So I'm reading Gregory Hays's translation of Marcus Aurelius's meditations and there's a section I'm fairly stuck on. The full section (book 6, section 57) is:

Honey tastes bitter to a man with jaundice. People with rabies are terrified of water. And a child's idea of beauty is a ball. Why does that upset you? Do you think falsehood is less powerful than bile or a rabid dog?

I'm confused because the first 3 lines are things that can be true for an individual even if they're not true in general, and shouldn't make anyone mad. Because bile and rabid dogs are so powerful, they can locally distort the truth. These people aren't lying. But the question seems rhetorical, suggesting that falsehood is more powerful that physical factors.

I guess I'm overall confused how I should be reading this section or what to make of it.

1 Answer 1


What Marcus Aurelius is saying is this:
Falsehood has the same effect of sickness, or a childish cognition: they all distort the view of the true nature of the world. Thus, the same way one would treat with forgiveness to claims held or behaviors done as a result of sickness or childhood, so one shouldn't lose temper when faced with claims or behaviors that stems from false ideas.

You can consult many other translations linked in the Wikipedia article, and I'll give here two examples to get the idea:

From Internet Archive (credit says: "Produced by J. Boulton, and David Widger", but doesn't mention the translator. publication date is 2008):

To them that are sick of the jaundice, honey seems bitter; and to them that are bitten by a mad dog, the water terrible; and to children, a little ball seems a fine thing. And why then should I be angry? or do I think that error and false opinion is less powerful to make men transgress, than either choler, being immoderate and excessive, to cause the jaundice; or poison, to cause rage?

Another publication, from 1898, translated by Gerald Henry Rendall:

To the jaundiced honey seems bitter; to the hydrophobe water is horrible; to children a ball is a thing of beauty. Then why lose my temper? Think you false opinion takes less effect, then bile in the jaundiced or the virus in hydrophobia?

Also, if you happen to know a Koine Greek translator, here's the original text:

Ἰκτεριῶσι τὸ μέλι πικρὸν φαίνεται καὶ λυσσοδήκτοις τὸ ὕδωρ φοβερὸν καὶ παιδίοις τὸ σφαιρίον καλόν. τί οὖν ὀργίζομαι; ἢ δοκεῖ σοι ἔλασσον ἰσχύειν τὸ διεψευσμένον ἢ τὸ χόλιον τῷ ἰκτεριῶντι καὶ ὁ ἰὸς τῷ λυσσοδήκτῳ;

  • 1
    Thanks! The passage makes sense to me now.
    – nalkpas
    Jan 7, 2020 at 3:24
  • Lovely! consider marking my answer as accepted.
    – HeyJude
    Jan 7, 2020 at 10:24

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