Few Ancient Roman texts have survived as well as The Meditations by the emperor Marcus Aurelius, who jotted down personal notes to himself throughout his life. The Meditations is unique because Marcus never intended to publish his thoughts, yet they have survived for 2000 years and continue to resonate with people in the modern day.
There have been many translations of the book and the most recent is from British translator Robin Waterfield. Meditations: The Annotated Edition is without a doubt the definitive book on understanding the inner workings of Marcus Aurelius because it features detailed notes on what Marcus was thinking when he wrote certain passages and delves deep into the philosophy of Stoicism.
Altering my perception
Having read a version of The Meditations before, I was eager to see how this version compared and throughout the text I was struck with how my perception of Marcus changed from what I’d seen in another version of The Meditations. The ideas were exactly the same, yet Waterfield’s translation style reveals how much more of a complicated man Marcus actually was.
He had a short temper, was frequently cynical, saw a lot of people around him as idiots and needed to constantly remind himself to treat them with kindness. That same information is presented in other versions of the text but the language seemed far more flowery, painting Marcus as more even-tempered.
I was struck with how certain translators can impart their own biases onto a text and Waterfield does nothing of the sort. He translated The Meditations directly from how Marcus presented it in Greek without any flourishes and the result is so much better.
Themes to resonate with everyone
Marcus wrote about a wide range of themes, including death, living day-to-day, relationships, family, how to be a good person etc. All of it comes through the lens of Stoicism and Waterfield’s annotations get to the heart of what the emperor meant when he used certain phrases and highlighted Stoic teachings and theology in vivid detail.
There’s also a great understanding of the concept of memento mori, i.e. the idea that you should remember that one day you will die and time is fleeting. Through Marcus’ eyes, memento mori doesn’t represent that if death is inevitable then nothing else matters. Rather, because life is short, it should speed up our desires to be good men and women living for each other.
For anyone who has never read The Meditations and for those who have, the annotated edition is well worth having in your bookshelf. It has the power to connect with anyone about any subject and you’ll be better off for having turned the page.
Purchase Meditations: The Annotated Edition today.