“Time is a river, a violent current of events, glimpsed once and already carried past us, and another follows and is gone.” – Marcus Aurelius
Choosing to live a good life can be harder than some people think, and everyone seems to have their own definition of what a ‘good life’ means. Is it about personal happiness? Is it about living for your family and making sure they are prosperous? Such questions have been asked for millennia and they’re popular topics for self-help books. Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations could very well be the first self-help book. The Roman Emperor was a very critical man and he questioned his own motives at a time when excess and decadence were the norm. Here is The Culture Tome’s review of the book.
Aurelius became Emperor in AD 161 and lived a hard life in service of Rome. His personal life was filled with tragedy. He lost his wife and shared a dysfunctional relationship with his son. Whereas previous Emperors had been focused on building monuments to themselves and having the public worship them, Aurelius cared more about philosophy. He wondered if it was possible to live a good life in a vain world and that made him different to many Roman aristocrats.
Meditations is split into twelve sections and Aurelius begins by talking about his family and close friends. He pondered the lessons they taught him and a good example of that is adoptive father, Antonius Pius. “Compassion. Unwavering adherence to decisions once he’d reached them. Indifference to superficial honours. Hard work. Persistence.”
The theme of hard work is a constant throughout the book, with Aurelius believing that people are the masters of their own destiny. He brings up the Ancient Greek concept of logos. The logos is the logic behind an argument and it encourages an audience to use logical arguments. It’s about not jumping to conclusions and being patient enough to have all the facts before making a decision. This is an idea that can be translated into the modern day.
Aurelius talks about living for the moment and focusing on your own personal growth. “Forget everything else. Keep hold of this alone and remember it: Each of us lives only now, this brief instant. The rest has been lived already, or is impossible to see. The span we live is small – small as the corner of the earth in which we live it. Small as even the greatest renown, passed from mouth to mouth by short-lived stick figures, ignorant alike of themselves and those long dead.”
Overthinking and focusing on what other people think of us is common in the modern age. Aurelius recognised it as a negative thing and addresses it several times in the book. “Soon you’ll be ashes and bones. A mere name, at most – and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want are empty, stale, and trivial. Dogs snarling at each other. Quarrelling children – laughing and then bursting into tears a moment later.”
Meditations encourages the reader to think for themselves and live a life that’s dedicated to personal happiness and helping the people around you. It promotes self-control and letting go of petty things that are meaningless. I found the book to have a timeless quality that can still inspire people today. Aurelius was an intelligent man who was ahead of his time and had a lot of valid points.