Customer Review

208 of 218 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Question of Tone, October 15, 2005
This review is from: The Emperor's Handbook: A New Translation of The Meditations (Hardcover)
This translation of the Greek writings that the author called "To Himself" is smooth, deft, and self-assured; the book sits well in the hand; the subject index is thorough. For generations Marcus Aurelius has proven not only a welcome counselor, but a worthy opponent to measure oneself against. Why does this version leave one feeling not refreshed but harangued?

In an earnest attempt to reach modern readers, something has gone wrong with the tone. The pages are peppered with the imperative contraction "Don't," and the "You" being addressed is not a man conferring with his soul, but a smug preacher hectoring us with his own perfection. Yet consider how often Marcus returns to certain themes---that you should not mind what other people think of you; that you should cease to assign blame, or feel resentment for ill-treatment; that since life is but breath you should not care whether yours is long or short. The very repetition shows how hard it was for him to attain permanent detachment: you need not exhort yourself to meet standards you have already mastered.

Perhaps a claim made in the introduction, explaining the rationale for a new edition, hints at what seems amiss in The Emperor's Handbook: "[W]e tend to conceive of freedom, even the religious freedoms we take pretty much for granted, in largely political terms, perhaps because, second, we have come seriously to doubt our psychological freedom, or freedom of mind." (9) (How's that again? Rather, in an era of contracting public freedoms and increasing pressure toward conformity, many contend that the only true liberty lies within.) A version inspired by such assumptions skews the even-tempered voice of the fellow human being who wrote these meditations. The layout, with bullet lists and sound bites, makes the book look like yet another treatise aimed at the tired businessman; and the new title seems a marketing ploy. The world needs no more emperors.

When judging a work in a foreign tongue, it is wise to use one translation as a corrective for another. By all means buy this version, as I did: the celebrated and successful give it high praise (see dust jacket). And buy one of the other renderings; consult the reviews on this site for Hays, or Staniforth. Then read them in tandem, compare and contrast, in order to better "See things for what they are" (Book 12, Section 10) for yourself.
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Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 28, 2008 11:03:55 PM PST
Warren,
"The book sits well in the hand". Great line.Excellent review.
Brian

Posted on Jul 16, 2008 10:36:55 AM PDT
Johann Cat says:
I agree with this review: I am not an expert on Aurelius, but I too found the tone of this translation suggestive of the self-justifying drone of an executive in a pink Oxford shirt and 1960-style tortoise-shell glasses. That is, it sounds more oligarchical and defensive than truly thoughtful. The tone makes stoical self-control, which is a powerful thing, sound chiefly like the repression of any doubt of one's inherited station in life; occasionally the translation also seems twisted toward a Calvinist-businessman's style more in tune with 1910 America than 1st century Rome. Part of the fault may lie with the original, but something also seems lost.

Posted on Apr 11, 2010 6:53:13 PM PDT
Robin Catton says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Apr 11, 2010 6:56:31 PM PDT
Robin Catton says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 21, 2010 11:50:48 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 21, 2010 11:51:19 PM PDT
Scaramanga says:
Actually - both "proved" and "proven" are correct.

Posted on Feb 4, 2012 10:47:42 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 4, 2012 10:49:04 AM PST
J. Janssen says:
This is an eminently fair review as many have found fault with the translation. Whether it saps the life out of the original text or reaches that larger audience the publisher is aiming for is up for conjecture, but the reviewer makes an excellent point in recommending multiple translations of latin or ancient greek texts to develop a true understanding of the writer's intent. Besides Loeb (Loeb Classic Library) this is also available (goes in and out of print) in the Oxford Classic Texts series; either are recommended.

Posted on Mar 14, 2012 3:09:04 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Mar 14, 2012 3:11:04 PM PDT]

Posted on Oct 22, 2012 4:45:59 PM PDT
Lexander says:
Thank you for a thoughtful and valuable review. I have just recieved this copy today, but will read it alongside another for comparison as I already own a copy of the Staniforth volume.

Posted on Jun 30, 2013 5:06:37 AM PDT
What a lovely review! If a piece of writing could be said to embody wisdom, surely your review would safely qualify. Thanks for writing it.
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