The meditations

by Russell McNeil

Other authorsGregory Hays (Translator)
Paperback, 2002




New York : Modern Library, 2002.


Marcus Aurelius ruled the Roman empire from AD 161-180. He wrote the 12 books of the Meditations as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. It is possible that large portions of the work were written at Sirmium, where he spent much time planning military campaigns from 170 to 180. Some of it was written while he was positioned at Aquincum on campaign in Pannonia, because internal notes tell us that the first book was written when he was campaigning against the Quadi on the river Granova and the second book was written at Carnuntum. It is unlikely that Marcus Aurelius ever intended the writings to be published and the work has no official title, so "Meditations" is one of several titles commonly assigned to the collection. These writings take the form of quotations varying in length from one sentence to long paragraphs. George Long Translation.… (more)

Media reviews

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The translation doesn't shrink from anachronism (there's talk of atoms) and sometimes verges on the new age: "Stay centred on that", "Let it hit you". But it's sparky and slangily readable, and for those who know Marcus only as the Richard Harris character in Ridley Scott's Gladiator, this is a
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chance to become better acquainted. As a critic once said, the Meditations are an "unassailable wintry kingdom". But in the desert of 2003, their icy blasts are refreshing and restorative. They tell you the worst. And having heard the worst, you feel less bad.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member sagacious33
I've often wondered why we, as a society, focus so much on the views of the powerful and the wealthy. Surely there are millions of men and women who have sided toward a philosophy weighted with moral integrity . I decided that the wealthy and the powerful must overcome temptations that the average
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man or woman would never dream of. The antics of today's Hollywood stars should suffice to demonstrate that fame, wealth and power can saturate men and women in false senses of superiority. And money and power must provide access to a large variety of creative sins. Despite these realities, Marcus Aurelius, in the years 121-180 A.D., explores a very healthy mindset and provides some guidelines that are every bit as applicable today, some 1940 years later, as they were in the midst of the Roman Empire.
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LibraryThing member viking2917
Reading just a few paragraphs a day is great way to center yourself before every day. Amazing book.
LibraryThing member P_S_Patrick
The 200 or so pages of this book contain the thoughts of Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and Stoic. Although being billed as his meditations, it is explained in the preface that he has also noted down the thoughts of other philosophers among his own, and these are not referenced, so will be up to
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you to spot them. They were originally written only for himself though, so he cannot be blamed for this.
On the whole I think that the bad press that Stoic philosophy gets is undeserved. The message this book gives is generally positive, and if everyone took notice of it then the world would be a more pleasant place. That isn't to say that it is all correct though, and what a lot of it comes down to is sticking one's head in the sand, and accepting the "order of the universe", or fate. This does do a good job of promoting the virtues of tolerance, and being content with your lot, though, and this is not a bad thing per se.
This edition is the one translated straight from an ancient greek manuscript, in the 17th Century, and so the language retains some of the antiquated style you would expect from a text originally written over 1800 years ago.
I would reccomend this book to those who think they may be interested in it, but it is probably more of one to dip into, than to read straight through. This is for a couple of reasons, one being that it can seem a bit repetitive, and the other bieng that you may find it hard to concentrate on, as some of the sentences are inarticulately long.
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LibraryThing member Petroglyph
This is not a book that was intended to be read all the way through: it’s a collection of notes to self, kept over a fairly long timeframe and across multiple locations, written in a terse, almost abbreviated style sometimes that would only have made sense to the author himself, Marcus Aurelius
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Antoninus Augustus, Emperor of Rome in the middle of the second century. Much of it is understandable, though, and even setting aside that the text is some eighteen hundred years old, it is a fascinatingly in-depth insight into a real person from Antiquity.

The Emperor’s diay tried his very best to be honest with himself and with others, and to treat his fellow human beings with the respect they cosmically deserve. He is nothing but frank and direct with himself; he is his own stern teacher and Superego.

Some bits are repetitive, in that there are things that Marcus Aurelius keeps reminding himself of over and over again: of his own mortality, first and foremost; of being ever rational; of his relative insignificance in view of time, space and the human multitudes; but also of the importance of maintaining mindfulness and humility while fulfilling his duties, or doing anything at all, for that matter. Above all he is concerned with occupying his rightful place in the order of things, both in the Universe and in Society. Presumably these were some of the things he struggled with most, or found hardest to implement consistently in his life.

Interestingly, there are many aphorisms strewn through the text, along with allusions to anecdotes or lines and characters from plays that illustrate a particular point: these Marcus Aurelius frequently does not elaborate upon and are merely there to serve as quick mnemonics for the larger lesson they remind him of. Some of these references are obscure, but others are to texts that have come down to us. That means it is important to find an edition with good footnotes! And my edition, edited and translated by Gregory Hays, was indeed wonderful. The translation really flowed: Hays clearly took pains to render the Emperor’s Greek into contemporary language. The footnotes and the explanatory introduction were great, as well.
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LibraryThing member knotbox
Philosophy was a hard sell for me to actually read, I’ll admit. In high school I always wanted to be someone who could quote and understood ancient philosophers. I’ve acquired several books and never read them. But when a friend shared a quote from this book that struck a chord, I knew I would
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actually read this one. Even if it did take me a rather long time.

Here’s a snippet of that quote:

You will never be remarkable for quick-wittedness. Be it so, then; yet there are still a host of other qualities whereof you cannot say, 'I have no bent for them.' Cultivate these, then, for they are wholly within your power: sincerity, for example, and dignity; industriousness, and sobriety.

It’s worth mentioning that I have questions about his views on slavery and think he may have been a misogynist, but also that every single “you” in this text was addressed to himself. Apparently this masterful philosopher and emperor struggled with certain concepts a lot and attempted to steer his mind to better thoughts. It’s really commendable. I doubt my own ‘notes to self’ would be as compelling.

I’ve heard it from several readers, the Penguin Great Ideas edition is really good. I marked that sucker up, and despite a slow and rocky beginning find myself thinking often of things that Marcus has said and wanting to re-read and share things with everyone. We disagree on a lot, but still, I’d love to hang out with that dude.

"You don't mind if I call you Marcus, do you?" I’ll say when I drop in to have a beer in his courtyard, put my feet up on the furniture and annoy the sh*t out of him.

I'm really glad I read it.
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LibraryThing member keylawk
The Stoic Emperor, succeeded to the imperial throne in 161 until his death in 180 AD. His rule was marked by justice and moderation, although the frontier was in constant defense against "barbarian hordes". Also, during this reign a severe pestilence struck Rome. The populace concluded that the
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anger of the gods had been incurred by their neglect in the hands of Christians, and Aurelius seems to have led his panicked people in their cruel prosecution.

The Meditations were written in Greek with a view to practical application of Stoic precepts.
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LibraryThing member CarltonC
I think that this collection of thoughts has to be read in context, as a common place book for the author, and not as a systematic philosophy. As James Mustich says in his book “1,000 Books to Read before you Die”, this can read “like a twenty first century self-help book”, but “the
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aphoristic reflections ... are both consoling and inspiring”.
To the extent that I think about philosophy, these thoughts often chime with my own, except for the assumption of rational thinking and the acceptance that everything happens for the best, for example see book 4:9-10:
9. It was for the best. So Nature had no choice but to do it.
10. That every event is the right one. Look closely and you’ll see. Not just the right one overall, but right. As if someone had weighed it out with scales.

The collection can be repetitive and morbid, but is also fascinating; to read thoughts from over 1,800 years ago that sound current (although this observation is dependent upon the translation).

I am currently also reading Rage by Bob Woodward, and I think a lot of the military personnel who were asked to serve the US in the Trump administration were probably more than a little conversant with the stoicism of the Meditations.

In respect of the translation by Gregory Hays, there were Americanisms, and I was flummoxed by the meaning of “gussy up”, an American colloquial term I had heard before, but had to google to understand!

Book 4:43
Time is a river, a violent current of events, glimpsed once and already carried past us, and another follows and is gone.
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LibraryThing member NielsenGW
Marcus Aurelius was Emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 CE. Considered the last of the Five Good Emperors, he oversaw his empire with stoicism and equality. In his Meditations, written while on a military campaign in the last decade of his life, he sets forth a series of aphorisms, letters,
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and principles that he tried to live by. As a stoic, he thought that powerful emotions were the cause of errors in life and so sought to live a life of a more moral and intellectual manner.

The Meditations aren’t really written for an audience, and this translation is a little stilted. But what you can tell is that Marcus Aurelius is trying to reflect upon a rather interesting life. There are times when he is contented in good memories and times when the ennui of his stoic life gets to him. But the overall message is to live a good life (“Death hangs over you: while you live, and while you may, be good”) and try not to be too overly swayed by things outside of one’s control. “It is not right to vex ourselves at things,” he says, “for they care not about it.”

In the end, Marcus Aurelius’s message is both honorable and interesting. The writing takes a little getting used to, so it would behoove readers to find a good translation. It is, however, a rather good beginning look into stoicism and its effectiveness in the proper hands. Marcus Aurelius, when set against the likes of Nero and Domitian, rules in the vein of a philosopher king and tries desperately to do right by his people. All in all, a refreshing and intellectual book.
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LibraryThing member johnxlibris
There is something about Marcus Aurelius's brand of Stoicism that appeals to me. His almost simple belief in the power of reason and truth is comforting. His text offers helpful habits of mind that would be appreciated by anyone who values the practice of mindfulness and attention. I can easily see
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myself coming back to this book later in life.
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LibraryThing member nancyadair
I first learned about Marcus Aurelius's Meditations when my World Literature teacher handed out mimeographed sheets to my twelfth grade high school class.

A year later I was in an Ancient Philosophy class at a small liberal arts college reading the Meditations. Shortly after, I purchased a antique
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copy with a 1902 gift dedication.

Inside is a vintage Wendy's napkin, yellow and red, on which I had written down favorite passages.

I was eighteen when I first read the entire Meditations. Fifty years later, seeing this annotated version in a new translation, I thought it would be interesting to revisit the work again.

My antique volume is stilted in language. "But do thou, I say, simply and freely choose the better, and hold on to it--" is one quote on that napkin. In this new version I read, "So, as I say, you must simply and freely choose the better course and stay with it."

The Preface introduces readers to Stoicism and the historical Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor whose military victories protecting belies the private man who would have chosen a life of contemplation. But, as Aurelius reminds himself often in these thoughts, we must uncomplainingly embrace our lot in life. And besides, nothing external can alter our command center and internal values. Unless we allow it.

It is that which I recall most being impressed with--the idea that what people think and do is their problem, and cannot affect me, unless I allow it. It gave me a great sense of control and also the freedom to think and act differently.

...remember that it's not people's actions that disturb our peace of mind...but our own opinions of their actions.~Notebook 11, Meditations

The Stoic world view embraced by Aurelius is moral and ethical, and divinely ordered. Life and death is a natural cycle, our bodily atoms reentering the matter of the universe, while our spirit had a brief pneumatic afterlife.

The present is all one has.~ from Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Aurelius constantly reminds himself that we only have this moment in time; the past and the future is not ours. So every moment we must decide to live according to our 'command center' and Stoic values.

A core part of those values involves being a part of human society, showing fairness and forgiveness, for we are to serve one another.

Have I done something that contributes to the common good? Then I've been benefited.~from Mediations by Marcus Aurelius

Comfort and Pleasure should not affect our actions, we should not complain or become angry or lose control over our passions. We have no control over what happens to us. But we can control our response.

The notebooks were Aurelius's contemplation, self-examination, and a reminder to follow the discipline of Stoicism. There is repetition of ideas, references to well known Greek philosophers and to forgotten men.

I read an ebook. I could click on the footnote number and up popped the annotation for the passage, a very useful device. The notes greatly increased my understanding of the passage.

The translation is accessible and modern, sometimes even conversational as if the writer were talking to us.

At the start of the day tell yourself: I shall meet people who are officious, ungrateful, abusive, treacherous, malicious, and selfish. In every case, they've got like this because of their ignorance of good and bad....None of them can harm me, anyway, because none of them can infect me with immorality, nor can I become angry with someone who's related to me, or hate him, because we were born to work together, like feet or hands or eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth. To work against each other is therefore unnatural--and anger and rejections count as "working against." ~Notebook 2, 1, Meditations The Annotated Edition

These teachings are as relevant today as in Roman times. We need to be continually reminded to "work together."

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
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LibraryThing member Jerry.Yoakum
It seems that Marcus Aurelius put a lot of effort into making it easy to get to the heart of ideas quickly. Which makes this a very quotable book.

“Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.”

“Your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought, for the human
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spirit is colored by such impressions.”

“Not to feel exasperated, or defeated, or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit that you’ve embarked on.”

Three Key Takeaway Lessons from Meditations
- “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
- People will always do awful things but we are only responsible our own virtue.
- We will die, and we ought not waste our lives being distressed. We should focus on doing good for others with the unknowable amount of time we have left to live. To make this a part of our lives we must reflect regularly on the fact that we will die.
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LibraryThing member dustandshadow
I really rather enjoyed this. I admit I don't know much aside from the basics of Marcus Aurelius. I found a lot of simple wisdom in this work.

A few favorite lines:

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
“You have power over your mind - not outside
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events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Marcus Aurelius was steeped in the thoughts of the Greek and Roman stoics who, starting with Zeno, focused on the search for a firm support for the moral life. "How should I live?" was the great and overriding question for them. Following on from Zeno, Epictetus, and Seneca, Marcus Aurelius
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portrayed in his Meditations the idea that the importance of philosophical inquiry lay in its significance for the moral life. He said, “Always think of the universe as one living organism with a single substance and a single soul.” This leads to the basic Stoic perception that “there is a law which governs the course of nature and should govern human actions.”(Meditations, p 73)

Marcus Aurelius emphasizes several other themes in his notes on life known as the Meditations. Among them are the tenets that underlie the stoic philosophy that he learned from his teachers including a discussion of the importance of your duty both to your own nature and that of the whole universe. It is with these tenets in mind that we see him telling us to accept what is beyond our control (5.8) in his expression of the notion that freedom for man is possible only when he is indifferent to the his fate as decreed by nature. This is consistent with the view of Epictetus in his Encheiridion ( ). Both emphasize that this in the sense that the we are all a part of the whole of nature and recognition of that is necessary to achieve the good. The good which is always the moral good.

The importance of this is seldom clearer than when Aurelius notes the importance of focusing on the present, the "task at hand" if you will by exercising dispassionate justice in the following way:

"Vacating your mind from all its other thoughts. And you will achieve this vacation if you perform each action as if it were the last of your life: freed, that is, from all lack of aim, from all passion-led deviation from the ordinance of reason, from pretence, from love of self, from dissatisfaction with what fate has dealt you." (2.5)

It is acting like this, not in any morbid sense, but with a cheerfulness of mind, as described in the quote from Seneca above, that you will achieve the tranquility of being that is the ultimate form of happiness. But there is more than happiness in Stoicism and honestly that is not the primary goal of the stoic life.
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LibraryThing member albertgoldfain
Succinct self-help for the stoic. The introduction in the Modern Library edition sets the historical context well and the translation makes most of the advice read as practical and not overly-repetetive.
LibraryThing member observingmind
Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) is like meeting up with an old friend. If it is not that well-known you could hardly tell the private musings are that of a Roman emperor. To me it is an account of Stoicism as a viable option to the dross we find in much of popular religion these days.
LibraryThing member chriszodrow
The end of the Roman culture was marked by spiritual decay. This book reveals the anatomy of parched empire. A necessary but painful read.
LibraryThing member GlennBell
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is an understandable book in which the Roman emperor provides his philosophy on life, death, and morality. He appears to have been a pious man who believed in the Roman gods. He believed in a moral life and the morality of his gods. He appears practical and spends
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a good deal of his discussion on the topic of death. I recommend the book for someone interested in historical philosophy. His understanding was limited by the science of the day, but he his thoughts on life and morality are still valuable.
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LibraryThing member librarianbryan
Hodge podge of truisms by a world leader obviously convinced of his own moral superiority. Is there wisdom in here? Sure, but it is wisdom any intelligent, remotely self reflective, person will already possess.
LibraryThing member charlie68
A book to savour. A lot of things that are agreeable. Not originally for publication just Aurelius' private thoughts. Not a lot that I disagreed with.
LibraryThing member MarieAlt
Annoyed that I can't find my edition, but there's only so much I'm willing to do with there are more than 200 editions. :P

And no rating because it doesn't really rate on the scale. It is what it is and the free ebook available from GR isn't great...looks like scanning issues. Not unreadable though,
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unless you despise King James era English, and this is pretty convoluted even for that. Reader beware.
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LibraryThing member shdawson
Some ranting, but still a good read. Take the writing in context of a successful though dying person.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
The inner thoughts of a Roman emperor. Profound and for some, inspiring. A mournful, yet strong man, philosopher-king, which we don't see too often anywhere.
LibraryThing member Kelsomar
This book definately left me thinking. It was engaging and a times difficult but overall I think Meditations is a very worthwhile read.
LibraryThing member joeodeg
I have read this book a number of times and always gain something new each time I revisit it. Although I find aspects of Stoic thinking quite foreign, there is unquestionably a disciplined and humble mind behind these words. I wish more of our contemporary leaders could muster the courage to be as
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LibraryThing member riskedom
The main attraction of this book is that it is a book of philosophy written by an emperor. If it was written by someone of more lowly stature it would surely have been forgotten. It is a good insight into his mind but an unfortunate boon to those who love to think the best rulers are those who
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think philosophically. It would be more interesting to me if it was written by some unknown blacksmith, tailor or farm slave. At least then the question of how they acquired an education in Stoic philosophy would be interesting speculation. Nonetheless, there is some wisdom in the writings and it is encouraging to know that in the midst of such grueling military campaigns he could find time to compose a journal of something other than the progress of the legions against the barbarians.
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