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Meditations : Popular Penguins : Popular Penguins -  Marcus Aurelius

Meditations : Popular Penguins

Popular Penguins

Paperback Published: 23rd January 2017
ISBN: 9780143566328
Number Of Pages: 254

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These spiritual reflections of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) show a leader trying to make sense of himself and the universe, and cover diverse topics such as the question of virtue, human rationality and the nature of the gods. In developing his personal beliefs, Aurelius created one of the greatest works of philosophy: a series of wise and practical aphorisms that have been consulted by statesmen, thinkers and everyday philosophers for almost two thousand years.

About The Author

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was born in AD 121, in the reign of the emperor Hadrian. At first he was called Marcus Annius Verus, but his well-born father died young and he was adopted, first by his grandfather, who had him educated by a number of excellent tutors, and then, when he was sixteen, by Aurelius Antoninus, his uncle by marriage, who had been adopted as Hadrian's heir, and had no surviving sons of his own. Aurelius Antoninus changed Marcus' name to his own and betrothed him to his daughter, Faustina. She bore fourteen children, but none of the sons survived Marcus except the worthless Commodus, who eventually succeeded Marcus as emperor.

On the death of Antoninus in 161, Marcus made Lucius Verus, another adopted son of his uncle, his colleague in government. There were thus two emperors ruling jointly for the first time in Roman history. The Empire then entered a period troubled by natural disasters, famine, plague and floods, and by invasions of barbarians. In 168, one year before the death of Verus left him in sole command, Marcus went to join his legions on the Danube. Apart from a brief visit to Asia to crush the revolt of Avidius Cassius, whose followers he treated with clemency, Marcus stayed in the Danube region and consoled his somewhat melancholy life there by writing a series of reflections which he called simply To Himself. These are now known as his Meditations, and they reveal a mind of great humanity and natural humility, formed in the Stoic tradition, which has long been admired in the Christian world. He died, of an infectious disease, perhaps, in camp on 17 March AD 180.


From my grandfather Verus: decency and a mild temper.

From what they say and I remember of my natural father: integrity and manliness.

From my mother: piety, generosity, the avoidance of wrong-doing and even the thought of it; also simplicity of living, well clear of the habits of the rich.

From my great-grandfather: not to have attended schools for the public; to have had good teachers at home, and to realize that this is the sort of thing on which one should spend lavishly.

From my tutor: not to become a Green or Blue supporter at the races, or side with the Lights or Heavies in the amphitheatre; to tolerate pain and feel few needs; to work with my own hands and mind my own business; to be deaf to malicious gossip.

From Diognetus: to avoid empty enthusiasms; to disbelieve all that is talked by miracle-mongers and quacks about incantations, exorcism of demons, and the like; not to hold quail-fights or be excited by such sports; to tolerate plain speaking; to have an affinity for philosophy, and to attend the lectures first of Baccheius, then of Tandasis and Marcianus; to write essays from a young age; to love the camp-bed, the hide blanket, and all else involved in the Greek training.

From Rusticus: to grasp the idea of wanting correction and treatment for my character; not to be diverted into a taste for rhetoric, so not writing up my own speculations, delivering my own little moral sermons, or presenting a glorified picture of the ascetic or the philanthropist; to keep clear of speechifying, versifying, and pretentious language; not to walk around at home in ceremonial dress, or do anything else like that; to write letters in an unaffected style, like his own letter written to my mother from Sinuessa; to be readily recalled to conciliation with those who have taken or given offence, just as soon as they themselves are willing to turn back; to read carefully, not satisfied with my own superficial thoughts or quick to accept the facile views of others; to have encountered the Discourses of Epictetus, to which he introduced me with his own copy.

From Apollonius: moral freedom, the certainty to ignore the dice of fortune, and have no other perspective, even for a moment, than that of reason alone; to be always the same man, unchanged in sudden pain, in the loss of a child, in lingering sickness; to see clearly in his living example that a man can combine intensity and relaxation; not to be impatient in explanation; the observance of a man who clearly regarded as the least of his gifts his experience and skill in communicating his philosophical insights; the lesson of how to take apparent favours from one's friends, neither compromised by them nor insensitive in their rejection.

From Sextus: a kindly disposition, and the pattern of a household governed by the paterfamilias; the concept of life lived according to nature; an unaffected dignity; intuitive concern for his friends; tolerance both of ordinary people and of the emptily opinionated; an agreeable manner with all, so that the pleasure of his conversation was greater than any flattery, and his very presence brought him the highest respect from all the company; certainty of grasp and method in the discovery and organization of the essential principles of life; never to give the impression of anger or any other passion, but to combine complete freedom from passion with the greatest human affection; to praise without fanfare, and to wear great learning lightly.

From Alexander the grammarian: not to leap on mistakes, or - captiously interrupt when anyone makes an error of vocabu - lary, syntax, or pronunciation, but neatly to introduce the - correct form of that particular expression by way of answer, - confirmation, or discussion of the matter itself rather than its - phrasing – or by some other such felicitous prompting. - From Fronto: to understand the effect of suspicion, caprice, - and hypocrisy in the exercise of absolute rule; and that for the - most part these people we call 'Patricians' are somewhat short - of human affection. - From Alexander the Platonist: rarely, and never without essen - tial cause, to say or write to anyone that 'I am too busy'; nor - to use a similar excuse, advancing 'pressure of circumstances', - in constant avoidance of the proprieties inherent in our relations - to our fellows and contemporaries. - From Catulus: not to spurn a friend's criticism, even if it may - be an unreasonable complaint, but to try to restore his usual - feelings; to speak of one's teachers with wholehearted gratitude, - as is recorded of Domitius and Athenodotus; and a genuine - love for children. - From Severus: love of family, love of truth, love of justice; to - have come by his help to understand Thrasea, Helvidius, Cato, - Dio, Brutus; to have conceived the idea of a balanced consti - tution, a commonwealth based on equality and freedom of - speech, and of a monarchy which values above all the liberty - of the subject; from him, too, a constant and vigorous respect - for philosophy; beneficence, unstinting generosity, optimism; - his confidence in the affection of his friends, his frankness with - those who met with his censure, and open likes and dislikes, so - that his friends did not need to guess at his wishes. - From Maximus: self-mastery, immune to any passing whim; - good cheer in all circumstances, including illness; a nice balance - of character, both gentle and dignified; an uncomplaining energy for what needs to be done; the trust he inspired in everyone that he meant what he said and was well-intentioned in all that he did; proof against surprise or panic; in nothing either hurried or hesitant, never short of resource, never downcast or cringing, or on the other hand angry or suspicious; generosity in good works, and a forgiving and truthful nature; the impression he gave of undeviating rectitude as a path chosen rather than enforced; the fact that no one would ever have thought himself belittled by him, or presumed to consider himself superior to him; and a pleasant humour.

From my [adoptive] father: gentleness, and an immovable adherence to decisions made after full consideration; no vain taste for so-called honours; stamina and perseverance; a ready ear for anyone with any proposal for the common good; to reward impartially, giving everyone their due; experience of where to tighten, where to relax; putting a stop to homosexual love of young men; a common courtesy, excusing his court from constant attendance at dinner with him and the obligation to accompany him out of town, and those kept away by some other commitment always found him no different towards them; focused and persistent in deliberation in council, never satisfied with first impressions and leaving a question prematurely; the concern to keep his friends, with no extremes of surfeit or favouritism; his own master in all things, and serene with it; foresight for the longer issues and unfussy control of the least detail; the check he put in his reign on acclamations and all forms of flattery; his constant watch on the needs of the empire, his stewardship of its resources, and his tolerance of some people's criticism in this area; no superstitious fear of the gods, nor with men any populism or obsequious courting of the mob, but a sober steadfastness in all things, and nowhere any vulgar or newfangled taste.

In those things which conduce to the comfort of life – and here fortune gave him plenty – to enjoy them without pride or apology either, so no routine acceptance of their presence or regret in their absence; the fact that no one would ever describe him as a fraud or an impostor or a pedant, but rather as a man of mellow wisdom and mature experience, beyond flattery, able to take charge of his own and others' affairs.

Further, his high regard for genuine philosophers – for the other sort he had no hard words, but easily saw through them; sociability, too, and a sense of humour, not taken to excess; sensible care of his own body, neither vain nor valetudinarian, but not neglectful either, so that his own attention to himself left very little need for doctors, doses, or applications.

Most importantly, his readiness to defer ungrudgingly to those with some special ability – it might be in literary expression, or the study of laws or customs or any other subject – and to give them his own active support to reach acknowledged eminence in their own specialities. Acting always in accordance with tradition, yet not making the preservation of tradition an overt aim; further, no liking for change and chance, but a settled habit in the same places and the same practices; to resume instantly after attacks of migraine, fresh again and vigorous for his usual work; not to keep many matters secret to himself, only a very few exceptional cases and those solely of state concern; sense and moderation in such things as the provision of shows, contracting of public works, doles and distributions – the acts of a man with an eye for precisely what needs to be done, not the glory of its doing.

He was not one to bathe at all hours; he had no urge to build houses; he was not particular about food, the material and colour of his clothes, or youthful beauty in his slaves; the fact that his dress came from Lorium, sent up from his country house there; the many details of his way of life at Lanuvium; how he handled the apologetic customs officer in Tusculum, and all such modes of behaviour.

Nothing about him was harsh, relentless, or impetuous, and you would never say of him that he 'broke out a sweat': but everything was allotted its own time and thought, as by a man of leisure – his way was unhurried, organized, vigorous, consistent in all. What is recorded of Socrates would apply to him too: that he could regulate abstinence and enjoyment where many people are too weak-willed to abstain or enjoy too indulgently.

Strength of character – and endurance or sobriety as the case may be – signifies the man of full and indomitable spirit, as was shown by Maximus in his illness.

From the gods: to have had good grandparents, good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good family, relatives, and friends – almost everything; and that I did not blunder into offending any of them, even though I had the sort of disposition which might indeed have resulted in some such offence, given the occasion – it was the grace of the gods that no set of circumstances likely to show me up ever arose. That I was not brought up any longer than I was with my grandfather's mistress, and that I kept my innocence, leaving sexual experience to the proper time and indeed somewhat beyond it. That I came under a ruler and a father who was to strip me of all conceit and bring me to realize that it is possible to live in a palace without feeling the need for bodyguards or fancy uniforms, candelabra, statues, or the other trappings of suchlike pomp, but that one can reduce oneself very close to the station of a private citizen and not thereby lose any dignity or vigour in the conduct of a ruler's responsibility for the common good.

That I was blessed with a brother whose character could spur me to care for myself, and whose respect and affection were likewise a source of joy to me. That my children were not born short of intelligence or physically deformed. That I did not make further progress in rhetoric, poetry, and the other pursuits in which I could well have been absorbed, if I had felt this my right path. That I was quick to raise my tutors to the public office which I thought they desired and did not put them off, in view of their youth, with promises for the future. That I came to know Apollonius, Rusticus, Maximus.

That I acquired a clear and constant picture of what is meant by the life according to nature, so that, with regard to the gods, their communications from that world, their help and their inspiration, nothing now prevents me living the life of nature: my falling somewhat short, still, is due to my own fault and my failure to observe the promptings, not to say the instructions, of the gods.

That my body has held out so far in a life such as mine. That I never touched Benedicta or Theodotus, and that later - experience of sexual passion left me cured. That, though I was - often angry with Rusticus, my behaviour never went to the - point of regret. That my mother, fated to die young, nevertheless lived her last years with me. - That whenever I wanted to help someone in poverty or some - other need I was never told that there was no source of afford - able money: and that I myself never fell into similar want of - financial assistance from another. That my wife is as she is, so - submissive, loving, and unaffected: and that I found no lack of - suitable tutors for my children. - That I was given help through dreams, especially how to - avoid spitting blood and bouts of dizziness: and the response - of the oracle at Caieta, 'Just as you use yourself'. That, for all - my love of philosophy, I did not fall in with any sophist, or - devote my time to the analysis of literature or logic, or busy - myself with cosmic speculation. All these things need 'the help - of gods and Fortune's favour'.

ISBN: 9780143566328
ISBN-10: 0143566326
Series: Popular Penguins
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 254
Published: 23rd January 2017
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 18.1 x 11.1  x 2.4
Weight (kg): 0.17
Edition Number: 1

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