Manvotional: Selection from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

by Brett on April 18, 2009 · 15 comments

in A Man's Life, Manvotionals

aurelius1

This week’s Manvotional comes from the Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius. In his Meditations, Aurelius gives a description of his adoptive father. According to AoM reader Brian, who submitted this manvotional, it’s a worthy selection “both because it is a show of respect and affection for his father and because he outlines what it means to be a man through his father’s example.” Enjoy.

Take care that thou art not made into a Caesar, that thou art not dyed with this dye; for such things happen. Keep thyself then simple, good, pure, serious, free from affectation, a friend of justice, a worshiper of the gods, kind, affectionate, strenuous in all proper acts. Strive to continue to be such as philosophy wished to make thee. Reverence the gods, and help men. Short is life. There is only one fruit of this terrene life, a pious disposition and social acts. Do everything as a disciple of Antoninus. Remember his constancy in every act which was conformable to reason, and his evenness in all things, and his piety, and the serenity of his countenance, and his sweetness, and his disregard of empty fame, and his efforts to understand things; and how he would never let anything pass without having first most carefully examined it and clearly understood it; and how he bore with those who blamed him unjustly without blaming them in return; how he did nothing in a hurry; and how he listened not to calumnies, and how exact an examiner of manners and actions he was; and not given to reproach people, nor timid, nor suspicious, nor a sophist; and with how little he was satisfied, such as lodging, bed, dress, food, servants; and how laborious and patient; and how he was able on account of his sparing diet to hold out to the evening, not even requiring to relieve himself by any evacuations except at the usual hour; and his firmness and uniformity in his friendships; and how he tolerated freedom of speech in those who opposed his opinions; and the pleasure that he had when any man showed him anything better; and how religious he was without superstition. Imitate all this that thou mayest have as good a conscience, when thy last hour comes, as he had.

Hat tip: Brian

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The Tim April 19, 2009 at 6:37 am

Excellent selection. One of my favorite books.

2 Ced April 19, 2009 at 6:49 am

first heard his name mentioned in “The Silence of The Lambs”

3 CoastalKyle April 19, 2009 at 9:39 am

“Not even requiring to relieve himself by any evacuations except at the usual hour”? Wow, and we thought the Victorians were strict. Could someone tell me what the usual hour is, so that I don’t make any improper evacuations?

4 Wayne Key April 19, 2009 at 10:29 am

I first read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations as a teenager. Between that and Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics I learned that thinking serious and long term was an important trait. Bravo for bringing out one of the TRUE classics.

(A note for those of you who haven’t read the older classics. Many of them were translated from Greek or in Aurelius case I assmume from the Latin of his day into Arabic and then were translated into Latin during the Renaissance. Because of the loss of many of the original manuscripts our English translations are often a third or fourth generation translation. This multiple translation makes reading them very challenging and not for the literal minded. Even so they are still very rewarding.)

5 Pipps April 19, 2009 at 11:46 am

Stoics rule! :D

6 Matt Grieser April 19, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Wayne Key: Marcus Aurelius is translated from Greek. (Aurelius, M., & Hays, G. (2002). Meditations, page ix. New York: Modern Library.)
via wikipedia “Close imitation of Attic was not required because [Marcus Aurelius] wrote in a philosophical context without thought of publication. Galen’s many writings in what he calls ‘the common dialect’ are another excellent example of non-atticizing but highly educated Greek.” Simon Swain, (1996), Hellenism and Empire, page 29. Oxford University Press.

I just read the Hays translation of Meditations, so this was fresh in my mind.

7 Edwinek April 19, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Wonderful quote. As a sideline: I wonder whether there is a convertor somewhere on the net that will change this (and so many other texts that have got stuck in the 19th century) in modern English.

8 James April 20, 2009 at 5:30 am

Excellent post. We need to read more of classical literature and philosophy; it has much to offer us even today. As as classicist and a guy, I’ve always held the Meditations as one of my favorite works. There are plenty of selections that are worth reading. It’s a great book that is made for reading each day, since Aurelius made one entry each day, and they’re usually quite short to read, but give you something to think about. It is quite inspiring to read the words of an emperor who was yet so grounded and despite all his power and prestige was not conceited or arrogant.

Just for general information, Aurelius wrote in Greek, even though he was Roman. The Romans considered Greek more philosophical and academic and, indeed, even sometimes more pleasant a language. What is particularly wonderful about the Meditations is that Aurelius simply kept it as a personal diary of thoughts and never intended it to be published, but it has amazingly survived antiquity to be the third work with the longest period of continuous publishing, after the Bible and the Aeneid.

My favorite quote of Aurelius is from the second section (a particularly excellent part of the book in general): “Every moment think steadily as a Roman and a man to act with perfect and simple dignity, and feeling of affection, and freedom, and justice; and to give thyself relief from all other thoughts.”

9 tim colstil April 20, 2009 at 8:41 am

hey i think the this article is very creative and cool
but it is al little gay

10 Niall April 21, 2009 at 5:53 am

Nice. Just as relevant today as it was back in Roman times. As a small project I’ve recntly embarked on putting the complete contents of Marcus Aurelius’ meditations online as a blog. One entry per day, should take a bit under 18 months to complete. You can find it at: http://marcus-aurelius-meditations.blogspot.com/

11 HP Schrei April 23, 2009 at 7:25 am

A very readable version of the Meditations is published by Penguin in its Great Ideas Series:

http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780141018829,00.html?sym=SYN

12 Russell McNeil May 14, 2009 at 5:25 am

I am currently working through all of the meditations of Marcus Aurelius and posting them on a daily basis on the Malaspina Great Books Quotations Blog. Many of these relate directly to the themes discussed here. A link to the meditations currently online are found here:

http://russellmcneil.blogspot.com/search/label/meditations

13 Miguel July 27, 2009 at 4:00 pm

I love how Marcus starts his book by honouring all the people that made him into the man he was.

He wrote meditations in his 50s yet he humbly recalls his initial influences since childhood. This excerpt is actually referring to his adoptive father I believe, and he also praises his natural father’s memory from his reputation.

There is a line where he mentions how refreshing and powerful it is to see virtues embodied by someone else – how that’s the best way to appreciate them.

That’s how he saw him.

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