Marco Aurelius, Meditations

I remember reading this book when I was young, and finding it of profit. It’s zero intimidating. Doesn’t it startle you a bit, to commune in thought and gain wisdom from a Roman Emperor who was born on April 26th, year 121, and died on March 17th, 180?

His stoic philosophy came across clearer this second time. Wikipedia nails it:

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy which was founded by Zeno of Citium, in Athens, in the early 3rd century BC. Stoicism is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to eudaimonia (happiness) for humans is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one’s mind to understand the world and to do one’s part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.

Some would find it a contradiction that Marco Aurelius speaks about living in peace with his fellow man while he was the Emperor at the head of a huge military campaign during his reign. Also, maybe christians or those from other philosophies or religions can question the spiritual value of his meditations. My thoughts are that there’s no contradiction between the aspiration to live in peace, and the understanding of military duty and command. There’s examples in the Bible, -for those of us who believe-, where we see that Jesus doesn’t demand or expect from soldiers or generals to stop their profession or call in life.

As for christianity and the stoic philosophy that Aurelius sponsors, it’s not a perfect overlap, of course. He talks about being in harmony with nature, men, and ourselves. There’s difference in purpose between his philosophy and christianity, but his principles are wise and applicable. For example:

Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs?

As a christian, I read this, and add that we accept our destiny because it’s God’s design for us.

Or this,

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

We christians are familiar with this verse:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6-7

Another one,

How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.

We christians know how important it is that we don’t compare ourselves to others, but only to what Jesus wants from us, and how He expects us to act just and holy. (I know holy has a different meaning for the christian than for Aurelius. But these quotes, I hope, show how we can all take his maxims as they are, or use them as patches of fabric in the garment of our own full beliefs. After all, I don’t believe he wants to make me into a stoic, but was just sharing the truths he lived or tried to live by.

There’s no less that 510 Marcus Aurelius quotes here. If you read a few, you can get an idea of how his book is like. Last comment, while some of the meditations were a bit unclear, I find the book easy to read. The style is very approachable and fun to read, the thoughts are profound.

I recommend it!

19 thoughts on “Marco Aurelius, Meditations

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  4. What a great surprise. Yes, his Meditations are incredible. I too love those first thank yous. The christian made would make sense.

    I like Chambers, though lately I have been reading more Spurgeon.

  5. One of my favorites. I keep it on my desk, with my Bible, current read, TS Eliot, and Oswald Chambers. I’m convinced that he had a nanny or servant – someone older than him – who shared Christian wisdom with him in his formative years. I love reading his thank-you’s to his family, friends, etc – like a laundry list of to whom he owes what. Fascinating read, every time I pick it up. All to say – I agree with your post! Well said.

  6. Oh, in place of according to nature, which is for him tied to virtue, I keep “replacing” that idea in my head to “according to christian nature”, since for us true human nature would be the way He made us in paradise, when we were in perfect communion with Him and in harmony with the world.

  7. Oh my, great review, Silva, and I love the comparisons to Christianity. I’ve read a little of this book and cannot wait to read it in full. There are certain characters in history whom I’d love to meet and Aurelius is one of them!

  8. I’d like to read some of his work, Silvia. It really says something about the human condition that we can read from an author who lived so long ago and still identify with what he says.

  9. That’s the thing, they can go many good ways, zen too. I don’t know a lot about zen, but it’s possible that it’s rooted in stoicism.

    When I was young, I had this idea about the stoics as passive, masochists if you wish, but Marco Aurelious was not a downer or resigned in a sad way. He felt positive and wise.

  10. i’ve never read Marcus Aurelius and i’ve meant to , but… remarkable how zen-like his aphorisms sound…

  11. Hahaha. Marco Aurelio’s book is short and definitely a pleasure for the mature age.

    We can’t get to every book, but oh, is this a rewarding one! The genra balances my reading choices well. It apeaces me, a balm for this times.

  12. I confess that having read a vast amount of ancient history/stories as a kid, and then did Classics and Ancient History as a high school student, I’ve never gone back to them. You make me feel that this is a mistake!

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