An image appeared on my Facebook feed one day purporting to be a quotation taken from the Roman emperor and philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. Having read his Meditations more than once in multiple translations, I was baffled because it didn’t look at all familiar or even sound like him. But was it a new translation?
The quote is:
Everything we hear is a opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
It’s a good line, even if a tautology (the statement is itself an opinion), but I can’t find it in any online version of the Meditations or in any of my own print versions. And you can guess it wasn’t his because there is no book or section identified (authentic quotes have sources that identify the exact location in a work).
Using unverified quotations like this only discredits the person who posts them. And drives me crazy trying to discover the actual source.
In the MIT version of the Meditations (George Long translation), the word perspective doesn’t appear even once, although the word opinion appears 67 times. I laboriously went through all 67 instances to make sure it wasn’t simply a different translation, perhaps a nuancing. None match, even closely. I also went through the Casaubon translation which has 74 uses of opinion and none of them match the quote, either.
The word truth appears 31 times (38 in Casaubon and 30 in Hays). Again, none of them match, even vaguely, the second part of the quote.
Aurelius did say, several times that everything is opinion. He has some good epithets about opinion, including:
Socrates used to call the opinions of the many by the name of Lamiae, bugbears to frighten children. (XI: 23)
The universe is transformation: life is opinion. (IV:3)
But nothing matches the second part, even remotely. The word perspective doesn’t even appear in the Long or Casaubon translations, and only once in the Hays version, where he translates what Aurelius wrote as:
If anyone can refute me—show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance. (VI: 21)
It seems the epithet in the image is either a loose paraphrase or someone conflating two unrelated statements from different authors. Unfortunately, not even the Quote Investigator has unravelled this one.
I will comb through my modern translations of the Meditations to be sure, but I’ve pegged this one as another bad internet meme, Please remember most quotation sites are full of errors and mis-attributions. Be smart: verify the source before you share any alleged quotation.
UPDATE Aug. 2022: CheckYourFact.com agrees with me:
…nowhere in this work, or any of Aurelius’s other writings, did the Daily Caller News Foundation find the quote attributed to him in the Facebook post. It appears to be apocryphal.
“That’s a fake quote,” said Donald Robertson, author of “How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius,” in an email to the DCNF.
So does Politifact.com:
Marcus Aurelius’s view wasn’t that there are no facts. Rather, he believed there are facts but that properly understood, none of the facts of the external world should disturb us.
And Wikiquote.org (which shares many authentic quotations from Meditations), notes this phrase is…
Cited as being from The Meditations. This quote does not exist there; although there are several other statements about everything being an opinion, none of these are connected to a sentence about perspectives.
And finally, a blogger wrote about another falsely-attributed quote from Marcus Aurelius on Three Shouts From a Hilltop, saying,
…herein is the problem with not cross checking your sources to see if the person you are quoting, actually said what you’re attributing to them. Even a quick Google search will turn up the fact that the quote is uncertain in origin, and only mistakenly attributed to Marcus Aurelius.