In keeping with my obsession of all things Roman History, I picked up Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
Marcus Aurelius was the emperor of Rome from 161 to 180CE and was known to be one of the last “five good emperors” of Rome, before it all went to shit.
If you’ve watched the movie Gladiator, Marcus’ character was basically the old father (of the evil emperor Commodus), who died early on in the movie… before everything went to shit.
Marcus is also known for his love for philosophy and for writing this book.
Interestingly, he wrote this body of work as a bunch of personal thoughts and never intended it to be published.
It’s split into 12 small “books” and it’s full of wise, old, rambling nuggets of wisdom.
I’m quite in awe that we live in a world where we can read the diary of one of the world’s greatest leaders and thinkers from 2000 years ago. It makes me wonder: what will people in the future think about our society today?
But I’m mostly disturbed by Marcus’ legacy…
He’s considered to be a great emperor (but most of his successful reign was set up by the emperors before him). It takes several generations to establish peace, stability and prosperity in the region, and he came into power at a good time. He didn’t mess things up during his watch, so I guess that’s pretty great.
Marcus won a lot of significant wars, so he’s considered to be a great military leader too.
And he’s said to have been a deep thinker, a philosopher, who was contemplative, wise and virtuous.
YET! His son was completely off the rails in so many ways, out of control and just one evil mofo. Commodus was possibly one of the TWO most messed-up emperors in Ancient Roman times.
So the argument of whether parents are responsible for their children’s behaviour – is a troubling one for me.
— I think NO, but at the same time I’m very judgemental of Mr Aurelius!
Do I recommend the book to the general public? Nope.
It’s a bit hard to read. It’s an unclear, stream of consciousness.
Read from a modern perspective, it feels like it’s got so much potential to fill you with punchy inspiration, but it falls flat. He really needed an editor to clean up some concepts to deliver his strong underlying messages.
It’s like reading the brain dump of a really old, wise dude – which is what it was!
(Yikes I can’t believe I’m dissing it so badly. Sorry Marcus! Sorry universe!)
Basically it is a great book for pondering over. You have to read the words several times, think, reflect, go back to it, ponder, think about history, the author himself, think some more. I suppose that’s why it’s called “Meditations”?
There’s so much rich depth and beauty in it.
It’s almost like a slow, lyrical sermon, with no strong conclusion.
Here’s a nice example:
“Consider any existing object and reflect that it is even now in the process of dissolution and change, in a sense regenerating through decay or dispersal: in other words, to what sort of ‘death’ each thing is born.”
Do I recommend this book to someone interested in Ancient History? YES.
It’s a must read, because it’s from The Man himself.
Anyway, I’ll leave you with two of my favourite shorter and snappier quotes.
“Your mind will take on the character of your most frequent thoughts: souls are dyed by thoughts…”
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts…”