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Who first published Marcus Aurelius' Meditations?

Who first published Marcus Aurelius' Meditations?


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Marcus Aurelius wrote the famous book of philosophy Meditations while on campaign in Pannonia. The writing was personal and intended for his eyes and reflections for he himself to meditate on and was not intended for others (see paragraph 3, and references 1 and 2 on the same page)

With that said who was the first individual or individuals to pass around or publish Meditations as we know Marcus himself did not publish it and had no intention of others seeing his writing? How did it make its way from his private collection into the world at large?


We don't know how Meditations was originally preserved for posterity. The introduction to the Loeb edition (eds. Capps, Page and Rouse) mentions Marcus Aurelius' son-in-law and general Pompeianus, and the emperor's life-long friend Victorinus as individuals who might have 'rescued' the manuscript after Marcus' death in 180 AD. It was also known to the emperor Gordian I (died 238 AD) who was a young man when Marcus died. After this,

The first direct mention of the work is about 350 A.D. in the Orations of the pagan philosopher Themistius, who speaks of the παραγγέλματα (precepts) of Marcus. Then for 550 years we lose sight of the book entirely, until, about 900, the compiler of the dictionary, which goes by the name of Suidas, reveals the existence of a MS of it by making some thirty quotations, taken from books I, III, IV, V, IX, and XI. He calls the book (συγγραφή) an "αγωγή (a directing) of his own life by Marcus the Emperor in twelve books." About the same time Arethas, a Cappadocian bishop, writing to his metropolitan, speaks of the scarcity of this μεγλωφελέστατον βιβλίον, and apparently sends him a copy of it.

The Wikipedia entry on Arethas expands on the bishop's role in preserving Meditations:

Arethas admits to holding the work in high regard in letters to the Byzantine emperor Leo VI the Wise and in his comments to Lucian and Dio Chrysostom'. Arethas is credited with reintroducing the Meditations to public discourse.

Nothing more is heard or seen of Marcus' work until about 1150 AD when Tzetzes, a grammarian of Constantinople quotes it. Then,

About 150 years later (1300 A.D.) the ecclesiastical historian, Nicephorus Callistus (iii. 31) writes that Marcus "composed a book of instruction for his son, full of universal… experience and wisdom." About this very time Planudes, a monk of Constantinople, may have been engaged in compiling the anthology of extracts from various authors, including Marcus and Aelian, which has come down to us in twenty-five or more MSS dating from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century. They are practically of no help in re-establishing the text, and contain in all forty-four extracts from books IV.-XII.

Our present text is based almost entirely upon two MSS, the Codex Palatinus (P) first printed in 1558 by Xylander but now lost, which contains the whole work, and the Codex Vaticanus 1 950 (A) from which about forty-two lines have dropped out by accidental omissions here and there.

According to P. A. Brunt in Marcus Aurelius in His Meditations, Wilhelm Xylander's was the first printed edition (the date given here is 1559). Xylander's source was apparently a codex provided to him by the alchemist, doctor and poet Michael Toxites; this source was lost sometime before 1568.

Xylander's Latin translation (from Greek), published by Conrad Gessner

The first English translation was by Meric Casaubon, an French-English classical scholar, published in 1634.


‘Meditations’ Review: A Stoic Emperor’s Bestseller

Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome.

Consider the fortunes of Marcus Aurelius, ruler of Rome from A.D. 161 to 180 and follower of the Stoic ethical creed. He never meant to be a published author the thoughts he set down, in Greek, were part of a purely personal self-improvement project. Someone, somehow, preserved the notebooks containing his loose assemblage of spiritual jottings. One day in the 17th century a clever translator, Méric Casaubon, gave the collection the title “Meditations,” and a bestseller was born.

Though it lacks structure and deploys, at times, arcane terms and concepts, “Meditations” has struck a chord with modern readers as few Greek or Roman texts have done, elevating its author to stardom—literally, given Richard Harris’s portrayal of a sober, sagacious Marcus in the hit 2000 film “Gladiator.”

Undoubtedly the work’s diaristic origins are a part of its appeal. Because Marcus is essentially talking to himself, his voice has remarkable authenticity. His readers can trust him for the simple reason that he’s unaware of their presence. Not even Augustine’s “Confessions,” notionally a conversation between the author and God, or Seneca’s “Moral Epistles,” an apparently private correspondence to which we are given access, can quite match the earnestness and integrity of a text that was never meant to be read at all.

Marcus’ life and times also contribute to the spell cast by “Meditations.” Thinkers since Plato have longed for a philosopher-king, a ruler able to wield great power while maintaining a strong moral core Marcus seems to approximate that ideal. He came to the emperorship by adoption, the method employed by the Antonine emperors to anoint promising successors. His reign of nearly two decades was a success, the last phase of what Edward Gibbon dubbed the “most happy and prosperous” era of all human history. Marcus, however, ended that era when he broke with Antonine tradition and passed on rule to his natural son, Commodus, a cruel and selfish man (and, as modern moviegoers know, an amateur gladiator).

The degree to which “Meditations” has seized the modern imagination can be judged by the ever-increasing pace of new English-language versions. Amid this glut, the new edition by Robin Waterfield, a British classics scholar, has much to recommend it. The prose is wonderfully sober and taut, the choices felicitous. (“Command center,” Mr. Waterfield’s rendering of Marcus’ term for the rational, guiding mind, is an unfortunate exception.) The volume’s stand-out feature is its wide-ranging set of footnotes, offering assistance to novice readers, insights that will intrigue specialists, and reformulations that clarify Marcus’ thoughts. Thus the difficult “Meditations” entry, “Anything that doesn’t make a person worse in himself doesn’t make his life worse either, and does him no harm,” gets aptly reframed in Mr. Waterfield’s note as: “The only truly bad thing is moral vice nothing else is truly harmful.”


Meditations

In many important ways, the reflections of Marcus Aurelius (121-180) crystallize the philosophical wisdom of the Greco-Roman world. This little book was written as a diary to himself while emperor fighting a war out on the boarder of the Roman Empire and today this book is known to us as The Meditations.

The Roman philosophers are not as well known or as highly regarded as Greek philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, or Zeno the Stoic - and for a simple reason: the Roman thinkers were n

In many important ways, the reflections of Marcus Aurelius (121-180) crystallize the philosophical wisdom of the Greco-Roman world. This little book was written as a diary to himself while emperor fighting a war out on the boarder of the Roman Empire and today this book is known to us as The Meditations.

The Roman philosophers are not as well known or as highly regarded as Greek philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, or Zeno the Stoic - and for a simple reason: the Roman thinkers were not primarily interested in abstract theory rather, they were concerned with behavior, that is, understanding how to live in the everyday world and putting their understanding into practice the goal being to live the life of an authentic philosopher, to be a person of high character and integrity, to develop inner strength and a quiet mind and value such strength and quietude above all else. Indeed, to accomplish such a lofty goal, the Romans realized the need for radical transformation, a complete overhauling of one's life through rigorous mental and physical training, like turning base metal into pure gold. And once a person takes on the role of a philosopher, their deeds must reflect their words - no hypocrisy, thank you! Thus, it isn't surprising the Romans put a premium on memorizing and internalizing simple proverbs and maxims and employed the metaphor of philosophy as the medicine to cure a sick soul.

Turning now to Marcus Aurelius, we can appreciate how he imbibed the wisdom not only from the Stoics (along with Seneca and Epictetus, Marcus is considered one of the three major Roman Stoics), but he was also willing to learn from the schools of Epicurus, Plato and Aristotle. In the Greco-Roman world, being eclectic was perfectly acceptable truth was valued over who said what.

We find several recurring themes in The Meditations: develop self-discipline to gain control over judgments and desires overcoming a fear of death value an ability to retreat into a rich, interior mental life (one's inner citadel) recognize the world as a manifestation of the divine live according to reason avoid luxury and opulence. But generalizations will not approach the richness and wisdom nuggets a reader will find in Marcus's actual words. Thus, I conclude with my personal observations coupled with quotes from Book One, wherein Marcus begins by expressing heartfelt thanks to his family and teachers for the many fine lessons he learned as a youth. Here are four of my favorites:

"Not to have frequented public schools, and to have had good teachers at home" ---------- After my own nasty experience with the mindless competition and regimentation of public schools, I wish I had Marcus's good fortune of excellent home schooling.

"Not to meddle with other people's affairs, and not to be ready to listen to slander." ---------- I didn't need a teacher here I recognized on my own at an early age that gossip is a colossal waste of time and energy, both listening to gossip and spreading gossip. I can't imagine a clearer indication of a base, coarse mind than someone inclined to gossip and slandering others.

"To read carefully, and not to be satisfied with a superficial understanding of a book." ---------- How true. Reading isn't a race to get to the last page matter of fact, I agree with Jorge Luis Borges that focused, precise rereading is the key to opening oneself to the wisdom of a book.

"To be satisfied on all occasions, and be cheerful." ---------- I'm never in a hurry. Life is too beautiful to be in a hurry. For me, there is only one way to live each day: in joy and free from anxiety and worry. In a sense, all of the meditations of Marcus Aurelius amplify this simple view of life.

I've written this review as an encouragement to make Marcus Aurelius a part of your life. You might not agree with everything he has to say, but you have to admit, Marcus has a really cool beard and head of hair. . more

When I was a freshman in college, I lived in a dorm. My roommate was on the football team. He would write inspiring things on poster board and hang them in our room often on the ceiling above his bed to motivate himself. He favored straightforward sentiments like "never give up."

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius did not hang motivational posters for inspiration. Instead, he kept a journal in which he collected his thoughts about how to live well. MEDITATIONS is that book.

Most people have heard When I was a freshman in college, I lived in a dorm. My roommate was on the football team. He would write inspiring things on poster board and hang them in our room often on the ceiling above his bed to motivate himself. He favored straightforward sentiments like "never give up."

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius did not hang motivational posters for inspiration. Instead, he kept a journal in which he collected his thoughts about how to live well. MEDITATIONS is that book.

Most people have heard that Aurelius counsels to expect the worst and you will never be disappointed. While that is part of what he has to say, it is not the most interesting of what he has to say. At his most thoughtful, Aurelius calls on us to ask the best of ourselves and never mind the behavior of others. His MEDITATIONS is a work of motivational advice to inspire us in the ways of stoicism. It is a manual for being a complete, mature adult. It is a guide for living a dignified, thoughtful life

Consider: "Suppose that a god announced that you were going to die tomorrow 'or the day after'. Unless you were a complete coward you wouldn't kick up a fuss about which day it was - what difference could it make? Now recognize that the difference between years from now and tomorrow is just as small." Book IV (Greg Hays trans., Modern Library)

Or: "Concentrate every minute like a Roman - like a man - on doing what's in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from distractions. Yes, you can - if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that's all even the gods can ask of you." Book II

And: "If at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, honesty, self-control, courage - than a mind satisfied that it succeeded in enabling you to act rationally, and satisfied to accept what is beyond its control - if you find anything better than that, embrace it without reservations - it must be an extraordinary thing indeed - and enjoy it to the full." Book III

That these thoughts came from the most powerful man in the world, a man whose personal power so vastly exceeded the personal power of any American president that we have difficulty comprehending it, makes it all the more impressive. Aurelius continually writes that strength comes from humility, self-restraint and good humor towards others. He teaches us to accept what we cannot control and to trust what we know.

Look within: do not allow the special quality or worth of anything to pass you by.

I love this quote and I love the wisdom that runs through this book. It’s such a simple idea and it is also a very true one. Make the most of everything and everyone, of every situation and chance that life throws your way because when they have passed, we may not get them again.

Marcus Aurelius is full of logic and revealing comments about life, death and the universe. His meditations are very open and Look within: do not allow the special quality or worth of anything to pass you by.

I love this quote and I love the wisdom that runs through this book. It’s such a simple idea and it is also a very true one. Make the most of everything and everyone, of every situation and chance that life throws your way because when they have passed, we may not get them again.

Marcus Aurelius is full of logic and revealing comments about life, death and the universe. His meditations are very open and very honest. And I found them quite touching. The history of his reign as Roman Emperor is impressive, but behind all his success was a very human person struggling and suffering with the same problems that plague all of us. He comes to terms with his mortality and his insignificance in the face of history and time. We are all of us only here a brief time, and we need to make the most of it.

All is ephemeral, both memory and the object of memory

The book moves into discussions over the temporary nature of things, of relationships and friendships and feelings. Everything changes given enough time, even memories and their ramifications. Aurelius soul searches. He writes these words during times of peace and war, during times of duty and heart ache, though his tone rarely changes. He remains detached and accepting of destiny and where it may take him. From this he ponders how to give life meaning and purpose.

Aurelius suggests that one of the ways we can do this is through work, real work and toil as we strive to meet our goals. He suggests that it is an edifying pursuit, to serve the development of humanity. It gives life meaning and purpose as we work and improve. He also argues for the creation of art and that in attaining it, it's one of the greatest pursuits we can follow because of how it benefits mankind. I agree with so many of the sentiments in here, and those that challenged my own beliefs got me thinking about the nature of life. . more

“. A desire for things best done behind closed doors…” - Marcus is spot on in identifying a lack of democratic accountability, fostered by the CIA, NSA, GCHQ and the rest of the security paraphernalia, as being at the root of many of our current political problems.

In the UK there is a tradition for politicians, or at least for the posher type of politician, to study “PPE” or “Politics, Philosophy and Economics” at either Oxford or Cambridge University.

But despite such an expensive education our political masters don't have half the grasp on the classics that Marcus has, which is remarkable considering he was home-schooled. I wish Marcus would consider a career in politics just to show up our current representatives for the intellectual pygmies that they really are.

Marcus also gives us advice on a more personal level. I don’t know much about his background but I can be sure he is the father of teenage children! Can he really keep his temper?

How refreshing if more authors of self help books would confront squarely the central issue of our own mortality and our negative emotions of anger or frustration instead of forever hiding from these topics.

So to end with my favorite paragraph, from book 10 paragraph 5. One for physicists as well as philosophers to puzzle over:

I don’t normally read self help books. Often they seem full of cliches left over from the Victorian era. And in this book, which may have been modeled on the writings of Alain De Botton, Marcus mixes in a lot of philosophy and this just isn’t to everyone’s taste.

But with this short work Marcus, who is Italian, and his co-author Gregory Hays have brought the format right up to date by reflecting squarely on the types of issues that we all face today.

A great book by an author who - and this is no exaggeration - deserves a statue to be put up for him. I can only wish I could meet Marcus one day. In fact I’ll be checking out if he has any book signings lined up. If he has a decent agent I’m sure he has. . more

Marcus Aurelius must have been a prolific reader. He sure was a prolific note-taker, for these meditations are surely his study-notes(?- after all he was a &aposphilosopher&apos from age 12). I don&apost know of the publishing system at the time but where are the detailed footnotes and references? Marcus Aurelius is quite a wise man or at least he read enough wise men. He sure nailed it as far as boring a reader is concerned. No better way to establish your book&aposs wisdom quotient.

I am being needlessly caust
Marcus Aurelius must have been a prolific reader. He sure was a prolific note-taker, for these meditations are surely his study-notes(?- after all he was a 'philosopher' from age 12). I don't know of the publishing system at the time but where are the detailed footnotes and references? Marcus Aurelius is quite a wise man or at least he read enough wise men. He sure nailed it as far as boring a reader is concerned. No better way to establish your book's wisdom quotient.

I am being needlessly caustic of course(do note my rating above). The book is quotable in almost every page and is good to dip in to now and then, you might well find an aphorism that fits the mood just right every time. And that is why the book is a classic and so well-loved.

Don't read it as a scholar, you will end up like this reviewer. As I said earlier - He is like the wisdom of ages. Aargh :) Not that it is all bad - it is like reading an old uncles's notes after he has been preaching to you all your life.

Good that I am a stoic too. All ills are imaginary. Yes.

[ Or perhaps it was easier to be a Stoic while stoned: The emperor was a notorious opium user, starting each day, even while on military campaigns, by downing a nubbin of the stuff dissolved in his morning cup of wine. ] . more

This basically consists of Marcus Aurelius repeating, "Get it together, Marcus" to himself over and over again over the course of 12 chapters.

SPOILER ALERT:
-The time during which you are alive is very very brief compared to the time during which you did not exist and will not exist.
-People who wrong you only do so from ignorance, and if you can correct them without being a jerk about it, you should do so.
-You are a little soul dragging around a corpse.
-Whether or not things injure you lies in This basically consists of Marcus Aurelius repeating, "Get it together, Marcus" to himself over and over again over the course of 12 chapters.

SPOILER ALERT:
-The time during which you are alive is very very brief compared to the time during which you did not exist and will not exist.
-People who wrong you only do so from ignorance, and if you can correct them without being a jerk about it, you should do so.
-You are a little soul dragging around a corpse.
-Whether or not things injure you lies in your opinion about them, and you can control that opinion.

The fascinating thing about these philosophical ideas is that if they were expressed a single time, they might seem profound and solid and convincing. But repeated over and over like a rosary, you feel that Marcus is struggling against really serious grueling daily doubt -- that these are things that he wishes to be true, not things that he knows to be true, normative rather than descriptive statements. Which makes for a fascinating and subtext-y read, especially given his history. . more

Wearing Mismatched Socks at Work is Empowering: "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius, Gregory Hays (trans.)

“Concentrate every minute like a Roman— like a man— on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can— if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop lett If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

Wearing Mismatched Socks at Work is Empowering: "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius, Gregory Hays (trans.)

“Concentrate every minute like a Roman— like a man— on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes, you can— if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered , irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.”

In “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius

“Para ser grande, sê inteiro: nada
Teu exagera ou exclui.
Sê todo em cada coisa. Põe quanto és
No mínimo que fazes.
Assim em cada lago a lua toda
Brilha, porque alta vive.”

In “Odes de Ricardo Reis” by Fernando Pessoa

Word of caution: this "review" is going to be all over the place.

I translated this into German a long time ago. I’m not sure I’m up to the task of translating this into English this time around…

“To be great, be whole: nothing
Of yours exaggerate or exclude.
Be all in everything. Put all you are
In everything you do.
Be like the moon that
Shines whole in every lake
Because it lives up high.” . more

It&aposs, of course, completely ridiculous to rate a nearly 2000 year old journal by a Roman emperor who never intended it to be read. As a book experience, the repetition of Aurelius&aposs thoughts can be frustrating (the excellent introduction in this volume provides context for it, and for the concept of stoicism), but I found his challenges, his every-day worries remarkably human. When they&aposre good, they&aposre incredible:

"At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: &aposI have to go t It's, of course, completely ridiculous to rate a nearly 2000 year old journal by a Roman emperor who never intended it to be read. As a book experience, the repetition of Aurelius's thoughts can be frustrating (the excellent introduction in this volume provides context for it, and for the concept of stoicism), but I found his challenges, his every-day worries remarkably human. When they're good, they're incredible:

"At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: 'I have to go to work - as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I'm going to do what I was born for - the things I was brought into the world to do. Or is this what I was created for? T huddle under the blankets and stay warm?'
- But it's nicer here.
So you were born to feel 'nice?' Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don't you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you're not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren't you running to do what your nature demands?" . more

Never before have I given a five star rating to a book of which I had only read 9%. However, this book is special in many ways, and if the beginning is any indication of the author&aposs thoughts and reflections, it merits this rating. I eagerly await my future readings of this splendid work.

Like the Bible, it can be opened to any page, and the passage will resonate with most people at various times in their life. Each passage stands by itself and is not dependent upon what had preced THINK ABOUT IT!

Never before have I given a five star rating to a book of which I had only read 9%. However, this book is special in many ways, and if the beginning is any indication of the author's thoughts and reflections, it merits this rating. I eagerly await my future readings of this splendid work.

Like the Bible, it can be opened to any page, and the passage will resonate with most people at various times in their life. Each passage stands by itself and is not dependent upon what had preceded it. Therefore, although I am in the midst of reading two other books, I pick this one up sporadically, read a few passages, and am not confused about plot and characters. Although the book was written in a manner easy to understand, it is anything but simplistic it is profound and replete with wisdom. Further, it should be read slowly so that the reader may absorb the words and delight in the meditations of Aurelius. I have done much highlighting in order to remember certain passages, and I know I will reread them throughout the years.

Once again, my friend Steve Sckenda has recommended quality literature to his GR friends for which I thank him most sincerely.

By today&aposs standards, a bog-standard blog.

The only reason that this was preserved in the first place is that the author happened to be a Roman emperor. (That, and that ancient Rome didn&apost have LiveJournal.)

The only reason that Meditations is still being published today is that once a book gets labeled "classic," hardly anyone who reads it has the grapes to admit that it just wasn&apost that good. Well. the emperor has no clothes. By today's standards, a bog-standard blog.

The only reason that this was preserved in the first place is that the author happened to be a Roman emperor. (That, and that ancient Rome didn't have LiveJournal.)

The only reason that Meditations is still being published today is that once a book gets labeled "classic," hardly anyone who reads it has the grapes to admit that it just wasn't that good. Well. the emperor has no clothes. . more

Another great influence in my life this was the personal philosophical diary of the last "good emperor" of the Roman Empire. In this work Marcus Aurelius draws a picture Stoicism as a philosophy that I call "Buddhism with balls". It is a harsh self discipline that trains its practitioners to be champions (of a sort). Champions of what? Mastery of the self.

The heart of the book is that in order to make oneself free, they must train themselves to become indifferent to externals. The externals ar Another great influence in my life this was the personal philosophical diary of the last "good emperor" of the Roman Empire. In this work Marcus Aurelius draws a picture Stoicism as a philosophy that I call "Buddhism with balls". It is a harsh self discipline that trains its practitioners to be champions (of a sort). Champions of what? Mastery of the self.

The heart of the book is that in order to make oneself free, they must train themselves to become indifferent to externals. The externals are those elements in life of which we have no or little control: our ethnicity, sex appeal, intelligence, lifespan, the opinions of others, etc. We must also become very aware of the one thing which we do have control over: our perceptions. Through harsh self analysis, training of the reason and self discipline, we can learn to take control of our perceptions, and in this way become impervious to all misfortune/suffering. Through this practice one cuts the puppet strings by which most people are jerked through life: pleasing others, seeking fame, sexual dominance, material goods, etc., and in the process also is freed of the suffering that stems from not having these false goals met.

This is a book that is extremely empowering. Even if some of the ideals and aims might be utterly impossible (but for a handful of great sages), they are worthy and worth striving towards.

Another aspect that I found interesting, was that here we are able to open a window into the life of a great and noble soul who was struggling to come to terms with the universe. We read the personal thoughts of the master of the civilized world, a man utterly alone and free of peers, who is grappling with the need to find meaning in life. His efforts and obvious agonies are touching. This is a deeply humane work. In many sections he has to repeatedly remind himself of the nature of death (that it is an essential and good part of nature), and often repeated are metaphors relating to the death of a child. These reminders are made very poignant when you understand that several of the Emperor's children (who he apparently loved very much) were taken by disease. This was the one understanding that he seemed to have the hardest time coming to terms with or accepting.

Ah I had a far better review in my mind, but it has, like morning mist, cleared out from my mind leaving a jumble of words and impressions, so you will have to endure that, or skip to another GR update instead :)

The weaknesses of Marcus Aurelius&aposs jottings and musings, his inconsistencies, vaguenesses, intellectual messiness, the lack of exploration of any particular idea in detail are it&aposs strengths. There is a Marcus Aurelius for everyone, or perhaps for everyday of the year (Selections from t Ah I had a far better review in my mind, but it has, like morning mist, cleared out from my mind leaving a jumble of words and impressions, so you will have to endure that, or skip to another GR update instead :)

The weaknesses of Marcus Aurelius's jottings and musings, his inconsistencies, vaguenesses, intellectual messiness, the lack of exploration of any particular idea in detail are it's strengths. There is a Marcus Aurelius for everyone, or perhaps for everyday of the year (Selections from the Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius for every day in the year) (and I suspect there are Marcus Aurelius day by day calendars). I wondered if at some point the real Marcus Aurelius would stand up, and of course he does, just like Spartacus at the end of the Stanley Kubrik film.

The work known variously as Meditations or the Golden Book was originally written in Greek and entitled 'To Himself', it is divided into twelve 'books' each perhaps fifteen or so printed pages in length. The first book is a listing of to whom and for what Marcus Aurelius is grateful - for things like his upbringing and character rather than that people pay their taxes and, by and large, obey the laws. The other eleven books don't have any thematic unity. At the end of the first book he writes: 'Among the Quadi, on the river Gran' this is the only indication of time and place in the entire work which is good from the point of view of approachability, Yes, you too, and me, have direct access to the personal musing of a Roman Emperor you can read his blogging, indeed in places almost his tweets, there is no barrier you can approach him with out prior knowledge - people have approached him with out prior knowledge for almost 2,000 years, so much so that I fear there is little novel here: be grateful, practise serenity, be kind to others, appreciate the order and structure of life, do your duty (like a Roman). The downside is you don't learn much about Marcus Aurelius, it is somehow so personal, private and interior that it has become indistinct and universal, suitable for fridge magnets or motivational posters anywhere.

I believe that formally Marcus was a a stoic, if his reflections in his book represent cutting edge stoic philosophy or the ponderings of a well educated individual of his day I don't know. In book eleven particularly he quotes Homer, Sophocles, Euripides and Plato, but he never mentions the famous Roman stoic Seneca. Perhaps Seneca was already forgotten by Aurelius' time or perhaps the issue of how to behave under the rule of an emperor was a bit too close to the bone for the Emperor.

As I mentioned in updates it reminded me in its stress on duty of what I have heard of the Bhagadvad Gita and I felt that Aurelius' : Worldnature, nature, world reason, cosmic purpose, gods, universal nature,mind of the universe, god. (a sample of the terms he seems to use for some kind of ordering principle in the universe) could all have been expressed as, or were reaching towards ideas of Dharma or Dao. Since this is a philosophical work, of sorts, or perhaps a religious one, I wondered if the translation was unhelpful - perhaps all these terms might have been rendered by one expression in the original, perhaps Logos (most famous now from the opening of the Gospel of Saint John), yet I think I read in the introduction that Marcus did use all these different terms even though, contextually they all appear to mean something similar if not identical.

Given this and the Tao Te Ching, I would have imagined that the Tao Te Ching was the one written by a canny Emperor, Marcus somehow often manages to sound like a harassed corporate drone forced to share a workbench with people who don't brush their teeth and who wash and change their clothes regularly - meaning once every nine weeks - (5:28) I could imagine it as the basis for a new US Sit-Com, maybe Aurelius: the customer service years, a slight change from his previous appearances in the films The Fall of the Roman Empire and both of which downplay quite how odd Marcus' son the Emperor Commodus was (view spoiler) [ he enjoyed dressing up (or down?) as Hercules and clubbing people with his club, he had all the months renamed after himself, still it was only after twelve years that he was strangled by his personal trainer (view spoiler) [ I have long been of the opinion that sport is bad for you, but in truth maybe it is just personal trainers (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)] .

Marcus says that he thinks praying for three hours a day is sufficient, but it was unclear to me quite what he would be praying to, his universe otherwise seems fairly deterministic and the gods part of that as much as the fig trees, horses and people, perhaps his prayer was more his spiritual practise to encourage the serenity, kindness, and indifference to death that he speaks of rather than requests to the gods.

Walking wet pavements observing (stoically of course) the flashes of lightening over the sky, I wondered if death and being forgotten (everybody who ever knew you also dying) was such a constant preoccupation in these writing because it was a prospect that he really feared, as it has happened this has preserved his memory fairly effectively.

Everything he says is created for some duty (8:19) even if we accept that this is so and easily definable for his examples of a horse and a vine, the question that he does not address is what about an Emperor? Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero were all emperors and all acted as though they had different conceptions of duty. But Marcus while exposing his innermost thoughts does not want to reveal what he thought his own duty as an Emperor was. For me it was not a case of Howards end is no the landing but Marcus Aurelius was on the dusty shelf, picked up for two GBP I don't recall when, probably in disreputable company.

At the same time I can not be completely comfortable with him. Mine [my concern], to be in friendship and charity with all men (11:13) he writes while fighting wars against the Marcomanni, Quadi and Samatians, so friendship and charity with not quite all men, I flicked through the relevant pages of Empires and Barbarians and saw that war began because they asked if they could enter the empire and had been refused, perhaps I am missing something here, also this was a period when punishments for crimes became harsher for those of lower social status, his self cultivation and personal serenity did not come into conflict with a conception of imperial duty that seems in practise to have been heavy handed (kindness is irresistible but he is partial to the decapitation of his enemies), perhaps for him there was no contradiction, he was no Ashokha (he says somewhere that you either have to improve people or put up with them, he does not seem to have tried improving them, that was not his duty). But his writings don't clarify his approach to authority and rule to me (view spoiler) [ my guess would be that for him non-Romans and lower class Romans - humiliores as they were called in distinction to the higher class honestiores did not count as full people but were a lower type of thing like horses and vines and therefore to be broken or pruned, but since few of us these days are Roman emperors we can maybe misread his words with a fraternal spirit, if a fig tree will (in good conditions) produce figs so too a Roman Emperor will be a Roman Emperor (hide spoiler)] .

I see here Marcus Aurelius for business: Meditations: Thoughts for Corporate Dominance this from the man who wrote (5:33) "all that men set their hearts on in this life is vanity, corruption and trash. " . more


Reason and Meaning


Statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback.

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 AD) was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 and is one of the most important Stoic philosophers. What today we call the Meditations take the form of a personal notebook, which wasn’t intended for publication. Aurelius called them “Writings To Myself.” They were written in Greek, although his native tongue was Latin, and were probably composed while he was on military campaigns in central Europe, c. AD 171-175. Today it is widely regarded as one of the most important works in all of Western literature. He died, most likely from the plague or cancer, on a military campaign in present-day Austria. The work is divided into 12 short books.

In Book I Aurelius thanks those to whom he is indebted. He thanks his grandfather for teaching him to be candid, modest, and even-tempered his father for teaching him to be humble, calm, and frugal his mother for teaching him to be generous and non-materialistic and his teachers who taught him the value of hard work, self-discipline, equanimity, rationality, humor, and tolerance. From his teachers, he also learned to love practical philosophy, instead of metaphysics, logic and the vanity of the Sophists. He also thanks his wife for being affectionate.

In Book II Aurelius reminds us that each day we will meet some terrible people. But we have faults too, so we shouldn’t be angry with them. For we are all just bits of blood, bones, and breath our life is fleeting our bodies will decay. As for death, it is nothing to fear it can’t hurt us. But what is most important about us is our minds. We shouldn’t let them be slaves to selfish passions, quarrel with fate, or be anxious about the present or afraid of the future. We can’t guarantee fame or fortune, but we can keep our minds calm and free from injury, a state superior to both pleasure and pain. Freedom is the control of our minds.

In Book III Aurelius tells us to be mindful of little things like cracks in a loaf of bread, the texture of figs and olives, and the expressions of wild animals—even mundane things have charm he says. But we shouldn’t gossip or speculate about what others say or do. Instead, think and talk only about things you would not be ashamed of if they were found out. Think and talk with sincerity and cheerfulness, and there will be a kind of divinity within you. There is nothing more valuable than a mind pursuing truth, justice, temperance, fortitude, rationality and the like. So be resolute in pursuit of the good.

In Book IV Aurelius tells us that we can always find solitude in our own minds. If our minds are serene, we will find peace and happiness. As for how others view us, we have little control over this. But virtue is still virtue even if it isn’t acknowledged. Remember, our lives are ephemeral, one day we live, the next we are dead. So act virtuous, use your time well, and be cheerful. Then, when you drop from life’s tree, you will drop like a ripe fruit.

In Book V Aurelius says we should get up each morning and do good work. We should act naturally and contribute to society, unconcerned about the reproach of others. And don’t ask or expect payment or gratitude for doing good deeds. Instead, be satisfied with being like a vine that bears good fruit. Virtue is its own reward.

In Book V Aurelius disavows revenge—better not to imitate injury. We should do our duty, act righteously and not be disturbed by the rest, for in the vastness of space and time we are insignificant. Think of good things and control your mind.

In Book VII Aurelius advocates patience and tolerance. Nature works like wax, continually transforming—so be patient. People will speak ill of you no matter what you do, but be tolerant. Evil people try our patience and tolerance, but we can remain happy by controlling our response to them.

In Book VIII Aurelius argues that being disconnected from humanity is like cutting off one of your own limbs. Instead, live connected to nature and other people. No matter what you encounter maintain a moderate and controlled mind. If you are cursed by others, don’t let it affect you any more than your cursing the spring affects the springtime.

In Books IX, X, and XI Aurelius argues that we should be moderate, sincere, honest, and calm. If someone reports that you are not virtuous, dispel such notions with your probity, and use humor to disarm the worst people.

In Books XII Aurelius asks why we love ourselves best, but so often value the opinion of others over our own. This is a mistake. Remember too that the destiny of the greatest and worst of human beings is the same—they all turn to ashes. Do not then be proud, but be humble. Die in serenity. As Aurelius wrote from his tent, far from home and never to return: “Life is warfare and a stranger’s sojourn, and after fame, oblivion.”

Reflections – I want to learn more about Stoicism, Buddhism, and other practical philosophies. I think there is a hunger today for practical philosophies of life, especially in the modern world where religious stories no longer provide comfort to so many. For more on Stoic philosophy see my posts on: Seneca, Cicero, the Stoics on emotions, and how Epictetus helped Admiral James Stockdale endure more than seven years as a prisoner of war.


Who first published Marcus Aurelius' Meditations? - History

Translated by George Long

In he morning when thou risest unwillingly, let this thought be present- I am rising to the work of a human being. Why then am I dissatisfied if I am going to do the things for which I exist and for which I was brought into the world? Or have I been made for this, to lie in the bed-clothes and keep myself warm?- But this is more pleasant.- Dost thou exist then to take thy pleasure, and not at all for action or exertion? Dost thou not see the little plants, the little birds, the ants, the spiders, the bees working together to put in order their several parts of the universe? And art thou unwilling to do the work of a human being, and dost thou not make haste to do that which is according to thy nature?- But it is necessary to take rest also.- It is necessary: however nature has fixed bounds to this too: she has fixed bounds both to eating and drinking, and yet thou goest beyond these bounds, beyond what is sufficient yet in thy acts it is not so, but thou stoppest short of what thou canst do. So thou lovest not thyself, for if thou didst, thou wouldst love thy nature and her will. But those who love their several arts exhaust themselves in working at them unwashed and without food but thou valuest thy own own nature less than the turner values the turning art, or the dancer the dancing art, or the lover of money values his money, or the vainglorious man his little glory. And such men, when they have a violent affection to a thing, choose neither to eat nor to sleep rather than to perfect the things which they care for. But are the acts which concern society more vile in thy eyes and less worthy of thy labour?

How easy it is to repel and to wipe away every impression which is troublesome or unsuitable, and immediately to be in all tranquility.

Judge every word and deed which are according to nature to be fit for thee and be not diverted by the blame which follows from any people nor by their words, but if a thing is good to be done or said, do not consider it unworthy of thee. For those persons have their peculiar leading principle and follow their peculiar movement which things do not thou regard, but go straight on, following thy own nature and the common nature and the way of both is one.

I go through the things which happen according to nature until I shall fall and rest, breathing out my breath into that element out of which I daily draw it in, and falling upon that earth out of which my father collected the seed, and my mother the blood, and my nurse the milk out of which during so many years I have been supplied with food and drink which bears me when I tread on it and abuse it for so many purposes.

Thou sayest, Men cannot admire the sharpness of thy wits.- Be it so: but there are many other things of which thou canst not say, I am not formed for them by nature. Show those qualities then which are altogether in thy power, sincerity, gravity, endurance of labour, aversion to pleasure, contentment with thy portion and with few things, benevolence, frankness, no love of superfluity, freedom from trifling magnanimity. Dost thou not see how many qualities thou art immediately able to exhibit, in which there is no excuse of natural incapacity and unfitness, and yet thou still remainest voluntarily below the mark? Or art thou compelled through being defectively furnished by nature to murmur, and to be stingy, and to flatter, and to find fault with thy poor body, and to try to please men, and to make great display, and to be so restless in thy mind? No, by the gods: but thou mightest have been delivered from these things long ago. Only if in truth thou canst be charged with being rather slow and dull of comprehension, thou must exert thyself about this also, not neglecting it nor yet taking pleasure in thy dulness.

One man, when he has done a service to another, is ready to set it down to his account as a favour conferred. Another is not ready to do this, but still in his own mind he thinks of the man as his debtor, and he knows what he has done. A third in a manner does not even know what he has done, but he is like a vine which has produced grapes, and seeks for nothing more after it has once produced its proper fruit. As a horse when he has run, a dog when he has tracked the game, a bee when it has made the honey, so a man when he has done a good act, does not call out for others to come and see, but he goes on to another act, as a vine goes on to produce again the grapes in season.- Must a man then be one of these, who in a manner act thus without observing it?- Yes.- But this very thing is necessary, the observation of what a man is doing: for, it may be said, it is characteristic of the social animal to perceive that he is working in a social manner, and indeed to wish that his social partner also should perceive it.- It is true what thou sayest, but thou dost not rightly understand what is now said: and for this reason thou wilt become one of those of whom I spoke before, for even they are misled by a certain show of reason. But if thou wilt choose to understand the meaning of what is said, do not fear that for this reason thou wilt omit any social act.

A prayer of the Athenians: Rain, rain, O dear Zeus, down on the ploughed fields of the Athenians and on the plains.- In truth we ought not to pray at all, or we ought to pray in this simple and noble fashion.

Just as we must understand when it is said, That Aesculapius prescribed to this man horse-exercise, or bathing in cold water or going without shoes so we must understand it when it is said, That the nature of the universe prescribed to this man disease or mutilation or loss or anything else of the kind. For in the first case Prescribed means something like this: he prescribed this for this man as a thing adapted to procure health and in the second case it means: That which happens to (or, suits) every man is fixed in a manner for him suitably to his destiny. For this is what we mean when we say that things are suitable to us, as the workmen say of squared stones in walls or the pyramids, that they are suitable, when they fit them to one another in some kind of connexion. For there is altogether one fitness, harmony. And as the universe is made up out of all bodies to be such a body as it is, so out of all existing causes necessity (destiny) is made up to be such a cause as it is. And even those who are completely ignorant understand what I mean, for they say, It (necessity, destiny) brought this to such a person.- This then was brought and this was precribed to him. Let us then receive these things, as well as those which Aesculapius prescribes. Many as a matter of course even among his prescriptions are disagreeable, but we accept them in the hope of health. Let the perfecting and accomplishment of the things, which the common nature judges to be good, be judged by thee to be of the same kind as thy health. And so accept everything which happens, even if it seem disagreeable, because it leads to this, to the health of the universe and to the prosperity and felicity of Zeus (the universe). For he would not have brought on any man what he has brought, if it were not useful for the whole. Neither does the nature of anything, whatever it may be, cause anything which is not suitable to that which is directed by it. For two reasons then it is right to be content with that which happens to thee the one, because it was done for thee and prescribed for thee, and in a manner had reference to thee, originally from the most ancient causes spun with thy destiny and the other, because even that which comes severally to every man is to the power which administers the universe a cause of felicity and perfection, nay even of its very continuance. For the integrity of the whole is mutilated, if thou cuttest off anything whatever from the conjunction and the continuity either of the parts or of the causes. And thou dost cut off, as far as it is in thy power, when thou art dissatisfied, and in a manner triest to put anything out of the way.

Be not disgusted, nor discouraged, nor dissatisfied, if thou dost not succeed in doing everything according to right principles but when thou bast failed, return back again, and be content if the greater part of what thou doest is consistent with man's nature, and love this to which thou returnest and do not return to philosophy as if she were a master, but act like those who have sore eyes and apply a bit of sponge and egg, or as another applies a plaster, or drenching with water. For thus thou wilt not fail to obey reason, and thou wilt repose in it. And remember that philosophy requires only the things which thy nature requires but thou wouldst have something else which is not according to nature.- It may be objected, Why what is more agreeable than this which I am doing?- But is not this the very reason why pleasure deceives us? And consider if magnanimity, freedom, simplicity, equanimity, piety, are not more agreeable. For what is more agreeable than wisdom itself, when thou thinkest of the security and the happy course of all things which depend on the faculty of understanding and knowledge?

Things are in such a kind of envelopment that they have seemed to philosophers, not a few nor those common philosophers, altogether unintelligible nay even to the Stoics themselves they seem difficult to understand. And all our assent is changeable for where is the man who never changes? Carry thy thoughts then to the objects themselves, and consider how short-lived they are and worthless, and that they may be in the possession of a filthy wretch or a whore or a robber. Then turn to the morals of those who live with thee, and it is hardly possible to endure even the most agreeable of them, to say nothing of a man being hardly able to endure himself. In such darkness then and dirt and in so constant a flux both of substance and of time, and of motion and of things moved, what there is worth being highly prized or even an object of serious pursuit, I cannot imagine. But on the contrary it is a man's duty to comfort himself, and to wait for the

natural dissolution and not to be vexed at the delay, but to rest in these principles only: the one, that nothing will happen to me which is not conformable to the nature of the universe and the other, that it is in my power never to act contrary to my god and daemon: for there is no man who will compel me to this.

About what am I now employing my own soul? On every occasion I must ask myself this question, and inquire, what have I now in this part of me which they call the ruling principle? And whose soul have I now? That of a child, or of a young man, or of a feeble woman, or of a tyrant, or of a domestic animal, or of a wild beast?

What kind of things those are which appear good to the many, we may learn even from this. For if any man should conceive certain things as being really good, such as prudence, temperance, justice, fortitude, he would not after having first conceived these endure to listen to anything which should not be in harmony with what is really good. But if a man has first conceived as good the things which appear to the many to be good, he will listen and readily receive as very applicable that which was said by the comic writer. Thus even the many perceive the difference. For were it not so, this saying would not offend and would not be rejected in the first case, while we receive it when it is said of wealth, and of the means which further luxury and fame, as said fitly and wittily. Go on then and ask if we should value and think those things to be good, to which after their first conception in the mind the words of the comic writer might be aptly applied- that he who has them, through pure abundance has not a place to ease himself in.

I am composed of the formal and the material and neither of them will perish into non-existence, as neither of them came into existence out of non-existence. Every part of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again will change into another part of the universe, and so on for ever. And by consequence of such a change I too exist, and those who begot me, and so on for ever in the other direction. For nothing hinders us from saying so, even if the universe is administered according to definite periods of revolution.

Reason and the reasoning art (philosophy) are powers which are sufficient for themselves and for their own works. They move then from a first principle which is their own, and they make their way to the end which is proposed to them and this is the reason why such acts are named catorthoseis or right acts, which word signifies that they proceed by the right road.

None of these things ought to be called a man's, which do not belong to a man, as man. They are not required of a man, nor does man's nature promise them, nor are they the means of man's nature attaining its end. Neither then does the end of man lie in these things, nor yet that which aids to the accomplishment of this end, and that which aids towards this end is that which is good. Besides, if any of these things did belong to man, it would not be right for a man to despise them and to set himself against them nor would a man be worthy of praise who showed that he did not want these things, nor would he who stinted himself in any of them be good, if indeed these things were good. But now the more of these things a man deprives himself of, or of other things like them, or even when he is deprived of any of them, the more patiently he endures the loss, just in the same degree he is a better man.

Such as are thy habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of thy mind for the soul is dyed by the thoughts. Dye it then with a continuous series of such thoughts as these: for instance, that where a man can live, there he can also live well. But he must live in a palace- well then, he can also live well in a palace. And again, consider that for whatever purpose each thing has been constituted, for this it has been constituted, and towards this it is carried and its end is in that towards which it is carried and where the end is, there also is the advantage and the good of each thing. Now the good for the reasonable animal is society for that we are made for society has been shown above. Is it not plain that the inferior exist for the sake of the superior? But the things which have life are superior to those which have not life, and of those which have life the superior are those which have reason.

To seek what is impossible is madness: and it is impossible that the bad should not do something of this kind.

Nothing happens to any man which he is not formed by nature to bear. The same things happen to another, and either because he does not see that they have happened or because he would show a great spirit he is firm and remains unharmed. It is a shame then that ignorance and conceit should be stronger than wisdom.

Things themselves touch not the soul, not in the least degree nor have they admission to the soul, nor can they turn or move the soul: but the soul turns and moves itself alone, and whatever judgements it may think proper to make, such it makes for itself the things which present themselves to it.

In one respect man is the nearest thing to me, so far as I must do good to men and endure them. But so far as some men make themselves obstacles to my proper acts, man becomes to me one of the things which are indifferent, no less than the sun or wind or a wild beast. Now it is true that these may impede my action, but they are no impediments to my affects and disposition, which have the power of acting conditionally and changing: for the mind converts and changes every hindrance to its activity into an aid and so that which is a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act and that which is an obstacle on the road helps us on this road.

Reverence that which is best in the universe and this is that which makes use of all things and directs all things. And in like manner also reverence that which is best in thyself and this is of the same kind as that. For in thyself also, that which makes use of everything else, is this, and thy life is directed by this.

That which does no harm to the state, does no harm to the citizen. In the case of every appearance of harm apply this rule: if the state is not harmed by this, neither am I harmed. But if the state is harmed, thou must not be angry with him who does harm to the state. Show him where his error is.

Often think of the rapidity with which things pass by and disappear, both the things which are and the things which are produced. For substance is like a river in a continual flow, and the activities of things are in constant change, and the causes work in infinite varieties and there is hardly anything which stands still. And consider this which is near to thee, this boundless abyss of the past and of the future in which all things disappear. How then is he not a fool who is puffed up with such things or plagued about them and makes himself miserable? for they vex him only for a time, and a short time.

Think of the universal substance, of which thou hast a very small portion and of universal time, of which a short and indivisible interval has been assigned to thee and of that which is fixed by destiny, and how small a part of it thou art.

Does another do me wrong? Let him look to it. He has his own disposition, his own activity. I now have what the universal nature wills me to have and I do what my nature now wills me to do.

Let the part of thy soul which leads and governs be undisturbed by the movements in the flesh, whether of pleasure or of pain and let it not unite with them, but let it circumscribe itself and limit those affects to their parts. But when these affects rise up to the mind by virtue of that other sympathy that naturally exists in a body which is all one, then thou must not strive to resist the sensation, for it is natural: but let not the ruling part of itself add to the sensation the opinion that it is either good or bad.

Live with the gods. And he does live with the gods who constantly shows to them, his own soul is satisfied with that which is assigned to him, and that it does all that the daemon wishes, which Zeus hath given to every man for his guardian and guide, a portion of himself. And this is every man's understanding and reason.

Art thou angry with him whose armpits stink? Art thou angry with him whose mouth smells foul? What good will this danger do thee? He has such a mouth, he has such arm-pits: it is necessary that such an emanation must come from such things- but the man has reason, it will be said, and he is able, if he takes pain, to discover wherein he offends- I wish thee well of thy discovery. Well then, and thou hast reason: by thy rational faculty stir up his rational faculty show him his error, admonish him. For if he listens, thou wilt cure him, and there is no need of anger. Neither tragic actor nor whore.

As thou intendest to live when thou art gone out. so it is in thy power to live here. But if men do not permit thee, then get away out of life, yet so as if thou wert suffering no harm. The house is smoky, and I quit it. Why dost thou think that this is any trouble? But so long as nothing of the kind drives me out, I remain, am free, and no man shall hinder me from doing what I choose and I choose to do what is according to the nature of the rational and social animal.

The intelligence of the universe is social. Accordingly it has made the inferior things for the sake of the superior, and it has fitted the superior to one another. Thou seest how it has subordinated, co-ordinated and assigned to everything its proper portion, and has brought together into concord with one another the things which are the best.

How hast thou behaved hitherto to the gods, thy parents, brethren, children, teachers, to those who looked after thy infancy, to thy friends, kinsfolk, to thy slaves? Consider if thou hast hitherto behaved to all in such a way that this may be said of thee:

Never has wronged a man in deed or word. And call to recollection both how many things thou hast passed through, and how many things thou hast been able to endure: and that the history of thy life is now complete and thy service is ended: and how many beautiful things thou hast seen: and how many pleasures and pains thou hast despised and how many things called honourable thou hast spurned and to how many ill-minded folks thou hast shown a kind disposition.

Why do unskilled and ignorant souls disturb him who has skill and knowledge? What soul then has skill and knowledge? That which knows beginning and end, and knows the reason which pervades all substance and through all time by fixed periods (revolutions) administers the universe.

Soon, very soon, thou wilt be ashes, or a skeleton, and either a name or not even a name but name is sound and echo. And the things which are much valued in life are empty and rotten and trifling, and like little dogs biting one another, and little children quarrelling, laughing, and then straightway weeping. But fidelity and modesty and justice and truth are fled

Up to Olympus from the wide-spread earth. What then is there which still detains thee here? If the objects of sense are easily changed and never stand still, and the organs of perception are dull and easily receive false impressions and the poor soul itself is an exhalation from blood. But to have good repute amidst such a world as this is an empty thing. Why then dost thou not wait in tranquility for thy end, whether it is extinction or removal to another state? And until that time comes, what is sufficient? Why, what else than to venerate the gods and bless them, and to do good to men, and to practise tolerance and self-restraint but as to everything which is beyond the limits of the poor flesh and breath, to remember that this is neither thine nor in thy power.

Thou canst pass thy life in an equable flow of happiness, if thou canst go by the right way, and think and act in the right way. These two things are common both to the soul of God and to the soul of man, and to the soul of every rational being, not to be hindered by another and to hold good to consist in the disposition to justice and the practice of it, and in this to let thy desire find its termination.

If this is neither my own badness, nor an effect of my own badness, and the common weal is not injured, why am I troubled about it? And what is the harm to the common weal?

Do not be carried along inconsiderately by the appearance of things, but give help to all according to thy ability and their fitness and if they should have sustained loss in matters which are indifferent, do not imagine this to be a damage. For it is a bad habit. But as the old man, when he went away, asked back his foster-child's top, remembering that it was a top, so do thou in this case also.

When thou art calling out on the Rostra, hast thou forgotten, man, what these things are?- Yes but they are objects of great concern to these people- wilt thou too then be made a fool for these things?- I was once a fortunate man, but I lost it, I know not how.- But fortunate means that a man has assigned to himself a good fortune: and a good fortune is good disposition of the soul, good emotions, good actions.


Marcus Aurelius in the Historia Augusta

What do we learn about the life and character of the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius, the author of The Meditations, from the Historia Augusta?

The Historia Augusta is a somewhat unreliable Latin history, supposedly compiled from the writings of different authors. It appears to contain a mixture of authentic historical facts derived from other sources, and fictitious elaboration added by one or more later authors. However, it is one of the few sources of information about the life of Marcus Aurelius, the author of the famous Stoic journal, originally entitled To Himself but better known today as The Meditations.

It contains a chapter dedicated to the life of Marcus, which appears reasonably plausible and may be one of the more reliable parts of the text. Indeed, several of the details given about Marcus’ life in this text appear consistent with biographical fragments in The Meditations. This potentially lends the rest of the biography some credibility as historians consider it unlikely the author actually had access to a copy of The Meditations. A detailed scholarly analysis of the text has recently been published by Dr. Geoff W. Adams, of the University of Tasmania, called Marcus Aurelius in the Historia Augusta and Beyond (2013).

So what does the biography of Marcus in the Historia Augusta say that may be of interest to us in terms of his Stoicism? The opening sentence states that Marcus “throughout his whole life, was a man devoted to philosophy and was a man who surpassed all emperors in the integrity of his life.” We’re told Marcus was an earnest child who, as soon as he was old enough to be handed over from the care of his nurses to “notable instructors”, embarked on his study of philosophy.

He studied philosophy intensely, even when he was still a boy. When he was twelve years old he embraced the dress of a philosopher, and later, the endurance – studying in a Greek cloak and sleeping on the ground. However, (with some difficulty) his mother persuaded him to sleep on a couch spread with skins. He was also tutored by Apollonius of Chalcedon, the Stoic philosopher […]

These were the typical attire and practices of philosophers in the ancient Socratic tradition, particularly the Stoics and Cynics. The history continues:

Furthermore, his zeal for philosophy was so great that, even after he joined the imperial family, he still used to go to Apollonius’ house for instruction. He also attended the lectures of Sextus of Chaeronea (Plutarch’s nephew), Junius Rusticus, Claudius Maximus and Cinna Catulus – all Stoics. He went to lectures by Claudius Severus too, as he was attracted to the Peripatetic School. But it was chiefly Junius Rusticus, whom he admired and followed – a man acclaimed in both private and public life and extremely well practiced in the Stoic discipline.

Marcus praises his Stoic teachers’ virtues in the first chapter of The Meditations but here we’re also told that he held them in such high esteem that he kept gold portraits of them in his private shrine and honoured their tombs with personal visits, offering flowers and sacrifices to their memory.

We’re told of his character: “He was austere, but not hardened, modest but not timid and serious, but not grim.” He’s praised as a benevolent and wise ruler:

Indeed, toward the people he behaved no differently than one behaves under a free state. He was in all ways remarkably moderate, in deterring people from evil and encouraging them to good, generous in rewarding, lenient in pardoning and as such he made the bad good and good very good – even suffering with restraint the criticism of not a few.

We’re told he was not quick to punish anyone, and that although resolute he was always reasonable and restrained. He was renowned for acts of kindness and compassion. For example, apparently Marcus was the first to order that tight-rope walkers, often young boys, should be protected from injury by placing mattresses beneath their ropes, since which time nets have been used to reduce the risk. Presumably he felt that the spectacle of children risking their lives was unnecessary and their skills could still be entertaining enough, though the performance was made safe.

The war in Germania is portrayed as necessary to defend Rome against incursions and difficult because the armies were seriously depleted by plague. Marcus took the controversial, but perhaps prudent decision to order slaves and gladiators to be armed and trained for military service. We’re told he auctioned off the treasures of the imperial palace selling robes, goblets, statues, and paintings, to raise funds for the war in Germania. Perhaps his comment about his indifference to his purple imperial robes, described as just wool dyed in putrid shellfish gore, in The Meditations, can be linked to the sacrifice of such precious garments.

But because Marcus appeared severe in his military discipline and in fact in his general lifestyle, as a consequence of his philosophical practices, he was angrily criticized but to all of those who spoke badly of him, he responded in either orations or in brochures.

In other words, despite his supreme power, he did not have his outspoken critics punished, or even killed, as emperors such as Nero did. It seems his austere lifestyle led both to prudence in running the state but also to some anxiety among the population. We’re told that when he recruited the gladiators to serve in the army, “there was gossip among the people that he sought to take away their amusements and so force them to study philosophy.” Again, though, with regard to his concern with justice, we’re told:

It was normal for [Marcus] to penalize all crimes with lighter sentences than were generally imposed by the laws, but at times, toward those who were obviously guilty of serious offences he remained unbending. […] He meticulously observed justice, furthermore, even in this contact with captured foes. He settled countless foreigners on Roman land.

Curiously, we’re told Marcus was “exceptionally adored” by the eastern provinces of the Roman empire, and that he somehow “left the imprint of philosophy” upon them.

For Marcus’ own serenity was so great, that he never changed his expression (either in grief or in joy) being devoted to the Stoic philosophy, which he had learned from the very best teachers and had acquired himself from every source.

This is another typical characteristic attributed to Stoics: the wise man has a fundamental constancy, and is unchanged by external circumstances, whatever his fate. Whether he meets with outward success or failure, he is always the same, because these things are ultimately “indifferent” to him, only his own virtue (or vice) really matters enough to influence his state of mind. When Marcus became seriously ill he ended his life by refraining from eating and drinking, which we’re also told Zeno the founder of Stoicism did when he wished to end his life.

Stoicism has a military flavour, both in its language and in the lifestyle and attire adopted by its adherents. Stoic leaders, perhaps for that reason, were sometimes popular with the Roman troops. Marcus is portrayed as a man dedicated to the military and adored by them, not unlike the Stoic hero Cato before him. Hence, “The army, when they heard of his illness, cried noisily, for they loved him alone.”

When near death, he called his friends around, showing, we’re told, a lofty indifference to his own impending demise. He said: “Why do you cry for me, instead of considering the pestilence and the death that is the common destiny of us all.” This is a standard Stoic formula, in fact. Contemplating the universal and inevitable nature of death is supposed to help us accept it with indifference, as determined by Nature.

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Homer in The Meditations

Homer, the most influential of all Greek poets, unsurprisingly, was another favourite of the Stoics. Indeed, Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, wrote a (lost) book titled Homeric Problems, spanning five volumes, and other early Stoics also wrote books concerning Homer’s texts. Nevertheless, Marcus only seems to quote Homer twice in The Meditations, a fact that perhaps serves to further highlight Euripides’ unique importance for him.

The first Homeric quote is rather cryptic:

‘ — and my heart laughed within me.’ — Meditations, 11.31

It is from The Odyssey, where Odysseus is delighted at his victory over the Cyclops. It’s impossible to tell why Marcus thought this particular phrase was so important.

The second is a shortened version of a famous passage from The Iliad. By contrast, Marcus explains exactly what it means to him, so it’s worth quoting the surrounding passage in full.

To him who is penetrated by true principles even the briefest precept is sufficient, and any common precept, to remind him that he should be free from grief and fear. For example:

“Leaves, some the wind scatters on the ground
So is the race of men.”

Leaves, also, are your children. And leaves, too, are they who cry out as if they were worthy of credit and bestow their praise, or on the contrary curse, or secretly blame and sneer. And leaves, in like manner, are those who shall receive and transmit a man’s fame to after-times. For all such things as these “are produced in the season of spring,” as the poet says. Then the wind casts them down and the forest produces other leaves in their places. But a brief existence is common to all things, and yet you avoid and pursue all things as if they would be eternal. A little time, and you shall close your eyes and soon another will lament him who has attended you to your grave. — Meditations, 10.34


Inside-Out Change

As you begin your practice, you may not catch yourself in the moment. Can you practice standing down from your secondary responses, the endless repetitions of your story of how you have been wronged?

With practice, a new understanding of how life works takes root. That new understanding will do the heavy lifting.

Today, remember your true nature when a driver cuts you off. Today, listen carefully as a colleague presents an alternative view. Today, have a kind word and a warm meal ready for your partner who comes home cranky from work.

Mindlessly gripping our conditioned thinking, we have much less free will than we may believe.

Since your experience is perceived inside-out, as you change, your world will change too. Those you encounter possess “a share of the divine.” Like you, they may have forgotten the truth and like you, they can awaken to their true nature.

Mindlessly gripping our conditioned thinking, we have much less free will than we may believe. It seems like we are making a choice when all the while, our thinking has us in its trap. Aurelius’s Meditations instructs us in practices to restore our power of free will. Our behavior follows our beliefs about our self and others. In short, our understanding of how life works is 100 percent connected to our experience of life.

Aurelius reached a fork in the road of his own life:

You’ve wandered all over and finally realized that you never found what you were after: how to live. Not in syllogisms, not in money, or fame, or self-indulgence.

If you have come to a similar realization in your life, following Aurelius’s path to inner freedom will serve you well.


Contents

In 166, during the epidemic, the Greek physician and writer Galen travelled from Rome to his home in Asia Minor and returned to Rome in 168, when he was summoned by the two Augusti, the co-emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. He was present at the outbreak among troops stationed at Aquileia in the winter of 168/69. Galen briefly recorded observations and a description of the epidemic in the treatise Methodus Medendi ("Method of Treatment"), and he scattered other references to it among his voluminous writings. He described the plague as "great" and of long duration, and mentioned fever, diarrhea, and pharyngitis as well as a skin eruption, sometimes dry and sometimes pustular, that appeared on the ninth day of the illness. The information that was provided by Galen does not unambiguously identify the nature of the disease, but scholars have generally preferred to diagnose it as smallpox. [10]

The historian William H. McNeill [11] asserts that the Antonine Plague and the later Plague of Cyprian (251–c. 270) were outbreaks of two different diseases, one of smallpox and one of measles but not necessarily in that order. The severe devastation to the European population from the two plagues may indicate that people had no previous exposure to either disease, which brought immunity to survivors. Other historians believe that both outbreaks involved smallpox. [12] The latter view is bolstered by molecular estimates that place the evolution of measles sometime after 1000 AD. [13]

Arts Edit

In their consternation, many turned to the protection offered by magic. Lucian of Samosata's irony-laden account of the charlatan Alexander of Abonoteichus records a verse of his "which he despatched to all the nations during the pestilence. was to be seen written over doorways everywhere", particularly in the houses that were emptied, Lucian further remarks. [14]

The epidemic had drastic social and political effects throughout the Roman Empire. Barthold Georg Niebuhr (1776–1831) concluded that "as the reign of Marcus Aurelius forms a turning point in so many things, and above all in literature and art, I have no doubt that this crisis was brought about by that plague. The ancient world never recovered from the blow inflicted on it by the plague which visited it in the reign of Marcus Aurelius." [15] During the Marcomannic Wars, Marcus Aurelius wrote his philosophical work Meditations. A passage (IX.2) states that even the pestilence around him was less deadly than falsehood, evil behaviour and lack of true understanding. As he lay dying, he uttered the words, "Weep not for me think rather of the pestilence and the deaths of so many others." Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) and Michael Rostovtzeff (1870–1952) assigned the Antonine plague less influence than contemporary political and economic trends. [ citation needed ]

Some direct effects of the contagion stand out. When imperial forces moved east, under the command of Emperor Verus, after the forces of Vologases IV of Parthia attacked Armenia, the Romans' defense of the eastern territories was hampered when large numbers of troops succumbed to the disease. According to the 5th-century Spanish writer Paulus Orosius, many towns and villages in the Italian Peninsula and the European provinces lost all of their inhabitants. As the disease swept north to the Rhine, it also infected Germanic and Gallic peoples outside the empire's borders. For years, those northern groups had pressed south in search of more lands to sustain their growing populations. With their ranks thinned by the epidemic, Roman armies were now unable to push the tribes back. From 167 to his death, Marcus Aurelius personally commanded legions near the Danube, trying, with only partial success, to control the advance of Germanic peoples across the river. A major offensive against the Marcomanni was postponed to 169 because of a shortage of imperial troops. [ citation needed ]

Although Ge Hong was the first writer of traditional Chinese medicine who accurately described the symptoms of smallpox, the historian Rafe de Crespigny mused that the plagues afflicting the Eastern Han Empire during the reigns of Emperor Huan of Han (r. 146–168) and Emperor Ling of Han (r. 168–189) – with outbreaks in 151, 161, 171, 173, 179, 182, and 185 – were perhaps connected to the Antonine plague on the western end of Eurasia. [16] De Crespigny suggests that the plagues led to the rise of the cult faith healing millenarian movement led by Zhang Jue (d. 184), who instigated the disastrous Yellow Turban Rebellion (184–205). [17] He also stated that "it may be only chance" that the outbreak of the Antonine plague in 166 coincides with the Roman embassy of "Daqin" (the Roman Empire) landing in Jiaozhi (northern Vietnam) and visiting the Han court of Emperor Huan, claiming to represent "Andun" ( 安敦 a transliteration of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus or his predecessor Antoninus Pius). [18] [19] [20]

Raoul McLaughlin wrote that the Roman subjects visiting the Han Chinese court in 166 could have ushered in a new era of Roman Far East trade, but it was a "harbinger of something much more ominous" instead. [21] McLaughlin surmised that the origins of the plague lay in Central Asia, from some unknown and isolated population group, which then spread to the Chinese and the Roman worlds. [21] The plague would kill roughly 10% of the Roman population, as cited by McLaughlin, causing "irreparable" damage to the Roman maritime trade in the Indian Ocean as proven by the archaeological record spanning from Egypt to India as well as significantly decreased Roman commercial activity in Southeast Asia. [22] However, as evidenced by the 3rd-century Periplus of the Erythraean Sea and the 6th-century Christian Topography by Cosmas Indicopleustes, Roman maritime trade into the Indian Ocean, particularly in the silk and spice trades, certainly did not cease but continued until the loss of Egypt to the Muslim Rashidun Caliphate. [23] [24] Chinese histories also insist that further Roman embassies came to China by way of Rinan in Vietnam in 226 and 284 AD, where Roman artifacts have been found. [25] [26] [27]


Watch the video: Marcus Aurelius: Biography Overview (May 2022).