Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius.

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B 580.C69 1887
Meditations of Marcus Aurellus /


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^be Camelot Series.

Edited bv Ei^sEsx Rhys.


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Tr ansl ded from the Gj-eek


Revised, with an Introduction ana i\otes




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^ BOOK VI. .



















NTIL philosophers are kings, and the princes
of this world have the spirit and power
of philosophy, and political greatness and
wisdom meet in one, cities will never cease
from ill — no, nor the human race, as I
believe — and then only will our state have a possibility
of life, and see the light of day." "The truth is, that the
state in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is
best and most quietly governed, and the state in which
they are most willing is the worst."

Thus writes Plato in his Republic, laying down the
conditions, which even to him appear impossible, under
which a state may be wisely governed. The ruler must be
a philosopher as well as a king ; and he must govern
unwillingly, because he loves philosophy better than
dominion. Once in the history of the world these con-
ditions were fulfilled : in Marcus Aurelius we find the
philosopher king, the ruler who preferred the solitude of
the student to th^ splendour of the palace, the soldier who
loved the arts of peace better than the glory of war. It is
with no small interest that we turn to the records of
history to see what was the outward life led by this king ;
but even more willingly do we open the precious record of


his own thoughts, which reveal to us the inner life of the

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was the adopted, son of the
Emperor Antoninus Pius, who died in 161 a.d. He had
been brought up with the utmost care by his adoptive
father, and received the best instruction in poetry and
rhetoric, at that time the staples of a liberal education.
But his favourite study was philosophy, and when only
eleven years old he assumed the philosophers' simple dress,
adopted their mode of life ; and finding that his inclination
was chiefly towards Stoicism, he attached himself to this —
the strictest of the philosophic schools. A discipline of
jOQua^tic severity, that bade its followers disregard all
bodily comfort, all that is commonly called pleasure, and
care for nought but virtue, was indeed a strange training
Eor one destined for the imperial purple, and it hardly
appeared to be a fitting preparation for the cares of what
was then the one great Empire of the world. True, the Stoics
loved to call themselves citizens of the world, and to
inculcate that cosmopolitanism that is broader and nobler
than mere patriotism ; but while they maintained in theory
that the wise man should take part in politics, in practice
there was always something in the existing state of things
which made his doing so unadvisable. But Marcus
Aurelius could not choose his own lot. Destined for the
throne already by the Emperor Hadrian, associated in the
empire even in his adoptive father's lifetime, he could but
accept his lot, and in striving to practise the noble
principles he had learnt, pay to his Stoic teachers the truest

^is was a troubled reign. The Homan Empire, which
in the vigorous days of the Republic had been gradually
but surely extending its boundaries, had been consolidated,


and newly administered by Julius Cjesar and Augustus.
On the death of the latter it extended from the Atlantic on
the west to the Armenian mountains and Arabian deserts
on the east. On the south the African deserts had alone
stopped the conquering arms, while on the north a line of
natural boundaries was traced by the English Channel,
Rhine, Danube, Black Sea, and Mount Caucasus. Warned
by the ill-success that attended the later campaigns of his
generals on the Lower Rhine, Augustus had cautioned his
successors to aim at preserving rather than increasing their
dominions. Thus it came about, that between the years
14 and 161 a.d., when Marcus Aurelius succeeded to the
throne, only two fresh conquests had been made ; Britain,
a source of more trouble than profit to the empire, and
Dacia, conquered by Trajan in 106 A.D.

Natural boundaries and Roman legions kept peace and
security for many years within the circle of Roman
dominion. But there were two weak points on these
borders. On the north the hardy German tribes on the
Danube and Upper Rhine, themselves hard pressed by
Slavonian intruders from Russia, threatened to invade the
Roman dominion ; on the east the " insolent Parthian,"
long the terror of the Roman arms^ was a constant source
of trouble and danger. ..Xlxft pRane-lnvi^g^jIarcus Aurelius
was obliged to cope with both these enemies. The arms,
or rather the army, of the insolent and profligate Lucius
Yerus for a time subdued the Parthians, but no lasting
peace was destined Marcus Aurelius. He himself con-
ducted the campaigns on the Danube, and again and again
beat back the northern enemy in wars, of which the chief
interest to us now consists in the scant notes in the
Meditation s — " This among the Quadi," " this at Carmun-
tum," showing how these precious records of a pure and


serene soul were composed amid the storms of battle and
the elation of victory. Nor were his troubles confined to
foreign wars. The plague, imported from the East, ravaged
Italy, though it did the state good service in carrying off
Lucius Yerus, Marcus's adoptive brother, whom, in obedi-
ence to the wishes of Antoninus, he had associated with
himself in the empire. There were famines too in the
land, with which the Emperor tried to cope by schemes of
carefully-organised charity. And, lastly, Avidius Cassius,
one of his most trusted and ablest generals, revolted in
Syria, and tried to obtain for himself the empire, deeming
it an easy matter to overcome a master who was so full of
generosity and compassion that he could only inspire con-
tempt in the mind of the unphilosophic soldier. The
revolt was soon put down, but the leader was killed by one
of his own officers. The Emperor expressed only his
regret that he should have been thus deprived of the
luxury of forgiveness, and he carefully destroyed all docu-
ments that could implicate any others in the revolt.
Thus in all the trials of his life his philosophy inspired
noble action, and he might worthily be added to the short
list of those whom the Stoics acknowledged as really good
and great.

Amid these records of gentleness and forbearance it
seems strange to read that Marcus Aurelius permitted a
cruel persecution of the Christians. Among the victims
of this reign were Justin Martyr and Polycarp, and
numbers suffered in a general persecution of the churches
at Lyons and Vienne. It must not, however, be for-
gotten that the persecution was political rather than
religious. Of the true teaching of Christianity Marcus
Aurelius knew little and cared less; but its followers, in
refusing to acknowledge a religion which included the


Emperors among its deities, became rebels against the existing
order of things, and therein culpable. Of the old sincere
belief in the gods of Rome but little could survive in a
state where the vote of the Senate had the power to add a
new divinity to the already bewildering list. So much the
more important were the outward forms, now that the actual
belief was gone, and the bond between Church and State
grew even closer, now that the Church could no longer
stand alone. Of the various systems of philosophy at that
time fashionable at Rome, all but the Epicurean could
readily embody the creed of the old religion, and by
treating the names of gods and heroes as mere symbols,
they contrived to combine outward conformity with inner
enlightenment. Not so the Christians. In their eyes the
whole system of idolatry was accursed. A silent protest
was insufficient. It was not enough to refrain from sacrifice
themselves ; in public and in private, in season and out of
season, they exhorted others to do the like ; not content
with leaving the statues of the gods unhonoured, they would
throw them from their pedestals, or insult them in the
presence of the faithful. What wonder that the Romans
looked on them with suspicion and hatred, and added to
their real ofiences the pretended ones of eating human flesh
and indulging in all manner of immorality. In our own
more enlightened day we know what strange reports gather
round any sect or school that happens to be unfashionable
or unpopular. What wonder, then, that the secret meet-
ings of the Christians should have given rise to strange
rumours, and that the persecutions " were the expression
of a feeling with which a modern state might regard a
set of men who were at once Mormons and Nihilists. ""'^
Add to this that the Christians often actually provoked
* F. Myer's Classical Essays.


persecution, and we cease to wonder, though we cannot
but regret, that Marcus Aurelius, in simply allowing
the law to take its course, should have failed to give an
example of that perfect toleration to which Christianity
itself has never yet attained. Let us be content to call hira,
with Earrar, "the noblest of Pagan Emperors," and sorrow-
fully acknowledge that we must seek in vain for a Christian
monarch to place beside him. Wars and troubles attended
Marcus Aurelius to the very end of his days. In 177 a.d.
fresh wars called him to the north. A presentiment seemed
to tell his friends at Kome that they should not see him
again, and they begged him to address them his farewell
admonitions. There is nothing more striking in the whole
of Aurelius' career than this picture of the great general
discoursing for three days before his departure for the wars
on the deep questions of philosophy. This was indeed the
last time he was seen at Kome. Worn out by anxiety and
fatigue, after once more winning victory for the Roman
arms, he died, in Pannonia, on March 17th, 180 A.D.,
mourned with a note of such true sorrow as never before or
again was raised at the death of an Emperor.

It is time to inquire into the nature of that philosophy
which was capable of exercising an influence so distinctly
practical ; yet, when we consider its teaching as laid down
by its founders, its distinct materialism and impracticable
ethics afford little sugsrestion of such fruits as it was destined
to bear in the Roman world.

The Stoic school was founded by Zeno at Athens about
290 B.C. At this time Greek philosophy, which, under
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, had lived through a short
period of idealism, was returning to its naturally material-
istic groove, and the founders of new systems looked back
to the pre-Socratic physicists for some theory of the


universe on which they might base their own. Metaphysical
speculation had ceased to charm ; it was practical ethics, a
rule of life and conduct, that philosophy now desired to
supply ; and though these later schools based ethics on
natural science, they were content to go back to the
investigators of old for a system, instead of devoting
themselves on their own account to scientific research.
The two most important schools at this epoch were the
Stoic and Epicurean ; and while the latter sought in the
atomic theory of Democritus an explanation of the
universe, the former reverted to the " perpetual flux," the
eternal, ever-changing fire of Heraclitus.

Before there was a heaven or earth there was a primi-
tive fiery ether. This changes into all the other elements,
and yet in its nature ever retains the fiery substratum.
First this fiery ether transforms itself into a mass of vapour,
then into a watery fluid. Out of this are developed the
four elements as we know them : water, and solid earth,
and atmospheric air, and lastly consuming, destructive fire,
which is distinct from the everlasting ether. Fire and air
are active elements ; water and earth, passive. The creation
begins to assume its present form with earth ; dry earth, by
reason of its weight, takes up a position at the centre of the
universe, around it gather the waters, above both is the
expanse of air, while fire and ether complete the whole,
ever circling round the other elements which are at rest.
The stars are fiery masses firmly embedded in ether, and
nourished by the exhalations of terrestrial vapours. But
they are also living beings, since they are formed out of
living, animating fire, and they may thus be regarded as
inferior or visible gods. " The sun and the celestial
•deities, too, have their business assigned," says Marcus


The world is faultless, say the Stoics, and must therefore
have been produced by an intelligent artificer. Hence the
highest reason is immanent in the world, and must be
regarded as self-conscious and personal. For has it not
created man, who is self-conscious and personal, and can the
created be greater than the creator ? And yet, paradoxical
as it may seem, the Stoic god is not a person, but is the
fiery ether that pervades all things. This fiery substratum
of all matter is its soul; the soul of the universe, which
holds together all things in one fixed law, is God himself.
In one aspect the Deity is but a fiery air-current ; in
another he is Zeus, the intelligent, almost personal lord of
the universe. Both these aspects may be found in Marcus
Aurelius ; but in him the simpler ethical teaching, the gentle
exhortation to a virtuous life, predominate over subtle
speculation on the origin of things, and be speaks of God in
language that suggests vividly to us the omnipotent,
omniscient. Deity of Monotheism.

The Stoics traced back all things to formless matter and
the informing, animating ether. Matter was in its nature
eternal, since the underlying fire was imperishable ; but all
things were being gradually consumed, and at the end of a
fixed period there would be a general conflagration, when
all things should be reabsorbed into the Deity. Then once
more they would be developed afresh, and another cycle


*• The world's great age begins anew,
The golden days return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn,"

sings Shelley, but the Stoics expected no " brighter Hellas,"
or " fairer Tempes." The new things should be but as the
old ; in the new cycle there should be another Socrates,


de^i/iufcu; to marry another Xanthippe, and meet with the
same rough treatmeLt at her hands, and finally to be
accused by Anytus and Meletus, and once more utter his
glorious defence, and drain the cup of hemlock among his
sorrowing disciples.

Some such scheme of the universe was certainly accepted
by all the Stoics, but the later teachers, at any rate, attached
little importance to it, except in as far as it demonstrated
man's intimate connection with the Deity and his fellow-
men. They believed that the soul was material, and
extended in space. It is the fiery current that is difiused
through the body, and holds it together. They regarded it
as the guiding or dominant principle, the indestructible
divine spark It is this, the reasoning element, which
establishes the relationship between God, the universal
reason, and man, to whose lot has fallen a minute share
of it \ while the brotherhood of Man is maintained in
virtue of a kinship, not of flesh and blood, but of mind
and reason. ^Though we are not just of the same flesh
and blood, yet our minds are nearly related." (Marcus
Aurelius, Med. ii. 1.)

JUd—the Stoies believe in a life after deatK? It is not
easy to decide. They did not, like the Epicureans, fiercely
deny it, maintaining that annihilation alone could remove
the terrors of death. Undoubtedly the individual soul
must at last be absorbed into the universal soul ; but
whether this happened at once, or not until the next con-
flagration, was a point on which authorities were not
agreed. In any case, the soul must return to the Deity
whence it sprang. This relation to the Deity was the
fundamental point of Stoic ethics. It follows from the
kinship that man's true good must lie in conformity with
the Deity. But God and reason are identical. Therefore^


life in accordance with reason must be best suiLeJ tw che
constitution of the soul. And such a life must be in
accordance with virtue. Hence this is the highest eood,
and happiness consists in virtue.

Thus the Stoics arrive at their main thesis. Virtue alone
is admirable, virtue is absolutely self-sufficient ; the good
man needs no help from circumstances , neither sickness
nor adversity can harm him ; he is a king, a god among
men. All so-called good, if it be not moral good, is included
in the class of " things intermediate," neither good nor
bad. Such absolute claims for virtue had never before
been made by any school. Aristotle had stipulated for
sufficient external advantages to enable a man to devote
himself without further care to the life of thought and
virtue. The Stoics would permit of no such compromise.
Virtue, and virtue only, was what they demanded. The
virtuous man might be a slave, a victim to disease, to
poverty, might be deprived of all he loved, yet he would
remain solely and absolutely happy. Virtue was one and
indivisible. Whoever was not virtuous was vicious ; there
was no middle course. Here was a point in their doctrine
which could hardly be made to square with fact. We
know too well that men are not divided into virtuous and
vicious, but all possess some share of good and evil,
and that most men desire what is right, and fail, when
they do, from weakness rather than viciousness. The
Stoics, who demanded absolute virtue and disregard of
externals, had to confess that the wise men were few and
the foolish legion ; nay, when hard pressed to name their
wise men, they would give a remarkable list — Hercules,
Odysseus, Socrates, the Cynics Antisthenes and Diogenes;
and in the later days of the school, Cato the younger, the
only Stoic among the number.



Such a list alone appears to us sufficient condemnation
of Stoicism in its earlier forms. Had no further advance
been made, Stoicism would be of small interest to us now,
but happily it was destined, as Capes remarks in his little
handbook on Stoicism, to be "tempered by concessions to
common sense." The paradoxes about the wise man had
been borrowed from Cynicism, which was regarded by the
Stoics as " a counsel of perfection." Diogenes in his tub,
bidding Alexander stand out of his sunshine, might excite
surprise and wonder ; but a movement that should lead a
whole community to abandon civilisation and resort to life
in tubs would be distinctly retrogressive. In later times
Christian hermits have at best saved their own souls, and
the exhortations delivered by St. Simeon Stylites from the
top of his pillar cannot have influenced the gaping multi-
tude as much as a noble life led in their midst. Without
the practical element there would have been no life in
Christianity, and Stoicism similarly had to descend from its
pedestal, and walk among men.

First of all, the theory of absolute good and evil had to
be modified. Virtue was still the only real good, and vice
the only real evil ; but besides these they now admitted a
class of " things to be preferred," and another of " things to
be avoided." Among the former might be included health,
good repute, and other advantages which had formerly been
summarily disposed of as "indifferent." Again, while the
impossible wise man still remained the ideal of Stoicism, it
was admitted that there might be good meD with lofty aims
and blameless lives who should yet dwell among men as
their fellows. In short, the wide gap between the sage
and the fool was now filled up, and as a result the Stoic
system was able to find a place for real, existing human



These more practical developments were coincident with
its introduction into the Roman world. The Romans were
nothing if not practical. A nation of soldiers and lawyers,
they had borrowed from Greece her culture, and adapted
it to their own needs. So too they borrowed their
philosophy. When " conquered Greece led her barbarous
conqueror captive," a few of the nobler minds at Rome
discovered that there was something at Athens worth
carrying off besides the statues. Some would spend a year
or two at Athens studying philosophy ; others induced the
greatest teachers themselves to bring their doctrines to
Rome ; and in the first century B.C. all the Greek systems
were represented in the capital of the world. Among
them all Stoicism found most adherents. Its teachings of
simplicity, resignation, and calm in the midst of disturbance,
found willing listeners among the earnest Republicans, who
saw their hopes of liberty gradually fading before the
approaching monarchy. Its doctrine that suicide was
admissible, even admirable, when circumstances made it no
longer possible " to take ar as against a sea of troubles,"
pointed to a mode of escape from the tyranny they could
not avert. Thus Cato sought death at his own hands when
the Republic perished, and it was Stoic teaching that forbade
Brutus and Cassius, though not Stoics themselves, to survive
the battle of Philippi.

In the early days of the empire, when corruption and
license were at their height, the court evinced deep hatred
against the philosophers, more especially the Stoics. The
outspoken manner in which they chastised the wickedness
of the time may have led to their unpopularity ; in any
case, there were several decrees of banishment against them,
and among the victims at one time was —


** That halting slave, who in Nicopolis
Taught Arrian, when Vespasian's brutal son
Cleared Rome of what most shamed him."

"Well might the name of Epictetus be counted among
those who cheer the soul in evil days, for where can sweeter
resignation or truer piety be found than in such words as
these — " Dare to look up to God and say, Deal with me for
the future as thou wilt, I am of the same mind as thou art ;
I am thine : I refuse nothing that pleases thee : lead me
where thou wilt : clothe me in any dress thou choosest : is
it thy will that I should hold the office of a magistrate,
that I should be in the condition of a private man, stay
here or be an exile, be poor, be rich % I will make thy
defence to men in behalf of all these conditions." These
were not empty words, for they found their illustration in
the life of the speaker.

In the lame slave Stoic ethics rose to its noblest heights •
but it was left to the imperial philosopher, by broadening
and humanising its teaching, to give to the world in his
Meditations " the gospel of those who do not believe in
the supernatural."

These Meditations were not written as a whole — probably
they were never intended for publication ; they are simply
the Emperor's commonplace book, where he entered his
reflections, often quite unconnected, on the things of time
and eternity. By this means he seems to have adopted his
own counsel of withdrawing into his own mind, there to
seek calm and quiet. It is noteworthy that in Marcus
Aurelius the claims of natural affection are never dis-
regarded. Book I. is entirely devoted to recording his
obligation to his parents, friends, and teachers for the
benefit of good training or example. For all those helps
and advantages which can be traced to none of these, he


simply thanks " the gods," without further discussion or
inquiry into their nature. The same loving disposition
gives life to the Stoic doctrine of the citizenship of the
world. ^Marcus Aurelius truly finds himself akin to all
mankind. ^ "Ma^iad-ara^under one common law ; and if
so, they must be fellow-citizens, and belong to the same
body politic. From whence it will follow that the whole
world is but one commonwealth " {Med. iv. 4). " Now a
social temper is that which man was principally designed
for " (vii. 55). This brotherhood of man will lead us to

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