Meditations by Marcus Aurelius Book Review

Meditations was great and some of the writings were immediately impactful and inspiring. I found it to be a very rewarding experience to be able to explore the mind of a Roman emperor and his personal outlook on the world. His internal struggles were especially interesting to me considering he was the last great Roman emperor. I sometimes wonder though how much he found himself limited by his own philosophy. The writings gave me a sense of a man struggling with his humanity and the constant rejection of emotion are probably the root and driving cause of this. It would seem that as his life went on he found less joy in things and kept on retreating into his mind to cope with this.

Stoicism to me means more about being in control of emotions and desires but at the same time not rejecting them. It would seem Marcus had a more negative view of this judging by how many times he reprimanded himself. Which leads me to think how this could have affected his son Commodus who is well known for starting the trend of decline and the eventual collapse of the Roman Empire. Maybe it was a failure in establishing a healthy emotional bond between father and son what led to the failure of Commodus and the disappointment the emperor felt in regard to his son.

It is amazing to be able to almost step back in time and understand their perspectives on events. I think Marcus Aurelius fell victim to the impression his studies of philosophy left on him. He was a quite a young man when he began studying this and I think no one helped him channel these thoughts towards a more constructive result. He would wear a coat fit for the lower classes and sleep on the floor until he was convinced to stop from what I understand, and this is probably just one of the surviving accounts. He must have sought like many other people to somehow become more than human by sticking to a predefined rule set which took the form of his negative stoicism. Through this belief, he must have thought that he would somehow become a being closer to perfection.

I think this limit him in his ability to view the world and interact with others. Stoics are famous for being dead serious people who barely react to anything or at least that’s how the stereotype goes. This must have limited his ability to establish strong bonds with others which would limit his network of trustworthy people. It is also one of the reasons I think he chose his son to succeed him instead of choosing a more capable candidate like the vast majority of Roman emperors. He must have sought to stick to the principle of being one with nature and accepting things as they are.

I can’t quite speak for other Stoics but I am sure that many others must have found themselves in a similar situation. The philosophy would push you towards this negative trend if you do not possess the strength of character to deal with the principles it espouses. As I read Meditations I started to believe that his views were very close to a sort of proto-nihilism and I could easily believe many others went down the same path.

Ultimately though the book was great, and it left its mark on my outlook on life. It is always better to be armed with knowledge than to find yourself lacking. Even if I don’t agree with everything he wrote I am a better-rounded person having read it.

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