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A new translation, with an Introduction, by Gregory Hays
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (a.d. 121 180) succeeded his adoptive father as emperor of Rome in a.d. 161 and Meditations remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. With a profound understanding of human behavior, Marcus provides insights, wisdom, and practical guidance on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity to interacting with others. Consequently, the Meditations have become 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.
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Written in the mid second century by the philosopher Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Meditations presents a noble approach to life. Schooled in the classic tradition, Marcus Aurelius reflects the mature harvest of the Stoic school of philosophy. His philosophy is best summed up by the saying "Do not be too concerned, for tomorrow you die". Lest this sounds too bleak, the awareness of mortality motivates a good, noble and upright life. Since we all die, the best thing is to live nobly and honestly. This is not only the way to live well, but also the way to avoid suffering. Meditations is composed of aphorisms and insights from Marcus Aurelius that allow his philosophy to be lived out.
The translator, Gregory Hays, is assistant professor of classics at the University of Virginia. Hays provides a clearly written introduction in which he explains the philosophical influences on Marcus Aurelius as well as the political and familial pressures he experienced. The translation itself is crisp and lucid. The result is a handsome collection of short exhortations and aphorisms that encourage a noble, if stoical approach to life. Marcus Aurelius always sheds light on life, but that light is always dappled with shadow. There is no hope and little humour in Marcus Aurelius. In the end, his outlook is pessimistic, and he makes one realise how refreshing and unique the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity really are. Nevertheless, Meditations is a cornerstone of the practical philosophy genre and this new translation will make up a vital part of a classic bookshelf. --Dwight LongeneckerReview:
"Here, for our age, is [Marcus' s] great work presented in its entirety, strongly introduced and freshly, elegantly translated." --Robert Fagles
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 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'Billovich
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