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Meditations Paperback – May 12, 2014
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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'Billovich --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Here, for our age, is [Marcus's] great work presented in its entirety, strongly introduced and freshly, elegantly translated." --Robert Fagles
"From the Trade Paperback edition. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Of my grandfather Verus I have learned to be gentle and meek, and to refrain from all anger and passion. From the fame and memory of him that begot me I have learned both shamefastness and manlike behaviour. Of my mother I have learned to be religious, and bountiful; and to forbear, not only to do, but to intend any evil; to content myself with a spare diet, and to fly all such excess as is incidental to great wealth. Of my great-grandfather, both to frequent public schools and auditories, and to get me good and able teachers at home; and that I ought not to think much, if upon such occasions, I were at excessive charges.
George Long's version:
From my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper. From the reputation and remembrance of my father, modesty and a manly character. From my mother, piety and beneficence, and abstinence, not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts; and further, simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich. From my great-grandfather, not to have frequented public schools, and to have had good teachers at home, and to know that on such things a man should spend liberally.
Having said this however, it's still worth comparing both translations which are free on the Kindle.
The content and tone of these writings belies the fact that Marcus Aurelius governed an area that reached from Britain to Egypt (most of modern Europe and the Middle East). "Alone of the emperors," wrote the historian Herodian, "he gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life." (From Wikipedia). There is a tone and tenor to his writings that aligns well the Christian doctrines that will soon transform Europe. "If any man has done wrong, then the harm is his own" (location 1403-7, Kindle Edition).
So much of the modern western world owes its foundation to the Roman Republic and Empire. If you wish to better understand the decline and fall of modern republics (and empires), then all roads still lead to Rome as the model for the demise of democratic governments. The distance of nearly 2000 years melts away and you might find yourself wishing for an opportunity to meet the man who many consider the greatest Roman Emperor.