IF YOU’VE ever wondered if there was someone who lived many years ago that thinks like you do now and somehow closes that gap of time, then you’ll feel right at home with Marcus Aurelius Antonius (born AD 141 – 180) in his diary that has survived after nearly 900 years.
The fact Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor no doubt facilitated his Meditations, but in many respects doesn’t effect the purity of the writing, the fantastic examples and metaphors he writes of, and simply glorious insights he writes coupled with wisdom for the ages. Had he been a peasant it’s highly unlikely his writing would have survived, and that’s the key point: although examples of his high position enter the diary excerpts, they don’t define them, the words are brilliant irrespective.
Like a diary, the entries are snippets, sometimes paragraphs long other times a few sentences, with rarely a wasted word. Marcus Aurelius is known more as a philosopher now and I hope you enjoy some of the examples I’ve highlighted, and enjoy the book itself in your own time, something to be dipped into with an open mind.
Always have these two principles in readiness. First, to do only what the reason inherent in kingly and judicial power prescribes for the benefit of mankind. Second, to change your ground, if in fact there is someone to correct and guide you away from some notion. But this transference must always spring from a conviction of justice or the common good; and your preferred course must be likewise, not simply for apparent pleasure or popularity.
Many grains of of incense on the same altar. One falls to ash first, another later: no difference.
What ease of mind you gain from not looking at what your neighbour has said or done or thought, but only at your own actions, to make them just, reverential, imbued with good! So do not glance at the black characters either side, but run right on to the line: straight, not straggly.
Think always of the universe as one living creature, comprising one substance and one soul: how all is absorbed into this consciousness; how a single impulse governs all its actions; how all things collaborate in all that happens; the very web and mesh of it all.
Think of the whole of existence, of what you are the tiniest part; think of the whole of time, in which you have been assigned a brief and fleeting moment; think of destiny – what fraction of that are you?
I’m not a religious or even spiritual person on any level, and there are some segments with reference to god and so forth but even then Marcus Aurelius is ahead of time and toys with the idea there are no gods, and delves into that topic in places, which given the time period is quite incredible in itself.
The Meditations are just a brilliant insight into someones mind on a very intimate level which feels like time travel at times, an experience I’ve never had before when reading. Some aphorisms and wisdom uses the simplest example but still feel very powerful, while on other points Marcus Aurelius takes his time to construct a point or an observation: and written in a way that makes it all worthwhile, and despite the centuries that have passed the translations read very fresh. Also keep in mind that the writings were never intended to be published, which gives the writing an even more magical quality, as it’s a great thinker and philosopher noting their thoughts like you or I might in our own notebook.
I hope you pick up a copy and enjoy it as much as I did and have.