From this readable and relatable intro to philosophy, it was a sharp incline into the ‘source texts’ for me – I had enough time on my hands to properly read and I was looking to be challenged. Picking up Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations I didn’t find a challenge, I found comfort - it was the perfect book for our uncertain times. I reread it again during the recent November lockdown and found it to be immensely reassuring. Gregory Hays translation, which I recommend, is readable without feeling overtly modernised and the annotations are helpful to give historical context to the book. The stoic musings of a Roman emperor may not sound like the most fun or relatable read but I implore you to give it a go. The collection shows a man wrestling with his own mortality and the mortality of his empire, the pressure of being a good leader and a good man, and questioning what it means to live virtuously.
I will leave you with one of my favourite passages from Marcus’ Meditations:
Duration: momentary. Nature: changeable. Perception: dim. Condition of Body: decaying. Soul: spinning around. Fortune: unpredictable. Lasting Fame: uncertain. Sum Up: The body and its parts are a river, the soul a dream and mist, life is warfare abs a journey far from home, lasting reputation is oblivion.
Then what can guide us?
Only philosophy." - Book 2, entry 17
Books mentioned and further suggested reading:
- Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It by Daniel Klein
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, translation by Gregory Hays
- Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
- A surreal novel/intro to philosophy, from the perspective of a teenaged girl
- Happy by Derren Brown
- A very readable book on the pursuit of happiness by famed TV mentalist and interesting guy Derren Brown, it draws heavily on stoicism
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
- Frankl’s account of surviving a Nazi concentration camp and how this experience influenced his philosophy and his work as a psychologist
- Letter’s from a Stoic by Seneca
- Like Meditations a key source text in stoicism, collected letters from a great classical thinker