Meditations: A New Translation
Marcus Aurelius (trans. Hays)
This is most people’s introductions to the philosophy of Stoicism — it was certainly mine. This is* the private writings of the emperor Aurelius, written in Greek, and intended as, perhaps, a set of private exhortations to himself to be better. It is comprised of a series of hundreds of short “mediations” in which Aurelius tries to cheerlead himself into living a life closer to the stoic ideals of un-attachment, rigor, and duty.
It a bit of a cliché to like this book, but I do.** Serious stoic scholars may prefer the works of one of the Greek originators of stoic thought (like Epictetus). The mediations are self-involved, and they are repetitive, and it’s a little ridiculous to read of the most powerful man in the world taking about his attempts at humble service.
But I like Marcus. Perhaps because, though I am no emperor, I am someone who thinks about the same issues, wishes to be a the same sort of person, and struggles with these things through my own repetitive, self-involved writings. If stoicism interests you, there’s probably no better place to start. Read it, and you fight against it later.
A note on editions: I’d recommend the Hays translation of the Mediations. Perhaps not the most loyal to the Greek (I wouldn’t know, I don’t read Greek) but definitely the most engaging and modern I’ve come across.
*Or at least scholars believe it to be – the degree to which we know anything about classical and great texts is limited
** Indeed, I am doing a project where I do my own idiosyncratic annotations of the work.