Monday, 8 June 2020

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius


Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
First written in Greek between 161 and 180 AD and probably never intended for publication. English language translation by Martin Hammond published in the UK by Penguin in April 2006.

A Classics Club Challenge read

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Written in Greek by the only Roman emperor who was also a philosopher, without any intention of publication, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius offer a remarkable series of challenging spiritual reflections and exercises developed as the emperor struggled to understand himself and make sense of the universe. While the Meditations were composed to provide personal consolation and encouragement, Marcus Aurelius also created one of the greatest of all works of philosophy: a timeless collection that has been consulted and admired by statesmen, thinkers and readers throughout the centuries.

Translated with notes by MARTIN HAMMOND with an Introduction by DISKIN CLAY

Marcus Aurelius is a name I've often encountered - his words quoted at the beginning of novels or mentioned in passing by 'intellectual' characters - so, on spotting this reissued translation of his Meditations on NetGalley, I couldn't help but to request the book. Unsurprisingly for a work that's over eighteen centuries old, there are many translations in existence so I feel lucky that this very readable Martin Hammond translation was the one to find me. I accept the irony of a book reviewer who got a free ARC saying this, but I believe it is worth paying for this particular Aurelius-Hammond partnership. Yes, you can also get free Marcus Aurelius Meditations ebooks, but their reviews are dire!

This Penguin Classics edidtion begins with a lengthy essay by Diskin Clay that gives a lot of reasonably interesting background information about Aurelius, his life and times. It's admittedly nowhere near as pompous as other Classics introductions I've read in the past, but I did find it a harder slog than Marcus himself. Once I made it through to the Meditations, I was blown away! This book is amazing! I really felt as though each paragraph was someone speaking directly to me, and speaking meaningfully. Not every exhortation was vividly eye-opening of course. This particular one is patently ridiculous:
And give up your thirst for books so that you do not die a grouch
Seriously, Marcus? Not going to happen!

However other guidance like:
Most of what we say and do is unnecessary; remove the superfluity, and you will have more time and less bother
or
All things are short lived - this is their common lot - yet you pursue likes and dislikes as if all was fixed for eternity.
were scarily pertinent!

I could immediately understand the idea of Marcus Aurelius being a life guide and of reading a paragraph or so a day as my own personal Meditation. I am even sorely tempted to buy myself a good paper edition to crease and annotate as I do. I am still struggling to get my head around how a philosopher from nearly two millennia ago can be as insightful and relevant to right now, yet he is. Thank you Penguin for giving me the opportunity to read this potentially life-changing book.


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1 comment:

  1. I'm glad this turned out to be so great! Especially since it spoke to you so meaningfully.But uh, what was that about books? In a book? Lol. Those other two are thought-provoking though!

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