Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, born April 26th in the year 121 AD, was a Roman emperor, Stoic philosopher, and one of history’s greatest leaders. Considered one of the “Five Good Emperors” of the last peaceful period of the Roman empire before its division in 395 AD and subsequent decline, Marcus is now most commonly remembered for his Meditations, a series of notes, thoughts, and journal entries about Stoic philosophy. If you’re looking for the best quotes from Marcus Aurelius about Stoicism and what it means to live a good life, welcome, you’ve found just the right place!
In this organized list, you’ll discover the 10 most popular Marcus Aurelius quotes, based on reader votes from Goodreads. We’ll also share Nik’s favorite lines from the great thinker, a little background on why philosophy is worth studying, and a whole bunch of custom-made images you can use to share your favorite quotes to social media.
You can easily navigate this list by using the below table of contents. Jump to whichever section interests you the most with a single click. If you want to share any quote on this list, simply highlight it, and several sharing options will appear. Alternatively, you can skip to the images section at the end of this list.
Now, let’s dive into the best quotes from Marcus Aurelius, and, in his first of many great lines, remember that “you always own the option of having no opinion.” “Things are not asking to be judged by you,” so take what you find useful, consume what you find inspiring, and ignore the rest!
Table of Contents
The 10 Most Popular Quotes From Marcus Aurelius
Wondering which Marcus Aurelius quotes are the most popular? I did the research for you. Below are the top 10 quotes from everyone’s favorite emperor, ranked based on votes from real readers on Goodreads. The top quote has around 5,200 votes. The last quote in the list still received over 1,600 likes.
Here are Marcus Aurelius’ 10 greatest hits:
1. “You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
2. “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them. Think constantly on the changes of the elements into each other, for such thoughts wash away the dust of earthly life.”
3. “The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”
4. “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
5. “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
6. “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
7. “When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love…”
8. “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
9. “The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.”
10. “Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”
My 34 Favorite Marcus Aurelius Quotes
The hardest part of compiling quotes from someone who lived almost 2,000 years ago is making sure that what you find is what that person actually wrote or said. In Marcus’ case, we thankfully have the Meditations, his premier and only work, a journal of sorts, which consists of 12 volumes and survives to this day. Nearly all quotes we can attribute to Marcus with certainty go back to this text.
With a myriad of translations available from the original Greek, there is no shortage of clever lines from the man who, by all accounts, carried the burden of leadership well. I started reading the book a while ago. While I haven’t finished it in its entirety, I have also read The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday multiple times, and in that book, Ryan constantly quotes from Meditations.
11. “Understand at last that you have something in you more powerful and divine than what causes the bodily passions and pulls you like a mere puppet. What thoughts now occupy my mind? Is it not fear, suspicion, desire, or something like that?”
12. “Don’t return to philosophy as a task-master, but as patients seek out relief in a treatment of sore eyes, or a dressing for a burn, or from an ointment. Regarding it this way, you’ll obey reason without putting it on display and rest easy in its care.”
13. “Think of the life you have lived until now as over and, as a dead man, see what’s left as a bonus and live it according to Nature. Love the hand that fate deals you and play it as your own, for what could be more fitting?”
14. “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks.”
15. “It isn’t manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.”
16. “Wherever a person can live, there one can also live well.”
17. “You shouldn’t give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don’t care at all.”
18. “Keep a list before your mind of those who burned with anger and resentment about something, of even the most renowned for success, misfortune, evil deeds, or any special distinction. Then ask yourself, how did that work out? Smoke and dust, the stuff of simple myth trying to be legend…”
19. “Whenever someone has done wrong by you, immediately consider what notion of good or evil they had in doing it. For when you see that, you’ll feel compassion, instead of astonishment or rage.”
20. “We are like many pellets of incense falling on the same altar. Some collapse sooner, others later, but it makes no difference.”
21. “The mind freed from passions is an impenetrable fortress—a person has no more secure place of refuge for all time.”
22. “Choose not to be harmed, and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed, and you haven’t been.”
23. “Try praying differently, and see what happens: Instead of asking for ‘a way to sleep with her,’ try asking for ‘a way to stop desiring to sleep with her.’ Instead of ‘a way to get rid of him,’ try asking for ‘a way to not crave his demise.’ Instead of ‘a way to not lose my child,’ try asking for ‘a way to lose my fear of it.’”
24. “That cucumber is bitter, so toss it out! There are thorns on the path, then keep away! Enough said. Why ponder the existence of nuisance?”
25. “When you first rise in the morning tell yourself: I will encounter busybodies, ingrates, egomaniacs, liars, the jealous and cranks. They are all stricken with these afflictions because they don’t know the difference between good and evil. Because I have understood the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, I know that these wrong-doers are still akin to me . . . and that none can do me harm, or implicate me in ugliness—nor can I be angry at my relatives or hate them. For we are made for cooperation.”
26. “Dig deep within yourself, for there is a fountain of goodness ever ready to flow if you will keep digging.”
27. “You have been formed of three parts—body, breath, and mind. Of these, the first two are yours insofar as they are only in your care. The third alone is truly yours.”
28. “If anyone can prove and show to me that I think and act in error, I will gladly change it—for I seek the truth, by which no one has ever been harmed. The one who is harmed is the one who abides in deceit and ignorance.”
29. “Kindness is invincible, but only when it’s sincere, with no hypocrisy or faking. For what can even the most malicious person do if you keep showing kindness and, if given the chance, you gently point out where they went wrong—right as they are trying to harm you?”
30. “It is essential for you to remember that the attention you give to any action should be in due proportion to its worth, for then you won’t tire and give up, if you aren’t busying yourself with lesser things beyond what should be allowed.”
31. “Joy for human beings lies in proper human work. And proper human work consists in: acts of kindness to other human beings, disdain for the stirrings of the senses, identifying trustworthy impressions, and contemplating the natural order and all that happens in keeping with it.”
32. “How easily we love ourselves above all others, yet we put more stock in the opinions of others than in our own estimation of self…”
33. “You must build up your life action by action, and be content if each one achieves its goal as far as possible—and no one can keep you from this.”
34. “If you find something very difficult to achieve yourself, don’t imagine it impossible — for anything possible and proper for another person can be achieved as easily by you.”
35. “The universe is change. Life is opinion.”
36. “Don’t be ashamed of needing help. You have a duty to fulfill just like a soldier on the wall of battle. So what if you are injured and can’t climb up without another soldier’s help?”
37. “While it’s true that someone can impede our actions, they can’t impede our intentions and our attitudes, which have the power of being conditional and adaptable. For the mind adapts and converts any obstacle to its action into a means of achieving it. That which is an impediment to action is turned to advance action. The obstacle on the path becomes the way.”
38. “Whatever anyone does or says, for my part I’m bound to the good. In the same way an emerald or gold or purple might always proclaim: ‘whatever anyone does or says, I must be what I am and show my true colors.’”
39. “That which isn’t good for the hive, isn’t good for the bee.”
40. “In your actions, don’t procrastinate. In your conversations, don’t confuse. In your thoughts, don’t wander. In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive. In your life, don’t be all about business.”
41. “When you’ve done well and another has benefited by it, why like a fool do you look for a third thing on top—credit for the good deed or a favor in return?”
42. “Receive without pride, let go without attachment.”
43. “Often injustice lies in what you aren’t doing, not only in what you are doing.”
44. “This is the mark of perfection of character—to spend each day as if it were your last, without frenzy, laziness, or any pretending.”
More Marcus Aurelius Quotes
Want more original quotes from Marcus Aurelius? You could check out our list of the best Stoic quotes, which has some additional ones. The best way, however, by far, is to get a copy of the Meditations*. Here’s a short overview of the book, along with some links to our summary and an affiliate button to buy yourself a copy on Amazon.
“Put an end once for all to this discussion of what a good man should be, and be one.” — Marcus Aurelius
The Book in One Sentence
Meditations* is a collection of 12 books written by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who consistently journaled to remember his education in Stoic philosophy, and whose writings will teach you logic, faith, and self-discipline.
Why should you read it?
Most of us aspire to fame, wealth, power, and success, yet the few of us who actually attain these things often attest to the heavy weight of these things. Groomed to reign from a young age, Marcus was cast into the ultimate leadership role — ruling an empire that included a third of the world’s population at the time — and, unlike most, managed to carry this burden for almost two decades without giving up on morality and virtue. Whether you are aspiring to worldly success and want to maintain your integrity as you climb the ranks, already feel the heaviness of leadership, or are simply looking for daily reminders to persist against the sometimes adverse current of life, this book will help you find peace, clarity, and inspiration.
- True “logic” doesn’t always make sense, but everything happens for a reason.
- Life is too short to complain.
- The only pain you suffer is the pain you create yourself.
If you want to learn more, you can read our free four-minute summary or get a copy for yourself.
The Best Marcus Aurelius Quotes for Sharing on Social Media
Beyond the “highlight and share” feature you can use to post any quote on this page, we’ve also made some custom images for you to easily tap and share. Some are optimized for Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, others follow Instagram’s classic square format or Pinterest’s more vertical layout.
Since Marcus Aurelius was a real person, we mostly stuck to pictures of the many busts and statues made in his honor, most famously the bronze statue depicting Marcus riding his horse, presumably after a great military victory. Happy sharing!
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Who Was Marcus Aurelius?
Marcus Aurelius was born in 121 AD to emperor Hadrian’s nephew, Marcus Annius Verus. The Roman Empire was at its height, totaling over 5 million square kilometers in land mass and nearly 60 million inhabitants, around a third of the world’s population.
Raised by his grandfather and mother after his father died when he was three, the young Marcus enjoyed wrestling and exercise. He also became a decent swordsman and received private tutoring at home. When Marcus was 17, Hadrian’s chosen heir died, and the emperor began planning for Marcus to eventually succeed him.
Marcus was adopted by his uncle, Antoninus Pius, who, in turn, was adopted by Hadrian. 23 years later, Marcus would be named one of only 15 emperors in Roman history, and one of only five “good ones” at that. In-between, he studied Latin, Greek, and philosophy extensively. He also held several political offices to prepare him for the role.
By the time Marcus became emperor in 161 AD, the Roman Empire was under attack from all sides, and Marcus successfully beat back threats from both the East and the West. Unusually, he also named his adoptive brother Lucius Verus co-emperor, a practice he hoped would become ritual and help re-establish the more democratic ruling style described in Plato’s The Republic.
Unfortunately, only five years into Marcus’ reign, what came to be known as “the Antonine Plague” broke out. The biggest pandemic witnessed by the empire, it would kill some five to ten million Romans over the next 15 years, ultimately also bringing Marcus to his deathbed in 180 AD.
Sadly, Marcus’ only surviving son Commodus, who succeeded him as emperor, wasn’t nearly as bent on being a good person as his father, and the decline of the Roman Empire only accelerated from there.
Of course, today, we most remember Marcus Aurelius for his Meditations, his private journal entries never meant to be published. If you want to learn more about Marcus Aurelius the man and his life, that’s a great place to start. Some other good books in this regard are Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday and How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson.
Why Study Philosophy?
When first discovering Marcus Aurelius and Stoic philosophy, you might wonder: Why read someone’s diary from 2,000 years ago? Isn’t philosophy some dusty academic field for nerds and intellectuals?
Actually, philosophy is not about analyzing the thoughts of people who died long ago. It’s about how to live a good life, right here, right now, and anything that can inspire us to do so is fair game — including the private thoughts of someone who hasn’t lived in two millennia.
It’s true that philosophy is an academic field concerned with the true nature of reality, the constituents of knowledge, and matters of existence. It is also, however, any theory that provides us with guiding principles for our behavior. Basically, any worldview that comes with a whole set of “do this, not that” rules can be considered a philosophy. This is the original meaning of the term, and if we consider it as such, it can be extremely useful in helping us live better.
But what kind of philosophy should you study? Whichever feels most helpful and relevant to your current life situation. There is no shortage of “flavors of philosophy.” Besides Stoicism as practiced by Marcus and other ancient Romans and Greeks, there’s Taoism, which goes back to ancient China. Bruce Lee was a practitioner of Eastern philosophy, for example. There are also more recent philosophies, like nihilism, existentialism, and rationalism.
As a beginner, however, the important part is not knowing what lies behind all of these terms. It is picking up some philosophy books, sampling a few life perspectives, and finding one that works for you. That’s where you should start, and that’s where books like Meditations come in.
If they could help an emperor stay humble, lead with courage, and not get overwhelmed by the day’s events, they surely can help you too face the challenges of life. For more insights about Stoicism, the philosophy Marcus espoused, check out The Daily Stoic, Discourses, Letters from a Stoic, A Guide to the Good Life, and The Nicomachean Ethics.
“Finis coronat opus,” as Marcus might have said. “The end crowns the work.” What do you think of our list of the best Marcus Aurelius quotes? Does it deserve a crown? A poop emoji? Are we missing your favorite quote, or do you have a different translation of one of our highlights that you’d like to share? Let us know on Twitter, and we’ll be happy to update this list as we go!
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Last Updated on March 23, 2023