I am reading Meditation by Marcus Aurelius and finding difficulty in understanding this sentence:

When they (agitations of the flesh) make their way into your thoughts, through the sympathetic link between mind and body, don’t try to resist the sensation. The sensation is natural. But don’t let the mind start in with judgments, calling it good or bad.

What does he mean by sympathetic link?

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    – user2953
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 7:04
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    Could you please give a reference, which book, which meditation? Thanks.
    – Jo Wehler
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 8:10
  • @JoWehler here is the link! seinfeld.co/library/meditations.pdf
    – Jin
    Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 8:21
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    @jin: I think Jo Wehler was asking for more specific information, ie which book and which meditation the extract is from; it makes it easier to locate the extract. Given that you've provided a link to the text, then a page number is a useful alternative; generally speaking though, canonical philosophy texts have a standard form in citing them. Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 8:46
  • I interpret it as the connection between stimuli and thoughts and having ones emotions triggered. But I'm really not very well versed in it. Commented Mar 5, 2016 at 14:36

2 Answers 2


You can see Stoic Philosophy of Mind:

The Greek concept of the soul is much broader and more closely connected to basic bodily functions. The soul is first and foremost the principle of life; it is that which animates the body.

The Stoics argued that the soul is a bodily (corporeal) substance. Although the soul is a body, it is best to avoid calling Stoic psychology materialist. The Stoics contrasted soul and matter. For this reason scholars generally prefer to call Stoic psychology corporealist, physicalist, or vitalist.

The idea of sensation as the transmission of sensory information is illustrated in the final two analogies of the soul. [...] The second analogy states that the soul is like a spider in a web. When the web is disturbed by an insect the movement is transmitted through vibrations to the spider sitting at the center. The human soul in a like manner extends through the body like a sensory grid establishing a sensory tension. All perceptual information is transmitted by a tensional motion.

Marcus Aurelius' "sympathetic link" is a mechanism of transmission of this sort which establish the communication between body and soul.

See P.A. Brunt, Studies in Stoicism (2013), page 455:

The old Stoics described man as a compund of soul and body. This duality is accepted by Marcus [...]. He recognizes like Cleanthes that there must be interaction (sympatheia) between mind and body, but warns himself not to let his mind become the servant of the body, mastered by sensations of pleasure or pain in the flesh [footnote: Sympatheia, v.26; iv.39].

For Marcus Aurelius' "background" can be useful to see Epictetus.


The quote is from Book 5, Med. 26 from Aurelius, Marcus: Meditations.

Sympathtic link is the translation of the Greek word "συμπάθεια" (sympatheia = sympathy). The whole sentence shows that Aurelius considers a tight link between soul (= psychae) and body (= soma). Hereby the body can affect the soul. Aurelius characterizes this link as sympathy.

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