Marcus Aurelius was the Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 and a major Stoic philosopher. His life and philosophy have endured over the centuries in his volume, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.
Originally written in Greek between 170 and 180, Marcus wrote this book for himself as a means of self-improvement. In its 12 sections, Marcus offers his thoughts on introspection, avoiding physical indulgences, and developing a “cosmic” perspective.
Walter Covell’s magisterial but relaxed performance suits the direct style of this influential and widely cherished work of philosophy.
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., is still revered as a literary monument to a government of service and duty, and it has been praised for its "exquisite accent and its infinite tenderness". In fact, John Stuart Mill, in his Utility of Religion, compared The Meditations to the "Sermon on the Mount".
©180 C.E. Public Domain; (P)1986 Jimcin Recordings
The Meditations are a personal notebook, written by Marcus to himself and for his own use. This is an incredibly powerful book.
"In this flowing stream then, on which there is no abiding, what is there of the things which hurry by on which a man would set a high price? It would be just as if a man should fall in love with one of the sparrows which fly by, but it has already passed out of sight." [Meditations 6:15]
Some may find this recording “monotone and lifeless”. But, remember: Marcus Aurelius had a manly stoic character. He was not a tragic hero.
“Everything which happens either happens in such wise as thou art formed by nature to bear it, or as thou art not formed by nature to bear it. If, then, it happens to thee in such way as thou art formed by nature to bear it, do not complain, but bear it as thou art formed by nature to bear it. But if it happens in such wise as thou art not formed by nature to bear it, do not complain, for it will perish after it has consumed thee.” [Meditations 10:3]
Walter Covell’s interpretation provides a fascinating picture of a would-be Stoic sage at work on himself. In some parts, his intonation is just perfect. If you heard it multiple times, you will start noticing it. Listen to the book IV for instance. There is no way to improve it.
“From Rusticus I received the impression that my character required improvement and discipline and from him I learned (…) to read carefully, and not to be satisfied with a superficial understanding of a book” [Meditations 1:7]
If you are looking for an introduction to stoicism, here are some suggestions: listen to the Epictetus’ Enchiridion at librivox dot org and search for “James Stockdale”.
Further Reading: The Fourth Book of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus at archive dot org -- a commentary by H. Crossley.
Letting the rest of the world go by
No wonder this book is still around. It is easy to follow and to understand. Usually, primary sources for philosophy are too complex for me to understand, but not this one. Marcus Aurelius has a core set of beliefs and explains them for the non student of philosophy. I would recommend this book for anyone who is interested in learning about stoicism. I only wish modern writers of philosophy would read this book before they write their books. The reader knew how to read and keep me interested.
The main tenet of Aurelius' philosophy seems to be that a person should stay true to their highest nature. Nobody can truly harm you, no matter what they do to your body, if you do not compromise your divine nature. This is a very simple and beautiful idea. However, this particular reading of the book is a bit dull and pedantic, although admittedly the material is not inherently dramatic.
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