Reading Marcus Aurelius

How should you read Meditations?


Imagine words lifting off the page, twinkling in the light. The text deserves space to dance and time to age. Pick up the book once a week, or perhaps once a month. Give each sentence its due.

Like reading the Book of Proverbs, to consume it in one sitting is no venial sin.

I once lent my copy to a friend. A year later, they had not opened the cover, and returned the book to me. Better that than to rush through it lazily to declare it “read”.


As Marcus writes about his gratitude, he notes:

That I wasn’t more talented in rhetoric or poetry, or other areas. If I’d felt that I was making better progress I might never have given them up.

I mirror this in my reflection, Seeking Incongruence. Oh, the joys of accepting our deficiencies. How quickly we would otherwise abscond the chrysalis!

While imbued with melancholy, his passages embrace all that is natural, including death. The words often reveal an unblinking gaze into mortality; gentle, but firm. They also carry a Mediterranean piquancy.

We should remember that even Nature’s inadvertence has its own charm, its own attractiveness… how ripe figs begin to burst.

And olives on the point of falling: the shadow of decay gives them a peculiar beauty.

His writing is simple, although the reader is left to make them complex. Many verses end while staring into the distance. (His royal tutors clearly skipped the lesson on avoiding sentence fragments.) In the language of McLuhan, Meditations is “cool media” — a book that requires participation.

You can sense how he noticed thoughts floating in his head, and, determined not to forget them, faithfully wrote them down.

All those people who came into the world with me and have already left it.

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