Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, the Twitter bot

This is the only important paragraph, so it is the first.

.@MeditationsOfMA is a Twitter bot I made that randomly tweets out short segments of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus’ personal thoughts and writings now known as the Meditations. I hope you like it.

Background: Philosophy & History.

Although it has become known in the modern era as one of the defining works of Stoicism due to its simple structure and understandable concepts, I still feel as if Meditations remains somewhat misunderstood. For example, the Meditations were not written to be read by any person other than Aurelius. The writings aren’t meant as a treatise or breakthrough work- or even as a journal, since few personal events are referenced. Instead, it was a self-help book or spiritual exercise manual, meant to encourage Aurelius and help him think about things according to what he thought was best- according to the logos.

And not to think of philosophy as your instructor, but as the sponge and egg white that relieve opthalmia- as a soothing ointment, a warm lotion.

The Meditations were written during the last decade of Aurelius’ life, probably to encourage him as he dealt with military campaigns, the continued development of his son, Commodus; and the issues of the empire at large.

One of the major themes of the Meditations is the concept of the logos- the idea that the world had a natural order or pattern, and everything good followed this pattern. For Stoics, man’s natural order was to follow natural patterns, accept your fate (or death), and cooperate with your fellow man and contribute to a civil society.

Aurelius didn’t even consider himself a good practitioner of philosophy or Stoicism, but philosophy had a different meaning to the Romans than it does today. Philosophy certainly had an academic aspect, but many of its practitioners and students would fall under what we would call “applied philosophy”- think more rules for living than something to studied. Perhaps its immediacy in application is what makes it accessible as not only a work of philosophy but also as a kind of self-help literature.

Background: Personal & Development.

Obviously, I enjoy the Meditations, or I wouldn’t be compelled to sit down for so long and chop the text into Twitter-sized pieces. This is not to say I would recommend it to everyone, or that I agree with the Stoics on the whole. Far from that. However, its plain style struck a chord with me as I read it this last school year, and I did fall in love with it for a time.

I’ve also always wanted to make a Twitter bot. There are some really great ones out there- @archillect being one of the most famous, with my favorite text-based bots being @MobyDickatSea, @thinkpiecebot, @metaprophet, and @gehenna_ebooks (which may or may not actually be a bot?). Anyway, after I read Meditations, found it eminently tweet-able, and saw that no such account already existed, the idea to mesh the two interests arose and was set aside until I finished school.

For the actual “bot” part, I decided to use cheapbotsdonequick.com, a platform that makes bot programming easy for someone with low overall programming knowledge like me. (A huge thank you to everyone who helped develop that site.) Really, the platform is supposed to be used for generative text, like a Twitter bot that wants to randomly generate headlines given a list of words. That’s certainly not what I used it for, and I do feel guilty about it- a bit like hammering nails into a board with the handle of a screwdriver- but it’s robust, it’s free, and it works, so I went with it.

As far as the formatting and arranging of the actual Meditations, I didn’t possess enough knowledge about text parsing to write a script that would fix the text for me, so I did it all by hand. I would not recommend this. This is where I would spend the bulk of my time on the project- I would estimate I spent 10+ hours removing sentences larger than 140 characters, separating the remaining text into tweets, and making sure that it was correctly formatted for Tracery.

The text is split into twelve books, each with numbered sections that can be as short as one sentence or several longer paragraphs. The only rough rule I had was to start at the beginning of a section, separate by size, and stop at the end of the section, never blending two. Another small formatting choice I made was if in a particular patch there was <short sentence> <longer than 140 char. sentence> <short sentence>, the two shorter sentences will appear as individual tweets and not combined into one. The account, ultimately, will largely be free of context, but I wanted each tweet to be true to its own little ecosystem in the text.

Finally, you can see the total wreck that is this bot’s code at cheapbotsdonequick.com/source/MeditationsOfMA.

Conclusion & Other Opportunities.

Would I try it again with a different text? I’m not sure. Much of it was tedious and I can’t imagine putting work into something longer. However, I feel like a lot of the process could be automated, and if I learned how to do some of that, I could see myself coming back and making more little projects on Twitter. For now, though: no promises.

If you are actually interested in a study of Meditations and Stoicism you are in the wrong place. You just need to buy a copy of the text and read it.

If you are here to retweet random, out-of-place pieces of Meditations into your timeline like misused Bible verses, stripped and devoid of any context or meaning besides the one you want to give it, I think you’ll like this.

Thank you.

To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.

and to you-

The Pythagoreans tell us to look at the stars at daybreak. To remind ourselves how they complete the tasks assigned them — always the same tasks, the same way. And their order, purity, nakedness. Stars wear no concealment.
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