dkb logo

The Mind of a Benevolent Dictator

June 4, 2022

We should accept nature’s plan, even if it doesn’t feel great in the moment, because we can trust that it will lead to the well-being of all of humanity and the universe.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, unless your name is Marcus Aurelius.

As emperor of Rome from 161 AD - 180 AD, he was the most powerful man in the world. Unlike many of his predecessors, he ruled effectively, practiced self-control, and was genuinely focused on improving human welfare. He’s one of the few real-life examples of a benevolent philosopher king.

Marcus is also one of the driving forces behind the rise of Stoicism in the last few years. He’s the author of the most popular stoic book, Meditations, which he probably didn’t intend for anyone to read.

In this interview, I ask Marcus how to live a good life, why he was so optimistic, how to deal with difficult people, and how to accept death.

(This is a fictional but realistic interview with Marcus Aurelius based on his Meditations. His responses are either direct quotes, or based on his writings. Citations are included so you can see the original context for each response.)


DKB: As the Roman emperor, you were the most powerful man in the world. You could do anything, and have anything.

Many emperors who came before you were corrupted by power and gave in to their vices. They say power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but you seem to be the exception.

How did you do it? How did you manage to maintain that level of self control?

Marcus Aurelius: People find happiness in different ways. Personally, I find it in keeping a calm mind, doing what I can to help other people, and accepting whatever comes my way.1

I think the only thing worth pursuing is living in accordance with nature. As humans, we’re designed to be rational, and so I strive always to exercise my rationality. We’re also designed to be social and help each other, so I do what I can to contribute to humanity.2 3

We should pursue lives of selfless action, honesty, and kindness. Life is short and fleeting, so the only things that are truly valuable are maintaining an untainted character, and pursuing actions that serve the common welfare.4 5

Don’t let anything stand in the way of you living a good life, whether it be fame, wealth, or sensual pleasures. These things may seem to fit in with your nature in the short term, but they will ruin you in the long term.

If you want to live a good life with virtue and rationality, then dedicate yourself to it, and get rid of everything else.

You need to make a choice about who you want to be, and the kind of life you want to live, and stick to it.6

DKB: Since you mentioned pleasure, I’m sure you have thoughts on the flipside of pleasure, which is pain.

Marcus Aurelius: Pain is either endurable or it isn’t. If it’s not endurable then you’ll die, and the pain will end. If it's endurable, then you should just endure it and stop complaining about it.7

We also end up amplifying pain in our minds. Pain might affect the body, but that’s the body’s problem. Your mind can choose not to be affected by pain, and preserve its own tranquility.8 9

When you do feel pain, the important thing is to make sure it doesn’t disgrace you, or cause you to act irrationally or selfishly.10

DKB: Earlier you mentioned the idea that we should live in accordance with nature. Can you talk more about nature and why you seem to believe in it so much?

Marcus Aurelius: It doesn’t make any sense for nature to do anything that isn’t beneficial to everything under its domain. Therefore nature’s plans must be good and beneficial to all.11 12

In the same way that a doctor prescribes medicine or a special diet plan for people, you should look at the actions of nature as prescribing things to people. It’s like nature prescribed sickness to a person, or nature prescribed a disability.

When the doctor prescribes something, it’s meant to help you recover from illness or injury. When nature prescribes something, it’s meant to help you get back on track to achieving your destiny.

So let us accept nature’s orders the same way that we accept the doctor’s orders. It might be bitter medicine, but we have to take it if we want to get healthy.

We should accept nature’s plan, even if it doesn’t feel great in the moment, because we can trust that it will lead to the well-being of all of humanity and the universe.13

DKB: You talk a lot about helping other people, and contributing to the welfare of humanity, but people are hard to deal with, and sometimes they treat us badly.

Stepping back from the grand idea of human welfare, how should we deal with people on a day to day basis?

Marcus Aurelius: It may sound paradoxical at first, but while I believe in working for the welfare of everyone, I also acknowledge that the people I’m going to deal with every day will be dishonest, arrogant, ungrateful, and envious.

I can’t be angry at them or hate them, because I know these people share the same nature as me. We were made to work together, like hands or feet. To be angry with someone and turn away from them is to work against them, which goes against our nature.14

When people hurt you, you should think about what good or bad they thought would come out of it. Your ideas of good and evil may be the same as theirs, in which case you’ll have to excuse them, or it may be different, in which case they are misguided and deserve your compassion.15

If someone makes a mistake, you should correct them with empathy, and show them where they went wrong. If you can’t do that, then the blame lies with you. At the same time, you don’t know for sure that they did something wrong. You need context on someone’s life before you can judge their actions with real understanding.16 17

Above all, you have to recognize that they haven’t caused you any harm. No one else can truly harm you. When people do bad things, they’re harming their own character, not yours. If someone hates you then that’s their problem. You should focus on being patient and kind to everyone, including them. Be ready to show them their mistake in an honest and upright way.18 19

No one can keep you from living in accordance with nature, and maintaining the strength of your own character.

DKB: Death is something that we all have to face eventually, but most of us struggle to accept it. Given the track record of Roman emperors and violent deaths, you’ve probably thought about this a lot.

How can we learn to accept the fact that we’re going to die?

Marcus Aurelius: Socrates said it well when he said “You are wrong sir, if you think that a man who is any good at all should take into account the risk of life or death. He should look to this only in his actions, whether what he does is right or wrong.”20

Death will come whenever it comes, but your focus should be on living a good life while you have it.

Fear of death is fear of what we might experience. It’s either going to be nothing at all, or a completely new experience. If it’s nothing, then we can’t experience anything bad. And if our experience changes, then our existence will change with it.21

Death isn’t something to look down on, but something we should welcome. It’s something that nature requires, just like youth and old age, just like a new set of teeth, and just like all the other physical changes throughout our life.22

When we stop doing an activity or finish a thought, that’s a kind of death too, but it doesn’t hurt us. Every transformation is a kind of dying, but is there anything to fear about that?23

Any action that stops when it’s supposed to isn’t worse off for stopping, and neither is the person who was doing the action. In the same way, the progression of actions that constitute a human life is not worse off merely because it comes to an end.

The time of that ending is decided by nature, which works to benefit all things. The end of life can’t be anything bad or dishonorable, because it is in harmony with nature and thus works towards the welfare of all.24

You should await death without impatience or disdain. You should simply view it as one of the things that happens to us. The same way that you await the emergence of a child from the mother’s womb, that’s how you should await the moment when your soul emerges from this box.25

Here's one practical exercise you can try. Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?26

In the end, what difference does it make if you live for five years or a hundred? It’s not like you’re being sent away by some tyrant or unjust judge. You’re being sent away by nature, who brought you into this world in the first place.

It’s as if you’re an actor on a stage, and the director of the show is closing the curtains and sending you off. Now you’re complaining that you only did three acts and not five.

The drama was always meant to be three acts long. This was the length of time decided by the same director who gave you this role to play in the first place.

You didn’t get to determine when you came into the world, and you don’t get to determine when you leave it either.

So make your exit with grace, the same grace that nature showed you.27

DKB: Do you have any last words of wisdom for people who are trying to live better lives?

Marcus Aurelius:

You just died.

You’ve lived your life.

Now you have a second life.

Live this one properly.28


I create realistic interviews with historical figures.

Sign up below to get a new interview every month.


Footnotes

  1. Meditations 8.43 "Different people find their joy in different things; and it is my joy to keep my ruling centre unimpaired, and not turn my back on any human being or on anything that befalls the human race, but to look on all things with a kindly eye, and welcome and make use of each according to its worth."

  2. Meditations 3.4 "Do not waste what remains of your life in forming impressions about others, unless you are doing so with reference to the common good. For you are depriving yourself of the opportunity for some other action which may be of real benefit, to imagine instead what so-and-so is doing and to what end, and what he is saying or thinking or planning, and give yourself over to other impressions of that kind which serve only to divert you from paying proper attention to your own ruling centre. Rather, you must exclude from the sequence of your thoughts all that is aimless and random, and, above all, idle curiosity and malice; and you must train yourself only to think such thoughts that if somebody were suddenly to ask you, ‘What are you thinking of?’ you could reply in all honesty and without hesitation, of this thing or that, and so make it clear at once from your reply that all within you is simple and benevolent, and worthy of a social being who has no thought for pleasure, or luxury in general, or contentiousness of any kind, or envy, or suspicion, or anything else that you would blush to admit if you had it in your mind. For such a man, who no longer postpones his endeavour to take his place among the best, is indeed a priest and servant of the gods, behaving rightly towards the deity stationed within him, so ensuring that the mortal being remains unpolluted by pleasures, invulnerable to every pain, untouched by any wrong, unconscious of any evil, a wrestler in the greatest contest of all, never to be overthrown by any passion, deeply steeped in justice, welcoming with his whole heart all that comes about and is allotted to him, and never, save under some great necessity and for the good of his fellows, giving thought to what another is saying or doing or thinking. For he devotes himself solely to the realization of his own duty, and is always mindful of what is assigned to him from the whole; and he fulfils his duty through fine deeds, and is convinced that whatever is allotted to him is good; for the fate assigned to each person accompanies him through life and is only to his benefit. He remembers, furthermore, that all rational beings are akin, and that while it follows from human nature that he should care for all of his fellows, he should pay heed to the opinion not of all of them, but only of those who live a life that accords with nature. As for those who live otherwise, he is constantly mindful of what they are like, at home and abroad, by night and by day, and what sort of scum they mix with; and accordingly, he sets no value on praise from such people, who are not pleasing even to themselves."

  3. Meditations 8.1 "This thought too will help to free you from delusion, that it is now beyond your power to have lived your whole life, or at least the time that has passed since your youth, as a philosopher; for you have made it plain to many people, including yourself, that you fall far short of philosophy. And thus you are tarnished, and it is no longer easy for you to win the reputation of being a philosopher; and your calling counts against it. So if you have truly seen how the matter lies, put aside all concern about what others will think of you, and be satisfied if you live the rest of your life, be it long or short, as your nature wills. Reflect, then, on what it wills, and let nothing else distract you; for you know by experience how many byways you have strayed along without ever discovering the good life. It lies neither in subtleties of argument, nor in riches, nor in glory, nor in sensual pleasure, nor anywhere at all; so where does it lie? In doing what human nature requires. And how is one to do that? By having principles to govern every impulse and action. And what principles are those? Those concerned with good and bad, which tell us that nothing is good for man except what makes him just and temperate, brave and free, and that nothing is bad except what gives rise to the opposing vices."

  4. Meditations 4.33 "The everyday expressions of earlier times are now archaic; and likewise the names of those who were highly acclaimed in earlier ages are now, in a sense, archaic; Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus, and a little later, Scipio too and Cato, and then Augustus also, and then Hadrian and Antoninus. For all things are swift to fade and become mere matter for tales, and swiftly too complete oblivion covers their every trace. And here I am speaking of those who shone forth with a wonderful brightness; as for all the rest, the moment that they breathed their last, they were ‘out of sight, out of mind’. And what does it amount to, in any case, everlasting remembrance? Sheer vanity and nothing more. What, then, is worthy of our striving? This alone, a mind governed by justice, deeds directed to the common good, words that never lie, and a disposition that welcomes all that happens, as necessary, as familiar, as flowing from the same kind of origin and spring."

  5. Meditations 6.30 "Take care that you are not turned into a Caesar, that you are not stained with the purple; for such things do come about. Keep yourself simple, then, and good, sincere, dignified, free from affectation, a friend to justice, reverent towards the gods, affectionate, and firm in the performance of your duties. Struggle to remain such a person as philosophy wished to make you. Honour the gods, protect your fellows. Life is short; and our earthly existence yields but a single harvest, a holy disposition, and acts that serve the common good. Be in everything a true pupil of Antoninus: imitate his energy in acting as reason demands, his unchanging equanimity, his piety, the serenity of his expression, the sweetness of his character, his freedom from vanity, and his eagerness to get to the heart of matters. And remember how he would never dismiss a matter until he had examined it carefully and clearly understood it; and how he would put up with people who reproached him unjustly, and would never respond in kind; how he never acted in haste, and refused to listen to slander; and how acute he was in appraising people’s characters and actions, and how he was never one to criticize, or to be easily flustered, or over-suspicious, or pretentious; how it took little to satisfy him, in his lodgings for instance, or his bed, his dress, his food, his attendants; how hard-working he was, and how patient; how he would stay at his post from morning until evening, and because of his frugal diet would not even need to relieve himself except at his accustomed hour; his firmness and consistency in friendship; how he would tolerate frank opposition to his views and was pleased if somebody could point to a better course; and what reverence he showed to the gods without a trace of superstition. Follow his example, then, so that you may have as clear a conscience as he when your final hour arrives."

  6. Meditations 3.6 "If you can discover in human life anything better than justice, truth, temperance, and courage—in short, than a mind that is contented both with itself in so far as it ensures that your actions follow the rules of right reason, and with destiny, in what is allotted to you and beyond the sphere of your choice—if, I say, you can see anything better than this, then turn to it with all your heart and profit from this supreme good which you have discovered. But if nothing better is revealed than the guardian-spirit enthroned within you, which has subjected your impulses to its own authority, and scrutinizes your thoughts, and, as Socrates used to say,_ has withdrawn itself from the enticements of the senses, and submitted itself to the authority of the gods, and devotes itself to the care of others—if you find all else to be trivial and cheap when compared to this, then grant no place to anything else which, if once you turn to it and turn aside from your path, you would no longer be able without distraction to pay the highest honour to the good that is proper to you and truly your own. For it is not right that one should set in competition to the rational and social good anything at all that is foreign to its nature, such as praise from the crowd, position, or wealth, or sensual pleasure. All of these, even if they seem to suit our nature in the short term, suddenly seize control of us and carry us away. For your part, I say, you must in all simplicity and freedom choose what is higher and hold to that.— ‘But the higher is that which brings me benefit.’_—Well, if it benefits you as a rational creature, keep a firm hold on it; but if it benefits you merely as an animal, acknowledge this and, without arrogance, remain true to that decision, only taking care that your examination is conducted on a secure basis."

  7. Meditations 10.3 "Everything that happens either happens in such a way that you are fitted by nature to bear it or in such a way that you are not. If, then, it comes about in such a way that you are fitted by nature to bear it, make no complaint, but bear it as your nature enables you to do; but if it comes about in such a way that you are not fitted by nature to bear it, again you should make no complaint, for it will soon be the end of you. Remember, however, that you are fitted by nature to bear everything that you can render bearable and endurable through the exercise of your judgement, by suggesting the idea to yourself that your interest or your duty demands it."

  8. Meditations 8.40 "If you suppress your opinion about what seems to cause you pain, you yourself will be on completely safe ground.—‘What are you yourself?’—Reason.—‘But I am not reason!’ So be it. In that case, let reason itself cause no pain to itself, and if some other part of you is in a bad way, let it form its own opinion on the matter!"

  9. Meditations 8.28 "Pain is an evil either to the body—and if that be so, let the body itself declare it—or to the soul; but the soul has the power to preserve its own serenity and calm, and to refuse to accept that pain is an evil. For every judgement, impulse, desire, or aversion arises from within us, and nothing evil can enter in from outside."

  10. Meditations 7.64 "In the case of every pain have this thought at hand, that there is nothing wrong in this nor does it make our governing intellect worse than it was; for neither in so far as it is rational nor in so far as it is concerned for the common good does pain cause it any harm. With regard to most pains, furthermore, let this saying of Epicurus come to your aid, that ‘pain is neither unendurable nor everlasting, if you keep its limits in mind and do not add to it through your own imagination’. And remember this too, that many disagreeable feelings are really just the same as pain although we do not perceive them to be so, such as drowsiness, or the oppression that we feel in hot weather, or loss of appetite. So when something like this is beginning to distress you, say to yourself, ‘You are giving way to pain.’"

  11. Meditations 6.1 "The substance of the whole is compliant and malleable, and the reason that governs it has nothing within itself that could cause it to bring about anything bad; for it has no evil in itself, nor does it do any wrong, nor is anything injured by it; and all things come into being and are accomplished according to its will."

  12. Meditations 6.44 "If the gods have taken counsel about me and what must happen to me, they have taken good counsel; for a god who makes ill-advised decisions can scarcely be imagined, and what motive could possibly impel them to do me harm? For what advantage would that bring either to themselves or to the common good, which is their primary concern? But if they have taken no counsel about me as an individual, they will at any rate have taken counsel about the common good, and whatever comes about as a consequence of that I am bound to welcome and gladly approve. But if we imagine that they take counsel about nothing at all—which it would be an impiety to believe, or otherwise let us no longer sacrifice to them, or pray to them, or swear by them, or do any other of the things that we do in the belief that the gods are close by and dwelling among us—but if we imagine, I say, that they take no counsel about our affairs, it is still possible for me to take counsel about myself and it is for me to consider where my own benefit lies. And the benefit of every being lies in what accords with its own constitution and nature. Now my nature is that of a rational and sociable being. As Antoninus, my city and fatherland is Rome; as a human being, it is the universe; so what brings benefits to these is the sole good for me."

  13. Meditations 5.8 "As people say, ‘Asclepius has prescribed horse-riding for this person, or cold baths, or walking barefoot,’ so we might also say, ‘universal nature has prescribed sickness for this person, or disability, or loss, or something else of the kind.’ Now in the first case, the expression ‘prescribed’ means something like ‘laid this down for him as appropriate to his health’; and in the latter what ‘fits’ each person has been laid down for him as being in some way appropriate to his destiny. For when we say that these things ‘fit’ us, we are talking like the masons when they say that squared blocks fit in walls or pyramids, because they fit in with one another in a particular structural arrangement. Now there is a single harmony that embraces all things, and just as all bodies combine together to make up this single great body, the universe, so likewise, all individual causes combine together to make up the single great cause known as destiny. And that even wholly uneducated people understand what I am saying here is shown when they say, ‘Fate brought that on him’; for if it was brought on him, this means that it was prescribed for him. So let us accept what fate prescribes as we accept what Asclepius prescribes for us. For there is surely much in these prescriptions that is none too agreeable, but we welcome them in the hope of regaining our health. You should regard the realization and fulfilment of what seems good to universal nature in much the same light as the securing of your health, and so come to welcome whatever comes to us, even if it appears somewhat unpalatable, because it contributes to this great end, the health of the universe and the well-being and well-doing of Zeus. For he would not have brought it on anyone if it were not to the benefit of the whole, any more than any nature you care to mention brings on anything which is against the interest of that which is governed by it. There are thus two reasons why you should be contented with whatever happens to you. Firstly, that it was for you that it came about, and it was prescribed for you and stands in a special relationship to you as something that was woven into your destiny from the beginning and issues from the most venerable of causes, and secondly that, for the power which governs the whole, that which comes to each of us individually contributes to its own well-being and perfection, and, by Zeus, its very continuance. For the perfection of the whole suffers a mutilation if you cut off even the smallest particle from the coherence and continuity of its causes no less than of its parts; and you do this, so far as you can, whenever you are discontented, and, in a certain sense, you destroy it."

  14. Meditations 2.1 " Say to yourself at the start of the day, I shall meet with meddling, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, and unsociable people. They are subject to all these defects because they have no knowledge of good and bad. But I, who have observed the nature of the good, and seen that it is the right; and of the bad, and seen that it is the wrong; and of the wrongdoer himself, and seen that his nature is akin to my own—not because he is of the same blood and seed, but because he shares as I do in mind and thus in a portion of the divine—I, then, can neither be harmed by these people, nor become angry with one who is akin to me, nor can I hate him, for we have come into being to work together, like feet, hands, eyelids, or the two rows of teeth in our upper and lower jaws. To work against one another is therefore contrary to nature; and to be angry with another person and turn away from him is surely to work against him."

  15. Meditations 7.26 "Whenever somebody wrongs you, ask yourself at once, ‘What conception of good and evil led him to commit such a wrong?’ And when you have seen that, you will pity him, and feel neither surprise nor anger. For you yourself still hold the same opinion about what is good as he does, or another not unlike it; and you are thus obliged to forgive him. Or if you no longer suppose that things of that kind are good or bad in themselves, you will find it easier to show kindness to one who is still in the dark."

  16. Meditations 10.4 " If he goes wrong, instruct him in a kindly manner, show him what he failed to see: but if you are unable to, blame only yourself, or not even yourself."

  17. Meditations 11.18 "First, consider how you stand in relation to them, and how we were born to help one another, and, from a different angle, how I was born to preside over them, as the ram over his flock, or the bull over his herd. And then go back to first principles: if all things are not mere atoms, nature must be the power that governs the whole, and if that be so, lower things exist for the sake of the higher, and the higher for one another. Secondly, consider what kind of beings they are, at table, in bed, or elsewhere; above all, what compulsions they are subject to because of their opinions, and what pride they take in these very acts. Thirdly, consider that if they are acting rightly in what they do, there is no reason for you to be annoyed, but if they are acting wrongly, it is plain that they are doing so involuntarily and through ignorance. For as no soul is ever willingly deprived of the truth, so neither is it willingly deprived of the capacity to deal with each person as he deserves. At any rate, people are upset if they hear themselves spoken of as unjust, callous, avaricious, or, in a word, as people who offend against their neighbours. Fourthly, consider that you for your own part also commit many wrongs, and are just the same as they are; and that even if you do refrain from certain kinds of wrongdoing, you have at least the inclination to commit such wrongs, even if cowardice, or concern for your reputation, or some other vice of that kind, saves you from actually committing them. Fifthly, that you cannot even be certain that what they are doing is wrong; for many actions are undertaken for some ulterior purpose, and as a general rule, you must find out a great deal before you can deliver a properly founded judgement on the actions of others. Sixthly, when you are annoyed beyond measure and losing all patience, remember that human life lasts but a moment, and that in a short while we shall all have been laid to rest. Seventhly, that it is not people’s actions that trouble us (for those are a matter for their own ruling centres) but the opinions that we form about those actions. So eliminate your judgement that this or that is of harm to you, make up your mind to discard that opinion, and your anger will be at an end. And how are you to do this? By reflecting that wrong done to you by another is nothing shameful to yourself; for unless action of which one should be ashamed is the only true evil, it would follow that you too must commit many wrongs and become a brigand and one who will stop at nothing. Eighthly, that the anger and distress that we feel at such behaviour bring us more suffering than the very things that give rise to that anger and distress. Ninthly, that kindness is invincible, if it be sincere and not hypocritical or a mere façade. For what can the most insulting of people do to you if you are consistently kind to him, and, when the occasion allows, gently advise him and quietly put him on the proper course at the very time when he is attempting to do you a mischief. ‘No, my son, we were born for something other than this; it is not I who am harmed, it is you, my son, who are causing harm to yourself.’ And show him tactfully, in general terms, that this is so, and that not even bees behave in such a fashion nor any other creature of a gregarious nature. But you must do so in no sarcastic or reproachful spirit, but affectionately and with a heart free from rancour, and not as if you were lecturing him like a schoolmaster, or trying to impress the bystanders, but as one person to another even if others should happen to be present. Remember these nine rules as if you had received them as a gift from the Muses, and begin at last to be a human being, while you still have life in you. And you should be as careful not to flatter people as you are careful not to become angry with them, because both faults are against the common interest and lead to harm. And when you do become angry, be ready to apply this thought, that to fly into a passion is not a sign of manliness, but rather, to be kind and gentle, for in so far as these qualities are more human, they are also more manly; and it is the man who possesses such virtues who has strength, nerve, and fortitude, and not one who is ill-humoured and discontented; for the nearer a man comes in his mind to impassibility, the nearer he comes to strength, and as grief is a mark of weakness, so is anger too, for those who yield to either have been wounded and have surrendered to the enemy. And if you will, accept this tenth gift from Apollo, the leader of the Muses, namely, that it is sheer madness to expect the bad to do no wrong; for that is to wish for the impossible. But to allow that they should do wrong to others, yet demand that they should do no wrong to yourself, is senseless and tyrannical."

  18. Meditations 7.22 "It is a special characteristic of human beings to love even those who stumble. And that sentiment arises as soon as the thought strikes you that these are your relations and do wrong through ignorance and against their will; and that in no time at all both you and the wrongdoer will be dead, and above all, that he has caused you no harm, for he has not caused your ruling centre to become worse than it was before."

  19. Meditations 11.13 "Will someone feel contempt for me? Let him look to that. But I for my part will look to this, that I may not be discovered doing or saying anything that is worthy of contempt. Will someone hate me? Let him look to that. But I will be kind and good-natured to everyone, and ready to show this particular person the nature of his error, not in a critical spirit, nor as if I were making a display of my tolerance, but sincerely and kindheartedly, like the great Phocion (if he really meant what he said). For that is how one should be within one’s heart, to show oneself to the gods as one who is neither disposed to be angry at anything nor to make any complaint. For what harm can come to you if you are presently doing what is appropriate to your nature, and you welcome what is presently appropriate for universal nature, as someone who is supremely anxious that by one means or another the common benefit should be brought to fruition?"

  20. Meditations 7.44 "‘I for my part could justly reply to him, “You are mistaken, my friend, if you suppose that a man who is worth anything at all ought to weigh up his chances of living and dying, rather than looking in every action to this single point, whether what he is doing is just or unjust, and the act of a good man or a bad.”’"

  21. Meditations 8.58 "One who is afraid of death fears either an absence of consciousness or its alteration. But if consciousness is no longer present, you will no longer be conscious of any evil; and if you come to have a somewhat altered consciousness, you will merely be a living creature of another kind, and you will not have ceased to live."

  22. Meditations 9.3 "Do not despise death, but welcome it gladly, for this too is among the things that nature wishes. For as are youth and old age, growth and maturity, the appearance of teeth and whiskers and white hairs, and conception, pregnancy, and childbirth, and all the other natural functions which the seasons of life bring around, so too is our very dissolution. It is the part, then, of one who is trained to reason, not to be casual in his approach to death, and neither to reject it violently nor treat it with disdain, but to await its coming as one of life’s natural functions; and as you now await the time when your unborn child will be delivered from the womb of your wife, so await the hour when your soul will break free of its bodily shell. But if, in addition, you would like an unphilosophical rule which appeals to the heart, nothing will make you more cheerful in the face of death than to consider the things from which you are about to be parted, and the sort of characters with whom your soul will no longer be entangled. For although you should in no way be repelled by them, but rather take care of them and bear with them gently, you should nevertheless bear in mind that death will not part you from people who share the same principles as yourself; for this alone, if anything, could draw you back and detain you in life, that you would be allowed to live with people who had adopted the same principles as yourself. But as things are, you see how utterly wearisome is the discord of the life that you share with them, and you are moved to say, ‘Come quickly, death, or one of these days I too may forget myself.’"

  23. Meditations 9.21 "The ending of an activity, the cessation of an impulse or opinion, and, so to speak, its death, is no evil. Pass now to the various stages of life—childhood, adolescence, the years of one’s prime, and old age. There too each change is a death; is there anything to fear in that? And turn now to the life that you lived under your grandfather, and then under your mother, and then under your [adoptive] father. There again you will find many losses, alterations, and cessations; so ask yourself again: was there anything to fear in that? So, correspondingly, there is nothing to fear in the termination, cessation, and change of your whole life."

  24. Meditations 12.23 "Any particular activity, whatever it may be, which comes to an end at its proper time, suffers no evil because it has come to an end; nor has the person who performed the action suffered any evil merely because his action has come to an end. So correspondingly, the aggregate of all actions that constitute a human life suffers no evil merely because it has come to an end, if it has done so at the proper time, nor is he hard done by who brings this chain of actions to an end at the proper time. That due time and limit is laid down by nature, sometimes by our individual nature, as in old age, but in any event by universal nature, who by the constant changing of her parts keeps the whole universe forever young and in the vigour of its prime. Now what is advantageous to the whole is always entirely good and timely; so it follows that for each individual, the cessation of his life is nothing bad or dishonourable, for it is neither subject to his own choice nor contrary to the common benefit; rather, it is good, because it is timely for the universe, and brings benefit to it as it is benefited by it. For thus he is truly god-borne who is borne along the same path as God and moves in his thoughts towards the same ends."

  25. Meditations 9.3 "Do not despise death, but welcome it gladly, for this too is among the things that nature wishes. For as are youth and old age, growth and maturity, the appearance of teeth and whiskers and white hairs, and conception, pregnancy, and childbirth, and all the other natural functions which the seasons of life bring around, so too is our very dissolution. It is the part, then, of one who is trained to reason, not to be casual in his approach to death, and neither to reject it violently nor treat it with disdain, but to await its coming as one of life’s natural functions; and as you now await the time when your unborn child will be delivered from the womb of your wife, so await the hour when your soul will break free of its bodily shell. But if, in addition, you would like an unphilosophical rule which appeals to the heart, nothing will make you more cheerful in the face of death than to consider the things from which you are about to be parted, and the sort of characters with whom your soul will no longer be entangled. For although you should in no way be repelled by them, but rather take care of them and bear with them gently, you should nevertheless bear in mind that death will not part you from people who share the same principles as yourself; for this alone, if anything, could draw you back and detain you in life, that you would be allowed to live with people who had adopted the same principles as yourself. But as things are, you see how utterly wearisome is the discord of the life that you share with them, and you are moved to say, ‘Come quickly, death, or one of these days I too may forget myself.’"

  26. Meditations 10.29 "As you engage in each particular action, stop and ask yourself this question: is death something terrible because I would be deprived of this?"

  27. Meditations 12.36 "My friend, you have been a citizen of this great city [of the universe]. What difference if you live in it for five years or a hundred? For what is laid down in its laws is equitable for all. Where is the hardship, then, if it is no tyrant or unjust judge who sends you out of the city, but nature who brought you into it? It is just as if the director of a show, after first engaging an actor, were dismissing him from the stage. ‘But I haven’t played all five acts, only three!’ Very well; but in life three can make up a full play. For the one who determines when it is complete is he who once arranged for your composition and now arranges for your dissolution, while you for your part are responsible for neither. So make your departure with a good grace, as he who is releasing you shows a good grace."

  28. Meditations 7.56 "As if you had died and your life had extended only to this present moment, use the surplus that is left to you to live from this time onward according to nature."


I extract insights from historical figures and old books.

Sign up below to get a new post every month.