508 BCE


I have avoided reading classics for so much of my life, perhaps a surprising fact about someone with a blog named 508 BCE.

I’ve always had this perception that the classics are academic. That they are stuffy, hard to grok, hard to relate with.

Meditations, written between 161 to 180 CE, and aided by a modern translation by Hays, sought to prove me wrong.

At its essence, Meditations is Marcus Aurelius’s diary. In it he collected pithy statements of wisdom: observations about how the world works, how to live a virtuous life, and how to avoid the common pitfalls of man.

Lacking thematic organization, threads of ideas are interwoven throughout the collection, making there appearances when you least expect them.

But this lack of organization doesn’t degrade the power behind Meditations. The wisdom in the pages is worth a read, and likely multiple.

The core underlying theme of Meditations is to live logically: to change ourselves for the better when possible, and to accept what we cannot change.

Because of this, Marcus Aurelius was obsessed with the present and eschewing the past and the future. We can’t control the past! We can’t control the future! It follows that one should always focus on the present task at hand. We should do it well and avoid distraction.

Concentrate every minute … 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. (2.5)

[T]he longest-lived and those who will die soonest lose the same thing. The present is all they can give up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have, you cannot lose. (2.14)

The one true thing in our control is the self: this is what we should mold to perfection.

[T]reat human beings as they deserve, be tolerant with others and strict with yourself. Remember, nothing belongs to you but your flesh and blood–nothing else is under your control. (5.33)

The best revenge is not to be like that. (6.6)

If anyone can refute me–show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective–I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance. (6.21)

While you can control yourself, you can’t control others; however, you can attempt to understand them and their actions.

When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger (7.26)

It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own. (7.71)

Perspective is also important: in the end, our life is short and time marches forward with or without us.

The earth will cover us all, and then be transformed in turn, and that too will change, ad infinitum. And that as well, ad infinitum. Think about them: the waves of change and alteration, endlessly breaking. And see our brief mortality for what it is. (9.28)