Book 4

THAT which rules within, when it is according to nature, is so
affected with respect to the events which happen, that it always
easily adapts itself to that which is and is presented to it. For it
requires no definite material, but it moves towards its purpose, under
certain conditions however; and it makes a material for itself out of
that which opposes it, as fire lays hold of what falls into it, by
which a small light would have been extinguished: but when the fire is
strong, it soon appropriates to itself the matter which is heaped on
it, and consumes it, and rises higher by means of this very material.
Let no act be done without a purpose, nor otherwise than according
to the perfect principles of art.
Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores,
and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very
much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men,
for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into
thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from
trouble does a man retire than into his own soul, particularly when he
has within him such thoughts that by looking into them he is
immediately in perfect tranquility; and I affirm that tranquility is
nothing else than the good ordering of the mind. Constantly then
give to thyself this retreat, and renew thyself; and let thy
principles be brief and fundamental, which, as soon as thou shalt
recur to them, will be sufficient to cleanse the soul completely,
and to send thee back free from all discontent with the things to
which thou returnest. For with what art thou discontented? With the
badness of men? Recall to thy mind this conclusion, that rational
animals exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of
justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily; and consider how many
already, after mutual enmity, suspicion, hatred, and fighting, have
been stretched dead, reduced to ashes; and be quiet at last.- But
perhaps thou art dissatisfied with that which is assigned to thee
out of the universe.- Recall to thy recollection this alternative;
either there is providence or atoms, fortuitous concurrence of things;
or remember the arguments by which it has been proved that the world
is a kind of political community, and be quiet at last.- But perhaps
corporeal things will still fasten upon thee.- Consider then further
that the mind mingles not with the breath, whether moving gently or
violently, when it has once drawn itself apart and discovered its
own power, and think also of all that thou hast heard and assented
to about pain and pleasure, and be quiet at last.- But perhaps the
desire of the thing called fame will torment thee.- See how soon
everything is forgotten, and look at the chaos of infinite time on
each side of the present, and the emptiness of applause, and the
changeableness and want of judgement in those who pretend to give
praise, and the narrowness of the space within which it is
circumscribed, and be quiet at last. For the whole earth is a point,
and how small a nook in it is this thy dwelling, and how few are there
in it, and what kind of people are they who will praise thee.
This then remains: Remember to retire into this little territory
of thy own, and above all do not distract or strain thyself, but be
free, and look at things as a man, as a human being, as a citizen,
as a mortal. But among the things readiest to thy hand to which thou
shalt turn, let there be these, which are two. One is that things do
not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; but
our perturbations come only from the opinion which is within. The
other is that all these things, which thou seest, change immediately
and will no longer be; and constantly bear in mind how many of these
changes thou hast already witnessed. The universe is transformation:
life is opinion.
If our intellectual part is common, the reason also, in respect of
which we are rational beings, is common: if this is so, common also is
the reason which commands us what to do, and what not to do; if this
is so, there is a common law also; if this is so, we are
fellow-citizens; if this is so, we are members of some political
community; if this is so, the world is in a manner a state. For of
what other common political community will any one say that the
whole human race are members? And from thence, from this common
political community comes also our very intellectual faculty and
reasoning faculty and our capacity for law; or whence do they come?
For as my earthly part is a portion given to me from certain earth,
and that which is watery from another element, and that which is hot
and fiery from some peculiar source (for nothing comes out of that
which is nothing, as nothing also returns to non-existence), so also
the intellectual part comes from some source.
{BK_4 ^paragraph 5}
Death is such as generation is, a mystery of nature; a composition
out of the same elements, and a decomposition into the same; and
altogether not a thing of which any man should be ashamed, for it is
not contrary to the nature of a reasonable animal, and not contrary to
the reason of our constitution.
It is natural that these things should be done by such persons, it
is a matter of necessity; and if a man will not have it so, he will
not allow the fig-tree to have juice. But by all means bear this in
mind, that within a very short time both thou and he will be dead; and
soon not even your names will be left behind.
Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint,
“I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,”
and the harm is taken away.
That which does not make a man worse than he was, also does not make
his life worse, nor does it harm him either from without or from
The nature of that which is universally useful has been compelled to
do this.
{BK_4 ^paragraph 10}
Consider that everything which happens, happens justly, and if
thou observest carefully, thou wilt find it to be so. I do not say
only with respect to the continuity of the series of things, but
with respect to what is just, and as if it were done by one who
assigns to each thing its value. Observe then as thou hast begun;
and whatever thou doest, do it in conjunction with this, the being
good, and in the sense in which a man is properly understood to be
good. Keep to this in every action.
Do not have such an opinion of things as he has who does thee wrong,
or such as he wishes thee to have, but look at them as they are in
A man should always have these two rules in readiness; the one, to
do only whatever the reason of the ruling and legislating faculty
may suggest for the use of men; the other, to change thy opinion, if
there is any one at hand who sets thee right and moves thee from any
opinion. But this change of opinion must proceed only from a certain
persuasion, as of what is just or of common advantage, and the like,
not because it appears pleasant or brings reputation.
Hast thou reason? I have.- Why then dost not thou use it? For if
this does its own work, what else dost thou wish?
Thou hast existed as a part. Thou shalt disappear in that which
produced thee; but rather thou shalt be received back into its seminal
principle by transmutation.
{BK_4 ^paragraph 15}
Many grains of frankincense on the same altar: one falls before,
another falls after; but it makes no difference.
Within ten days thou wilt seem a god to those to whom thou art now a
beast and an ape, if thou wilt return to thy principles and the
worship of reason.
Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death
hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good.
How much trouble he avoids who does not look to see what his
neighbour says or does or thinks, but only to what he does himself,
that it may be just and pure; or as Agathon says, look not round at
the depraved morals of others, but run straight along the line without
deviating from it.
He who has a vehement desire for posthumous fame does not consider
that every one of those who remember him will himself also die very
soon; then again also they who have succeeded them, until the whole
remembrance shall have been extinguished as it is transmitted
through men who foolishly admire and perish. But suppose that those
who will remember are even immortal, and that the remembrance will
be immortal, what then is this to thee? And I say not what is it to
the dead, but what is it to the living? What is praise except indeed
so far as it has a certain utility? For thou now rejectest
unseasonably the gift of nature, clinging to something else…
{BK_4 ^paragraph 20}
Everything which is in any way beautiful is beautiful in itself, and
terminates in itself, not having praise as part of itself. Neither
worse then nor better is a thing made by being praised. I affirm
this also of the things which are called beautiful by the vulgar,
for example, material things and works of art. That which is really
beautiful has no need of anything; not more than law, not more than
truth, not more than benevolence or modesty. Which of these things
is beautiful because it is praised, or spoiled by being blamed? Is
such a thing as an emerald made worse than it was, if it is not
praised? Or gold, ivory, purple, a lyre, a little knife, a flower, a
If souls continue to exist, how does the air contain them from
eternity?- But how does the earth contain the bodies of those who
have been buried from time so remote? For as here the mutation of
these bodies after a certain continuance, whatever it may be, and
their dissolution make room for other dead bodies; so the souls
which are removed into the air after subsisting for some time are
transmuted and diffused, and assume a fiery nature by being received
into the seminal intelligence of the universe, and in this way make
room for the fresh souls which come to dwell there. And this is the
answer which a man might give on the hypothesis of souls continuing to
exist. But we must not only think of the number of bodies which are
thus buried, but also of the number of animals which are daily eaten
by us and the other animals. For what a number is consumed, and thus
in a manner buried in the bodies of those who feed on them! And
nevertheless this earth receives them by reason of the changes of
these bodies into blood, and the transformations into the aerial or
the fiery element.
What is the investigation into the truth in this matter? The
division into that which is material and that which is the cause of
form, the formal.
Do not be whirled about, but in every movement have respect to
justice, and on the occasion of every impression maintain the
faculty of comprehension or understanding.
Everything harmonizes with me, which is harmonious to thee, O
Universe. Nothing for me is too early nor too late, which is in due
time for thee. Everything is fruit to me which thy seasons bring, O
Nature: from thee are all things, in thee are all things, to thee
all things return. The poet says, Dear city of Cecrops; and wilt not
thou say, Dear city of Zeus?
{BK_4 ^paragraph 25}
Occupy thyself with few things, says the philosopher, if thou
wouldst be tranquil.- But consider if it would not be better to say,
Do what is necessary, and whatever the reason of the animal which is
naturally social requires, and as it requires. For this brings not
only the tranquility which comes from doing well, but also that
which comes from doing few things. For the greatest part of what we
say and do being unnecessary, if a man takes this away, he will have
more leisure and less uneasiness. Accordingly on every occasion a
man should ask himself, Is this one of the unnecessary things? Now a
man should take away not only unnecessary acts, but also,
unnecessary thoughts, for thus superfluous acts will not follow after.
Try how the life of the good man suits thee, the life of him who
is satisfied with his portion out of the whole, and satisfied with his
own just acts and benevolent disposition.
Hast thou seen those things? Look also at these. Do not disturb
thyself. Make thyself all simplicity. Does any one do wrong? It is
to himself that he does the wrong. Has anything happened to thee?
Well; out of the universe from the beginning everything which
happens has been apportioned and spun out to thee. In a word, thy life
is short. Thou must turn to profit the present by the aid of reason
and justice. Be sober in thy relaxation.
Either it is a well-arranged universe or a chaos huddled together,
but still a universe. But can a certain order subsist in thee, and
disorder in the All? And this too when all things are so separated and
diffused and sympathetic.
A black character, a womanish character, a stubborn character,
bestial, childish, animal, stupid, counterfeit, scurrilous,
fraudulent, tyrannical.
{BK_4 ^paragraph 30}
If he is a stranger to the universe who does not know what is in it,
no less is he a stranger who does not know what is going on in it.
He is a runaway, who flies from social reason; he is blind, who
shuts the eyes of the understanding; he is poor, who has need of
another, and has not from himself all things which are useful for
life. He is an abscess on the universe who withdraws and separates
himself from the reason of our common nature through being
displeased with the things which happen, for the same nature
produces this, and has produced thee too: he is a piece rent asunder
from the state, who tears his own soul from that of reasonable
animals, which is one.
The one is a philosopher without a tunic, and the other without a
book: here is another half naked: Bread I have not, he says, and I
abide by reason.- And I do not get the means of living out of my
learning, and I abide by my reason.
Love the art, poor as it may be, which thou hast learned, and be
content with it; and pass through the rest of life like one who has
intrusted to the gods with his whole soul all that he has, making
thyself neither the tyrant nor the slave of any man.
Consider, for example, the times of Vespasian. Thou wilt see all
these things, people marrying, bringing up children, sick, dying,
warring, feasting, trafficking, cultivating the ground, flattering,
obstinately arrogant, suspecting, plotting, wishing for some to die,
grumbling about the present, loving, heaping up treasure, desiring
counsulship, kingly power. Well then, that life of these people no
longer exists at all. Again, remove to the times of Trajan. Again, all
is the same. Their life too is gone. In like manner view also the
other epochs of time and of whole nations, and see how many after
great efforts soon fell and were resolved into the elements. But
chiefly thou shouldst think of those whom thou hast thyself known
distracting themselves about idle things, neglecting to do what was in
accordance with their proper constitution, and to hold firmly to
this and to be content with it. And herein it is necessary to remember
that the attention given to everything has its proper value and
proportion. For thus thou wilt not be dissatisfied, if thou appliest
thyself to smaller matters no further than is fit.
The words which were formerly familiar are now antiquated: so also
the names of those who were famed of old, are now in a manner
antiquated, Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Leonnatus, and a little after
also Scipio and Cato, then Augustus, then also Hadrian and
Antoninus. For all things soon pass away and become a mere tale, and
complete oblivion soon buries them. And I say this of those who have
shone in a wondrous way. For the rest, as soon as they have breathed
out their breath, they are gone, and no man speaks of them. And, to
conclude the matter, what is even an eternal remembrance? A mere
nothing. What then is that about which we ought to employ our
serious pains? This one thing, thoughts just, and acts social, and
words which never lie, and a disposition which gladly accepts all that
happens, as necessary, as usual, as flowing from a principle and
source of the same kind.
{BK_4 ^paragraph 35}
Willingly give thyself up to Clotho, one of the Fates, allowing
her to spin thy thread into whatever things she pleases.
Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that
which is remembered.
Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and
accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves
nothing so much as to change the things which are and to make new
things like them. For everything that exists is in a manner the seed
of that which will be. But thou art thinking only of seeds which are
cast into the earth or into a womb: but this is a very vulgar notion.
Thou wilt soon die, and thou art not yet simple, not free from
perturbations, nor without suspicion of being hurt by external things,
nor kindly disposed towards all; nor dost thou yet place wisdom only
in acting justly.
Examine men’s ruling principles, even those of the wise, what kind
of things they avoid, and what kind they pursue.
{BK_4 ^paragraph 40}
What is evil to thee does not subsist in the ruling principle of
another; nor yet in any turning and mutation of thy corporeal
covering. Where is it then? It is in that part of thee in which
subsists the power of forming opinions about evils. Let this power
then not form such opinions, and all is well. And if that which is
nearest to it, the poor body, is burnt, filled with matter and
rottenness, nevertheless let the part which forms opinions about these
things be quiet, that is, let it judge that nothing is either bad or
good which can happen equally to the bad man and the good. For that
which happens equally to him who lives contrary to nature and to him
who lives according to nature, is neither according to nature nor
contrary to nature.
Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one
substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to
one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all
things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating
causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous
spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web.
Thou art a little soul bearing about a corpse, as Epictetus used
to say.
It is no evil for things to undergo change, and no good for things
to subsist in consequence of change.
Time is like a river made up of the events which happen, and a
violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried
away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away
{BK_4 ^paragraph 45}
Everything which happens is as familiar and well known as the rose
in spring and the fruit in summer; for such is disease, and death, and
calumny, and treachery, and whatever else delights fools or vexes
In the series of things those which follow are always aptly fitted
to those which have gone before; for this series is not like a mere
enumeration of disjointed things, which has only a necessary sequence,
but it is a rational connection: and as all existing things are
arranged together harmoniously, so the things which come into
existence exhibit no mere succession, but a certain wonderful
Always remember the saying of Heraclitus, that the death of earth is
to become water, and the death of water is to become air, and the
death of air is to become fire, and reversely. And think too of him
who forgets whither the way leads, and that men quarrel with that with
which they are most constantly in communion, the reason which
governs the universe; and the things which daily meet with seem to
them strange: and consider that we ought not to act and speak as if we
were asleep, for even in sleep we seem to act and speak; and that we
ought not, like children who learn from their parents, simply to act
and speak as we have been taught.
If any god told thee that thou shalt die to-morrow, or certainly
on the day after to-morrow, thou wouldst not care much whether it was
on the third day or on the morrow, unless thou wast in the highest
degree mean-spirited- for how small is the difference?- So think it
no great thing to die after as many years as thou canst name rather
than to-morrow.
Think continually how many physicians are dead after often
contracting their eyebrows over the sick; and how many astrologers
after predicting with great pretensions the deaths of others; and
how many philosophers after endless discourses on death or
immortality; how many heroes after killing thousands; and how many
tyrants who have used their power over men’s lives with terrible
insolence as if they were immortal; and how many cities are entirely
dead, so to speak, Helice and Pompeii and Herculaneum, and others
innumerable. Add to the reckoning all whom thou hast known, one
after another. One man after burying another has been laid out dead,
and another buries him: and all this in a short time. To conclude,
always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and
what was yesterday a little mucus to-morrow will be a mummy or
ashes. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to
nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off
when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the
tree on which it grew.
{BK_4 ^paragraph 50}
Be like the promontory against which the waves continually break,
but it stands firm and tames the fury of the water around it.
Unhappy am I because this has happened to me.- Not so, but happy am
I, though this has happened to me, because I continue free from
pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearing the future. For
such a thing as this might have happened to every man; but every man
would not have continued free from pain on such an occasion. Why
then is that rather a misfortune than this a good fortune? And dost
thou in all cases call that a man’s misfortune, which is not a
deviation from man’s nature? And does a thing seem to thee to be a
deviation from man’s nature, when it is not contrary to the will of
man’s nature? Well, thou knowest the will of nature. Will then this
which has happened prevent thee from being just, magnanimous,
temperate, prudent, secure against inconsiderate opinions and
falsehood; will it prevent thee from having modesty, freedom, and
everything else, by the presence of which man’s nature obtains all
that is its own? Remember too on every occasion which leads thee to
vexation to apply this principle: not that this is a misfortune, but
that to bear it nobly is good fortune.
It is a vulgar, but still a useful help towards contempt of death,
to pass in review those who have tenaciously stuck to life. What
more then have they gained than those who have died early? Certainly
they lie in their tombs somewhere at last, Cadicianus, Fabius,
Julianus, Lepidus, or any one else like them, who have carried out
many to be buried, and then were carried out themselves. Altogether
the interval is small between birth and death; and consider with how
much trouble, and in company with what sort of people and in what a
feeble body this interval is laboriously passed. Do not then
consider life a thing of any value. For look to the immensity of
time behind thee, and to the time which is before thee, another
boundless space. In this infinity then what is the difference
between him who lives three days and him who lives three generations?
Always run to the short way; and the short way is the natural:
accordingly say and do everything in conformity with the soundest
reason. For such a purpose frees a man from trouble, and warfare,
and all artifice and ostentatious display.