Unabridged private reflections of the Emperor of Rome, on how one is to exist in a world of chaos. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and in the most accepted translation by George Long, is a book that belongs on everyone’s shelf.
A favorite of Bill Clinton and John Steinbeck, and influencer of many others for 2,000 years, it is as relevant today to those in power struggles over empires and boardrooms as it was when it was first recorded.
This Value Classic Reprint provides a slim volume with full text at an affordable price.
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About the Author
Marcus was born during the reign of Hadrian to the emperor's nephew, the praetor Marcus Annius Verus (III), and his wife, the heiress Domitia Lucilla. Following the death of his father, Marcus was raised by his mother and grandfather, Marcus Annius Verus (II). After Hadrian's adoptive son, Aelius Caesar, died in 138, the emperor adopted Marcus' uncle Antoninus Pius as his new heir. In turn, Antoninus adopted Marcus and the son of Aelius, Lucius (later to rule as Emperor Lucius Verus alongside Marcus). Hadrian died that year and Antoninus became emperor. Now heir to the throne, Marcus studied Greek and Latin under tutors such as Herodes Atticus and Marcus Cornelius Fronto. He kept in close correspondence with Fronto for many years afterwards. Marcus married Antoninus' daughter Faustina in 145. Antoninus died following an illness in 161.
The reign of Marcus Aurelius was marked by military conflict. In the East, the Roman Empire fought successfully with a revitalized Parthian Empire and the rebel Kingdom of Armenia. Marcus defeated the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatian Iazyges in the Marcomannic Wars; however, these and other Germanic peoples began to represent a troubling reality for the Empire. He modified the silver purity of the Roman currency, the denarius. The persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire is believed to have increased during his reign. The Antonine Plague broke out in 165 or 166 and devastated the population of the Roman Empire, causing the deaths of five million people. Lucius Verus may have died from the plague in 169.
Unlike some of his predecessors, Marcus chose not to adopt an heir. His children included Lucilla, who married Lucius, and Commodus, whose succession after Marcus has become a subject of debate among both contemporary and modern historians. The Column and Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius still stand in Rome, where they were erected in celebration of his military victories. Meditations, the writings of "the philosopher" - as contemporary biographers called Marcus, are a significant source of the modern understanding of ancient Stoic philosophy. They have been praised by fellow writers, philosophers, monarchs, and politicians centuries after his death.
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Table of ContentsBOOK ONE 3
BOOK TWO 6
BOOK THREE 9
BOOK FOUR 13
BOOK FIVE 19
BOOK SIX 24
BOOK SEVEN 30
BOOK EIGHT 36
BOOK NINE 42
BOOK TEN 48
BOOK ELEVEN 53
BOOK TWELVE 58
What People are Saying About This
“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.”
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 the way 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?