Marcus Aurelius's Meditations

Marcel van Ackeren

in Classics

ISBN: 9780195389661
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:
Marcus Aurelius's Meditations

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Marcus Aurelius (b. 121 ce) was heir to the throne for twenty-three years, beginning in 138 ce, and then Roman emperor from 161 until his death in 180. He was a philosopher as well; in fact, he was the last important Stoic philosopher of Antiquity. Though Stoicism was an important philosophical school, not even a handful of ancient texts survived as a whole (only the Hymn to Zeus by Cleanthes; works by Cleomedes, Cornutus, and Seneca; and some lectures by Epictetus as reported by Arrian). Probably in his last decade, Marcus wrote a philosophical text in Greek that survived. As far as we know, the text was unknown to his contemporaries. Also, we do not know why and how the text survived until its first edition was printed in 1558. Few seem to have known of its existence, but there is no reliable source proving that the same holds true for its content. Probably Marcus did not choose a title. The first edition is titled Ta eis heauton, “To himself,” and in the English speaking world, Meditations has become the common title, while in other languages the titles used differ greatly. After its publication the text quickly became one of the most widely read philosophical texts from Antiquity. The text as we know it is divided into twelve books. In the first seventeen chapters of Book I, Marcus thanks his family, some of his teachers, especially his predecessor and adoptive father, Antonius Pius, for being living paradigms, and finally the gods. The following eleven books, comprising 473 chapters (ranging in length from three words to about three pages) do not follow any obvious formal or argumentative structure. The text, written for private purposes, is not a treatise. The chapters—sometimes argumentative, sometimes aphoristic—are self-addressed and centered around a group of topics. Though Marcus uses Platonic language every now and then, he is purely a Stoic thinker, which becomes obvious as he uses the Stoic division of philosophy and argues for distinctly Stoic theories in each part, sometimes using technical language. His overall aims are not theoretical, but purely ethical. He wants to live a Stoic life. Given the renaissance of practical philosophy, particularly practical ethics and the renewed interest in the ancient forms of life (e.g., by Hadot and Foucault), it is not surprising that the combination of Marcus’ philosophical ambitions and his unique way of writing, such as his literary style, has led to new research.

Article.  5339 words. 

Subjects: Classical Studies ; Classical Art and Architecture ; Classical History ; Classical Literature ; Classical Philosophy

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