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First page of the 1792 English translation by Richard Graves
Author Marcus Aurelius
Original title Unknown, probably untitled
Country Roman Empire
Language Koine Greek

Meditations (Medieval Greek: Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν, translit. Ta eis heauton, literally "things to one's self") is a series of personal writings by Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, recording his private notes to himself and ideas on Stoic philosophy.

Marcus Aurelius wrote the 12 books of the Meditations in Koine Greek[1] as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement.[2] It is possible that large portions of the work were written at Sirmium, where he spent much time planning military campaigns from 170 to 180. Some of it was written while he was positioned at Aquincum on campaign in Pannonia, because internal notes tell us that the first book was written when he was campaigning against the Quadi on the river Granova (modern-day Hron) and the second book was written at Carnuntum.

It is unlikely that Marcus Aurelius ever intended the writings to be published and the work has no official title, so "Meditations" is one of several titles commonly assigned to the collection. These writings take the form of quotations varying in length from one sentence to long paragraphs.

Structure and themes[edit]

Ruins of the ancient city of Aquincum, in modern Hungary – one site where Marcus Aurelius worked on Meditations.

The Meditations is divided into 12 books that chronicle different periods of Marcus' life. Each book is not in chronological order and it was written for no one but himself. The style of writing that permeates the text is one that is simplified, straightforward, and perhaps reflecting Marcus' Stoic perspective on the text. Depending on the English translation, Marcus' style is not viewed as anything regal or belonging to royalty, but rather a man among other men, which allows the reader to relate to his wisdom. Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations at his base in Sirmium, in modern Serbia, and also while positioned at the city of Aquincum, while on campaign in Pannonia, which included modern Hungary.

A central theme to Meditations is the importance of analyzing one's judgment of self and others and the development of a cosmic perspective. As he said "You have the power to strip away many superfluous troubles located wholly in your judgment, and to possess a large room for yourself embracing in thought the whole cosmos, to consider everlasting time, to think of the rapid change in the parts of each thing, of how short it is from birth until dissolution, and how the void before birth and that after dissolution are equally infinite".[3] He advocates finding one's place in the universe and sees that everything came from nature, and so everything shall return to it in due time. Another strong theme is of maintaining focus and to be without distraction all the while maintaining strong ethical principles such as "Being a good man".[4]

His Stoic ideas often involve avoiding indulgence in sensory affections, a skill which will free a man from the pains and pleasures of the material world. He claims that the only way a man can be harmed by others is to allow his reaction to overpower him. An order or logos permeates existence. Rationality and clear-mindedness allow one to live in harmony with the logos. This allows one to rise above faulty perceptions of "good" and "bad" – things out of your control like fame and health are (unlike things in your control) irrelevant and neither good nor bad.


Marcus Aurelius has been lauded for his capacity "to write down what was in his heart just as it was, not obscured by any consciousness of the presence of listeners or any striving after effect". Gilbert Murray compares the work to Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Confessions and St. Augustine's Confessions. Though Murray criticizes Marcus for the "harshness and plainness of his literary style", he finds in his Meditations "as much intensity of in most of the nobler modern books of religion, only [with] a sterner power controlling it". "People fail to understand Marcus", he writes, "not because of his lack of self-expression, but because it is hard for most men to breathe at that intense height of spiritual life, or, at least, to breathe soberly".[5]

D.A. Rees calls the Meditations "unendingly moving and inspiring", but does not offer them up as works of original philosophy.[6] Bertrand Russell found them contradictory and inconsistent, evidence of a "tired age" where "even real goods lose their savour". Using Marcus as an example of greater Stoic philosophy, he found their ethical philosophy to contain an element of "sour grapes". "We can't be happy, but we can be good; let us therefore pretend that, so long as we are good, it doesn't matter being unhappy".[7] Both Russell and Rees find an element of Marcus' Stoic philosophy in the philosophical system of Immanuel Kant.[6][7]

German philosopher Georg Hegel offers a critique of Stoicism that follows similar lines, albeit covering different trajectories. In his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel attacks the preoccupation with the inner self as a severing, fatalistic barrier to consciousness. A philosophy that reduces all states of harm or injustice to emotional states "could only appear on the scene in a time of universal fear and bondage." The Stoic refusal to meet the world is anathema to Life, a central value in Hegel's philosophical work: "whether on the throne or in chains, in the utter dependence of its individual existence, its aim is to be free, and to maintain that lifeless indifference which steadfastly withdraws from the bustle of existence..." M.L. Clarke concurs in his historical work on philosophical ideas, The Roman Mind, where he states "[p]olitical liberty could hardly flourish after so many years of despotism and the indifference to public affairs which it bred. And philosophy fostered the same spirit."

In the Introduction to his 1964 translation of Meditations, the Anglican priest Maxwell Staniforth discussed the profound impact of Stoicism on Christianity.[8] Michael Grant called Marcus Aurelius "the noblest of all the men who, by sheer intelligence and force of character, have prized and achieved goodness for its own sake and not for any reward".[9] Gregory Hays' translation of Meditations for The Modern Library made the bestseller list for two weeks in 2002.[10]

The book has been described as a prototype of reflective practice by Seamus Mac Suibhne.[11] United States President Bill Clinton said that Meditations is his favorite book,[12] and United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis carried his own personal copy of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius throughout his deployments as a Marine Corps officer in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq.[13][14]

"Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered"


Be like a rocky promontory against which the restless surf continually pounds; it stands fast while the churning sea is lulled to sleep at its feet. I hear you say, "How unlucky that this should happen to me!" Not at all! Say instead, "How lucky that I am not broken by what has happened and am not afraid of what is about to happen. The same blow might have struck anyone, but not many would have absorbed it without capitulation or complaint."

— IV. 49 (trans. Hicks)

If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this that disturbs thee, but thy own judgment about it. And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgment now.'

— VIII. 47, trans. George Long

A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, "And why were such things made in the world?"

— VIII. 50, trans. George Long

Put an end once for all to this discussion of what a good man should be, and be one.

— X. 16,[15]

Soon you'll be ashes or bones. A mere name at most—and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, trivial.

— V. 33, trans. Gregory Hays

Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust or lose your sense of shame or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill-will or hypocrisy or a desire for things best done behind closed doors.

— III. 7, trans. Gregory Hays

Not to feel exasperated or defeated or despondent because your days aren't packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit you've embarked on.

— V. 9, trans. Gregory Hays

Let opinion be taken away, and no man will think himself wronged. If no man shall think himself wronged, then is there no more any such thing as wrong.

— IV. 7, trans. Méric Casaubon

Take away your opinion, and there is taken away the complaint, [...] Take away the complaint, [...] and the hurt is gone

— IV. 7, trans. George Long

[...] As for others whose lives are not so ordered, he reminds himself constantly of the characters they exhibit daily and nightly at home and abroad, and of the sort of society they frequent; and the approval of such men, who do not even stand well in their own eyes has no value for him.

— III. 4, trans. Maxwell Staniforth

Shame on the soul, to falter on the road of life while the body still perseveres.

— VI. 29, trans. Maxwell Staniforth

Whatever happens to you has been waiting to happen since the beginning of time. The twining strands of fate wove both of them together: your own existence and the things that happen to you.

— V. 8, trans. Gregory Hays

In your actions, don't procrastinate. In your conversations, don't confuse. In your thoughts, don't wander. In your soul, don't be passive or aggressive. In your life, don't be all about business.

— VIII. 51[16]

You shouldn't give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don't care at all.

— VII. 38 [17]

Kindness is invincible, but only when it's sincere, with no hypocrisy or faking. For what can even the most malicious person do if you keep showing kindness and, if given the chance, you gently point out where they went wrong--right as they are trying to harm you?

— XI. 18.5.9a [18]

What if someone despises me? Let me see to it. But I will see to it that I won't be found doing or saying anything contemptible. What if someone hates me? Let me see to that. But I will see to it that I'm kind and good-natured to all, and prepared to show even the hater where they went wrong. Not in a critical way, or to show off my patience, but genuinely and usefully.

— XI. 13[19]

Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good.

— IV. 17, trans. George Long

Of the life of man the duration is but a point.

— II. 17, trans. C.R. Haines

A person who doesn't know what the universe is, doesn't know who they are. A person who doesn't know their purpose in life doesn't know who they are or what the universe is. A person who doesn't know any of these things doesn't know why they are here. So what to make of people who seek or avoid the praise of those who have no knowledge of where or who they are?

— VIII. 52 [20]

Often injustice lies in what you aren't doing, not only in what you are doing.

— IX. 5 [21]

Whenever you suffer pain, keep in mind that it's nothing to be ashamed of and that it can't degrade your guiding intelligence, nor keep it from acting rationally and for the common good. And in most cases you should be helped by the saying of Epicurus, that pain is never unbearable or unending, so you can remember these limits and not add to them in your imagination. Remember too that many common annoyances are pain in disguise, such as sleepiness, fever and loss of appetite. When they start to get you down, tell yourself you are giving in to pain.

— VII. 64 [22]

Enough of this miserable, whining life. Stop monkeying around! Why are you troubled? What’s new here? What’s so confounding? The one responsible? Take a good look. Or just the matter itself? Then look at that. There’s nothing else to look at. And as far as the gods go, by now you could try being more straightforward and kind. It’s the same, whether you’ve examined these things for a hundred years, or only three.

— IX. 37 [23]

Keep this thought handy when you feel a bit of rage coming on--it isn't manly to be enraged. Rather, gentleness and civility are more human, and therefore manlier. A real person doesn't give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance--unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.

— XI 11.18.5b [24]

Don't tell yourself anything more than what the initial impressions report. It's been reported to you that someone is speaking badly about you. This is the report--the report wasn't that you've been harmed. I see that my son is sick--but not that his life is at risk. So always stay within your first impressions, and don't add to them in your head--this way nothing can happen to you.

— VIII. 49 [25]

Drama, combat, terror, numbness, and subservience--every day these things wipe out your sacred principles, whenever your mind entertains them uncritically or lets them slip in.

— X. 9 [26]

You've endured countless troubles--all from not letting your ruling reason do the work it was made for--enough already!

— IX.26 [27]

If anyone can prove and show to me that I think and act in error, I will gladly change it--for I seek the truth, by which no one has been harmed. The one who is harmed is the one who abides in deceit and ignorance.

— VI. 21[28]

Does the light of a lamp shine and keep its glow until its fuel is spent? Why shouldn't your truth, justice, and self-control shine until you are extinguished?

— XII. 15 [29]

Words that everyone once used are now obsolete, and so are the men whose names were once on everyone's lips: Camillus, Caeso, Volesus, Dentatus, and to a lesser degree Scipio and Cato, and yes, even Augustus, Hadrian, and Antoninus are less spoken of now than they were in their own days. For all things fade away, become the stuff of legend, and are soon buried in oblivion. Mind you, this is true only for those who blazed once like bright stars in the firmament, but for the rest, as soon as a few clods of earth cover their corpses, they are 'out of sight, out of mind.' In the end, what would you gain from everlasting remembrance? Absolutely nothing. So what is left worth living for? This alone: justice in thought, goodness in action, speech that cannot deceive, and a disposition glad of whatever comes, welcoming it as necessary, as familiar, as flowing from the same source and fountain as yourself.

— IV. 33, trans. Scot and David Hicks

Do not then consider life a thing of any value. For look at the immensity of time behind thee, and to the time which is before thee, another boundless space. In this infinity then what is the difference between him who lives three days and him who lives three generations?

— IV. 50, trans. George Long

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can't tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own—not of the same blood or birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine.

— II. 1, trans. Gregory Hays

All things are interwoven with one another; a sacred bond unites them; there is scarcely one thing that is isolated from another. Everything is coordinated, everything works together in giving form to one universe. The world-order is a unity made up of multiplicity: God is one, pervading all things; all being is one, all law is one (namely, the common reason which all thinking persons possess) and all truth is one -- if, as we believe, there can be but one path to perfection for beings that are alike in kind and reason.

— VII. 9, trans. Maxwell Staniforth

Marcus Aurelius wrote the following about Severus (a person who is not clearly identifiable according to the footnote): Through him [...] I became acquainted with the conception of a community based on equality and freedom of speech for all, and of a monarchy concerned primarily to uphold the liberty of the subject.

— I. 14, trans. Maxwell Staniforth


Xylander edition (1558)

The editio princeps of the original Greek (the first print version) was published by Conrad Gessner and his cousin Andreas in 1559. Both it and the accompanying Latin translation were produced by Wilhelm Xylander. His source was a manuscript from Heidelberg University, provided by Michael Toxites. By 1568, when Xylander completed his second edition, he no longer had access to the source and it has been lost ever since.[30][31] The first English translation was published in 1634 by Meric Casaubon.

Some popular English translations include:

  • Francis Hutcheson and James Moore (1742). The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008.
  • Richard Graves (1792). Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, a new translation from the Greek original, with a Life, Notes, &c., by R. Graves, 1792; new edition, Halifax, 1826.
  • George Long (1862) The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius; reprinted many times, including in Vol. 2 of the Harvard Classics.
  • C. R. Haines (1916) Marcus Aurelius. Loeb Classical Library. ISBN 0-674-99064-1
  • A. S. L. Farquharson (1944) Marcus Aurelius Meditations. Everyman's Library reprint edition (1992) ISBN 0-679-41271-9. Oxford World's Classics revised edition (1998) ISBN 0-19-954059-4
  • Maxwell Staniforth (1969) Meditations. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044140-9
  • Gregory Hays (2002) Meditations. Random House. ISBN 0-679-64260-9
  • C. Scot Hicks, David V. Hicks (2002) The Emperor's Handbook: A New Translation of the Meditations. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-3383-2
  • Martin Hammond (2006) Meditations. Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-14-044933-7
  • Jacob Needleman, John P. Piazza (2008) The Essential Marcus Aurelius. J P. Tarcher. ISBN 978-1-58542-617-1
  • Robin Hard, Christopher Gill (2011) Meditations with selected correspondence. Oxford University Press ISBN 978-0-19-957320-2

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Close imitation of Attic was not required because Marcus Aurelius wrote in a philosophical context without thought of publication. Galen's many writings in what he calls 'the common dialect' are another excellent example of non-atticizing but highly educated Greek." Simon Swain, (1996), Hellenism and Empire, p. 29. Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Iain King suggests the books may also have been written for mental stimulation, as Aurelius was removed from the cultural and intellectual life of Rome for the first time in his life. Source: Thinker At War: Marcus Aurelius published August 2014, accessed November 2014.
  3. ^ John Sellars, "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy" Marcus Aurelius October 23rd 2011
  4. ^ John Roberts, "Oxford Reference Online" Aurelius, Marcus October 23rd 2011
  5. ^ Murray, Gilbert (2002) [1912]. Five Stages of Greek Religion (3rd ed.). Dover Publications. pp. 168–69. ISBN 978-0-486-42500-9.
  6. ^ a b D.A. Rees, Introduction pp. xvii. In Farquhrson, A. S. L. (1992) [1944]. Meditations. Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-679-41271-7.
  7. ^ a b Russell, Bertrand (2004) [1946]. History of Western Philosophy. London: Routledge. pp. 248–56. ISBN 978-0-415-32505-9.
  8. ^ Marcus Aurelius (1964). Meditations. London: Penguin Books. pp. 2–27. ISBN 978-0-140-44140-6.
  9. ^ Grant, Michael (1993) [1968]. The Climax of Rome: The Final Achievements of the Ancient World, AD 161–337. London: Weidenfeld. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-297-81391-0.
  10. ^ The Washington Post Bestseller List June 9th, 2002
  11. ^ Mac Suibhne, S. (2009). "'Wrestle to be the man philosophy wished to make you': Marcus Aurelius, reflective practitioner". Reflective Practice. 10 (4): 429–36. doi:10.1080/14623940903138266.
  12. ^ "An American reader: Bill Clinton".
  13. ^ "Fiasco". Armed Forces Journal.
  14. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.3
  15. ^ "MARCUS AURELIUS, Meditations". Loeb Classical Library.
  16. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.209
  17. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.63
  18. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.146
  19. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.179
  20. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.14
  21. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.223
  22. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.280
  23. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.205
  24. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.41
  25. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.238
  26. ^ The Daily Stoic 2016 p.104
  27. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.242
  28. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.127
  29. ^ Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman, The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance and the Art of Living, Portfolio/Penguin, 2016. p.294
  30. ^ Marcus Aurelius, De seipso, seu vita sua, libri 12 ed. and trans. by Xylander. Zurich: Andreas Gessner, 1558.
  31. ^ van Ackeren 2012, p. 54.

Further reading[edit]

  • Annas, Julia. 2004. "Marcus Aurelius: Ethics and Its Background." Rhizai: A Journal for Ancient Philosophy and Science 2:103–119.
  • Berryman, Sylvia Ann. 2010. The Puppet and the Sage: Images of the Self in Marcus Aurelius Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 38: 187-209.
  • Ceporina, Matteo. 2012. "The Meditations." In A Companion to Marcus Aurelius. Edited by Marcel van Ackeren, 45–61. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Dickson, Keith. 2009. "Oneself as Others: Aurelius and Autobiography." Arethusa 42.1: 99-125.
  • Gill, Christopher. 2012. "Marcus and Previous Stoic Literature." In A Companion to Marcus Aurelius. Edited by Marcel van Ackeren, 382–395. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Hadot, Pierre. 2001. The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.
  • Kraye, Jill. 2012. "Marcus Aurelius and Neostoicism in Early Modern Philosophy." In A Companion to Marcus Aurelius. Edited by Marcel van Ackeren, 515–531. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Rees, D. A. 2000. "Joseph Bryennius and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations." Classical Quarterly 52.2: 584–596.
  • Rutherford, R. B. 1989. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: A Study. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.
  • Wolf, Edita. 2016. "Others as Matter of Indifference in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations." Acta Universitatis Carolinae. Graecolatina Pragensia 2:13-23.

External links[edit]