Saturday, 23 April 2005

Marcus Aurelius's Meditations

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was born in A.D. 121 during the reign of the emperor Hadrian. His parents died young and he was subsequently adopted by his grandfather and at the age of 17 by the emperor Aurelius Antoninus, who was also his uncle and had no sons of his own. Marcus married the emperor's daughter, Faustina, who bore him five children out of which only one survived, the future emperor Commodus (the tyrannical, sadistic, cruel one we see in the film 'Gladiator').
When Aurelius Antoninus died, Marcus succeeded him and made Lucius Verus (another adopted son of the deceased emperor) his co-ruler. It was thus that for the first time ever there were two emperors ruling Rome. Their rule was marked by various natural disasters and also the invasions of Germanic tribes from the north. In A.D. 167 Marcus joined his legions who were fighting these tribes, in the Danube area. He was not happy there and to console himself wrote his thoughts down, which we now know as Meditations. On 17th March A.D. 180 he died of an infection in his camp.

Marcus Aurelius's Meditations see him philosophizing about issues concerning life and death. Here is what he has to say about fame:

"Expressions that were once current have gone out of use nowadays. Names too, that were formerly household words are virually arcahaisms today....All things fade into the storied past, and in a little while are shrouded in oblivion. Even to men whose lives were a blaze of glory this comes to pass; as for the rest, the breath is hardly out of them before, in Homer's words, they are 'lost to sight alike and hearsay'. What, after all, is immortal fame? An empty, hollow thing..."
(Paragraph 33, Book Four, "Marcus Aurelius: Meditations", translated by Maxwell Staniforth, Penguin Classics, 1964)

And some interesting one-liners:

"Look beneath the surface: never let a thing's intrinsic quality or worth escape you."

"To refrain from imitation is the best revenge."

"What is no good for the hive is no good for the bee."

(Paragraphs 3, 6 and 54, Book Seven, op sit)

2 comments:

Light said...

"Oh, and it's a corking site. Particularly liked the stuff about Aurelius, and Mrs Light will be interested in the 18th century stuff; she's a curator and loves the "quirky" side of history."



Sorry, sorry, sorry...I'm so used to posting in Lenin's blog I forgot to post here....

Alterior said...

No, that's perfectly ok but thanks for the post and the apology anyway. :-)))
Lenin has a better comments system too.

I am glad you like the site so much - I just post what I remember from the bed-time reading I do the night before. (Except for the Marcus Aurelius post which was copying meditations from the book...it was a weekend, heh heh!).

Many thanks and I hope to keep you all interested for a long long time! :-)