The two sections today, at first glance, appear to have not much in common. The first is a list of personal failings, and the second is a meditation on time/death with a poetic description of the charge of a philosopher. There is a common thread, however.
To keep the soul in good shape.
Chapter 17 is the broad strokes, the 30,000 foot view of life in the universe, the arising and falling away, the constant eddies of matter immortal. Chapter 16 is the specifics: thinks Marcus reminds himself, and us, to steer away from.
I particularly like the framing of this as “self-inflicted wrongs.” We’re not talking about violating the tenets of a revealed faith, the νόμος of our society, or even the general culture. No, these are rationally discovered, self-inflicted injuries to the proper functioning of the human spirit.
For summary’s sake, here is Marcus’ list:
- To go against the order of the cosmos, and make one’s self a tumor on the world.
- To act against others unjustly, especially in passion.
- To surrender to sense impressions, esp. pleasure/pain.
- To act/speak untruthfully.
- Moral laziness, and actual waywardness.
Number five is interesting, because we often see Marcus admonishing himself to put away his books, or focus on practicalities, etc. He must have seen himself as a distracted or wayward person. I suspect he was too hard on himself, it appears to me from his writing that he simply had the nature of a scholar, rather than a man of action. Yet, he assumed the rule fate assigned him, and did his duty.