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The Diary of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius - Meditations to Himself--Excerpts and links to full text








Marcus Aurelius, showing his famously gentle expression.



Statue of Marcus Aurelius.



A statue of Marcus Aurelius .



Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, Marcus Aurelius's adoptive parents.



Bust of Antoninus Pius, Marcus Aurelius's adoptive father, and the Emperor before him.  Click on the image to visit a listing of Emperors with images of each and some basic facts about their rule.



Antonina’s Column in Rome's 'Piazza Colonna' commemorates Marcus Aurelius's wars against the northern tribes.



A close-up of the 'Colonna Antonina'.



The whole 'Colonna Antonina'.



A bust of Commodus, Marcus Aurelius's son, and the head of a statue he had made of himself as a Greek God, of whom he fancied himself to be the reincarnation.  He was insane with vainglory and self-indulgence.



Click on the above logo to link to a site about the Catacombs of Rome, to prepare for a visit, or to read about the history of the persecution of the Early Christians under Roman rule.



Click on the above logo to go to an online copy of the 'Meditations'.  It is a different translation than quoted on this page. 



Click on the above text to go to yet another translation and online copy of the 'Meditations'.



Click on the above text to go to another online copy of the same translation as the previous one.



A bust of Marcus Aurelius.



Click on the text above to read about the five good emperors, of which Marcus Aurelius was the last.



Click on the logo above to visit a list of all Roman Emperors, linking through to biographies of each. 


Free e-book versions are available from Project Gutenberg, the grand-daddy of all free e-book websites.


Direct link to the free e-books




The Roman Empire After Marcus Aurelius

Limitations of Self-reflection for Improvement

The Meditations

Books by or About Marcus Aurelius

Excerpts from the Meditations




Marcus Aurelius is the fifth of the so-called “five good emperors” that preceded the decline of the Roman Empire.  He was hand picked, carefully educated, and trained for his position.  He studied at the right hand of his predecessor, Antoninus Pius, a follower of the Stoicists, a philosophical group that advocated moderation and self-control.  The Stoicists believed in much that the Christians believed, but without the rejection of the multi-god beliefs.  So it is no surprise that Marcus Aurelius knew how to perform his job and carried out his duties with diligence, which he did from 161 to 180 A.D.


He was a man who was blessed, or cursed, depending on your point of view, with a self-reflective nature.  And like self-reflective people, he strove to become a better person.  He recorded his self-reflective journey on paper in his personal diary, his Meditations, which were published after his death with the title To Himself, an ironic title considering they were written for him alone and yet published for all the world to read.


While sometimes called a treatise on the stoic life, the writings of Marcus Aurelius are more a diary of his reflections while on campaigns to defend fringes of the Roman Empire from invasion by enemy hordes.  Marcus Aurelius was, unique for a reflective person, also a man of action when necessary, successfully defending the Empire during his years as Emperor from 161 to 180 A.D. from revolts in the East and enemy tribes in the North. 


He is also credited with instituting other important reforms in the Empire. 

  • Laws introduced to protect the weak from exploitation by the strong and wealthy

  • Laws to protect slaves from abuse

  • Laws to provide for families who lost their breadwinner

  • Foundation of charitable institutions to help care for and educate poor children

  • Greater protection for the outlying provinces against oppression

  • Public assistance to cities or districts struck by disasters


The Roman Empire After Marcus Aurelius


Marcus Aurelius and his wife, Faustina, who was also his first cousin, had seven children all of delicate health.  Only one grew to adulthood, and he was weak not only of health but of morality.  It is difficult to say whether the stories of Faustina’s infidelities are true, because it is a common slander in patriarchal societies, but Commodus was so unlike his father, that it led credence to the rumors.


Marcus's son was wholly unsuited to be Emperor.  Alongside his ridiculously excessive vices, both sexual and in corruption of civic life, Commodus failed to defend the Empire from attack.  He accommodated Rome’s enemies, buying them off, thus encouraging more to try their hand at attacking and blackmailing the vast empire. 


Instead of dissuading theft-by-war with deadly resistance, he encouraged it by making the only risk being not getting a high enough price to pay off one’s allies.  Since the gains far outweighed the risks, the attacks continued, damaging the security of the empire, cutting off valuable trade routes, and disrupting the time sensitive plantings and reaping of food needed to feed the empire. 


Commodus, who was killed by his own servants for the good of the empire and to save their own lives from the fickle sadist, was followed by other vice-filled weak leaders leading to the decline of the military, thus leaving the Empire open to piecemeal attacks and annexations from all sides.



The Limitations of Self-reflection for Self-improvement


Other self-reflective people have found inspiration in Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations.  They should, however, also look at the book for a better understanding of the limitations of self-reflection as a tool for self-improvement. 


If the person wishing to become a better person is closed off to external ideas and looks only within or to those within their trusted circle, the ideas they consider for self-criticism and self-improvement can be too limited to make them a truly good person.


This was the case with Marcus Aurelius.  He accepted the ideas of the superstitious peoples of his time.  He condoned, and at times more than condoned, the persecution of the minority Christians in the superstitious hope of bettering the lives of the majority pagan citizens. 


Like all superstitious peoples, the majority liked to blame all misfortune on others, rather than just accept that misfortunes happen sometimes for no reason whatsoever.  The idea of a chaotic and at times deadly universe was too frightening to consider.  And the idea that these misfortunes were the result of failed leadership was something the authorities did not want to encourage.


The majority looked to what was different around them for the reasons for their suffering, or for the excuse.  What was very obviously different in those first centuries after Christ’s death, was the growth of the one-God Christian faith that disapproved of the institutionally sadistic society around them.  This radical shift from the multi-god religions and pantheism was “blasphemy” of the most basic kind.


The majority’s pagan religion offered lots of gods to be bribed to look after all aspects of their lives.  So when they wanted to control the chaos, they knew where to turn and what to do.  Sacrifices of money, food, and life, not their own, were the currency of security. 


If the payment didn’t work, they never wasted time wondering if they were wrong, they just concluded they hadn’t paid a high enough price.  So they upped the amount paid, until it did work, which meant more Christians had to die. 


During this period in Rome’s history, there were many natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, pestilence, and starvation.  There were also enemy invasions and revolts by allies.  With each event, the payments to the gods were increased, until thousands of Christians were being killed in attempts to appease the voracious gods. 


Marcus Aurelius’s complicity with this mass-murder shows that self-reflection without enlightened thought can get a person only so far.  It would take the Enlightenment and it’s descendent, Liberal Humanism, to bring humanity to a higher moral level. 



The Meditations


While, to me, much of the Meditations reads as a drunken or drug induced rant by a tired and life-weary man, they have their moments of interest.  An interesting note:  they were written in Greek, the language of the educated at the time.  Only much later did Latin take up that role, usurped eventually by English, as attested to by the scientific and academic journal preference for English.


Some points, key to the Stoic Philosophy, are repeated throughout the twelve Books that make up the Meditations.

  • Reason must rule the body; logic must be used to determine the truth, by first collecting differing ideas and then testing them against the facts to see which hold firm, and re-evaluating them as new facts become available.

  • Live according to nature, which means accepting that we are all a part of God’s universe with a bit of God in all of us, called our soul, and we must try to behave as God-like as possible to honor our soul and God, and the most God-like behavior is to work for the common good.

  • It is in your own power to maintain the beauty of your soul, or to be a decent human being; the ethics of our lives, how we put to use the truths we determine, define who we are and we are in control of our choices and behavior; the highest good is a virtuous life and that can be achieved by living in moderation.

  • Death can come at any moment so be prepared for it; this is a common sentiment in those faraway times (and sadly for many still today) with poor healthcare, irregular diets, poor storage and preservation of food, and frequent violence; Marcus Aurelius certainly thought of it more than others because he suffered poor health all his life, dying at the age of 59 from a long and painful illness.

  • Use self-reflection to purify your soul and find truth and right; review each day your actions and reactions to others and ask yourself if you behaved as you should, then resolve to improve your behavior the next day; also keep good thoughts, as thoughts predetermine our actions.

  • Fame is fleeting so one should not seek it, and if one has it, don’t court it or indulge in it, or place too high a value on it, because it has so little real value in the big scheme of things; as Emperor, one can imagine his position gained him many wannabe sycophants, and it seems clear that Marcus Aurelius shunned them; he is famous for appointing worthy advisers and military and civic leaders.


Books by or About Marcus Aurelius


My list of books by or about Marcus Aurelius available at


To broaden your search to the era or contemporaries, you can use this Search tool for  

Just enter 'Books' in the 'Search' field, and names or words in the 'Keyword' field (for example 'Antoninus Pius' or 'Commodus').  Then click on the 'Go' button to see what's available, what people's comments about the books are, and what they cost.

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Excerpts from the Meditations


Here are some passages from the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, that I found interesting, that I thought you might enjoy.


Book One, VIII:  how much envy and fraud and hypocrisy the state of a tyrannous king is subject unto, and how they who are commonly called nobly born, are in some sort incapable, or void of natural affection.


Book Two, II:  Let it be thy earnest and incessant care as a Roman and a man to perform whatsoever it is that thou art about, with true and unfeigned gravity, natural affection, freedom and justice… Which thou shalt do; if thou shalt go about every action as thy last action, free from all vanity, all passionate and wilful aberration from reason, and from all hypocrisy, and self-love…those things, which for a man to hold on in a prosperous course, and to live a divine life, are requisite and necessary, are not many…


Book Two, IV:  …Give thyself leisure to learn some good thing, and cease roving and wandering to and fro…


Book Two, V:  …whosoever they be that intend not, and guide not by reason and discretion the motions of their own souls, they must of necessity be unhappy.


Book Two, VII:  …those sins are greater which are committed through lust, than those which are committed through anger. For he that is angry seems with a kind of grief and close contraction of himself, to turn away from reason; but he that sins through lust, being overcome by pleasure, doth in his very sin betray a more impotent, and unmanlike disposition…


Book Two, VIII:  Whatsoever thou dost affect, whatsoever thou dost project, so do, and so project all, as one who, for aught thou knowest, may at this very present depart out of this life…and as for those things which be truly evil, as vice and. wickedness, such things they have put in a man’s own power, that he might avoid them if he would…


Book Two, XI:  …There is nothing more wretched than that soul, which in a kind of circuit compasseth all things, searching (as he saith) even the very depths of the earth; and by all signs and conjectures prying into the very thoughts of other men's souls; and yet of this, is not sensible, that it is sufficient for a man to apply himself wholly, and to confine all his thoughts and cares to the tendance of that spirit which is within him, and truly and really to serve him. His service doth consist in this, that a man keep himself pure from all violent passion and evil affection, from all rashness and vanity, and from all manner of discontent…


Book Two, XV:  The time of a man's life is as a point; the substance of it ever flowing, the sense obscure; and the whole composition of the body tending to corruption. His soul is restless, fortune uncertain, and fame doubtful; to be brief, as a stream so are all things belonging to the body; as a dream, or as a smoke, so are all that belong unto the soul.  Our life is a warfare, and a mere pilgrimage. Fame after life is no better than oblivion.  What is it then that will adhere and follow?  Only one thing, philosophy. And philosophy doth consist in this, for a man to preserve that spirit which is within him, from all manner of contumelies and injuries, and above all pains or pleasures; never to do anything either rashly, or feignedly, or hypocritically: wholly to depend from himself and his own proper actions: all things that happen unto him to embrace contentedly, as coming from Him from whom he himself also came; and above all things, with all meekness and a calm cheerfulness, to expect death, as being nothing else but the resolution of those elements, of which every creature is composed…


Book Three, IV:  …think only of such things, of which if a man upon a sudden should ask thee, what it is that thou art now thinking, thou mayest answer This, and That, freely and boldly, that so by thy thoughts it may presently appear that in all thee is sincere, and peaceable; as becometh one that is made for society, and regards not pleasures, nor gives way to any voluptuous imaginations at all: free from all contentiousness, envy, and suspicion, and from whatsoever else thou wouldest blush to confess thy thoughts were set upon…


Book Three, VIII:  Never esteem of anything as profitable, which shall ever constrain thee either to break thy faith, or to lose thy modesty; to hate any man, to suspect, to curse, to dissemble, to lust after anything, that requireth the secret of walls or veils…


Book Three, X:  …The time therefore that any man doth live, is but a little, and the place where he liveth, is but a very little corner of the earth, and the greatest fame that can remain of a man after his death, even that is but little, and that too, such as it is whilst it is, is by the succession of silly mortal men preserved, who likewise shall shortly die, and even whiles they live know not what in very deed they themselves are: and much less can know one, who long before is dead and gone.


Book Four, III:  …A man cannot any whither retire better than to his own soul; he especially who is beforehand provided of such things within, which whensoever he doth withdraw himself to look in, may presently afford unto him perfect ease and tranquillity.  By tranquillity I understand a decent orderly disposition and carriage, free from all confusion and tumultuousness.  Afford then thyself this retiring continually, and thereby refresh and renew thyself…


Book Four, X:  …if any man that is present shall be able to rectify thee or to turn thee from some erroneous persuasion, that thou be always ready to change thy mind, and this change to proceed, not from any respect of any pleasure or credit thereon depending, but always from some probable apparent ground of justice, or of some public good thereby to be furthered; or from some other such inducement.


Book Four, XX:  …For since it is so, that most of those things, which we either speak or do, are unnecessary; if a man shall cut them off, it must needs follow that he shall thereby gain much leisure, and save much trouble, and therefore at every action a man must privately by way of admonition suggest unto himself, What? may not this that now I go about, be of the number of unnecessary actions?…


Book Four, XXI:  …To comprehend all in a few words, our life is short; we must endeavour to gain the present time with best discretion and justice.  Use recreation with sobriety.


Book Four, XXIV:  He is a true fugitive, that flies from reason, by which men are sociable.  He blind, who cannot see with the eyes of his understanding.  He poor, that stands in need of another, and hath not in himself all things needful for this life…


Book Four, XXVII:  …thy carriage in every business must be according to the worth and due proportion of it, for so shalt thou not easily be tired out and vexed, if thou shalt not dwell upon small matters longer than is fitting.


Book Four, XXVIII:  …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 upon? even upon this only: that our minds and wills be just; that our actions be charitable; that our speech be never deceitful, or that our understanding be not subject to error…


Book Four, XL:  Thou must be like a promontory of the sea, against which though the waves beat continually, yet it both itself stands, and about it are those swelling waves stilled and quieted.


Book Five, III:  …If it be right and honest to be spoken or done, undervalue not thyself so much, as to be discouraged from it…


Book Six, XIV:  Some things hasten to be, and others to he no more.  And even whatsoever now is, some part thereof bath already perished.  Perpetual fluxes and alterations renew the world, as the perpetual course of time doth make the age of the world (of itself infinite) to appear always fresh and new…


Book Six, XX:  If anybody shall reprove me, and shall make it apparent unto me, that in any either opinion or action of mine I do err, I will most gladly retract.  For it is the truth that I seek after, by which I am sure that never any man was hurt; and as sure, that he is hurt that continueth in any error, or ignorance whatsoever.


Book Six, XXVI:  Death is a cessation from the impression of the senses, the tyranny of the passions, the errors of the mind, and the servitude of the body.


Book Six, XXVII:  If in this kind of life thy body be able to hold out, it is a shame that thy soul should faint first, and give over, take heed, lest of a philosopher thou become a mere Caesar in time, and receive a new tincture from the court.  For it may happen if thou dost not take heed.  Keep thyself therefore, truly simple, good, sincere, grave, free from all ostentation, a lover of that which is just, religious, kind, tender-hearted, strong and vigorous to undergo anything that becomes thee…


Book Six, XXVIII:  (Editor: an ode to his predecessor and adoptive father.)  Do all things as becometh the disciple of Antoninus Pius.  Remember his resolute constancy in things that were done by him according to reason, his equability in all things, his sanctity; the cheerfulness of his countenance, his sweetness, and how free he was from all vainglory; how careful to come to the true and exact knowledge of matters in hand, and how he would by no means give over till he did fully, and plainly understand the whole state of the business; and how patiently, and without any contestation he would bear with them, that did unjustly condemn him: how he would never be over-hasty in anything, nor give ear to slanders and false accusations, but examine and observe with best diligence the several actions and dispositions of men.  Again, how he was no backbiter, nor easily frightened, nor suspicious, and in his language free from all affectation and curiosity: and how easily he would content himself with few things, as lodging, bedding, clothing, and ordinary nourishment, and attendance.  How able to endure labour, how patient; able through his spare diet to continue from morning to evening without any necessity of withdrawing before his accustomed hours to the necessities of nature: his uniformity and constancy in matter of friendship.  How he would bear with them that with all boldness and liberty opposed his opinions; and even rejoice if any man could better advise him: and lastly, how religious he was without superstition.  All these things of him remember, that whensoever thy last hour shall come upon thee, it may find thee, as it did him, ready for it in the possession of a good conscience.


Book Six, XLVIII:  Use thyself when any man speaks unto thee, so to hearken unto him, as that in the interim thou give not way to any other thoughts; that so thou mayst (as far as is possible) seem fixed and fastened to his very soul, whosoever he be that speaks unto thee.


Book Six, XLIX:  That which is not good for the bee-hive, cannot be good for the bee.


Book Seven, XV:  Is any man so foolish as to fear change, to which all things that once were not owe their being?…


Book Seven, XXXIII:  The art of true living in this world is more like a wrestler's, than a dancer's practice.  For in this they both agree, to teach a man whatsoever falls upon him, that he may be ready for it, and that nothing may cast him down.


Book Seven, XXXVIII:  For it is a thing very possible, that a man should be a very divine man, and yet be altogether unknown.  This thou must ever be mindful of, as of this also, that a man's true happiness doth consist in very few things…


Book Seven, XL:  Then hath a man attained to the estate of perfection in his life and conversation, when he so spends every day, as if it were his last day:  never hot and vehement in his affections, nor yet so cold and stupid as one that had no sense; and free from all manner of dissimulation.


Book Eight, II:  Upon every action that thou art about, put this question to thyself; How will this when it is done agree with me? Shall I have no occasion to repent of it?…


Book Eight, VIII:  Forbear henceforth to complain of the trouble of a courtly life, either in public before others, or in private by thyself.


Book Eight, XIII:  At thy first encounter with any one, say presently to thyself: This man, what are his opinions concerning that which is good or evil? as concerning pain, pleasure, and the causes of both; concerning honour, and dishonour, concerning life and death? thus and thus.  Now if it be no wonder that a man should have such and such opinions, how can it be a wonder that he should do such and such things?…


Book Eight, XIV:  Remember, that to change thy mind upon occasion, and to follow him that is able to rectify thee, is equally ingenuous, as to find out at the first, what is right and just, without help.  For of thee nothing is required, that is beyond the extent of thine own deliberation and judgment, and of thine own understanding.


Book Eight, XXVIII:  Whether thou speak in the Senate or whether thou speak to any particular, let thy speech In always grave and modest….


Book Eight, XLIX:  Not to be slack and negligent; or loose, and wanton in thy actions; nor contentious, and troublesome in thy conversation; nor to rove and wander in thy fancies and imaginations.  Not basely to contract thy soul; nor boisterously to sally out with it, or furiously to launch out as it were, nor ever to want employment.


Book Eight, LI:  He that knoweth not what the world is, knoweth not where he himself is.


Book Eight, LVI:  All men are made one for another: either then teach them better, or bear with them.


Book Eight, LVII:  The motion of the mind is not as the motion of a dart.  For the mind when it is wary and cautelous, and by way of diligent circumspection turneth herself many ways, may then as well be said to go straight on to the object, as when it useth no such circumspection.


Book Nine, I:  He that is unjust, is also impious.  For the nature of the universe, having made all reasonable creatures one for another, to the end that they should do one another good; more or less according to the several persons and occasions but in nowise hurt one another:  it is manifest that he that doth transgress against this her will, is guilty of impiety towards the most ancient and venerable of all the deities…


Book Nine, II:  It were indeed more happy and comfortable, for a man to depart out of this world, having lived all his life long clear from all falsehood, dissimulation, voluptuousness, and pride.  But if this cannot be, yet it is some comfort for a man joyfully to depart as weary, and out of love with those; rather than to desire to live, and to continue long in those wicked courses…


Book Nine, IX:  Either teach them better if it be in thy power; or if it be not, remember that for this use, to bear with them patiently, was mildness and goodness granted unto thee…


Book Nine, XIV:  As virtue and wickedness consist not in passion, but in action; so neither doth the true good or evil of a reasonable charitable man consist in passion, but in operation and action.


Book Nine, XVI:  Sift their minds and understandings, and behold what men they be, whom thou dost stand in fear of what they shall judge of thee, what they themselves judge of themselves.


Book Nine, XVIII:  It is not thine, but another man's sin.  Why should it trouble thee?  Let him look to it, whose sin it is.


Book Nine, XXV:  When any shall either impeach thee with false accusations, or hatefully reproach thee, or shall use any such carriage towards thee, get thee presently to their minds and understandings, and look in them, and behold what manner of men they be…


Book Nine, XXVI:  Up and down, from one age to another, go the ordinary things of the world; being still the same…


Book Nine, XXVIII:  And these your professed politicians, the only true practical philosophers of the world, (as they think of themselves) so full of affected gravity, or such professed lovers of virtue and honesty, what wretches be they in very deed; how vile and contemptible in themselves?…


Book Nine, XXXV:  Will this querulousness, this murmuring, this complaining and dissembling never be at an end?…


Book Nine, XLIII:  When at any time thou art offended with any one's impudency, put presently this question to thyself:  'What?  Is it then possible, that there should not be any impudent men in the world! Certainly it is not possible.'…


Book Ten, IX:  Toys and fooleries at home, wars abroad:  sometimes terror, sometimes torpor, or stupid sloth: this is thy daily slavery…


Book Ten, XVII:  So live as indifferent to the world and all worldly objects, as one who liveth by himself alone upon some desert hill…


Book Eleven, III:  That soul which is ever ready, even now presently (if need be) from the body, whether by way of extinction, or dispersion, or continuation in another place and estate to be separated, how blessed and happy is it!…


Book Eleven, XIV:  How rotten and insincere is he, that saith, I am resolved to carry myself hereafter towards you with all ingenuity and simplicity.  O man, what doest thou mean! what needs this profession of thine?  The thing itself will show it.  It ought to be written upon thy forehead.  No sooner thy voice is heard, than thy countenance must be able to show what is in thy mind:  even as he that is loved knows presently by the looks of his sweetheart what is in her mind…


Book Eleven, XXI:  Socrates was wont to call the common conceits and opinions of men, the common bugbears of the world:  the proper terror of silly children.


Book Twelve, II:  God beholds our minds and understandings, bare and naked from these material vessels, and outsides, and all earthly dross…


Book Twelve, III:  I have often wondered how it should come to pass, that every man loving himself best, should more regard other men's opinions concerning himself than his own…


Book Twelve, X:  How ridiculous and strange is he, that wonders at anything that happens in this life in the ordinary course of nature!


Book Twelve, XIII:  If it be not fitting, do it not.  If it be not true, speak it not.  Ever maintain thine own purpose and resolution free from all compulsion and necessity.


Book Twelve, XXV:  What a small portion of vast and infinite eternity it is, that is allowed unto every one of us, and how soon it vanisheth into the general age of the world:  of the common substance, and of the common soul also what a small portion is allotted unto us:  and in what a little clod of the whole earth (as it were) it is that thou doest crawl.  After thou shalt rightly have considered these things with thyself; fancy not anything else in the world any more to be of any weight and moment but this, to do that only which thine own nature doth require; and to conform thyself to that which the common nature doth afford.


References:  Various including those referenced on this page, and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, Penguin Popular Classics edition, and the Project Gutenberg free text file with the same translation.



Also see my pages:

Life in Ancient Rome

Ancient Roman History