That inward mistress part of a man, if it is in its own true natural temper, is towards all worldly chances and events ever so disposed and affected that it will easily turn and apply itself to that which may be. It is within its own power to encompass when that can't be what it was intended to be at first.
For it never does absolutely apply itself fully to any one object, but whatever it is that it now intends and prosecutes, it prosecutes it with exception and reservation. It is what it is that falls contrary to its first intentions, even though it makes its proper object afterwards.
Even as the fire, when it prevails upon those things that are in its way, by which things indeed a little fire would have been quenched, but a great fire soon turns to its own nature, and so consume whatever comes in its way. Yes, by those very things it is made greater and greater.
Let nothing be done rashly, and at random, but all things according to the most exact and perfect rules of the art.
They seek private retiring places for themselves, as country villages, the sea-shore, mountains. Yes, you yourself long after such places. But all this you must know proceeds from simplicity in the highest degree. At what time you wish, it is in your power to retire into yourself, and to be at rest, and free from all businesses.
A man cannot retire anywhere better than to his own soul; especially he who is beforehand provided of such things within, which whenever he does withdraw himself to look in, may presently afford him perfect ease and tranquility. By tranquility I understand a decent orderly disposition and carriage, free from all confusion and tumult.
Then afford yourself this retiring continually, and thereby refresh and renew yourself. Let these precepts be brief and fundamental, which as soon as you call them to mind, may suffice to purge your soul thoroughly, and to send you away well pleased with those things, whatever they are, which now again after this short withdrawing of your soul into herself you then return to.
For what is it that you are offended by? Can it be the wickedness of men, when you call to mind this conclusion, that all reasonable creatures are made for one another? And that it is part of justice to bear with them? And that it is against their wills that they offend?
And how many already, who once likewise prosecuted their enmities, suspected, hated, and fiercely contended, are now long ago stretched out, and reduced to ashes? It is time for you to make an end.
As for those things which among the common chances of the world happen to you as your particular lot and portion, can you be displeased with any of them, when you call that our ordinary dilemma to mind, either a providence, or Democritus his atoms? And with it, whatever we brought to prove that the whole world is as it were one city?
And as for your body, what can you fear, if you consider that your mind and understanding, when once it has recollected itself, and knows its own power, has in this life and breath (whether it runs smoothly and gently, or harshly and rudely), no interest at all, but is altogether indifferent? And whatever else you have heard and assented to concerning either pain or pleasure?
But the care of your honor and reputation might distract you? How can that be, if you look back and consider both how quickly all things that are, are forgotten, and what an immense chaos of eternity was before, and will follow after all things: and the vanity of praise, and the inconstancy and variability of human judgments and opinions, and the narrowness of the place where it is limited and circumscribed?
For the whole earth is but as one point; and of it, this inhabited part of it, is but a very little part; and of this part, how many in number, and what manner of men are they, that will commend you? What remains then, but that you often put in practice this kind of retiring of yourself, to this little part of yourself; and above all things, keep yourself from distraction, and don't intend anything vehemently, but be free and consider all things, as a man whose proper object is Virtue, as a man whose true nature is to be kind and sociable, as a citizen, as a mortal creature.
Among other things to consider and look into you must use to withdraw yourself, let these two be among the most obvious and at hand: one, that the things or objects themselves don't reach to the soul, but stand outside, still and quiet, and that it is from the opinion only which is within that all the tumult and all the trouble proceeds.
The next, that all these things, which you now see, shall within a very little while be changed, and be no more. Ever call to mind how many changes and alterations in the world you yourself have already been an eyewitness of in your time. This world is mere change, and this life, opinion.
If to understand and to be reasonable is normal for all men, then reason, for which we are termed reasonable, is normal for everyone. If reason is general, then reason is also that which prescribes what is to be done and what not, is common to all.
If that is, then it is natural law. If it is law, then we are fellow-citizens. If so, then are we partners in some commonwealth. If so, then the world is as if it were a city. For which other commonwealth is it, that all men can be said to be members of?
From this common city it is that understanding, reason, and law is derived to us, for from where else? For as that which in me is earthly I have from some common earth; and that which is moist from some other element is imparted; as my breath and life has its proper fountain; and that likewise which is dry and fiery in me.
For there is nothing which does not proceed from something; as also there is nothing that can be reduced to mere nothing, so also is there some common beginning from where my understanding has proceeded.
As birth is, so is death. They are secrets of nature's wisdom: a mixture of elements, resolved into the same elements again, a thing which surely no man ought to be ashamed of. In a series of other fatal events and consequences, which a rational creature is subject to, not improper or incongruous, nor contrary to the natural and proper constitution of man himself.
Such and such things, from such and such causes, must of necessity proceed. He who would not have such things to happen is as he who would have the fig-tree grow without any sap or moisture. In sum, remember this, that within a very little while, both you and he shall both be dead, and after a little while more, not so much as your names and memories shall be remaining.
Let opinion be taken away, and no man will think himself wronged. If no man thinks himself wronged, then there is no more any such thing as wrong. That which doesn't make man worse, can't make his life worse, neither can it hurt him either inwardly or outwardly. It was expedient in nature that it should be so, and therefore necessary.
Whatever happens in the world happens justly, and so if you will take heed, you will find it. I say not only is it in the right order by a series of inevitable consequences, but according to justice and, as it were, by way of equal distribution, according to the true worth of everything.
Continue, then, to take notice of it, as you have begun, and whatever you do, don't do it without this proviso, that it is a thing of that nature that a good man (as the word good is properly taken) may do it. Observe this carefully in every action.
Imagine no such things that someone who has wronged you would imagine, or would have you to imagine, but look into the matter itself and see what it truly is.
You must always have these two rules in a readiness: First, do nothing at all except what reason suggests to you, proceeding that from that regal and supreme part shall be for the good and benefit of men.
And secondly, if any man that is present can correct you or to turn you from some erroneous persuasion, that you always be ready to change your mind, and this change to proceed not from any respect of any pleasure or credit depending thereon, but always from some probable apparent ground of justice, or of some public good thereby to be furthered; or from some other such inducement.
Do you have reason? I have. Then why don't you make use of it? For if your reason does its part, what more can you require?
As a part hereto you have had a particular subsistence, and now will you vanish away into the common substance of Him, who first created you, or rather you will be resumed again into that original rational substance, out of which all others have issued, and are propagated. Many small pieces of frankincense are set upon the same altar, one drops first and is consumed, another after; and it comes all to one.
Within ten days, if it happens, you will be esteemed a god by them, who now if you will return to the dogma and to the honoring of reason, will esteem you as no better than a mere brute, and of an ape.
It isn't as though you had thousands of years to live. Death hangs over you. While you still live, while you can, be good.
Now, he gains much time and leisure who is not curious to know what his neighbor has said, or has done, or has attempted, but only what he does himself, that it may be just and holy? Or to express it in Agathos' words, “Not to look about upon the evil conditions of others, but to run on straight in the line, without any loose and extravagant agitation.”
Whoever is greedy for credit and reputation after his death does not consider that they by whom he is remembered shall soon after every one of them be dead; and they likewise that succeed those; until at last all memory, which hereto by the succession of men admiring and soon after dying has had its course will be quite extinct.
But suppose that both they that shall remember you, and your memory with them should be immortal, what is that to you? I will not say to you after you're dead; but even to your living, what is your praise? But only for a secret and politic consideration, which we call economics or dispensation.
For as for that, that it is the gift of nature, whatever is commended in you, what might be objected from there, let that be omitted as unseasonable, now that we are upon another consideration. That which is fair and good, whatever it is, and in what respect it is that it is fair and good, it is so of itself, and terminates in itself, not admitting praise as a part or member.
That which is praised, therefore, is not thereby made either better or worse. This I understand even of those things that are commonly called fair and good, as those which are commended either for the matter itself, or for curious workmanship.
As for that which is truly good, what can it stand in need of more than either justice or truth, or more than either kindness and modesty? Which of all those, either becomes good or fair, because commended? Does being despised cause any damage? does the emerald become worse in itself, or more vile if it be not commended? does gold, or ivory, or purple? Is there anything that does, though never so common, as a knife, a flower, or a tree?
“If it's so that the souls remain after death,” say they that will not believe it, “how is the air from all eternity able to contain them?”
“How is the earth.” say I, “ever from that time able to Contain the bodies of them that are buried?” For as here the change and resolution of dead bodies into another kind of subsistence (whatever it is) makes place for other dead bodies, so the souls after death transferred into the air, after they have conversed there a while, are either by way of transmutation, or transfusion, or conflagration, received again into that original rational substance, from which all others proceed, and so give way to those souls who before were coupled and associated with bodies, now begin to subsist singly.
This, upon a supposition that the souls after death subsist single for a while, may be answered. And here, (besides the number of bodies, so buried and contained by the earth), we may further consider the number of several beasts, eaten by us men, and by other creatures. For notwithstanding that such a multitude of them is daily consumed, and as it were buried in the bodies of the eaters, yet is the same place and body able to contain them, by reason of their conversion, partly into blood, and partly into air and fire.
What in these things is the speculation of truth? To divide things into that which is passive and material; and that which is active and formal.
Not to wander out of the way on every motion and desire; to perform that which is just; and ever to be careful to attain to the true natural apprehension of every fancy that presents itself.
Whatever is expedient to the world is expedient to me; nothing can either be unseasonable to me, or out of date, which to the world is seasonable. Whatever its seasons bear, shall always be esteemed by me as happy fruit, and increase. Oh, Nature! from you are all things, in you all things subsist, and all tend to you. Could he say of Athens, you lovely city of Cecrops8; and will not you say of the world, you lovely city of God?
They will often say "Don't meddle with too many things if you want to live cheerfully." Certainly there is nothing better than for a man to confine himself to necessary actions, to such and so many only, as reason in a creature that knows itself born for society will command and join.
This will not only obtain that cheerfulness which is from goodness, but also that which usually proceeds from a paucity of actions. For since it is so that most of those things which we either speak or do are unnecessary. If a man cuts them off, it must follow that he will thereby gain a lot of leisure, and save much trouble, and therefore at every action a man must privately, by way of admonition, suggest to himself, “What? Now that I go about, May this not be of the number of unnecessary actions?”
Neither must he not only cut off actions, but unnecessary thoughts and imaginations as well, so that unnecessary consequent actions will be better prevented and cut off.
Think also how a good man's life, a life of one who is well pleased with those things whatever, which among the normal changes and chances of this world fall to his own lot and share, and can live well contented and fully satisfied in the justice of his own proper present action, and in the goodness of his disposition for the future will agree with you.
You have had experience of that other kind of life, now try this as well. Don't trouble yourself any more, reduce yourself to perfect simplicity. Does any man offend? It is against himself that he offends. Why should it trouble you? has anything happened to you?
It is well, whatever it is, that which of all the common chances of the world from the very beginning in the series of all other things that have happened or will happen, was destined and appointed to you.
To comprehend it all in a few words, our life is short; we must endeavor to gain the present time with best discretion and justice. Use recreation with sobriety.
Either this world is a cosmos or comely piece, because all are disposed and governed by certain order, or if it is a mixture, though confused, yet still it is a comely piece. For it's possible that in you there should be any beauty at all, and that in the whole world there should be nothing but disorder and confusion? And all things in it too, by natural different properties one from another differentiated and distinguished; and yet all through diffused, and by natural sympathy, one to another united, as they are?
A black or malign disposition, an effeminate disposition; a hard inexorable disposition, a wild inhuman disposition, a sheepish disposition, a childish disposition; a stupid, a false, a scurrilous, a fraudulent, a tyrannical—what then? If he is a stranger in the world that doesn't know the things that are in it, why is he not be a stranger as well that wonders at the things that are done in it?
He who flees from reason is truly a fugitive from society. He who cannot see with the eyes of his understanding is blind. He is poor who needs another, and does not have in himself all of the things needful for this life. He a pimple of the world, who by being discontented with those things that happen to him in the world, as it were abandons the world, and separates himself from common nature's rational administration.
For the same nature it is that brings this to you whatever it is that first brought you into the world. He raises sedition in the city, who by irrational actions withdraws his own soul from that one and common soul of all rational creatures.
There is one who without so much as a coat; and there is one who is without so much as a book, puts philosophy in practice. “I am half naked, neither have I bread to eat, and yet I don't depart from reason,” says one. But I say; I want the food of good teaching, and instructions, and yet I don't depart from reason.
Whatever art and profession you have learned, endeavor to affect it, and comfort yourself in it, and pass the remainder of your life as one who commits himself with his whole heart and whatever belongs to him to the gods. As for men, don't carry yourself either tyrannically or submissively towards any.
Consider in my mind, for example's sake, the times of Vespasian2 you will only see the same things; some marrying, some bringing up children, some sick, some dying, some fighting, some feasting, some selling, some tilling, some flattering, some boasting, some suspecting, some undermining, some wishing to die, some fretting and murmuring at their present state, some wooing, some hoarding, some seeking to be mayor, and some after kingdoms. And isn't their age quite over, and ended?
Again, consider now the times of Trajan2 There likewise you see the very same things, and that age also is now over and ended. In the like manner consider other periods, both of times and of whole nations, and see how many men, after they had with all their might and main intended and prosecuted some one worldly thing or other soon after dropped away, and were resolved into the elements.
But especially you must call to mind them, whom you yourself in your lifetime have known much distracted about silly things, and in the meantime neglecting to do that, and closely and inseparably (as fully satisfied with it) to adhere to it, which their own proper constitution required. And here you must remember that your carriage in every business must be according to the worth and due proportion of it, for so will you not easily be tired out and vexed, if you will not dwell upon small matters longer than is fitting.
Those words which once were common and ordinary have now become obscure and obsolete; and so the names of men once commonly known and famous have now become in a manner obscure and obsolete names. Camillus, Cieso, Volesius, Leonnatus; not long after, Scipio, Cato, then Augustus, then Adrianus, then Antoninus Pius. All these in a short time will be out of date, and, as things of another world as it were, become fabulous.
And this I say of them who once shined as the wonders of their ages, for as for the rest, no sooner are they expired than with them all their fame and memory. And what is it then that shall always be remembered? All is vanity.
What is it that we must bestow our care and diligence on? Even on this only: that our minds and wills be just, that our actions be charitable, that our speech never be deceitful, or that our understanding not be subject to error. That our inclination be always set to embrace whatever shall happen to us, as necessary, as usual, as ordinary, as flowing from such a beginning, and such a fountain from which both you yourself and all things are.
Willingly therefore, and wholly surrender to that fatal concatenation, yielding up yourself to the fates, to be disposed of at their pleasure.
Whatever is now present, and from day to day has its existence; all objects of memories, and the minds and memories themselves, incessantly consider that all things that are, have their being by change and alteration.
Therefore use yourself often to meditate upon this, that the nature of the universe delights in nothing more than in altering those things that are, and in making others like them. So that we may say, that whatever is, is only as it was the seed of that which shall be. For if you think that that there is only seed, which either the earth or the womb receives, you're very simple.
You're now ready to die, and yet you haven't attained that perfect simplicity: you are still subject to many troubles and perturbations; not yet free from all fear and suspicion of external accidents; nor yet either so meekly disposed towards all men, as you should be; or so affected as one, whose only study and only wisdom is to be just in all his actions.
Behold and observe what the state of their rational part is, and those that the world accounts wise, see what things they flee from and are afraid of; and what things they hunt.
Your evil can't live In another man's mind and understanding, nor in any proper temper or distemper of the natural constitution of your body, which is but as it were the coat or cottage of your soul. Where then, can the conceit and apprehension of any misery subsist but in that part of you?
Don't let that part admit any such conceit, and then all is well. Though your body which is so near it should either be cut or burned, or suffer any corruption or putrefaction, yet let that part to which it belongs to judge of these, will be at rest. That is, let her judge this, that whatever it is that equally may happen to a wicked man and to a good man is neither good nor evil.
For that which happens equally to him that lives according to nature, and to him that does not, is neither according to nature, nor against it; and consequentially neither good nor bad.
Always consider and think of the world as being but one living substance, and having but one soul, and how all things in the world are terminated into one sensitive power, and are done by one general motion, as it were, and deliberation of that one soul, and how all things that are, concur in the cause of one another's being, and by what manner of connection and concatenation all things happen.
That better and divine part excepted, what are you but as Epictetus said well—a wretched soul, appointed to carry a carcass up and down?
To suffer change can cause no harm, as it is not beneficial, by change to attain to being. The age and time of the world is as it were a flood and swift current, consisting of the things that are brought to pass in the world. For as soon as anything has appeared, and is passed away, another succeeds, and that also will presently be out of sight.
In the course of nature, whatever happens in the world is as usual and ordinary as a rose in the spring, and fruit in summer. Of the same nature is sickness and death; slander, and lying in wait, and whatever else fools use to cause either joy or sorrow. That, whatever it is that comes after, always does so very naturally, and as it were familiarly, follow upon that which was before.
For you must consider the things of the world, not as a loose independent number, consisting merely of necessary events, but as a discreet connection of things orderly and harmoniously disposed. There is then to be seen in the things of the world, not a bare succession, but an admirable correspondence and affinity.
Never let what Heraclitus10 said leave your mind: that the death of earth is water, and the death of water is air, and the death of air is fire, and so on. Also remember who was ignorant where the way led, and how reason being the thing by which all things in the world are administered, and which men are continually and most inwardly conversant with.
Yet is the thing, which ordinarily they are most in opposition to, and how those things which daily happen among them don't cease to be strange to them daily.
We should not either speak or do anything as men do in their sleep, by opinion and bare imagination, or then we think we speak and do, and that we must not be as children, who follow their father's example; for best reason alleging their bare successive tradition from our forefathers we have received it.
If any of the gods would tell you that you will certainly die tomorrow or the next day, unless you were extremely base and cowardly you would not take it as a great benefit to die the day after tomorrow rather to die the next day. For alas, what is the difference? So, for the same reason, think it no great matter to die rather many years after than the very next day.
Let it be your perpetual meditation about how many physicians who once looked so grim, and so theatrically shrunk their brows upon their patients, are dead and gone themselves. How many astrologers, after that in great ostentation had foretold the death of some others. How many philosophers after so many elaborate tracts and volumes concerning either mortality or immortality.
How many brave captains and commanders, after the death and slaughter of so many. How many kings and tyrants, after they had with such horror and insolence abused their power over men's lives, as though they had themselves been immortal. How many, that I may so speak, whole cities, both men and towns: Helice, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and others innumerable are dead and gone.
Run them over also, whom you yourself, one after another, have known in your time to drop away. Such and such a one took care of such and such a one's burial, and soon after was buried himself. So one, so another. All things in a short time.
For herein lies all indeed, ever to look upon all worldly things as things for their continuance, that are but for a day. For their worth, most vile, and contemptible, as for example, what is man? That which but the other day when he was conceived was vile snot; and within few days shall be either an embalmed carcass, or mere ashes.
Thus must you according to truth and nature, thoroughly consider how man's life is but for a very moment of time, and so depart meekly and contented, even as if a ripe olive falling should praise the ground that bare her, and give thanks to the tree that begat her.
You must be like a promontory of the sea, though against which the waves beat continually it itself stands, and about it are those swelling waves stilled and quieted.
Oh, wretched me, to whom this mischance is happened! No, happy me, to whom this thing being happened, I can continue without grief; neither wounded by that which is present, nor in fear of that which is to come.
For as for this, it might have happened to any man, but any man having such a thing befall him could not have continued without grief. Why then should that rather be an unhappiness, than this a happiness? But however, can you, Oh man, turn that unhappiness, which is no mischance to the nature of man.
Can you think that a mischance to the nature of man, which is not contrary to the end and will of his nature? Then what you have learned is the will of man's nature? Then does that which has happened to you hinder you from being just? Or magnanimous? Or temperate? Or wise? Or circumspect? Or true? Or modest? Or free? Or from anything else of all those things in the present, enjoying and possession of the nature of man (as then enjoying all that is proper to her), is fully satisfied?
Now to conclude; upon all occasion of sorrow, remember from now on to make use of this dogma, that whatever it is that has happened to you is indeed no such thing of itself, as a misfortune; but that to bear it generously, is certainly great happiness.
It is only an ordinary coarse remedy, yet it is a good effective one against the fear of death for a man to consider in his mind the examples of such, who greedily and covetously (as it were) for a long time enjoyed their lives. What have they got more than those whose deaths have been untimely? Are not they themselves dead at the last?
As Cadiciant's, Fabius, Julianus Lepidus, or any other who in their lifetime having buried many, were at last buried themselves. The whole space of any man's life is but little; and as little as it is, with what troubles, with what manner of dispositions, and in the society of how wretched a body must it be passed!
Then let it be to you altogether as a matter of indifference. For if you will look backward; behold, what an infinite chaos of time does present itself to you. As infinite a chaos, if you will look forward. In that which is so infinite, what difference can there be between that which lives but three days, and that which lives three ages?