Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Meditations of Marcus Aurelius : Selections Annotated & Explained

4.21 (65,295 ratings by Goodreads)
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The timeless wisdom of an ancient Stoic can become a companion for your own spiritual journey.

Stoicism is often portrayed as a cheerless, stiff-upper-lip philosophy of suffering and doom. Yet as experienced through the thoughtful and penetrating writings of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE), the Stoic approach to life is surprisingly rich, nuanced, clear-eyed and friendly.

With facing-page commentary that explains the texts for you, Russell McNeil, PhD, guides you through key passages from Aurelius's Meditations, comprised of the emperor's collected personal journal entries, to uncover the startlingly modern relevance his words have today. From devotion to family and duty to country, to a near-prophetic view of the natural world that aligns with modern physics, Aurelius's words speak as potently today as they did two millennia ago.

Now you can discover the tenderness, intelligence and honesty of Aurelius's writings with no previous background in philosophy or the classics. This SkyLight Illuminations edition offers insightful and engaging commentary that explains the historical background of Stoicism, as well as the ways this ancient philosophical system can offer psychological and spiritual insight into your contemporary life. You will be encouraged to explore and challenge Aurelius's ideas of what makes a fulfilling life--and in so doing you may discover new ways of perceiving happiness.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 288 pages
  • 144.78 x 213.36 x 20.32mm | 340.19g
  • SkyLight Paths Publishing,US
  • Woodstock, United States
  • English
  • New.
  • black & white illustrations
  • 1594732361
  • 9781594732362
  • 178,223

Review quote

In the time of a controversial five-year-long war in Iraq, we can gain badly needed wisdom from two of history's greatest warriors.

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and the Chinese general Sun Tzu can teach us about virtue, peace and philosophy when it seems many want us on a perpetual war footing.

These two military leaders, studied for millennia by both the powerful and the subversive, considered war the worst thing humans could engage in the most cruel, wasteful and mindless.

But, when they had to, they did war well. They may have seen war as a last resort, but when they judged it necessary to keep the peace or protect the state, they engaged in it with devastating efficiency.

Skylight Illuminations, a creative U.S. spiritual book publisher, is bringing the values of these famous Roman and Chinese warriors to a world that needs to more deeply explore the ethics of conflict.

The publisher teamed up with former Malaspina University-College scholar Russell McNeil to produce The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained. The revealing book highlights how the Roman emperor embraced Stoic philosophy (a worldview, by the way, highly valued by Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan.)

The related book, The Art of War Spirituality for Conflict: Annotated and Explained, has been put together by U.S. writer Thomas Huynh. The author adapts the advice Sun Tzu offered 2,500 years ago to help today's individuals and leaders resolve conflicts.

Even though Skylight Illuminations didn't promote the books as a package, there are surprising parallels particularly the leaders' emphasis on virtues like courage, self-control, rationality and justice. Although their complex philosophies are not necessarily perfect for us today, it's intriguing these respected figures both believed war was a disgrace, that it should never be entered into without a concern for the common good.

In his commentary, McNeil, who lives on Vancouver Island, builds on Marcus Aurelius' meditations to question the 21st-century "war on terrorism," suggesting if contemporary rulers used "divine" reason the way the wise emperor did they would recognize injustice often breeds such dangerous rage.

For his part, Sun Tzu taught that leaders should never go to war out of greed or revenge, but (like Christians who believe in "just-war theory") should make every diplomatic and strategic effort to avoid armed battle.

Huynh, a Vietnamese refugee, turns Sun Tzu's masterwork on winning into advice on advancing global and personal peace.

The Art of War has been studied by everyone from Latin American revolutionary Che Guevera to retired U.S. general Colin Powell (who speaks in Vancouver June 12.) Huynh maintains Sun Tzu's pragmatic philosophy can prevent conflicts, quickly resolve them if they do arise, promote benevolence in adversarial situations, convert potential enemies into friends and help individuals control their emotions. The latter leads to one of the most striking philosophical parallels between the two warriors.

The Roman emperor, who died in AD 180, and the Chinese general each emphasized "detaching" from one's emotions.

The Art of War, writes Huynh, teaches: "Being ruled by your emotions, exaggerating your strengths, denying your weaknesses and wishful thinking can only lead to catastrophe."

The Roman ruler, McNeil says, also taught that "personal attachments to people or things have little to do with what it means to be human." The Stoics, like Socrates, did not see pain and tragedy as limiting humans' ability to be content.

Even though the emperor's Stoicism veers close to emotional coldness, to limiting empathy for loved ones, McNeil defends it. He particularly values the way Aurelius put ultimate value on reason, or "divine intelligence," over emotion. McNeil compares Stoicism to the "cognitive behavioral therapy" founded by psychologist Albert Ellis.

Like Ellis, the Roman emperor stressed the importance of overriding emotions to make rational choices. Marcus Aurelius criticized those who waited passively for a supernatural God to take care of things.

Even though it's clear Stoicism and Sun Tzu's Art of War can suit tough-minded, ethical generals (and many modern-day athletes), I suspect these two philosophers may be a touch too indifferent to emotions and loving relationships.

I also have trouble with their placing ultimate importance on the state, which, combined with their stress on bravery and self-denial, could lead to unnecessary martyrdom. But these are concerns to study more thoroughly, because these warriors' philosophies are nothing if not subtle.

All in all, it is impressive that when many leaders talk about peace but frequently revert to expensive and destructive military "solutions" these ancient generals can still teach us how to resolve the root causes of all kinds of conflict.

--Douglas Todd"The Vancouver Sun" (05/10/2008)"
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About Marcus Aurelius

Russell McNeil, PhD, is a popular lecturer on the classics. He has been a columnist and commentator in newspaper, radio and television, and is founder and Web editor of Malaspina Great Books series, one of the largest Web resources for classic literature. He is a former professor at Malaspina University-College in British Columbia.
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Rating details

65,295 ratings
4.21 out of 5 stars
5 49% (31,693)
4 31% (20,159)
3 15% (9,918)
2 4% (2,530)
1 2% (995)
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