless behavior of someone, immediately ask yourself: Is it possible for there to be no shameless people in the world? Impossible, so do not ask for what is impossible, for this person too is one of those shameless people who are destined to exist in the world. Let this thought be at hand also for the villain, the liar, and everyone who has gone astray. For when you remember that this type of person cannot help but exist, you will be kinder toward each and every one of them.
It is also useful immediately to consider this: What virtue has human nature given us for dealing with such people? for She has given us kindness as an antidote for the arrogant, and other faculties for dealing with other difficulties. In a word, it is in your power to teach whomever has lost his way, and everyone who is in error is so in relation to his true goal, and has gone astray from that goal. And how has this harmed you? for you will discover that not one of those who have made you angry has done anything which makes your mind worse, and it is there, in your understanding, that all evil and harm have their dwelling.
What is evil, or even strange, about an ignorant person doing ignorant things? Rather, see to it that you aren't to blame for not anticipating that this person would be in error; remember that you possess the resources of reason, by which you can see that this person will most likely be mistaken, and yet you have forgotten, and so you are amazed when he does so.
But most importantly, whenever you accuse someone of being a liar or unkind, turn inward to yourself, for the fault clearly lies with you, either because you trusted that such a person would keep his word, or because, once you had given a favor, you did so not absolutely, that is, remembering that you received the entire fruit of your action in that moment. For what more do you want, dear man, once you have done something good? do you want some additional compensation? Does the eye demand wages for seeing, or the feet for walking? Just as these were made for something, and in accomplishing this, gain what is truly theirs, so too is man naturally a doer of good actions, and when he has done such an action, he has accomplished what he was made for, and gets what is truly his.