Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from 161 C.E. to his death in 180 C.E. He was destined to be a leader, having been born into a prominent family—one related by blood and marriage to rulers and bankers.
During his era, Romans who inherited power and vast fortunes were expected to set an example. Marcus shouldered his responsibilities with a clear sense of honor. He was history's first ombudsman, and if his role as a legislator or conqueror was not great, he did set high standards for emulation.
Written in the form of confessions, his meditations provide a window into his insights on duty, virtue, and humility. He was the last of the "Five Good Emperors," and is also considered one of the most important stoic philosophers.
The Meditations, written on campaign between 170 and 180 C.E., are still revered as a literary monument to a government of service and duty, and have been praised for their "exquisite accent and...infinite tenderness." In fact, John Stuart Mill, in his Utility of Religion, compared the Meditations to the "Sermon on the Mount."
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One measure, perhaps, of a book's worth, is its intergenerational pliancy: do new readers acquire it and interpret it afresh down through the ages? The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, translated and introduced by Gregory Hays, by that standard, is very worthwhile, indeed. Hays suggests that its most recent incarnation--as a self-help book--is not only valid, but may be close to the author's intent. The book, which Hays calls, fondly, a "haphazard set of notes," is indicative of the role of philosophy among the ancients in that it is "expected to provide a 'design for living.'" And it does, both aphoristically ("Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what's left and live it properly.") and rhetorically ("What is it in ourselves that we should prize?"). Whether these, and other entries ("Enough of this wretched, whining monkey life.") sound life-changing or like entries in a teenager's diary is up to the individual reader, as it should be. Hays's introduction, which sketches the life of Marcus Aurelius (emperor of Rome A.D. 161-180) as well as the basic tenets of stoicism, is accessible and jaunty. --H. O'BillovichFrom the Inside Flap:
A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behavior, Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. Marcus's insights and advice--on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others--have made the "Meditations required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations of ordinary readers have responded to the straightforward intimacy of his style.
In Gregory Hays's new translation--the first in a generation--Marcus's thoughts speak with a new immediacy: never before have they been so directly and powerfully presented.
"From the Trade Paperback edition.
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