Aurelius Shares Thoughts on Life
by Ryan Norman
If you’re like me and you don't feel like diving into the murkiest depths of intellectual waters, I can solidly recommend Marcus Aurelius’ “A Little Flesh, A Little Breath.” There is no beginning; there is no end. The book can be opened up anywhere, read for a while, and then put it down.
Written back in the 2nd century, these collections consist of Aurelius’ thoughts on life, existence, and how to be a good and moral man. Some of those generalizations are long, a page or two, but most of them are just a few lines. It’s kind of as though Aurelius’ was hanging out at his palace in Rome and he had a Thought. “Pen!” He would yell, “and paper!” He’d extensively written his idea down and put it away to be filed later. Whether he had any great plans for this collection of ideas, we’ll never know. He was an Emperor, of course, and it’s pretty normal for Emperors to want to make themselves look brilliant in history. But, as you read the book, you realize that Marcus’ mind wasn't on history. “Why bother”, he’d say. “It’ll all be the same in a thousand years anyway.”
Death is ever-present in this text. When you start to worry about whether you’re living up to the example set by your ancestors, don’t bother - they’re dead and gone. Are you always concerned with what people will think of you after you die? Why worry about it? You'll be dead. For one thing, whatever you have accomplished will be gone when the last person who remembers you is himself dead.
He is clear in his views on death: it’s part of nature, part of the ceaseless change, which controls everything in this world. We came into this world, built from the atoms and essences of the dead who had gone before us, and one day we will return to that ceaselessly changing sea of nature. “Remember that Man lives only in the present, in this fleeting instant,” he said