Friday, February 2, 2018

Marcus Aurelius quotes

Two different translations of one of my (and many others') favorite passages from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations (Book 5.20):

From a translation by George Long:
In one respect man is the nearest thing to me, so far as I must do good to men and endure them. But so far as some men make themselves obstacles to my proper acts, man becomes to me one of the things that are indifferent, no less than the sun or wind or a wild beast. Now it is true that these may impede my action, but they are no impediments to my affects and disposition, which have the power of acting conditionally and changing: for the mind converts and changes every hindrance to its activity into an aid; and so that which is a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act; and an obstacle on the road helps us along this road.
From the translation by Gregory Hays:
In a sense, people are our proper occupation. Our job is to do them good and put up with them. 
But when they obstruct our proper tasks, they become irrelevant to us—like sun, wind, animals. 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.

And a complementary passage to the one above occurs later in the Meditations (Book 8.32):

From the Long translation:
It is your duty to order your life well in every single act; and if every act does its duty, as far as is possible, be content; and no one is able to hinder you so that each act shall not do its duty. But something external will stand in the way. Nothing will stand in the way of your acting justly and soberly and considerately. “But perhaps some other active power will be hindered.” Well, but by acquiescing in the hindrance and by being content to transfer your efforts to that which is allowed, another opportunity of action is immediately put before you in place of that which was hindered, and one which will adapt itself to this ordering of which we are speaking.
And from the Hays translation:
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. 
—But there are external obstacles.… 
Not to behaving with justice, self-control, and good sense. 
—Well, but perhaps to some more concrete action. 
But if you accept the obstacle and work with what you’re given, an alternative will present itself—another piece of what you’re trying to assemble. Action by action.