Meditations – Emperor of Rome Marcus Aurelius
Meditations – Meditations (Medieval Greek: Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν Ta eis heauton, literally “things to one’s self”) is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy.
Marcus Aurelius wrote the 12 books of the Meditations in Koine Greek 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 (modern-day Hron) 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.
One measure, perhaps, of a book’s worth, is its intergenerational pliancy: do new readers acquire it and interpret it afresh down through the ages? The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, translated and introduced by Gregory Hays, by that standard, is very worthwhile, indeed. Hays suggests that its most recent incarnation–as a self-help book–is not only valid, but may be close to the author’s intent.
The book, which Hays calls, fondly, a “haphazard set of notes,” is indicative of the role of philosophy among the ancients in that it is “expected to provide a ‘design for living.'” And it does, both aphoristically (“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.”) and rhetorically (“What is it in ourselves that we should prize?”). Whether these, and other entries (“Enough of this wretched, whining monkey life.”) sound life-changing or like entries in a teenager’s diary is up to the individual reader, as it should be. Hays’s introduction, which sketches the life of Marcus Aurelius (emperor of Rome A.D. 161-180) as well as the basic tenets of stoicism, is accessible and jaunty. –H. O’Billovich
“The Meditations remain, unendingly moving and inspiring, the communings with itself of a thoughtful and devout soul upon the greatest of human issues. They are not, and do not claim to be, a work of original philosophy, nor yet a systematic exposition of a tradition of thought. They speak for themselves. Only by the slenderest of chances have they come down to the modern world at all . . . but the number of times they have been published . . . and above all translated into a vast variety of tongues, would have filled their author with amazement.” –from the Introduction by D. A. Rees
Marcus Aurelius (/ɔːˈriːliəs/; Latin: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; 26 April 121 – 17 March 180 AD) was Roman emperor from 161 to 180, ruling jointly with Lucius Verus until Verus’ death in 169 and jointly with his son, Commodus, from 177. He was the last of the so-called Five Good Emperors.
He was a practitioner of Stoicism, and his untitled writing, commonly known as Meditations, is a significant source of our modern understanding of ancient Stoic philosophy. It is considered by many commentators to be one of the greatest works of philosophy.
During his reign, the Roman Empire defeated a revitalized Parthian Empire in the East: Aurelius’ general Avidius Cassius sacked the capital Ctesiphon in 164. In central Europe, Aurelius fought the Marcomanni, Quadi, and Sarmatians with success during the Marcomannic Wars, although the threat of the Germanic peoples began to represent a troubling reality for the Empire. A revolt in the East led by Avidius Cassius failed to gain momentum and was suppressed immediately. Persecution of Christians increased during his reign.
His death in 180 is considered the end of the Pax Romana and the increasing instability in the west that followed has traditionally been seen as the beginning of the eventual Fall of the Western Roman Empire.
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