Meditations

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Overview

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (AD 121-180) embodied in his person that deeply cherished ideal figure of antiquity, the philosopher-king. His Meditations, written in moments snatched from military campaigns and the rigors of politics, reveal a mind of exceptional clarity and originality, and a sprit attuned to both the particulars of human destiny and the vast patterns which underlie it.
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Meditations

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Overview

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (AD 121-180) embodied in his person that deeply cherished ideal figure of antiquity, the philosopher-king. His Meditations, written in moments snatched from military campaigns and the rigors of politics, reveal a mind of exceptional clarity and originality, and a sprit attuned to both the particulars of human destiny and the vast patterns which underlie it.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Here, for our age, is [Marcus’s] great work presented in its entirety, strongly introduced and freshly, elegantly translated.” —Robert Fagles
From Barnes & Noble
A remarkably straightforward and readable translation of the passing thoughts, maxims, and musings of a man by nature a saint and sage, by profession an emperor and warrior.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143036272
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 8/16/2005
  • Series: Penguin Great Ideas Series
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 320,595
  • Product dimensions: 4.54 (w) x 7.14 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Martin Hammond is headmaster of the Tonbridge School and has translated Homer’s Iliad for Penguin Classics.

Martin Hammond is headmaster of the Tonbridge School and has translated Homer’s Iliad for Penguin Classics.

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Read an Excerpt


Book One

1. Courtesy and serenity of temper I first learnt to know from my grandfather Verus.

2. Manliness without ostentation I learnt from what I have heard and remember of my father.

3. My mother set me an example of piety and generosity, avoidance of all uncharitableness - not in actions only, but in thought as well - and a simplicity of life quite unlike the usual habits of the rich.

4. To my great-grandfather I owed the advice to dispense with the education of the schools and have good masters at home instead - and to realize that no expense should be grudged for this purpose.

5. It was my tutor who dissuaded me from patronizing Green or Blue* at the races, or Light or Heavy† in the ring; and encouraged me not to be afraid of work, to be sparing in my wants, attend to my own needs, mind my own business, and never listen to gossip.

• The colours of the rival charioteers in the Circus. Roman enthusiasm for these races was unbounded; successful drivers earned large fortunes and became popular idols.

† In one form of gladiatorial combat (the ‘Thracian’) the opponents were armed with light round bucklers; in another (the ‘Samnite’) they carried heavy oblong shields.

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Table of Contents


Meditations Book One
Book Two
Book Three
Book Four
Book Five
Book Six
Book Seven
Book Eight
Book Nine
Book Ten
Book Eleven
Book Twelve
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Reading Group Guide

1. The Meditations refers often to the need to act "unselfishly, " yet much of its advice seems to center on seeking tranquillity within oneself and ignoring the outside world. Is this a contradiction? Do other people really matter to Marcus, or is his philosophical outlook fundamentally selfish?

2. What qualities does Marcus praise his relatives and teachers for in Book 1? Are they the same qualities he seeks to acquire in the remainder of the work?

3. Marcus ruled at a time when Christianity was beginning to become more prominent in the Roman world. What elements of Christianity would he have found sympathetic? What elements would have been incompatible with his outlook? Do aspects of Marcus's Stoicism find echoes in other religious traditions, for example in Buddhism?

4. Marcus several times uses the image of life as a play (e. g. 3.8, 11.1, 12.36). What specific similarities does he see? Is the image helpful in encapsulating his philosophy in other ways?

5. "We need to practice acceptance, " Marcus says (7.3). "Without disdain." Do the entries in the Meditations show him doing that?

6. At several points Marcus expresses disapproval of the Epicureans for making pleasure their highest goal. Why does he find this attitude so objectionable?

7. The English poet and critic Matthew Arnold faulted the Meditations for a lack of joy. The translator's introduction agrees, and suggests that Marcus's pessimistic evaluation of human life is "impoverishing." Is this a fair criticism?

8. Marcus often describes the world as being in a process of constant change, yet he sees an underlying unity and direction in theway it works. Are these two conceptions compatible? Do modern theories about the nature of the universe make Marcus's outlook more appealing than it might have seemed a century ago?

9. Does the Stoics' emphasis on accepting all that happens to us as natural prevent them from trying to change the world in positive ways? Would a Stoic have participated in the civil rights movement, for example?

10. Marcus asserts (4.8) that only what harms our character can harm us. Is this true?

11. In urging himself not to fear death, Marcus makes use of several arguments found in other ancient thinkers: that others have faced extinction with courage, that death is a natural process, that non-existence did not harm us before our birth and can't harm us after it, that death is unavoidable in any case. Are these arguments intellectually convincing? Do you find them emotionally persuasive?

12. What is the significance of the anecdote about the Spartans at 11.24?

13. Like many Romans, Marcus finds it helpful to use certain historical figures (e. g. Alexander the Great, Socrates, Nero) as touchstones of human virtue or vice. What historical figures serve a similar function for us? Is this practice useful or potentially misleading?

14. Would the Stoics' respect for nature translate into an endorsement of modern-day environmentalism?

15. Marcus's two sketches of his predecessor Antoninus Pius (1.16; 6.30) might be regarded as a kind of "mirror for princes, " i. e. a portrait of the ideal ruler. Are the characteristics Marcus singles out the ones we look for in modern-day leaders? What other characteristics might he have added?

16. If you were to compile a catalogue of "debts and lessons" like the first book of the Meditations, who would appear in it?

17. Marcus advises himself at one point "to stop talking about what the good man is like and just be one" (10.16). Is it possible to be good without self-reflection? Are self-reflective people always the best?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 26 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 15, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    The Meditations

    After reading this book I felt very inquisitive. A lot of the topics discussed by Marcus were topics in which we do not discuss often in philosophy. I had to do some outside research on topics such as "logos" and "stoicism". Overall, this was one of the most fascinating readings I have picked up in a long time. It was thrilling to read the writings of Marcus and to get an inside feel towards his life and philosophies regarding life. I honestly would recommend this book to any student of philosophy, who is looking to gain an intricate perspective regarding early philosophy. The only caution I would address in this book is the fact that Marcus Aurelius appears a little on the dark side of things. While reading his meditations you will find that he, at time, was slightly sinister in his thought; however, I do believe that he never thought they would get published. I am under the impression he believed his meditations would be personal, and for his eyes alone to read. Overall, this is a tremendous read, and I highly recommend it.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 1999

    A True Philosopher King Gives Us His Deepest Thoughts

    As a conservative politician with a deep respect for the republic, religion and the call of duty above self this remarkable thin book has been a great inspiration. The book was writen by Marcus, one the best emperors Rome knew, about 1,800 years ago The true begining of the book is 'Book II': ' ...I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men.' are the opening line. Marcus hits you hard with just how difficult it is to rule in a just manner. How does one get up each morning and look into the unfathomable chaos that wants to be and attempt to make 'good and right' of it? This is the goal of this great man. How should we live in order to accomplish this? How should we behave? How to we look upon and deal with those that attempt to bring this chaos? This book is excellent reading for anyone who has an interest in political leadership and I don't mean the 90% of elected officials that are in it for personal gain or vanity. This book is also excellent reading for anyone who has an interest in supporting a political leader because by reading this book you will learn to recognize what true leadership is and the way in which a true leader behaves. This is a wonderful thin little book that you will reflect on for a long, long time.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2012

    The book is truly amazing. One star is for B&N

    I have the paperback version and really wanted one on my nook, which can also be read on my iPad through the nook app. I need the Martin Hammond translation as that is what we are using in class. Though the paperback is that of Martin Hammond, the nook book version is not. I wish I was informed of this before I purchased it, the cover is completely different in my nook library because it is a different book. If I would have paid more than $.95 I would be much more upset, but I do not appreciate false advertising. I know this is most likely a technical issue, but it needs to be fixed. I usually spend at least $10 on school-related nook books (not textbooks). It makes me want to switch to the kindle, where I can pay with my checking account and am not limited to credit cards.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 28, 2011

    Unable to read with Nook app on iPad

    Wish there were an obvious way to report technical problems other than writing bad reviews.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2009

    The Meditations by Marcus Aurelis

    Interesting tidbits of wisdom that I heretofore did not realize went back that far in time!

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 17, 2012

    Lots of Wisdom Gems In This Book

    This is a great book from way back that is filled with wisdom and suggestions on how to live right and harmoniously. I would reccomend this to book everyone.

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  • Posted March 31, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    A Book by which to guide your life

    I pick up this book and reread selections whenever I'm feeling depressed. Time and time again the book reminds you that life is fleeting, but Aurelius' approach to this truth is different than our modern "so make the most of it" attitude. Instead, he focuses on the fact is itself, on the insignificance of life, so as to make a person with context. You'll have to read the book to understand what I mean.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    wonderful!

    Exactly what I was looking for!

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