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Meditations: Notebooks 1 - 4

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Chris OConnor

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Meditations: Notebooks 1 - 4

Meditations
Notebooks 1 - 4


Please use this thread to discuss the above referenced notebooks of Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
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Re: Meditations: Notebooks 1 - 4

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus ( 26 April 121 – 17 March 180) was Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher. He was the last of the rulers known as the Five Good Emperors (a term coined some 13 centuries later by Niccolò Machiavelli), and the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire lasting from 27 BC to 180 AD.
Book One is like the list of acknowledgements you see at the end of modern books. Whereas modern acknowledgements might list dozens and dozens of names with little detail on what they did, Marcus Aurelius lists fewer names, but goes into great detail on the benefits and wisdom they imparted to him. Some of these are quite interesting.
From Diognetus, (I learned) not to busy myself about trifling things, and not to give credit to what was said by miracle-workers and jugglers about incantations and the driving away of daemons and such things; and not to breed quails for fighting, nor to give myself up passionately to such things; and to endure freedom of speech; and to become intimate with philosophy...
From Rusticus I received the impression that my character required improvement and discipline; and from him I learned not to be led astray to sophistic emulation, nor to writing on speculative matters, nor to delivering little hortatory orations, nor to showing myself off as a man who practises much discipline, or does benevolent acts on order to make a display; and to abstain from rhetoric, and poetry, and fine writing; ... and to read carefully, and not to be satisfied with a superficial understanding of a book; ...
To the gods I am indebted for having good grandfathers, good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good associates, good kinsmen and friends, nearly everything good. ...Further, I am thankful to the gods that I was not longer brought up with my grandfather's concubine...
Marcus Aurelius is deeply aware of the details of his character and others including fussy social conventions. Have great self discipline, but don't let others be aware of this, etc. He is aware that the gods favored him with a good environment. In Book One, he is also Emperor of the Run-On Sentence. 😎
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Re: Meditations: Notebooks 1 - 4

It seems there are numerous translations of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations – some going back hundreds of years. My research led me to the version by Gregory Hays for accuracy and ease of understanding for the 21st century reader.

Hays has a fifty-five page introduction with much background information that should aid in better understanding the content of the main text. He suggests that, to better understand “Meditations” in context, we should be familiar with Stoicism, the philosophical system that underlies his work, as well as the role of philosophy generally in ancient life. Although philosophy had its academic side, it was expected to provide a “design for living” – a set of rules to live by. Religion, on the other hand, privileged ritual over doctrine providing little in the way of moral and ethical guidelines. That was the job of philosophy.

Hays devotes fifteen pages of his introduction to the Stoic world view. Briefly, Stoicism holds that the world is organized in a rational and coherent way. More specifically, “it is controlled and directed by an all-pervading force that the Stoics designated by the term logos. …. Logos operates both in individuals and in the universe as a whole….. All events are determined by the logos and follow in an unbreakable chain of cause and effect.”
Like most of his contemporaries, Marcus did not believe that all humans are equal but that each has an assigned role to play in society. Justice, therefore meant that people were to be treated as they deserve, not as an equal.

In terms of style, it’s important to remember that Marcus was writing for himself, not for an audience. He never expected that anyone but himself would read it. As a result, there are many cryptic references that even his contemporaries would not recognize. Also, the “you” of the text is not a generic “you”. It always refers only to himself!

Another point worth noting is the amount of repetition in the text. “It suggests not a mind recording new perceptions or experimenting with new arguments, but one obsessively repeating and reframing ideas long familiar but imperfectly absorbed”.

There are numerous other points made that are worth reading to get that much more out of a reading of “Meditations”.
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Re: Meditations: Notebooks 1 - 4

It probably is a good idea to start a separate thread in this forum summarizing the Stoic Philosophy. The risk is that folks will respond to that and not discuss this book.

I think I need to find a better translation. Although mine was translated in 2015 (?) it employs archaic English.
All that is from the gods is full of Providence. That which is from fortune is not separated from nature or without an interweaving and involution from the things which are ordered by Providence. From thence all things flow; and there is besides necessity, and that which is for the advantage of the whole universe, of which thou art a part.
- Book Two 3rd paragraph
I might be able to tease that out after reading it four more times, but I lack the energy. Perhaps I'll check the Gregory Hays translation...
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Re: Meditations: Notebooks 1 - 4

Since it is possible that thou mayest depart from life this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly. But to go away from among men, if there are gods, is not a thing to be afraid of, for the gods will not involve thee in evil; but if indeed they do not exist, or if they have no concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe devoid of gods or devoid of Providence?
- Book Two
No Christian influence at this point in the Roman Empire, about 150 years after Jesus' "resurrection."

The Grass Roots celebrate this aspect of Stoic Philosophy.

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Re: Meditations: Notebooks 1 - 4

Summaries and a few brief comments on selected sections from bk2

1.When he wakes up in the morning, he will have to deal with all sorts of people, many of them unpleasant. People have unpleasant characters because they’re unable to discern between good and evil. But Marcus knows that he shares a divine nature with all people, even the unpleasant people, and therefore he refuses to be angry at them—it would be unnatural.

2. In this section Marcus tells himself to remember that he’s an old man; he should stop distracting himself with books, refuse to be enslaved by impulses, and not fear the future.
I don’t understand why Marcus would see books as a distraction and not as a source of information and knowledge; especially since he showed such appreciation for all he received from so many people in his life.

6. Marcus should concentrate every minute like a Roman on doing what’s before him. If he does everything as if it’s the last thing he ever does, and refuses to let his emotions engulf his mind, then he can succeed at this. It’s not necessary to do many things in order to live a good life. The gods ask no more than this.

8. Nobody has ever suffered because they ignored what was going on in other people’s minds. But if you don’t understand your own mind, Marcus says, you’re sure to be unhappy.

12. All things disappear quickly—including famous people whose opinions count for a lot. We’re given intellectual powers in order to understand this. Similarly, when we look at dying and break it down logically, we can see that it’s only a necessary, natural process that no one should be afraid of.

17. Life is brief, changeable, and hard to understand. Therefore, only philosophy can guide a person. Philosophy lets a person keep the “power within” safe—above pleasure or pain, random action, dishonesty, or dependence on anyone else. Philosophy also helps a person accept what happens and to accept death in a cheerful spirit. A person can accept death when they understand that elements are constantly dissolving and changing into one another. “It’s a natural thing. And nothing natural is evil”.
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Re: Meditations: Notebooks 1 - 4

In book three Marcus is again preoccupied with death. He tells us that living longer doesn't guarantee a continued quality of life. He's especially thinking about dementia—even if we live a long life, we may lose cognitive abilities. Marcus describes how swiftly time moves on. He says life is always shorter than we think, since the mind usually disintegrates before the body. We must, therefore, get things done “now”, before it is too late.

Marcus observes how everything in nature has its attractions since it is all part of a larger Whole. Even things that are on the verge of decay—bursting figs, ripe olives hanging next to rotting ones, old men and women—should remind us of the perfection of nature. Describing death further, he says we're only moving toward a new life with the gods. And, if the gods aren't real, then it just won't matter.

Marcus reminds himself not to worry about what other people are thinking or doing. He just needs to concentrate on his own mind. He feels he has to drop wicked thoughts from his mind and be able to concentrate wholly on the present and be able to say what is in his mind at any time without embarrassment. If he could do that, he would be wholly rational and free of passions. He would show care and concern for all people and not be concerned with fame or reputation.

Marcus is certain that a life of reason and self-control can't be equaled. Any other kind of life would simply leave you struggling to get back in touch with your inner god. Pleasure, popularity and wealth may be nice for a little while, but these only last a short time, and they can make you dependent on them.

Marcus also notes that although it is important to have a rational mind, it’s equally important to nourish and cherish your powers of judgment – especially discerning whether or not your judgment is playing by the rules of rational behavior.

Marcus tells himself that the principles in Book 3 are all that is needed for a happy life. It's also important to remember that we only live in the tiny space of the present time. Here he emphasizes the smallness of life. The place in which we live is a cosmic pinpoint, and, in the end, we're all going to die.

In section 11 Marcus urges himself to break every idea or object down to its essentials so that he can see it for what it really is. He doesn't want to cover up reality with rationalizations. This will also help him identify the thing and classify it into its component parts so that he can see how it will break down" over time and give him a clear idea of how things will all play out.

Marcus believes that this practice will help him to have a first-rate mind, since it will help him see clearly how things really are and how they fit into the grand scheme of the universe. He also speaks here of philosophy as a curative tool—like a surgeon's instruments to help him respond appropriately.

Book 3 ends with Marcus looking ahead to the final goal: embracing death as a harmonious part of life.
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