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Meditations is a series of personal reflections by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor 161–180 CE, written over a series of years in far-flung places as he led the Romans in military campaigns, quashed revolts, and dealt with the other tribulations of governing the Empire. It is best described as a spiritual journal, containing a record of the emperor's philosophical exercises. Aurelius wrote the 12 books of the Meditations as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. The writings take the form of quotations varying in length from one sentence to long paragraphs. He covers topics as diverse as the question of virtue, human rationality, the nature of the gods, and his own emotions, spanning from doubt and despair to conviction and exaltation. Aurelius also sets forth his ideas on Stoic philosophy.
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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'BillovichFrom the Inside Flap:
A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behavior, Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. Marcus's insights and advice--on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others--have made the "Meditations required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations of ordinary readers have responded to the straightforward intimacy of his style.
In Gregory Hays's new translation--the first in a generation--Marcus's thoughts speak with a new immediacy: never before have they been so directly and powerfully presented.
"From the Trade Paperback edition.
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