Marcus Aurelius (Loeb Classical Library) Hardcover – 1 Jul 1989
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"Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius, edited and translated by C.R. Haines, is by far the best edition in English...This is a central text for students of Stoicism as well as a unique personal guide to the moral life.
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The translation was entirely new for this edition. However, it is written in archaising English with 'thee' and 'thou' to distinguish Greek and Latin second person singular from plural. Back at the end of the 19th century, this was still relatively common practice, although, except in dialects and poetry, these words had fallen out of common use a couple of hundred years before. To 21st century readers, it initially comes across as rather distant. However, after a few pages of reading, this fades from the mind.
It's probably worth admitting that one would not read Marcus Aurelius now as self-help—though, in effect, that is what this book principally is, giving screeds of wise advice. However, as a window into the mind of a pagan stoic, this is incomparable. What is fascinating to modern readers is the way Marcus Aurelius weaves what would now be considered to be secular ethics in with ideas of what the gods require, and what they are likely to do. On the one hand this is the writings of a sensible man who expects relatively little from the gods, and uses them in many senses as metaphysical hypotheticals—"if the gods… either they will… or they will…" On the other, he is also writing as an emperor who accepts the notion that his predecessors are divine, and, one would imagine, expects to be accorded the same divinity later. What it reveals to us is therefore an extraordinary insight into a religious viewpoint which is utterly foreign to the Abrahamic tradition: an impersonal faith, where the gods can be invoked as proxies in discussions of ethics, but where action is thoroughly in the human sphere.
For what it's worth, this is the most inspiring, through-provoking book I have ever come across, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who has wondered how a man who once held the highest seat of power in the world regarded topics like the meaning of life, the cause of anger and annoyance, and why it is important to remember your humanity in a world sadly lacking in humanity.
Scholars may feel otherwise, but I feel compelled to read as many translations as I can get, since I would rather not bother with learning classical Greek to read the original text.
Still, this is clearly one of the greatest works of philosophic thought available, by one of the leading proponents of the stoic school. And in light of recent events (the September terrorism in the U.S.), one should reflect carefully on the value of stoicism in one's life.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
The Loeb series date back to the turn of the last century. They are designed for people with at least some knowledge of Greek or Latin. They are a sort of compromise between a straight English translation and an annotated copy of the original text. On the left page is printed the text in Greek or Latin depending on the language of the writer and on the right side is the text in English. For somebody who knows even a little Greek or Latin these texts are invaluable. You can try to read the text in the original language knowing that you can correct yourself by looking on the next page or you can read the text in translation and check the translation with the original for more detail. While some of the translations are excellent mostly they are merely serviceable since they are designed more as an aid to translation rather than a translation in themselves. Most of them follow the Greek or Latin very closely. These books are also very small, maybe just over a quarter the size of your average hardcover book. This means that you'll need to buy more than just one book to read a complete work. They are also somewhat pricey considering their size. The Loeb Collection is very large but most of the more famous works can be found in better (and cheaper) translations elsewhere. If you want to read a rarer book or read one in the original language then you can't do better than the Loeb Editions.
Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of Rome in the second century AD. He was the last of the five "good" emperors and was succeeded by his mad son Commodus. If you've seen Gladiator you know who these people are. No, nothing in that movie was true. Marcus fancied himself something of a philosopher and followed the creed of stoicism. He spent most of his reign at war in Germania. His reign also saw a great plague sweep across the Roman Empire. He also seems (at least to me) to be a dull and lifeless fellow who puts more of his soul into philosophy and leaves none for earthly things.
Anyway, Marcus wrote some philosophical thoughts on his life and rule. This is them. This work is famous and useful in that it reveals the inner thoughts of a Roman Emperor. The only comparable documents are the writings of Julian (Volume I,Volume II,Volume III) who also considered himself a philosopher. Claudius also wrote a number of works, and Hadrian and a few other emperors actually wrote autobiographies but they haven't survived. Augustus had one engraved on tombs all over the empire but it was very brief. This edition is not the best translation. As some reviewers have commented the language is extremely outdated and archaic. I understand that he's trying to convey the way in which Aurelius wrote in pseudo-Athenian Greek but I feel that doing so by adding archaisms in English just adds a new level of distortion between the original and the translation. If I've given this book a low rating it is because I'm not fond of the book and I dislike the translation. I understand that it's a useful work but I just can't bring myself to like it.
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