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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140449334
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/31/2006
Series: Penguin Classics Series
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 82,866
Product dimensions: 5.03(w) x 7.78(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was born to an upper-class Roman family in A.D. 121 and was later adopted by the future emperor Antoninus Pius, whom he succeeded in 161. His reign was marked by a successful campaign against Parthia, but was overshadowed in later years by plague, an abortive revolt in the eastern provinces, and the deaths of friends and family, including his co-emperor Lucius Verus. A student of philosophy from his earliest youth, he was especially influenced by the first-century Stoic thinker Epictetus. His later reputation rests on his Meditations, written during his later years and never meant for formal publication. He died in 180, while campaigning against the barbarian tribes on Rome’s northern frontier.

Gregory Hays is assistant professor of classics at the University of Virginia. He has published articles and reviews on various ancient writers and is currently completing a translation and critical study of the mythographer Fulgentius.

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Book 1

Excerpted from "Meditations"
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Table of Contents


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“The emperor Marcus Aurelius, the proverbial philosopher-king, produced in Greek a Roman manual of piety, the Meditations, whose impact has been felt for ages since. Here, for our age, is his great work presented in its entirety, strongly introduced and freshly, elegantly translated by Gregory Hays for the Modern Library.”
—Robert Fagles

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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Meditations 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 78 reviews.
JWL More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent insight into the mind of a thoughtful Roman emperor in the age just after Christ. It appears he was not influenced much by Christianity, yet many of his Stoic observations are secularly parallel to Christian theology. This book was an unpretentious collection of philosophical observations that remind me of just how similar mankind's thought, hopes, concerns, etc. remain down the Ages.
Pengiun222 More than 1 year ago
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.
Truejabber More than 1 year ago
The content is timeless and anyone interested in leading a meaningful life should read it. Unfortunately the formatting from MobileReference stinks; not any better than the free versions available, and was sometimes very difficult to read. This was disappointing since I have purchased other classic ebooks done by them which were fine. Content ***** Formatting *
AllenAS More than 1 year ago
This is a good book to read and understand the position and thought of ancient philosopher, specially, The emperor and head of the state. It is good start to become familiar with one of the oldest class of thinking "Stoicism" But is much better to read the life of emperor Marcus Aurelius first to know him and his position at the time.
sagacious33 on LibraryThing 7 months ago
I've often wondered why we, as a society, focus so much on the views of the powerful and the wealthy. Surely there are millions of men and women who have sided toward a philosophy weighted with moral integrity . I decided that the wealthy and the powerful must overcome temptations that the average man or woman would never dream of. The antics of today's Hollywood stars should suffice to demonstrate that fame, wealth and power can saturate men and women in false senses of superiority. And money and power must provide access to a large variety of creative sins. Despite these realities, Marcus Aurelius, in the years 121-180 A.D., explores a very healthy mindset and provides some guidelines that are every bit as applicable today, some 1940 years later, as they were in the midst of the Roman Empire.
bezoar44 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
(review of Gregory Hays translation, 2003 Modern Library edition)The Meditations are, as presented by Hays in his very helpful introduction, best understood as the private spiritual exercises of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Hays' introduction lays out the various philosophic strains that shaped Marcus Aurelius' thinking, and fits the work into the broader cultural context of late Roman attitudes towards life, philosophy, and religion. The translation is fluid and incisive, making the thoughts come alive.The Mediations will reward periodic rereading. The author spirals obsessively around a handful of philosophical themes: that everything we know, love, or hate is transient and will pass away; that freedom comes from accepting that most of the world - everything other than one's own choices about how to behave -- ultimately lies beyond one's control; that virtue is rooted in self-discipline. For most of us, there's a lot more to life than this, but as he works and reworks his themes, Marcus Aurelius reveals new angles or insights that give the Meditations a rich depth. Throughout, I kept wondering, with his focus on transience, self-discipline, and compassion towards others, what Marcus Aurelius would have made of Buddhism.Underlying its wisdom, the Meditations carries two striking internal tensions. The first may simply reflect the gap between the author's intent - personal spiritual exercises -- and the book's acquired status as a work for the ages. Marcus Aurelius constantly suggests that anyone in his audience can follow his advice and be free. On the other hand, the author's position -- a patriarch among patriarchs -- is hardly universal. Only for a person with great privilege could the problem of suffering look so manageable through simple willpower. This tension subsides if Marcus Aurelius really wrote for himself alone.The other major tension doesn't depend on the intended audience: Marcus Aurelius repeatedly orders the reader both to live in the present, and to be strategic - which necessarily implies thinking several steps ahead. That contradiction isn't unique to the Meditations; it's a challenge for all philosophic or religious systems that affirm transcendent values while also encouraging followers to engage and shape the world. While the tension is not resolved (can it ever be?), it gives the Meditations a realistic, pragmatic feel.
librarianbryan on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Hodge podge of truisms by a world leader obviously convinced of his own moral superiority. Is there wisdom in here? Sure, but it is wisdom any intelligent, remotely self reflective, person will already possess.
drewandlori on LibraryThing 8 months ago
This book was originally Marcus Aurelius's journal of philosophical notes to himself, and it definitely shows. Marcus was obviously a talented writer, and parts of it are very interesting, but he makes his points in a more or less random order, and it tends to get really repetitive. The repetition was probably great for Marcus, because it shows which ideas he really felt the need to constantly remind himself of, but on the other hand it's not that helpful for the rest of us.
chriszodrow on LibraryThing 8 months ago
The end of the Roman culture was marked by spiritual decay. This book reveals the anatomy of parched empire. A necessary but painful read.
Grognard on LibraryThing 11 months ago
Most religions in the eras of the Greeks and Romans offered less in the way of moral guidelines than they offered in bad examples. The gods were worse than human. Morality and values were left to the exploration and exposition of philosophers. The dominant philosophy in Rome prior to Christianity was stoicism, inherited from the Greeks and practiced thoroughly by Marcus Aurelius, the "last good emperor", who had a bit role early in the movie "The Gladiator." These meditations were written by him, largely while in his headquarters in military campaigns, and were reportedly U.S. Grant's favorite reading in his tent during the Civil War. The state of philosophy and values were remarkably refined before the advent of Christianity and devoid of the politics and conflicts that came with the Judeo/Christian religion. Marcus Aurelius does an admirable job of advocating the values that guided his life. An eye-opening exposure to realms of thought not normally found when one explores the origins of modern religion.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Still pertinent in these days.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Words of wisdom that still ring true. ~*~LEB~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After having read The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday, I was compelled to dive into stoicism and see what all the fuss was about. I looked into Holiday's The Daily Stoic website and was recommended this book as a starting point. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. Can't wait to check out the works of Seneca and Epictetus!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A great read to mull over
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manirul01 More than 1 year ago
Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!
manirul01 More than 1 year ago
Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!
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Avelee More than 1 year ago
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.
AdamZ1 More than 1 year ago
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.