Marcus Aurelius: Meditations, Books 1-6

Marcus Aurelius: Meditations, Books 1-6

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Marcus Aurelius- Meditations, Books 1-6
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 Christopher Gill 2013

This book provides a new translation and commentary on the fi rst half of
Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, together with a full introduction on the
Meditations as a whole. Apart from Hadot’s commentary on Book 1, this is,
I believe, the fi rst commentary on an extended part of the Meditations since
Farquharson’s two- volume study of 1944. As in other volumes in the series,
discussion of part of a text offers a bridge towards understanding the entire
work. The main focus in the introduction and commentary is on the philosophical
content, especially the question how and how far the Meditations
relates to Stoic theory in general. The volume is also designed to bring out
the distinctive style and mode of refl ection in the work and what seems to
be its principal function, to help Marcus to take forward a life- long project
of ethical self- improvement. This project has a special interest in the
modern context, in the light of current concern with personal development
and pathways to happiness.
This volume joins earlier books in the series on Seneca and Epictetus in
presenting versions of what we can describe as ‘practical ethics’ in the
Roman imperial period. The appearance of these three volumes marks a
greater willingness on the part of scholars to take such writings seriously as
philosophy and to explore their characteristic idiom and line of thought.
This book, like others in the series, builds on recent intensive academic
work on Hellenistic and Roman philosophy, including studies of the
Meditations. From my own standpoint, the book continues my examination
of ethics and psychology, including the therapy of emotions, in Hellenistic
and Roman thought, especially Stoicism. The focus here is on a single—
intriguing and suggestive—text. In future work, I plan to refl ect in broader
terms on the signifi cance of Stoicism for modern thought about ethics and
the interface of ethics with psychology and the study of nature, as well as on
the possible uses of Stoic practical ethics for modern purposes.
The completion of this book was made possible by a semester’s research
study leave provided by the University of Exeter, along with a nine- month
Fellowship funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council; this
support has been invaluable and is much appreciated.

I would like to thank, very strongly, the general editors, Jonathan Barnes
and Tony Long, for agreeing to include this work in the series, and for their
acute and detailed comments on all parts of the volume. I am grateful also
to Marcel van Ackeren for his perceptive observations on the introduction
and for the stimulus offered in various ways by his own recent work on the
Meditations. Of course, all the remaining errors of fact and judgement in
this book are my responsibility. I would also like to thank Peter Momtchiloff
for his support and all the staff of Oxford University Press involved in the
preparation of the book for their characteristically careful and helpful
work. I am very grateful to Petra Bielecki for her help towards compiling
the Index Locorum.

The book also builds on my previous work on the Meditations, including
providing the introduction and notes for a complete new translation by
Robin Hard, prepared originally for Wordsworth Classics and subsequently
revised for Oxford World’s Classics. Collaboration with Robin on
these and related volumes has always been both congenial and instructive.
I have also gained from helpful comments by other scholars on several
papers on Marcus. These were given at a 2004 conference on Greek and
Roman philosophy (100 BC–200 AD) at the Institute of Classical Studies in
London University; a 2006 colloquium on Platonism and Stoicism at
Gargnano organized by the University of Milan; a 2007 conference on
Meditations at Cambridge University; and a 2009 conference on Marcus
Aurelius (the fi rst ever, as far as we know) at the University of Cologne.
Three of these papers are cited in the Bibliography as Gill 2007a and 2007b and 2012b.

During a career in university teaching spanning more than forty years
(mostly at Aberystwyth and Exeter), I have been fortunate in being able to
teach regularly Hellenistic and Roman philosophy, including the
Meditations. I have benefi ted greatly from the responses and insights of my
students, and also, more broadly, from those of my colleagues, in discussions
and seminar- papers, especially at Exeter. In a more intangible, but
more important, way, I have also benefi ted from the companionship and
support of colleagues and sometimes students who have become good
friends. This volume is dedicated to them with great warmth.

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is an exceptional philosophical work,
by ancient—or any other—standards. It is a refl ective notebook by a
Roman emperor, apparently written for his own private use in the last
twelve years of his life when he was campaigning in Germany. Apart from
Book 1, there is no clear organization or system but rather a series of loosely
connected, short observations. Although the main underlying infl uence is,
evidently, Stoicism, the work is non- technical and distinctive in style and
seems at some points out of line with Stoic theory.
What can philosophically minded scholars and students (the main target
audience of this volume) hope to learn from a work of this kind? It would be
unrealistic to expect sustained or authoritative analysis of specifi c aspects
of Stoic doctrines. What we fi nd are repeated attempts to encapsulate, in a
few, highly charged sentences, the broad vision of human life and its larger
cosmic setting offered by Stoicism. Above all, the work communicates with
remarkable power what it means to try to live one’s life—sincerely and
urgently—according to Stoic principles. At the heart of the Meditations, I
think, is an idea central to Stoic ethics, though not perhaps unique to
Stoicism. The key thought is that, over and above the biological or physical
and purely external or formal dimensions of our existence, we should aim
to shape our lives as the expression of an ongoing journey towards an ideal
state of character, understanding, and mode of interpersonal relationship,
which should constitute our target even though we will never achieve it
fully. In the light of this larger project, Marcus addresses challenges of
which he is especially conscious but which are also universal human
concerns. These are, above all, facing the looming presence of our own
death, and recognizing the signifi cance of our communal roles and personal
relationships in spite of our shared mortality and transience. Marcus also
addresses in his own distinctive way broader topics in the interface between
ethics and logic or the study of nature that were crucial for Stoicism. He
looks for reassurance, despite some uncertainties, that the capacities of
human psychology and the nature of the universe support the kind of
ethical vision that Stoicism offers. Understood in this way, the Meditations
can be seen as a genuinely philosophical text, on some accounts of ‘philosophy’
at least, and the work can have its own special resonance for modern
readers as it has done for preceding generations.

This introduction discusses the Meditations as a whole, although the
translation and commentary deal only with the fi rst half of the work, Books
1–6. The introduction is a rather full one, in comparison with other
volumes in this series. Marcus’ work, with its short and seemingly disconnected
passages (which we call ‘chapters’) and its rather elusive doctrinal
position, benefi ts from a broader interpretative discussion to provide a
context for the commentary, which is focused on the individual chapters. I
begin by outlining the main formal features and what seems to be the
overall function of the Meditations. Next, I consider how far we can identify
a single intellectual or ethical project or programme underlying
Marcus’ mosaic of brief, sometimes oracular or even fragmentary, refl ections.
I do so partly by considering some recent scholarly approaches to this
question and partly by outlining four main strands in the framework of
thinking expressed in the work, which are examined later in this introduction.
The fi rst and most important strand is Marcus’ ethical outlook, above
all his core project in the Meditations, that of living one’s life as an ongoing
journey of self- improvement. Marcus’ understanding of this project
depends on a complex of Stoic ideas about development, society and politics,
and emotions. A second important strand in the work is Marcus’
recurrent preoccupation with human death and transience, especially his
own. Although this theme is often considered by scholars on its own, I
suggest that it is strongly informed by the fi rst major strand, Marcus’
ethical outlook. The two fi nal strands fall within Marcus’ exploration of
the interface between ethics and other branches of philosophy, namely
logic or dialectic and physics or the study of nature. In this connection, I
examine Marcus’ distinctive way of dealing with questions crucial for
Stoicism, namely, how, and how far, human psychological capacities and
the nature of the universe as a whole are compatible with Stoic ethical
ideals. I see these questions as forming the other two main strands in the
work. A recurrent theme of my discussion of these two latter strands is the
much debated question whether the Meditations constitute orthodox Stoic
doctrine, in so far as this can be defi nitely established.2 Although I do not
ignore the features of the Meditations that have been seen as non- standard,
I think Marcus is much more in line with mainstream Stoicism than is
sometimes claimed. On the interpretation offered here, the Meditations do
not only offer a unique and powerful version of ancient practical ethics.
They also provide an eloquent, if unusual, statement of the main principles
of Stoic ethics and of their interconnections with Stoic theory more broadly.

Table of Contents
Abbreviations and Conventions xi
Overview xiii
The Meditations—Main Features xv
Is There a Core Project? xxi
Marcus’ Ethical Outlook xxxiv
Confronting Death and Transience xlix
Ethics and Other Branches of Philosophy: Psychology lii
Ethics and Other Branches of Philosophy: the Universe lxiii
Note on the Text and Translation lxxxv
Book 1 3
Book 2 9
Book 3 14
Book 4 20
Book 5 30
Book 6 40
Book 1 53
Book 2 86
Book 3 104
Book 4 119
Book 5 145
Book 6 168
Bibliography 197
List of Main Themes in Meditations 2–6 206
Index Locorum 208
General Index 215

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