Quotes That Marcus Aurelius Never Said or Wrote

— By Dr. Sandip Roy.

People who share these fake Marcus Aurelius quotes do not know or realize they are not from him.

And the strange thing is, as Gregory Sadler points out, that even when they read them, they don’t realize that Marcus wouldn’t have said them because these quotes “are at odds with” what he wrote in the Meditations.

11 Quotes Marcus Aurelius Never Said or Wrote

1. “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

It is extremely popular, but Marcus Aurelius did not say or write it anywhere.

2. “Anger cannot be dishonest.”

I’d say what comes close is this:

“Anger in the face is unnatural. † . . . † or in the end is put out for good, so that it can’t be rekindled. Try to conclude its unnaturalness from that. (If even the consciousness of acting badly has gone, why go on living?)” — Meditations, 7.24

Quotes Marcus Aurelius Never Said

3. “When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive — to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”

That ‘morning’ quote is very popular, but no, Marcus did not write it. He said this:

“When you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, remember that your defining characteristic—what defines a human being—is to work with others. Even animals know how to sleep. And it’s the characteristic activity that’s the more natural one—more innate and more satisfying.” — Meditations, 8.12.

4. “The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”

Just no. However, one of his ‘escape’ quotes is this:

“It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.” — Meditations, 7.71.

5. “Each day provides its own gifts.”

Nope, he didn’t say that.

6. “What we do now echoes in eternity.”

Marcus wouldn’t have said, “What we do now echoes in eternity.” Anyone familiar with Marcus’s ideas wouldn’t interpret him as ever saying our actions echo into eternity.

Marcus rather talks about how past actions are eventually forgotten. How past generations have done the same things as us, only to be forgotten. He writes,

“But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all. The emptiness of all those applauding hands.” — Meditations, 4.3


“Anyway, before very long you’ll both be dead—dead and soon forgotten.” — Meditations, 4.6

7. “Death smiles at us, but all a man can do is smile back.”

“Death smiles at us …” is not from Marcus at all. It is a line from a popular movie that had Marcus Aurelius as a character, Gladiator. It was the movie’s hero, Maximus (played by Russell Crowe), who said it to Commodus.

Still, we can learn five Stoic lessons from “Death smiles at us …”.

8. “No man is happy who does not think himself so.”

He did not say that. What Marcus wrote was this,

“But if you won’t keep track of what your own soul’s doing, how can you not be unhappy?” — Meditations, 2.8

Another translation of 2.8 would be: “Those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy”. 

9. “A man’s worth is no greater than his ambitions.”

Marcus made no reference to “ambition” in his statement. He said,

“Surrounded as we are by all of this, we need to practice acceptance. Without disdain. But remembering that our own worth is measured by what we devote our energy to.” — Meditations, 7.3

7.3 can also be read as, “Every man is worth just so much as the things are worth about which he busies himself.”

10. “The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject.”

Nope, again.

But you’d love this ‘thousand’ quote of his:

“Even if you’re going to live three thousand more years, or ten times that, remember: you cannot lose another life than the one you’re living now, or live another one than the one you’re losing. The longest amounts to the same as the shortest. The present is the same for everyone; its loss is the same for everyone; and it should be clear that a brief instant is all that is lost. For you can’t lose either the past or the future; how could you lose what you don’t have?” — Meditations, 2.14

Quotes Marcus Aurelius Never Said - PIN

11. “Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but… will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

What Marcus wrote that resembles the above misquote are these:

Meditations, 6.44. If the gods have made decisions about me and the things that happen to me, then they were good decisions. (It’s hard to picture a god who makes bad ones.) And why would they expend their energies on causing me harm? What good would it do them—or the world, which is their primary concern?
And if they haven’t made decisions about me as an individual, they certainly have about the general welfare.
And anything that follows from that is something I have to welcome and embrace.
And if they make no decisions, about anything—and it’s blasphemous even to think so (because if so, then let’s stop sacrificing, praying, swearing oaths, and doing all the other things we do, believing the whole time that the gods are right here with us)—if they decide nothing about our lives …

Well, I can still make decisions. Can still consider what it’s to my benefit to do. And what benefits anyone is to do what his own nature requires. And mine is rational. Rational and civic.
My city and state are Rome—as Antoninus. But as a human being? The world. So for me, “good” can only mean what’s good for both communities.

Meditations, 8.2. For every action, ask: How does it affect me? Could I change my mind about it? But soon I’ll be dead, and the slate’s empty. So this is the only question: Is it the action of a responsible being, part of society, and subject to the same decrees as God?

Final Words

If you judge someone because they misquoted Marcus Aurelius, then,

“No, no, my friend. That isn’t what we’re here for. It isn’t me who’s harmed by that. It’s you.”

— Meditations, 11.18

√ Also Read: Life & Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius: The Philosopher King

√ Please spread the word if you found this helpful.

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