Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful man on earth during most of his twenty-year reign over the vast Roman empire. People held him in deep love and high respect, and for many of them, he was the greatest king ever. History hails him as The Last Good Roman Emperor.
He was also a phenomenal Stoic philosopher. In his lifetime, 121 to 180 CE, he wrote a book, his only book, with the original title To Himself. It later became known as Meditations.
The first 50 quotes here come from the Hammond version. The next 15 come from, which many say is the best, the Hays version.
50 Marcus Aurelius Quotes On Life (Martin Hammond translation)
Here are the timeless quotes by Marcus Aurelius that guide you to live a fearless life:
Remember how long you have been putting this off, how many times you have been given a period of grace by the gods and not used it. It is high time now for you to understand … if you do not use it to clear away your clouds, it will be gone, and you will be gone, and the opportunity will not return.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 2.4
Failure to read what is happening in another’s soul is not easily seen as a cause of unhappiness: but those who fail to attend to the motions of their own soul are necessarily unhappy.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 2.8
You may leave this life at any moment: have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 2.11
No one can lose either the past or the future — how could anyone be deprived of what he does not possess?— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 2.14
Do not waste the remaining part of your life in thoughts about other people, when you are not thinking with reference to some aspect of the common good.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 3.4
…for example, the praise of the many, or power, or wealth, or the enjoyment of pleasure. All these things may seem to suit for a little while, but they can suddenly take control and carry you away. So you, I repeat, must simply and freely choose the better and hold to it.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 3.6.3
No action should be undertaken without aim, or other than in conformity with a principle affirming the art of life.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 4.2
Remove the judgement, and you have removed the thought ‘I am hurt’: remove the thought ‘I am hurt’, and the hurt itself is removed.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 4.7
When someone does you wrong, do not judge things as he to them or would like you to interpret them. Just see them as they are, in plain truth.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 4.11
Many grains of incense on the same altar. One falls to ash first, another later: no difference.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 4.15
No, you do not have thousands of years to live. Urgency is on you. While you live, while you can, become good.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 4.17
Most of what we say and do is unnecessary: remove the superfluity, and you will have more time and less bother. So in every case one should prompt oneself: ‘Is this, or is it not, something necessary?’— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 4.24
Love the art which you have learnt, and take comfort in it.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 4.31
Change: nothing inherently bad in the process, nothing inherently good in the result.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 4.42
Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm, and round it the seething waters are laid to rest.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 4.49
‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.’
At break of day, when you are reluctant to get up, have this thought ready to mind: ‘I am getting up for a man’s work. Do I still then resent it, if I am going out to do what I was born for, the purpose for which I was brought into the world? Or was I created to wrap myself in blankets and keep warm?’ ‘But this is more pleasant.’ Were you then born for pleasure — all for feeling, not for action?— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 5.1
They cannot admire you for intellect. Granted — but there are many other qualities of which you cannot say, ‘but that is not the way I am made’. So display those virtues which are wholly in your own power — integrity, dignity, hard work, self-denial, contentment, frugality, kindness, independence, simplicity, discretion, magnanimity. Do you not see how many virtues you can already display without any excuse of lack of talent or aptitude? And yet you are still content to lag behind.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 5.5
These can impede some activity, yes, but they form no impediments to my impulse or my disposition, because here there is conditional commitment and the power of adaptation. The mind adapts and turns round any obstacle to action to serve its objective: a hindrance to a given work is turned to its furtherance, an obstacle in a given path becomes an advance.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 5.20
Your mind will take on the character of your most frequent thoughts: souls are dyed by thoughts. So dye your own …— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 5.16
To pursue the impossible is madness: and it is impossible for bad men not to act in character.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 5.17
Another does wrong. What is that to me? Let him see to it: he has his own disposition, his own action.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 5.25
‘There was a time when I met luck at every turn.’ But luck is the good fortune you determine for yourself: and good fortune consists in good inclinations of the soul, good impulses, good actions.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 5.37
The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 6.6
If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 6.21
Sober up, recall yourself, shake off sleep once more: realize they were mere dreams that troubled you, and now that you are awake again look on these things as you would have looked on a dream.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 6.31
Whenever you want to cheer yourself, think of the qualities of your fellows — the energy of one, for example, the decency of another, the generosity of a third, some other merit in a fourth. There is nothing so cheering as the stamp of virtues manifest in the character of colleagues — and the greater the collective incidence, the better. So keep them ready to hand.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 6.48
How to understand your own good: the lover of glory takes it to be the reactions of others; the lover of pleasure takes it to be his own passive experience; the intelligent man sees it as his own action.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 6.51
Do not let the future trouble you. You will come to it (if that is what you must) possessed of the same reason that you apply now to the present.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 7.8
Whatever anyone does or says, I must be a good man. It is as if an emerald, or gold or purple, were always saying: ‘Whatever anyone does or says, I must be an emerald and keep my own colour.’— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 7.15
Soon you will have forgotten all things: soon all things will have forgotten you.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 7.21
When someone does you some wrong, you should consider immediately what judgement of good or evil led him to wrong you. When you see this, you will pity him, and not feel surprise or anger.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 7.26
Do not dream of possession of what you do not have: rather reflect on the greatest blessings in what you do have, and on their account remind yourself how much they would have been missed if they were not there.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 7.27
Love only what falls your way and is fated for you. What could suit you more than that?— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 7.57
Dig inside yourself. Inside there is a spring of goodness ready to gush at any moment, if you keep digging.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 7.59
Take care that you never treat the misanthropic as they treat mankind.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 7.65
Perfection of character is this: to live each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, without apathy, without pretence.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 7.69
Not possible to study. But possible to rein in arrogance; possible to triumph over pleasures and pains; possible to rise above mere glory; possible not to be angry with the unfeeling and the ungrateful, and even, yes, to care for them.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 8.8
Whenever you meet someone, ask yourself first this immediate question: ‘What beliefs does this person hold about the good and bad in life?— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 8.14
Man’s joy is to do man’s proper work. And work proper to man is benevolence to his own kind, disdain for the stirrings of the senses, diagnosis of the impressions he can trust, contemplation of universal nature and all things thereby entailed.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 8.26
You must compose your life action by action, and be satisfied if each action achieves its own end as best can be: and no one can prevent you from that achievement.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 8.32
Accept humbly: let go easily.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 8.33
I have no cause to hurt myself: I have never consciously hurt anyone else.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 8.42
A bitter cucumber? Throw it away. Brambles in the path? Go round them. That is all you need, without going on to ask, ‘So why are these things in the world anyway?’— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 8.50
Allow some leisure in your life.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 8.51
Men are born for the sake of each other. So either teach or tolerate.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 8.59
If you can, show them the better way. If you cannot, remember that this is why you have the gift of kindness. The gods too are kind to such people, and in their benevolence even help them achieve some ends — health, wealth, fame.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 9.11
Today I escaped from all bothering circumstances — or rather I threw them out. They were nothing external, but inside me, just my own judgements.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 9.13
You should leave another’s wrong where it lies.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 9.20
All that you see will soon perish; those who witness this perishing will soon perish themselves. Die in extreme old age or die before your time — it will all be the same.— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 9.33
No more roundabout discussion of what makes good man. Be one!— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. 10.16
15 Marcus Aurelius Quotes On Life (Gregory Hays translation)
Here are 15 quotes from the Gregory Hays translation of Meditations:
- You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think. — Meditations. 2.11
- 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
- All of them might seem to be compatible with it—for a while. But suddenly they control us and sweep us away. So make your choice straightforwardly, once and for all, and stick to it. Choose what’s best. Best is what benefits me. As a rational being? Then follow through. Or just as an animal? Then say so and stand your ground without making a show of it. (Just make sure you’ve done your homework first.) — Meditations. 3.6
- Your ability to control your thoughts—treat it with respect. It’s all that protects your mind from false perceptions—false to your nature, and that of all rational beings. — Meditations. 3.9 [Note: This quote is often seen volleyed around as “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.”]
- Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been. — Meditations. 4.7
- Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you. Death overshadows you. While you’re alive and able—be good. — Meditations. 4.17
- Time is a river, a violent current of events, glimpsed once and already carried past us, and another follows and is gone. — Meditations. 4.43
- No one could ever accuse you of being quick-witted. All right, but there are plenty of other things you can’t claim you “haven’t got in you.” Practice the virtues you can show: honesty, gravity, endurance, austerity, resignation, abstinence, patience, sincerity, moderation, seriousness, high-mindedness. Don’t you see how much you have to offer—beyond excuses like “can’t”? And yet you still settle for less. — Meditations. 5.5
- It is crazy to want what is impossible. And impossible for the wicked not to do so. — Meditations. 5.17
- Our actions may be impeded by them, but there can be no impeding our intentions or our dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. — Meditations. 5.20
- If anyone can refute me—show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance. — Meditations. 6.21
- Forget the future. When and if it comes, you’ll have the same resources to draw on—the same logos. — Meditations. 7.8
- No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be good. Like gold or emerald or purple repeating to itself, “No matter what anyone says or does, my task is to be emerald, my color undiminished.” — Meditations. 7.15
- You have to assemble your life yourself—action by action. And be satisfied if each one achieves its goal, as far as it can. No one can keep that from happening. — Meditations. 8.32
- Stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one. — Meditations. 10.16
The Meditations is a collection of spiritual reflections, self-addressed advice, and philosophical exercises. It does not have a clear literary structure, as its author wrote it as a private journal. Nevertheless, it has come to be one of the greatest works of philosophy.
Marcus Aurelius wrote it so he could examine his innermost thoughts and struggles, and guide himself on how to live the best-possible-life. Through his writing, he wanted to understand himself, the universe, and human life.
If a quote says Meditations. 9.33, it means it appears in Book 9, chapter 33. The quotes here appear in the exact order they appear in the book. So, if you pick up another author’s translation, it is easy to navigate to a quote.
We numbered them, so you might share the article asking to check out the, say, the 23rd quote.
While on Stoicism, check out how to stay calm in a chaotic world: The Stoic Guide To Think Clearly & Decide Quickly.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy – a medical doctor, psychology writer, happiness researcher. Founder of Happiness India Project, and chief editor of its blog. He writes popular-science articles on positive psychology and related medical topics.
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