Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 A.D. and a Stoic philosopher. He never wrote a book; he only wrote private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy. After he died, his notes were assembled and compiled into books. Because of that, we can read the Stoic wisdom he lived and ruled by.

Marcus’s writings are best translated into readable English from Greek by Gregory Hays. I almost gave up reading Mr. Hays’ 50 pages of introduction, a tedious history of the era and of the philosophers of the time. I’m pleased I did persist. Later, I appreciated the introduction for the context it gave to his life during that Roman era.

About Stoic Philosophy

Stoic philosophy: A complete understanding of Stoic philosophy is optional to understand his writing. However, a brief statement is helpful. In brief, Stoics believe the practice of virtue is enough to achieve a state or condition of ‘good spirit’: a well-lived life. The Stoics’ path to achieving this is with a life spent practicing virtues in everyday life, such as courage or temperance, and living in accordance with nature.

Application of Stoicism as Emperor

Marcus wrote notations and narratives to himself, for himself—principles he wanted to remember and apply daily. Many of the shortest notations make little sense to readers since the exact meanings were known only to him. The translator points out this is evidence Marcus never intended to publish his writings or have anyone else read them. Have you ever put a bunch of sticky notes around to remind you of things to do or not?

When you read his notes, you realize he was applying his Stoic beliefs in notes to keep himself grounded in the practice. In Roman history, an Emperor had godlike powers. To avoid the temptation to abuse his authority, he practiced restraint daily using Stoic practices, including notes as a reminder.

How The Content is Structured

Meditations are divided into a lengthy forward by the translator and 12 books of notes. Reading each note, I kept in mind that he had enormous power and responsibility. Yet, applying these principles to his daily actions was impressive. As emperor, there were instances he could have faced the temptation to disregard his previous moral and ethical standards for an easy way out of difficult circumstances. Yet, by all accounts, he was a good Emperor noted for fair dealings and good governance and had a tranquil reign.

My Experience Reading a Roman Emperor’s Thoughts

When I read Marcus’s writing, I was humbled by the profound wisdom shared within. I had never studied philosophy, so I had no preconceptions. The Stoic concepts I learned from this book astonished me. How could I have lived this long without running across this practical, ethical, and moral way of living?

I gained a lot of wisdom from reading this book, savoring each new discovery. Everything I read has only increased my admiration for this amazing man, the last Emperor of Rome.

In this entire article, I have given you no portion of what Marcus has written. Only my glowing report and that was purposeful. Giving a few notes out of context would be a disservice. You deserve to read for yourself what this fantastic human being has to offer. Get a copy, read the book, and you will never be the same! I promise.

Meditations: A New Translation

Gregory Hays (Translator)

Jerry Philosophical Life Lessons

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