What I like about Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is their immediacy. My well-thumbed Gregory Hays translation serves a spiritual function. If perplexed I can open a page, and usually find a suitable meditation to contemplate, to think through a particular problem. If nothing else, Marcus (I’ve known the emperor-philosopher long enough that we are on first name terms) is good company when I’m too tired to concentrate on a new book.
When I allow my copy to fall open it is to the following list of eight kephalaia, or points, which serve as a broad announcement of all Marcus’ themes, and function as a reminder of the essential core of Stoicism:
To be angry at something means you’ve forgotten:
- That everything that happens is natural.
- That the responsibility is theirs, not yours.
- And further … that whatever happens has always happened, and always will, and is happening at this very moment, everywhere. Just like this.
- What links one human being to all humans: not blood, or birth, but mind [intellect].
- That an individual’s mind is God and of God.
- That nothing belongs to anyone. Children, body, life itself-all of them come from that same source.
- That it’s all how you choose to see things.
- That the present is all we have to live in. Or to lose.
In his book on Aurelius, Pierre Hadot connects these to the fundamental dogmas of Stoicism:
From the absolute primary principle according to which the only good is moral good and the only evil is moral evil, it follows that neither pleasure nor pain are evils; that the only thing shameful is moral evil; that faults committed against us cannot touch us; that he who commits a fault hurts only himself; and that the fault cannot be found elsewhere than within oneself. It further follows that I can suffer no harm from the actions of anyone else.