Brand : Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

The Thoughts of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Glenn russell |

Like turning base metal into pure gold

In many important ways, the reflections of marcus aurelius (121-180) crystalize the philosophical wisdom of the greco-roman world in a diary written to himself whist emperor fighting a war out on the boarder of the roman empire, a little book know to us as the meditations. the roman philosophers are not as well knows or as highly regarded as greek philosophers such as plato, aristotle, epicurus or zeno the stoic - and for a simple reason: the roman thinkers were not primarily interested in abstract theory; rather, they were concerned with behavior, that is, understanding how to live in the everyday world and putting their understanding into practice; the goal being to live the life of an authentic philosopher, to be a person of high character and integrity, to develop inner strength and a quiet mind and value such strength and quietude above all else. indeed, to accomplish such a lofty goal, the romans realized the need for radical transformation, a complete overhauling of one's life through rigorous mental and physical training, like turning base metal into pure gold. and once a person takes on the role of a philosopher, their deeds must reflect their words - no hypocrisy, thank you! thus, it isn't surprising the romans put a premium on memorizing and internalizing simple proverbs and maxims and employed the metaphor of philosophy as the medicine to cure a sick soul. turning now to marcus aurelius, we can appreciate how he imbibed the wisdom not only from the stoics (along with seneca and epictetus, marcus is considered one of the three major roman stoics), but he was also willing to learn from the schools of epicurus, plato and aristotle. in the greco-roman world, being an eclectic was perfectly acceptable; truth was valued over who said what. we find a several recurring themes in the meditations: develop self-discipline to gain control over judgments and desires; overcome a fear of death; value an ability to retreat into a rich, interior mental life (one's inner citadel); recognize the world as a manifestation of the divine; live according to reason; avoid luxury and opulence. but generalizations will not approach the richness and wisdom nuggets a reader will find in marcus's actual words. thus, i conclude with my personal observations coupled with quotes from book one, wherein marcus begins by expressing heartfelt thanks to his family and teachers for the many fine lessons he learned as a youth. here are four of my favorites: "not to have frequented public schools, and to have had good teachers at home" ---------- after my own nasty experience with the mindless competition and regimentation of public schools, i wish i had marcus's good fortune of excellent home schooling. "not to meddle with other people's affairs, and not to be ready to listen to slander." ---------- i didn't need a teacher here; i recognized on my own at an early age that gossip is a colossal waste of time and energy, both listening to gossip and spreading gossip. i can't imagine a clearer indication of a base, coarse mind than someone inclined to gossip and slander others. "to read carefully, and not to be satisfied with a superficial understanding of a book." ---------- how true. reading isn't a race to get to the last page; matter of fact, i agree with jorge luis borges that focused, precise rereading is the key to opening oneself to the wisdom of a book. "to be satisfied on all occasions, and be cheerful." ---------- i'm never in a hurry. life is too beautiful to be in a hurry. for me, there is only one way to live each day: in joy and free from anxiety and worry. in a sense, all of the meditations of marcus aurelius amplify this simple view of life. i've written this review as an encouragement to make marcus aurelius a part of your life. you might not agree with everything he has to say, but you have to admit, he has a really super-cool beard and head of hair.

Chris gladis |

Ancient wisdom, still true

I don't read a lot of philosophy. i'm not sure why, since philosophy is really the province of the liberal arts graduate, and that's what i am. even worse, i was a political science major, and pol-sci is really just applied philosophy. you ask yourself questions like, "what is man's obligation to man?" and "how can a society best benefit everyone involved in it?" and the next thing you know it's three in the morning and you're on your twelfth cup of denny's coffee. arguing the meaning of life in a diner, however, isn't considered to be "real" philosophy. philosophy these says means making up your own lexicon, creating words to describe concepts that you have spun out of the rhetorical ether - or, in philosophical terminology, "just made up." so you get phrases in modern philosophy that go on for pages and pages, and have so many recursive clauses that you wind up having to go back to the beginning just to figure out where you left off. so, if you're like me - and it's not impossible that you are - and you don't feel like delving into the murkiest depths of intellectual waters, i can solidly recommend marcus aurelius' immortal meditations. there is no beginning, there is no end - you can open up the book anywhere, read for a while, and then put it down. written back in the 2nd century, meditations is a collection of marcus' thoughts on life, existence, and how to be a good and moral man. some of those observations are long, a page or two, but most of them are just a few lines. it's kind of as though marcus was hanging out at his camp in carnuntum and he had a thought. "pen!" he would yell, "and paper!" he'd scribble his idea down and put it away to be filed away later. whether he had any great plans for this collection of ideas, we'll never know. he was an emperor, of course, and it's pretty normal for emperors to want to make themselves look brilliant in history. but, as you read the book, you realize that marcus' mind wasn't on history. why bother, he'd say. it'll all be the same in a thousand years anyway. death is ever-present in this text. when you start to worry about whether you're living up to the example set by your ancestors, don't bother - they're dead and gone, and they couldn't care less about who you have become. are you always concerned with what people will think of you after you die? why worry about it? you'll be dead, for one thing, and beyond caring, and in any case whatever you have accomplished will be gone when the last person who remembers you is himself dead. marcus is very clear in his views on death: it's part of nature, part of the ceaseless change which controls everything in this world. we came into this world, built from the atoms and essences of the dead who had gone before us, and one day we will return to that ceaselessly changing sea of nature. our lives are mere moments when measured against the vastness of eternity, and our powers are meaningless against those of the gods and the world that gave birth to us. "remember that man lives only in the present, in this fleeting instant,' he said. "all the rest of his life's either past and gone, or not yet revealed." in this way, there are some definite parallels between marcus' stoic philosophy and zen philosophy, though they're centuries apart. both zen and stoicism emphasize living in the present moment - not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. the only time in which you really exist is right now, and so it should be your only concern. don't let other people's opinions of you govern your feelings - you can't control them, you shouldn't expect to be able to. you can, however, control yourself. "will anyone sneer at me?" he asks. "that will be his concern; mine will be to ensure that nothing i do or say shall deserve the sneer." yes, this book is very quotable. where stoicism and zen would probably part ways is on marcus' reliance on reason as a supreme governing power. he maintains that a man's reason is the only thing that he can truly claim as his own, and that it should be ready at hand at all times. in any situation, presented with any person or object, the first thing that a person should do is turn his reason upon it. figure out what it is, at its root, and once you know that, everything else will become clear. i'm a big fan of reason. we're humans, and we're bound to believe stupid things from time to time, but we're also possessed of some very clever brains, and an excellent ability to turn those brains on to solving problems. but far too few people actually use those brains. we allow our passions to override our reason and end up doing stupid things to ourselves and each other. as hard as it may be, i'm with marcus on this one - without reason, we're not really humans. at best, we're children, at worst we're beasts. it is our duty to the world to understand it, without illusion or self-deception. frankly, i think marcus would be very disappointed at how little progress we've made on this regard. i mean, it's been nearly two thousand years, after all, plenty of time to deal with our superstitions and our illusions. on the other hand, i think he'd be flattered that his words had lasted so long and had influenced so many people. it's a great text, one that calls from the past to remind us of some very important truths - that we are here, now, and we are each in control of our own lives. we are possessed with a limitless ability to understand our universe, and to not use that reason is to waste the best part of ourselves.

Chauncey |

Excellent edition of the greatest text ever written

First, do we all recognize that the author of this text, marcus aurelius, was a roman emperor? if so, why have i not been forced to read this from a young age? this is quite possibly the most insightful, existential book i've ever read. emperor aurelius has given us wisdom in its purest form. this should be a manual for every human's life. every sentence is mind-numbingly profound. this book is so good, that i might just have the entire text tattooed on my body. i cannot stress enough that the sagacity of this book is beyond what i have ever read. definitely a must-read and a must-live-by.