While the other reviewers wax eloquent on the topic of Marcus Aurelius and the incredibly insightful quality of his thinking, both neglect to mention C.R Haines actual translation, which, unless you know ancient Greek pretty well, is what you will actually spend your time reading. It is the fussiest, pseudo-archaic travesty of translation I have ever encountered. Never mind that the use of 'thee', 'thou' and the accompanying creaky verb forms have been out of vogue for over half a century, Haines mined the motherlode of obscurities and what I suppose is would-be poetic creativity. Thus you will encounter words like 'encairned', 'decensive', 'quotha', 'perforce', 'wroth', 'guerdon', and 'aye'(used like pepper throughout the text), all of which may be summed up in Haines' funniest quote,'Man, what art thou at?' It's hard to imagine that even in 1915 this translation did not seem ridiculously effete for a work of such practicality and clear sense! It is equally remarkable that Loeb had not modernized this turkey by 1987, anyway. If you want to consider the Greek text, this is the one to get. Otherwise you will find better and clearer English elsewhere!
A review of this treasure of wisdom and thought may border on the presumptious. Perhaps it may be of value for those coming to the book for the first time or for those who wish to compare another person's thoughts on the book with their own. Also, I find writing these notes helps me to understand my own reading.
Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of Rome from 161--180 A.D. During the years he was absent from Rome leading wars against barbarian invaders, he set down his own thoughts during his moments of repose. His thoughts were appropriately titled "To Himself"; although they have come down to us under the more usual title of "Meditations". Marcus Aurelius never intended the publication of this work. As C.R. Haines states at the outset of his introduction to his edition: "It is not known how this small but priceless book of private devotional memoranda came to be preserved for posterity. But the writer that in it puts away all desire for after-fame has by means of it attained to imperishable remembrance."
I think it is important in the reading of this book to remember that it is Marcus Aurelius communing with himself in his position of Emperor. The reader will need to understand the book as an exercise in self-reflection to allow the book to work on his or her own capacity for self-reflection.
The book is in short, repetitive paragraphs and should not, with the exception of the opening chapter, be read as a discursive, continuous argument. Because Marcus Aurelius did not intend his reflections for publication, the language sometimes is crabbed and consise and needs effort to read. This assists in thinking through with the Emperor to the heart of what he has to say.
Marcus Aurelius teaches a philosophy that is usually described as stoicism which teaches control of the emotions and the subjection of the passions to what he describes as reason. For Marcus Aurelius the reason in each person is part of the overriding reason that pervades the cosmos. Marcus Aurelius teaches restraint, thought, modesty, friendliness and love to all, humility, a counsel against the quest for fame, and bravery and acceptance in the face of sorrow, pain and death. He teaches the need to perform the duties of one's position in life, without regret or complaint or ambition, as Marcus Aurelius himself, as it happened, was called upon to perform the duties of Roman Emperor. His teaching is eclectic and relies on Plato and Heraclitus in particular in addition to his stoic mentors, specifically the Greek slave Epictetus.
I read this book when young and it has been many years before I have returned to it. It is a good book to read in small
sections. I read much of it over several weeks while commuting back and forth on the Metro. The book also serves to put one's mind in the proper framework and perspective for the world of work.
The Loeb edition of this much-translated work is valuable because of its small size, the perceptive introduction by Haines and most importantly because it includes the original Greek on facing pages. This may seem unnecessary to the many people who would benefit from reading Marcus Aurelius who do not know Greek. I find it valuable to see and to read the original text in a language which, likewise, I studied briefly many years ago.
This is a great and lasting book. Wherever you may be in life, you will enjoy it and benefit from it.