Few ancient works have been as influential as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and emperor of Rome (A.D. 161-180). A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behavior, it remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written.
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December 31, 2001
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Excerpt from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Debts and Lessons
1. My grandfather Verus
Character and self-control.
2. My father (from my own memories and
Integrity and manliness.
3. My mother
Her reverence for the divine, her generosity, her inability not only to do wrong but even to conceive of doing it. And the simple way she lived-not in the least like the rich.
4. My great-grandfather
To avoid the public schools, to hire good private teachers, and to accept the resulting costs as money well-spent.
5. My first teacher
Not to support this side or that in chariot-racing, this fighter or that in the games. To put up with discomfort and not make demands. To do my own work, mind my own business, and have no time for slanderers.
Not to waste time on nonsense. Not to be taken in by conjurors and hoodoo artists with their talk about incantations and exorcism and all the rest of it. Not to be obsessed with quail-fighting or other crazes like that. To hear unwelcome truths. To practice philosophy, and to study with Baccheius, and then with Tandasis and Marcianus. To write dialogues as a student. To choose the Greek lifestyle-the camp-bed and the cloak.
The recognition that I needed to train and discipline my character.
Not to be sidetracked by my interest in rhetoric. Not to write treatises on abstract questions, or deliver moralizing little sermons, or compose imaginary descriptions of The Simple Life or The Man Who Lives Only for Others. To steer clear of oratory, poetry and belles lettres.
Not to dress up just to stroll around the house, or things like that. To write straightforward letters (like the one he sent my mother from Sinuessa). And to behave in a conciliatory way when people who have angered or annoyed us want to make up.
To read attentively-not to be satisfied with "just getting the gist of it." And not to fall for every smooth talker.
And for introducing me to Epictetus's lectures-and loaning me his own copy.
Independence and unvarying reliability, and to pay attention to nothing, no matter how fleetingly, except the logos. And to be the same in all circumstances-intense pain, the loss of a child, chronic illness. And to see clearly, from his example, that a man can show both strength and flexibility.
His patience in teaching. And to have seen someone who clearly viewed his expertise and ability as a teacher as the humblest of virtues.
And to have learned how to accept favors from friends without losing your self-respect or appearing ungrateful.
An example of fatherly authority in the home. What it means to live as nature requires.
Gravity without airs.
To show intuitive sympathy for friends, tolerance to amateurs and sloppy thinkers. His ability to get along with everyone: sharing his company was the highest of compliments, and the opportunity an honor for those around him.
To investigate and analyze, with understanding and logic, the principles we ought to live by.
Not to display anger or other emotions. To be free of passion and yet full of love.
To praise without bombast; to display expertise without pretension.
10. The literary critic Alexander
Not to be constantly correcting people, and in particular not to jump on them whenever they make an error of usage or a grammatical mistake or mispronounce something, but just answer their question or add another example, or debate the issue itself (not their phrasing), or make some other contribution to the discussion-and casually insert the correct expression.