Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fabricated Marcus Aurelius Quote

In June last year, I posted a quote that I was led to believe was from Marcus Aurelius Antonius (121-180 CE), after reading Meditations recently, I discovered that quote was no where to be found, and there are no other known writings of Marcus. I must correct my previous mistake.

The quote I posted was this one:
"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but...will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."
The closest thing to that in my copy of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations is this:
"Now departure from the world of men is nothing to fear, if gods exist: because they would not involve you in any harm. If they do not exist, or if they have no care for humankind, then what is life to me in a world devoid of gods, or devoid of providence? But they do exist, and they do care for humankind: and they have put it absolutely in man's power to avoid falling into the true kinds of harm."
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.11
It seems to me like the former quote was fabricated based loosely on the latter, and I have not been able to track down the source of the forgery. Marcus Aurelius was NOT an atheist, the actual quote should show this quite clearly, though much of his philosophy was very practical, and for the most part disinterested in the supernatural.

EDIT: If anyone finds another translation that is closer to the quote I have decided is a fake, I'd like to know about it.


  1. In case you didn't know, many Roman senators were indeed atheists, however, they were not open about it as people would have disdained the fact that they did not share the belief of their ancestors.

    Also, there are numerous translations for Meditations, and not everybody has the same copy. If you know Latin, as I do, you would understand that it is very difficult to find out precisely what is implied in a passage.

    I do not mean to discredit you, as I have not even read the original Latin text of Meditations, but simply offer some relevant facts. Marcus Aurelius, being a stoic, may have indeed believed in a god, however, it is difficult to tell. There are many falsified quotations on the internet and I applaud you bringing attention to this.

    1. The original text of the Meditations is greek. Check Xylander's edition about 1550, and you'll see.

    2. The original text of the Meditations is greek. Check Xylander's edition about 1550, and you'll see.

    3. It is easy to translate Latin many different ways. You'll always get the basic idea but you can emphasize different things.

    4. Now that I think on it I don't know if Marcus Aurelius wrote in Latin or Greek I mean obviously he would write both but I don't know what the meditations were written in.

    5. So it turns out right above me was the answer well nevermind.

  2. I appreciate the feedback. The quote from the translation that I own and the supposed quote are close enough to see that one was derived from the other, but far enough away that I do not think it is possible for them to have been translated from the same text.

  3. I think the former comes from Epicurus. It's been a while, though, I could be wrong.

  4. It is mainly read as a clarification of sorts, that weeds out a much longer winded ideal from the original quote. The idea is that of the question of religion in a cohort of conservatives convinced of reality and the regression from reality and acceptance of a manifest reality the world is headed on.

    As an "atheist" since early childhood (After being disturbed at the unity and apparent lack of personal thought in a Catholic church - a bit of a misconception I think but that's a different discussion) I dedicated myself to the truth and of delayed belief and continual and dynamic theory - and I have always wondered why both reality and scripture spoke the same truth philosophically and yet we as the people in each group could not allow unity under the TRUST and FAITH that these ideals were TRUTH due to the discrepancy of the BELIEF in the God to be logic or fallacy.

    Basically I - we - have let too many irrelevant truths (knowledge) start to disprove instead of support another truth (reality).

    This is something of a realization that brought me much mental peace and may help unify theists and atheists against the filth and corruption we both logically observe.

    Essentially, it states that if you can believe in God, do, if not, do not, but if you approach to world as if he does exist, you will end up in the same place - having lead a good , beautiful, and true life - as both scripture and reality show to be possible and within the abilities of man -regardless of if we see ourselves as Human Beings or Human+Beings.

  5. Thanks for the feedback. It is, after all, how we learn... I do think that whoever did write it is well deserving of getting credit for it. Or what?

  6. as I read this quote today I felt as if someone had taken the words right out of my mouth. My wife and family has heard me status for decades almost exactly as written. It was surreal.

  7. You might also want to reference the 'Atheists Wager'.'s_Wager
    It's a more analytical way of coming to the same conclusion - the best you can do is live a good life, and trust that things will work out

  8. The quote may be derived from the other, but it appears to reverse much of the meaning.

    If I have read it correctly, the original says that he wouldn't fear death if there were no gods because he wouldn't want to live in a world without gods.
    He then goes on to say that gods do exist.

    To use the first quote and attribute it to that author is a travesty.

    Or have I misread it?

    1. That's my reading of it too. It does indeed reverse the meaning.

    2. To me it doesn't reverse the meaning so much as it asks a different question. I'd paraphrase it as:

      Should I fear death? If there are no gods, or unjust gods, then life doesn't matter anyway. If there are just gods, then death is nothing to fear.

      It doesn't actually say anything on the question of "should I live a good life?"