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Is the attribution of this quote to Marcus Aurelius correct?

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.

Examples against the attribution: Three shouts on a hill top blog post and Wikiquote

Examples in favour of the attribution: GoodReads and Richard

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Do you have any more information? Where did the quote come from? Why do you believe it was attributed to him in error? Is it attributed to anyone else? – Sam I Am Nov 18 '11 at 21:02
Added more information. I am genuinely puzzled – Sklivvz Nov 18 '11 at 22:39
Didn't a quote very similar to it come from the movie Gladiator? Although, the Wikiquotes site says no instance of this was found prior to 2010, but I just found this one from 2009: Although I know very little of Florida Atlantic University. – Larian LeQuella Nov 19 '11 at 0:46
@matt: I do not think it is the kind of thing he would have said because (a) he was reverential towards the gods and (b) it is doubtful he would have seen merit in living on in the memories of others – Henry Dec 5 '11 at 8:30
@jwenting - Marcus Aurelius was, himself, the Roman emperor at the time. – ChrisW Mar 5 '12 at 4:19
up vote 19 down vote accepted


The main body of writings from Marcus Aurelius is The Meditations.

I read The Meditations very carefully when preparing to write my 2005 book, Marcus Aurelius: The Dialogues (Shepheard-Walwyn). I certainly cannot recall having read this particular quote by Aurelius.

[Mod note: Having answered the question above, the following is speculation by an expert in the field, which may cast more light on the origins of the misquote.]

I did however have MA in my book engage in a fictional debate re the classic question: If evil falls upon the innocent, how can the gods be just? In my book, MA considers each of the standard logical answers to the question:

  1. They are not just;
  2. They are unaware of the evils that befall upon the innocent;
  3. They are aware but powerless to intervene;
  4. The gods don't exist.

BTW: I have MA dismiss each of the above answers.

With all due modesty on my part, I wonder if the above quote may possibly have been triggered by this particular section of my book.

Could I imagine MA making such a quote?

Yes, in part, I could. Certainly, he was doubtful whether the after-life existed but was convinced that whether it did or not was irrelevant to how we should choose to behave in this life.

That said, he disdained the concept of living with the object of achieving honour in the minds of posterity.

Hence, I am dubious he would have said "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".

I believe that MA's key message for himself (and now, as it happened accidentally, for us) was that to achieve peace of mind (the spirit at rest with itself) then we should engage with life in a virtous, charitable and kindly manner: That the peace of mind we thereby earn is sufficient reward in itself; we neither need - nor deserve more.

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Why do you say, "he disdained the concept of living with the object of achieving honour in the minds of posterity"? Isn't that at all contradicted by his opening chapter's being a grateful recitation of thanks, to all his (past) teachers? – ChrisW Mar 5 '12 at 0:23
There's no logical fallacy in disdaining actively seeking out honor from posterity and voluntarily granting honor to the people he learned from. Presumably, his teachers taught because they considered imparting knowledge a virtuous thing to do, not because they wanted to be remembered as teachers after their deaths. – Shadur Feb 8 '14 at 10:26
@Chrisw In other words, live a virtuous life because it's the right thing to do, and if you're fondly remembered for your deeds after your death, that's a bonus. If your sole reason for living a virtuous life is to win acclaim, you're doing it for the wrong reasons -- and it suggests that you would just as easily live an unvirtuous life if you believed that that would win you more acclaim... – Shadur Feb 8 '14 at 10:28
It's pretty clear the quote was not triggered by the above author's book, since the book was published in 2005, and there's at least one confirmed usage of it in its entirety and attributed to MA from February 2004. – CXJ Feb 27 at 19:39

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