Written in the mid second century by the philosopher Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Meditations presents a noble approach to life. Schooled in the classic tradition, Marcus Aurelius reflects the mature harvest of the Stoic school of philosophy. His philosophy is best summed up by the saying "Do not be too concerned, for tomorrow you die". Lest this sounds too bleak, the awareness of mortality motivates a good, noble and upright life. Since we all die, the best thing is to live nobly and honestly. This is not only the way to live well, but also the way to avoid suffering. Meditations is composed of aphorisms and insights from Marcus Aurelius that allow his philosophy to be lived out.
The translator, Gregory Hays, is assistant professor of classics at the University of Virginia. Hays provides a clearly written introduction in which he explains the philosophical influences on Marcus Aurelius as well as the political and familial pressures he experienced. The translation itself is crisp and lucid. The result is a handsome collection of short exhortations and aphorisms that encourage a noble, if stoical approach to life. Marcus Aurelius always sheds light on life, but that light is always dappled with shadow. There is no hope and little humour in Marcus Aurelius. In the end, his outlook is pessimistic, and he makes one realise how refreshing and unique the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity really are. Nevertheless, Meditations is a cornerstone of the practical philosophy genre and this new translation will make up a vital part of a classic bookshelf. --Dwight Longenecker