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Meditations of Marcus Aurelius ~ A Capsule Book Review

Meditations of Marcus Aurelius ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Marcus Aurelius lived in the early Christian era, from the year 121 to 180. He was a Stoic philosopher and emperor of Rome from 161 until his death. He wrote his Meditations as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. He was able “to write down what was in his heart just as it was, not obscured by any consciousness of the presence of listeners or any striving after-effect.” To put it another way, he probably never planned for Meditations to be published as a book and read by people nearly two thousand years later.

Meditations is divided into twelve books, each book representing a different period in Marcus Aurelius’ life. The books are not in chronological order. A central theme is the importance of analyzing one’s judgment of self and others, and the development of a cosmic perspective. In Marcus Aurelius’ own words, “”You have the power to strip away many superfluous troubles located wholly in your judgment, and to possess a large room for yourself embracing in thought the whole cosmos, to consider everlasting time, to think of the rapid change in the parts of each thing, of how short it is from birth until dissolution, and how the void before birth and that after dissolution are equally infinite.” Another important theme is maintaining focus and being without distraction, while maintaining strong ethical principles.

Marcus Aurelius’ Stoic philosophy advocated avoiding indulgence in sensory affections, which will free a man from the pains and pleasures of the material world. The only way a man can be harmed by others, he says, is to allow his reaction to overpower him. Order, or “logos” (the principle of divine reason and creative order) permeates existence, allowing one to rise above perceptions of “good” and “bad.”

Meditations is not exactly entertaining or breezy reading, but it’s interesting on a historical level because it was written by a Roman Emperor, it’s a product of its time, and it explains the Stoic philosophy, which is in itself quite interesting. Meditations held my interest (mostly) throughout its one hundred pages and I never once wanted to set it aside and read something else, but I was glad when I came to the end.

Copyright © 2020 by Allen Kopp

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