Meditations – Overview


Meditations is the longstanding work of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius who ruled between 161 and 180 AD. Meditations is thought of as his diary or journal that helped him not only continue his philosophical studies, but also keep his mind present and clear in terms of what he was dealing with on a daily basis.

Originally written in Greek, the book of Meditations is broken into twelve separate books, each containing multiple entries by Marcus representing ideas or problems he faced on a given day. Much of the writing shows Marcus’ ethos and the internal turmoil he faced as being the most powerful man in the world at the time. Historians do not know where the books were written but some of the entries indicate that portions were written while he was at war. In addition, the books and entries may or may not be in chronological order.

Meditations has been adopted and translated many times over the years and has withstood the test of time due to the knowledge contained within the pages. There is no indication that Marcus ever had intended to share these entries as many of them are self-reflective, in some cases extremely personal about his daily dealings. Gregory Hays, one of the authors who has translated Meditations, explains the differing dynamic of Marcus’ entries, “The first voice seems to represent Marcus’ weaker, human side; the second is the voice of philosophy.” This helps to demonstrate that even the most powerful man in the world at the time struggled with the inner conflicts of how to take action in certain situations.

Marcus was known as a philosopher-king, a title bestowed upon him because of his philosophical beliefs. Through the writings, you can see Marcus reminding himself of the philosophy he learned as a child and how he tries to bring himself back to it when times in the Roman Empire become tough. There is a clear conflict between his passion for philosophy and what needed to be done as emperor of the Roman Empire.

The writing itself is simple and straightforward, speaking much to his mindset and philosophical beliefs. Once Marcus became emperor of the Roman Empire, his studies into stoicism and philosophy ceased. Meditations was his way of continually practicing and exploring the philosophical ideas he had grown up with. The book deals with self-judgment and analysis of the self. Marcus carries with him the belief that we, as humans, control everything from within, external forces cannot move us. He also clearly demonstrates that one of the most common thoughts was about death and the inevitability of it. He believed life was cyclical, that that is how the universe flows, we come from nature and will eventually return to it. He constantly reminded himself to maintain focus with what was on hand and disregard the distractions of everyday life.

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