The below quote is from Book X, Verse 3 of Meric Casaubon's translation of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations :

But remember, that whatsoever by the strength of opinion, grounded upon a certain apprehension of both true profit and duty, thou canst conceive tolerable; that thou art able to bear that by thy natural constitution.

Here are my 3 queries:

  1. Could not the semi-colon be replaced with a comma? I don't understand how the first set of clauses: "But remember ... conceive tolerable" is a complete thought/compound sentence, and from my understandings a semi-colon separates two independent clauses, that could otherwise have stood alone as two sentences. (In addition, the complete thought succeeding the semi-colon can in some cases complement the first complete thought, thus the semi-colon also serves as a comma.)
  2. Is "that" in "[that] by thy natural constitution" superfluous, that is without it, the meaning is rendered identical?
  3. What is "true profit"?
  • The sentence is asking you to remember two things: (1) that a, b, c; and (2) that d. The first thing already contains commas, so the semicolon is used in order to make the separation more clear, thereby avoiding confusion. This is a common stylistic practice. Commented May 24, 2020 at 15:29
  • ... Though a dash is probably more common, and in my opinion, better here. But the whole translation seems doomed to remain far from idiomatic English. // (2) remember that you are able to bear that/this which has been mentioned. // (3) MA's idea of what the best thing in life is/was. Open, of course, to opinion, but he probably means 'not money / power / possessions'. Commented May 24, 2020 at 15:33
  • 2
    Meric Casaubon translated the Meditations in the seventeenth century. It is not surprising that a text from that era (even when subsequently edited, as seems to be the case here) will pose difficulties for a present-day reader. If one is primarily interested in the philosophical content of the Meditations (rather than the historical significance of this translation) one is likely to be better off using a more recent translation; otherwise, one will have to ask questions of this kind about almost every paragraph of the text.
    – jsw29
    Commented May 24, 2020 at 16:15

2 Answers 2

  1. The modern rules of punctuation were still a couple of centuries away in the 17th century. Don't waste too much effort trying to reconcile 17th-century punctuation with 21st-century rules.

  2. No. The "that" you're asking about is not a conjunction but a pronoun. It is the object of the verb "bear."

  3. Benefit.


Semicolons can also be used to separate items in a list when the items themselves contain commas.

Merriam-Webster lists it:

A semicolon is used in place of a comma to separate phrases or items in a list or series when the phrases or items themselves contain commas or are especially long.

It is an odd usage here, because there are only two elements in the list, but it does fit.

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