Marcus Annius Verus was born in Rome, A. D. 121, and assumed the name of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, by which he is known to history, on his adoption by the Emperor T. Aurelius Antoninus. M. Aurelius was educated by the orator Fronto, but turned aside from rhetoric to the study of the Stoic philosophy, of which he was the last distinguished representative.
The “Meditations,” which he wrote in Greek, are among the most noteworthy expressions of this system, and exhibit it favorably on its practical side. The “Meditations” picture with faithfulness the mind and character of this noblest of the Emperors. Simple in style and sincere in tone, they record for all time the height reached by pagan aspiration in its effort to solve the problem of conduct; and the essential agreement of his practice with his teaching proved that “Even in a palace life may be led well.”
“One measure, perhaps, of a book’s worth, is its intergenerational pliancy: do new readers acquire it and interpret it afresh down through the ages? The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, translated and introduced by Gregory Hays, by that standard, is very worthwhile, indeed. Hays suggests that its most recent incarnation–as a self-help book–is not only valid, but may be close to the author’s intent. The book, which Hays calls, fondly, a “haphazard set of notes,” is indicative of the role of philosophy among the ancients in that it is “expected to provide a ‘design for living.'” And it does, both aphoristically (“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.”) and rhetorically (“What is it in ourselves that we should prize?”). Whether these, and other entries (“Enough of this wretched, whining monkey life.”) sound life-changing or like entries in a teenager’s diary is up to the individual reader, as it should be. Hays’s introduction, which sketches the life of Marcus Aurelius (emperor of Rome A.D. 161-180) as well as the basic tenets of stoicism, is accessible and jaunty.” –H. O’Billovich