Author: Marcus Aurelius
Series: Great Ideas
Publisher: Penguin Group
Edition/ Impression / Year of Publication: 2004 Edition
Cover Design: Phil Baines
About the Book: Taken from the Penguin Classics edition of Meditations, translated and introduced by Maxwell Staniforth
Often quoted as the Philosopher King, Marcus Aurelius born 121 A.D. was the Roman Emperor remembered for his single-volume work Meditations. Meditations was the only work that marked him as the philosopher. Meditations typically meant, unlikely to the eastern notion of the word meditation, ‘to one’s self.’
The book is the collection of aphorisms that Aurelius wrote as a reminder to oneself on the way he perceived the world, his outlook towards the unity and harmony within the entire cosmos, on the importance of maintaining focus and elimination of distraction and many other introspective issues. The book is divided into twelve parts and the aphorisms contained within the range from a single line to a few paragraphs.
Aurelius was not writing the book so that it could be published and distributed and his wisdom could be shared with the entire world. He was involved in the note keeping of his ideas about everything that happens around to understand better the workings of nature and the principle that is working behind it. His Meditations is the result of all his knowledge that he acquired through many of the then philosophers particularly the Stoics by whom he was much influenced. However, his emphasis upon life is not enough on the gaining of knowledge but how can that knowledge be utilized to make our lives better.
He apparently does not stand as a Philosopher if we were to compare him with the other Greek Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle whose writing style is more systematic because of their mastery of oratory and rhetoric. Aurelius instead gave up the formal study of rhetoric and oratory at an early age over the preference for free and independent philosophical inquiry. His emphasis upon philosophy is not just limited towards to the thoughtful discussion of something regarding ‘what is‘ and ‘what ought to be‘ but instead is more immediate and is reflected in his writing when he says, ‘Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be, be one.‘
Aurelius details within his Meditations diverse topics that every person goes through every day but ignores them either for their lack of more in-depth philosophical vision or the false assumption of considering ignorance to be bliss. He introspects upon anger and happiness, love and hatred, society and individual, death and life, the self and its unity with the cosmic whole, and gives his philosophical insights over them that are intertwined further with his spiritual musings. He quotes many of the philosophers and other known personalities that includes and is not limited to Alexander, Diogenes, Empedocles, Epictetus, Epicurus, Heraclitus, Plato, Pythagoras, Socrates, Theophrastus, Xanthippe, Xenophon and the god Zeus.
The book is a short memoir which would be helpful for those who are willing to let go of who they are for the sake of a better person who awaits them in the future. This book is must for those on the path of life-long learning and who emphasize on the necessity of self-improvement, but for those who are just seeking to read it for entertainment purpose I must tell them neither would it work nor would Aurelius or I advise you to do so. Below are a few quotes that I found to be more appropriate to be shared under a particular category.
On the ignorance of others: Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offender’s ignorance of what is good or evil.
The 1st aphorism, Book 2.
On fame and the expectation of being praised: The man whose heart is palpitating for fame after death does not reflect that out of all those who remember him everyone will himself soon be dead also, and in course of time the next generation after that, until in the end, after flaring and sinking by turns, the final spark of memory is quenched. Furthermore, even supposing that those who remember you were never to die at all, nor their memories to die either, yet what is that to you? Clearly, in your grave, nothing; and even in your lifetime, what is good of praise – unless maybe to subserve some lesser design? Surely, then, you are making an inopportune rejection of what Nature has given you today, if all your mind is set on what men will say of you tomorrow.
The 19th aphorism, Book 4.
On Change: Observe how all things are continually being born of change; teach yourself to see that Nature’s highest happiness lies in changing the things that are, and forming new things after their kind. Whatever is, is in some sense the seed of what is to emerge from it. Nothing can become a philosopher less than to imagine that seed can only be something that is planted in the earth or the womb.
The 36th aphorism, Book 4.
On chaos and order: Either the world is a mere hotch-potch of random cohesions and dispersions, or else it is a unity of order and providence. If the former, why wish to survive in such a purposeless and chaotic confusion; why care about anything, save the manner of the ultimate return to dust; why trouble my head at all; since, do what I will, dispersion must overtake me sooner or later? But if the contrary be true, then I do reverence, I stand firmly, and I put my trust in the directing Power.
The 10th aphorism, Book 6.
On personal development: If anyone can show, and prove to me, that I am wrong in thought or deed, I will gladly change. I seek the truth, which never yet hurt anybody. It is only persistence in self-delusion and ignorance which does harm.
The 21st aphorism, Book 6.
On the art of praying: The gods either have power or they have not. If they have not, why pray to them? If they have, then instead of praying to be granted or spared such-and-such a thing, why not rather pray to be delivered from dreading it, or lusting for it, or grieving over it? Clearly, if they can help a man at all, they can help him in this way. You will say, perhaps, ‘But all that is something they have put in my own power.’ Then surely it were better to use your power and be a free man, than to hanker like a slave and a beggar for something that is not in your power. Besides, who told you the gods never lend their aid even towards things that do lie in our own power? Begin praying in this way, and you will see. Whether another man prays ‘grant that I may possess this woman,’ let your prayer be, ‘Grant that I may not lust to possess her.’ Where he prays, ‘Grant me to be rid of such-and-such a one,’ you pray, ‘Take from me my desire to be rid of him,’ Where he begs, ‘Spare me the loss of my precious child, ‘beg rather to be delivered from the terror of losing him. In short, give you petitions a turn in this direction, and see what comes.
The 40th aphorism, Book 9.
On mortal nature of this body: ‘While you are kissing your child,’ Epictetus once said, ‘murmur under your breath, tomorrow it may be dead.’ ‘Ominous words,’ they told him. ‘Not at all,’ said he, ”but only signifying an act of nature. Would it be ominous to speak of the gathering of ripe corn?’
The 34th aphorism, Book 11.