I’ve a few readers who really enjoy the Marcus Aurelius quotes in my collection. A few initial Aurelius quotations I collected through my general reading online, before I eventually read Meditations (English translations thereof, to be fair) and pulled a bunch more quotes myself.
I’ve just spent a few hours cleaning up my Aurelius quotes. Mostly this was adding the section number from Meditations to my blog posts. It’s now easy to find the original material. Note that Wikisource has several versions of Meditations available online. But at the risk of sounding snobbish, I really like Gregory Hays’s translation which will go out of copyright (maybe) in 2102. I digress.
During my cleanup, I realized that one of my quotes, “Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back.” is not something Aurelius wrote. It’s something the character Marcus Aurelius said in the Movie Gladiator. But it really sounds like him; It’s a great line of dialog for a movie.
It turns out that there are two spots in Meditations which echo the often misattributed quote. In the middle of section 2.17 he writes, “[…] it accepts death in a cheerful spirit, as nothing but the dissolution of the elements from which each living thing is composed.” which is the sentiment without the cinema flourish. It also doesn’t make perfect sense when you pull it out from its context.
Eventually, you reach the final line of section 12.36 and find, “So make your exit with grace — the same grace shown to you.” That’s literally the final line he wrote as a meditation to himself. Can you imagine that being the last line you wrote to yourself? And thus my title.