Book Review, Highlights, and Quotes from Meditations: A New Translation by Marcus Aurelius – Translated by Gregory Hays
This book was a struggle for me in some ways.
I am a huge fan of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine. It not only made me realize that I have already been living the Stoic philosophy in many ways, but encouraged me to dig further into Stoic readings and go straight to the source.
And while I found Meditations to be profound at times, I also found it to be a frustrating read to really dive into, and downright depressing at times. The forward warned:
As one scholar has observed, “Reading Meditations for long periods can be conducive of melancholy.” And even those who love the book cannot deny that there is something impoverished about the view of human life it presents”Gregory Hays on Meditations
However, it wasn’t necessarily the impoverished view of humanity that bothered me, so much as the structure and length of the writings. It is written in almost bullet-point journalistic format.
These writings after all, were never meant to be published. So Marcus bounces around from topic to topic at random. Many of the writings are repetitive in theme and context.
The bottom line for me, was that it was simply hard to get into the flow of reading Meditations, but the content was at times very enjoyable and relatable. I especially enjoyed the later chapters/books. Book 8 and onward were easier to digest and certainly more quotable!
AR’s Book Score: 7 out of 10
Key book highlights from Meditations:
Meditations touches on much of the human condition. And I can respect that Marcus is sometimes trying to talk himself off a ledge. To remind himself to be the leader that he wants to be.
He also confronts death, change, nature, human interactions. As put by Hays, Meditations recurring themes are:
- “Death is not to be feared, Marus continually reminds himself. It is a natural process, part of the continual change that forms the world”
- “Dealing with pain or bodily weakness of other sorts.”
- “The need to restrain anger and irritation with other people, to put up with their incompetence, or malice, to show them the error of their ways”
For all of the pessimism at times in the work, I find that Meditations is very quotable and that is where Meditations shines. I can take a thought, an entry, and I can revisit it later on down the road. That is where the true value of Meditations comes into play for me.
Best Quotes from Meditations:
It doesn’t bother you that you weight only x or y pounds and not three hundred. Why should it bother you that you have only x or y years to live and not more? You accept the limits placed on your body. Accept those placed on your time.Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their mindsMeditations by Marcus Aurelius
Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? What’s closer to nature’s heart? Can you take a hot bath and leave the firewood as it was? Eat food without transforming it? Can any vital process take place without something being changed?
Can’t you see? It’s just the same with you-and just as vital to nature.Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
To feel affection for people even when they make mistakes is uniquely human. You can do it, if you simply recognize: that they’re human too. They act out of ignorance, against their will, and that you’ll both be dead before long. And, above all, that they haven’t really hurt you. They haven’t diminished your ability to choose.Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you’ll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, in which case you have to excuse them. Or your sense of good and evil may differ from theirs. In which case they’re misguided and deserve your compassion. Is that so hard?Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option:
– to accept this event with humilityMeditations by Marcus Aurelius
– to treat this person as he should be treated
– to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in.
Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
When faced with people’s bad behavior, turn around and ask when you have acted like that. When you saw money as a good, or pleasure, or social position Your anger will subdue as soon as you recognize that they acted under compulsion (what else could they do?).Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
And why is it so hard when things go against you? If it’s imposed by nature, accept it gladly and stop fighting it. And if not, work out what your own nature requires, and aim at that, even if it brings you no glory.Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If god appeared to us – or a wise human being, even – and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions – instead of our own.Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Constantly run down the list of those who felt intense anger at something: the most famous, the most unfortunate, the most hated, the most whatever. And ask: Where is all that now? Smoke, dust, legend…or not even a legend.Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
More Marcus Aurelius
- Videos on Marcus Aurelius:
More books that explore Stoicism
If you want to do a deeper dive into the Stoics, then I recommend all of the following. Start first with A Guide to the Good Life, and proceed from there.
- A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine
- The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
- On the Shortness of Life: Life Is Long if You Know How to Use It by Seneca (Author), C. D. N. Costa (Translator)
And if you are interested in Stoicism, then you should also take a look at some other books that explore Stoicism, Buddhism, happiness and enjoying life.