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on 3 April 2016
To be clear: Meditations is fantastic.

However, the quality of this particular edition is terrible. The text is littered with what looks like bad automatic character recognition (see the attached photo) and bad typesetting, where the gap after the end of one book is just enough to push the book headings to the bottom of the same page, but not on to the next page, where you'd expect it to be.

What's more, the style of the translation is clumsy and antiquated at best: "Upon every action that thou art about, put this question to thyself;" etc. All in all, I strongly recommend buying a different edition of Meditations and always using the "Look Inside" feature before buying any book.
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on 4 March 2015
The darling sage of the hip, Californian web tech and self-development set, who don’t consider a podcast worthwhile unless they’ve shoehorned in a reference to Marcus, this can only prompt the Homer Simpson question: “If he’s so smart then why is he dead?” Yes, I’m talking about the Tim Ferris, Peter Thiel, Biz Stone et al group of cutting edge trendsetters who have had to go back to the future to find inspiration in the Stoic philosophers to help them justify their luck. It’s not just Californians, by the way - Chris Evans, yes, that Chris Evans - named this book as one of his Top Ten reads. It’s only a matter of time before White Dee from Benefits Street is talking about how Marcus Arelius inspired her to get off the ciggies. Better read it now before it becomes the literary equivalent of liking Take That.
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on 18 March 2013
Meditations is really just a great book. Gregory Hays is also a fantastic translator. His writing stays very lucid throughout and keeps things pretty straightforward.

However, the publisher, Phoenix, has left out all of the notes that Gregory Hays uses to clarify things throughout the text. This is EXTREMELY annoying. Why would you do this?

Regardless, I am looking forward to perusing this book during my travels. I suppose I will just have to eventually buy a different copy to get those notes.
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on 18 December 2010
Marcus Aurelius was Roman emperor from AD 161 to AD 180. Edward Gibbon regarded him as the last of the "five good emperors". Marcus was succeeded on the throne by his son Commodus, commonly regarded as a tyrant. Indeed, Commodus was one of the few Roman emperors denied the posthumous honour of deification. It seems the proverb "like father like son" wasn't true in this case.

The primary reason for the good reputation of Marcus Aurelius is his philosophical work "Meditations". It's still considered a classic of world literature. Indeed, Marcus Aurelius is sometimes cast as a philosopher-king, a person who accomplished what Plato assumed was impossible (or at least highly improbable).

In reality, Marcus Aurelius seems to have been a pretty average Roman emperor. He carried out the usual wars against Parthians and Germanic "barbarians", persecuted Christians and even fought a short civil war against an imperial pretender. "Meditations" was written in Carnuntum and close to the river Hron during the Marcomannic wars.

What really struck me when reading "Meditations", however, was the depressive, pessimistic and downright morbid character of the last good emperor's philosophy. How many people who pay tribute to this work have actually read it? Marcus Aurelius sounds like the Buddha on a really bad day! The emperor, of course, was a Stoic. Well, I'm not.

The Stoic philosophy of Marcus claims that everything that happens, including evil and suffering, is for a good cause. Evil and suffering have always existed and will always exist. Fighting it is therefore meaningless. It's part of Nature and probably serves a higher good. (Although Marcus cannot really say what this "higher good" might be.) Soon, we will all be dead anyway, so why bother about evil, suffering and other trifles of life? Life will always be as bad as it is today, so we won't miss anything if we die prematurely. Besides, the dead can't feel anything, so what's the point of fearing death? We either disintegrate into atoms, or are reincarnated in a life similar to this one, or are transformed into something higher. Either way, there is nothing to worry about. At one point, Marcus exclaims that no evil can hurt the community, and since the community cannot be hurt, why should evil bother him?

Because he's emperor...?

Imagine being ruled by an autocrat who believes that he doesn't have to bother about evil in the community!

Naturally, there is an unhealthy ascetic streak in "Meditations" as well. Sex is meaningless, eating good food is like feeding on carrion, even philosophy itself is bad if you indulge yourself too much in it.

True, this Stoic ethos of living your life like an unperturbed marble statue is to some extent mitigated by an emphasis on treating others with love, kindness and justice, including people who don't really deserve it (they just don't know better and should therefore be pitied rather than condemned). This is presumably the part that commends "Meditations" to Christians, who long admired the work.

In general, however, I can't say I was thrilled by "Meditations". Frankly, I stopped reading it after a little over 100 pages. There is something hypocritical about a powerful emperor saying that nothing can be done about our predicament. Nor do I think that a consistent Stoic can become a very likable person. Occasionally, Caesar Marcus Aurelius sounds a bit clinical. He needs to get out more, I think.

I always wondered why the good Marcus Aurelius had such a bad son. I think I finally got it. I mean, it can't be easy having a father who actually believes the contents of his own Stoic meditations.

Small wonder Commodus snapped.
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on 24 February 2015
I am returning this book as the binding quality is very poor and as such cannot be opened fully.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 2 June 2017
{NB. This is a review of the paperback Penguin Classics edition of the Hammond translation, not any other.}

To begin with, here are three disparate, virtually random quotes from this astonishing book of meditations, aphorisms, and the wisdom of years by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius {AD 121-180}:

A stone thrown in the air: nothing bad for it on the way down or good for it on the way up.

He who sees the present has seen all things, both all that has come to pass from everlasting and all that will be for eternity: all things are related and the same.

The Pythagoreans say, 'Look at the sky at dawn' ~ to remind ourselves of the constancy of those heavenly bodies, their perpetual round of their own duty, their order, their purity, and their nakedness. No star wears a veil.

That first one could easily be a zen koan, the second could be from the pen of Rumi, the third leaves me speechless before its haunting beauty and strangeness. They were written down {mainly for his own use} by a man schooled in the Stoic tradition, though his concerns and his compassion transcend mere Stoicism. The timelessness of his wisdom and often austere clarity of thought could be from almost any school in any age.
One could use this book as a guide through life, much as the Tao Te Ching or the Dhammapada, or even the Essays of Montaigne. {This is no Bible or Qu'ran; there is little if any dogma here.}
I have looked in a few editions of this much-translated work and, by a whisker, prefer the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Martin Hammond. He seems to reproduce the cool clarity and meditative concision of the passages. It is also a rather splendid paperback to own, with a suitably sober-looking detail from a sculpture of the emperor on the cover.
With its excellent introduction by American Classical scholar Prof. Diskin Clay, a chronology and full notes and index at the back, this is a book to treasure through life, and is so much more than some kind of smug 'self-help' guide or New Age 'you are the star of your own life' guff. This is a man who thought deeply, and gathered together ~ with no ideas of publication ~ his considered and meditated-upon thoughts and ruminations for, as it turned out, a lucky and grateful posterity.
One last quote:

That all is as thinking makes it so ~ and you control your thinking. So remove your judgements whenever you wish and then there is calm ~ as the sailor rounding the cape finds smooth water and the welcome of a waveless bay.

Never meant to be a book, nevertheless this has rightly become one of the world's great books, and a repository of clear-eyed, endless wisdom and, yes, beauty ~ surely the two qualities go together.

Essential reading for anyone with a pulse.
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on 7 September 2017
I bought this thinking it was about meditation - its not !!
but it could be interesting so I'll read it anyway
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on 27 October 2010
Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor, a successful campaigning General, and a father, and yet he had the intellectual ability and time to create for his own moral exercise as a guide to living perhaps the most profound and wide ranging work of ‘Stoic’ influenced philosophy ever written. More remarkable is that it survived, as it was never intended for publication.

In this Penguin Classics edition of 2006, Martin Hammond has given us a fresh new translation from the original Greek, and added copious and detailed notes to help us understand better the texts. There are also three indices; Names, Quotations, and General - which is mostly the various topics (Marcus even wrote about recycling). A super bonus leading us into Hammond's work is a very comprehensive introduction by Diskin Clay giving us the background and life of Marcus in great detail, again with notes, and also an excellent list of references for further reading.

My original copy of Meditations was bought in the late 1960s and being young I found it fascinating, but also very hard going in places partly because of the English and partly because the notes were skimpy. So I did not miss it too much when a friend borrowed it, and then emigrated with my precious hardback. This 2006 edition is streets ahead of my lost copy, with Hammond's new translation in much clearer English, and many more excellently detailed and elucidatory notes.

It is not for general reading. But for a serious academic study of philosophy, or someone wishing to widen the scope of their own mind who also has several weeks to spare for their first tranche, then this deserves the highest recommendation.

Addendum 28/10/2010.
Hollywood gave us a melodramatic glimpse of an elderly Marcus, his son Commodus, and the times and environment in Gladiator, but I prefer to believe the much more accurate (if dry) introduction by Clay. The musings and writings of Marcus are all the more remarkable when given this context.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 17 November 2017
In the introduction to his translation of the "Meditations" Gregory Hays observes that "[I]t has been a generation since [The Meditations'] last English incarnation." Hays further explains that he has attempted to present a readable, modern translation of Marcus' great work which still captures the "patchwork character of the original." I find that Hays's translation succeeds. He translates Marcus's reflections into a colloquial, frequently earthy, English in unstilted language and idiom that will be familiar to a modern reader. I think the translation is as well faithful to Marcus's thought. The reflective, meditative character of the paragraphs come through well, as does the difficulty of the text in many places. This is a book that will encourage the modern reader to approach Marcus -- an altogether commendable result.

Professor Hays has written an excellent introduction to his translation which can be read with benefit by those coming to the "Meditations" for the first time and by those familiar with the work. There is a brief discussion of Marcus's life, his philosophical studies, and his tenure as emperor of Rome (161-180 A.D.) Hays spends more time on the philosophical background of Marcus's thought emphasizing ancient stoicism and of the philosophy of Heraclitus. He discusses the concept of "logos", a critical term for Marcus and for later thought, and argues that logos -- or the common reason that pervades man and the universe -- is as much a process as it is a substance. This is difficult, but insightful.

Hays obviously has a great love for Marcus's book. He is able to offer critical observations which will help the reader focus in studying the Meditations. (For example, Hays argues that Marcus does not fully understand or appreciate human joy. He also argues that Marcus's thought takes an overly static view of the nature of society and does not see the possibility or need for societal change.)

Hays discusses briefly the reception of the Meditations over the centuries. I enjoyed in particular his comments on essays by Arnold and Brodsky on Marcus Aurelius.

The Meditations is one of the great book of the West and will repay repeated readings. When I read it this time, I was struck by Marcus's devotion to his duties in life as the Roman emperor. I got the distinct impression that Marcus would have rather been at his studies but kept telling himself, in his writings, that he had to persevere and be the person he was meant to be. It is a focused approach, to say the least, to the duties to which one was called.

I was also impressed with the similarities at certain points between Marcus's thought and Buddhism. Other reviewers have also noted this similarity. Marcus talks repeatedly about the changing, impermanent character of human life and about the pervasive character of human suffering. He talks about controlling and ending suffering by understanding its causes and then changing one's life accordingly. There is a need to learn patience and to control anger and desire. More specifically, Marcus' understanding of perception and how it leads to desire and can be controlled by reason (discussed well in Hays's introduction.) is very Buddhist in tone. I have become interested in Buddhism and was struck in this reading of the Meditations by the parallels it offers to Buddhist thought.

There is a wonderful paragraph in the Meditations where Marcus urges himself to persevere and not to lose hope simply because he did not become a scholar or a hero or the person of his dreams. What matters is being a good person and living in harmony with one's nature. This passage spoke clearly and poignantly to me as I reread the Meditations. Undoubtedly, the reader will find passages in this book that are addressed clearly to him or her.

This is a book that should be read and pondered many times. Hays and the Modern Library have done readers a service with this translation.

Robin Friedman
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on 28 July 2010
There's an episode of Dad's Army where the English Captain Mainwaring turns out to be able to play the bagpipes. He explains his skill by revealing that he spent his two-week honeymoon in Scotland, and that there wasn't much else to do. Marcus Aurelius, who as Emperor of Rome was higher up the army ranks than Mainwaring, probably felt the same way about northern Germany, where he spent his time trying to defeat the barbarians. To pass the hours he scribbled down jottings and ideas about how to live a fulfilled life that eventually became Meditations, one of the most wonderful personal philosophies ever written.

The thoughts and ideas here are connected by Aurelius' interest in the Stoic philosophy, but they are not a narrative so the book can be opened at any page or read in any order as each paragraph is a single idea, observation or point he wished to make. Aurelius comes across as an incredibly sane, warm, open and tolerant individual and although he personally believes in a divine nature, an atheist can happily enjoy his writing.

The Stoics were interested in logic, physics and ethics. These terms didn't hold their current meanings so Logic meant closely observing the world and thinking carefully and deriving knowledge and opinions about what you have seen. Physics is essentially the idea that the universe has a force of nature running through it and there's a connectedness between all things. Finally Ethics is how to be happy, which to the stoics meant living in tune with the rest of nature. It all sounds rather new age and vague but Aurelius' genius is to boil this down to a practical formula for everyday living. It's rather as if he is in his tent cursing some piece of misfortune and then stops himself, considers his philosophy and how he should handle the problem and writes the solution down. So you might get something like "Never make light of a friend's rebuke", or "Never listen to gossip" followed by an explanation of the consequences and disbenefits. More often however a paragraph will be a mini essay on why a certain type of behaviour is good or bad for the individual. Some are very short such as, "Men exist for each other, then either improve them or put up with them" whilst others roll across a page or perhaps a little more.

There is repetition here and there and not everything is a golden nugget of truth but taken as a whole this is a remarkable work, and I don't believe that anyone would not have greater contentment and less stress if they followed the advice he gives. On the negative side he can sound a bit miserable about the world and give the impression that it is a constant struggle to exist, but I expect when you are fighting off German invaders every morning you begin to get somewhat glum.

This is something to keep by your bedside and dip into every few weeks or months. Highly recommended.
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