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May 14, 2007 | by  | in Books |
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Meditations

“Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, and unsocial.”

It was this paragraph, from what is reputably one of the greatest works of philosophy ever written, which made me wonder if there weren’t certain points of similarity between being supreme dictator of the Roman Empire and holding down a job in the hospitality industry. His pay-packet was more generous; it included being made into a god at the instant of death, as well as all the more earthly perks he would have enjoyed pre-deification – amounting to, well, pretty much anything he wanted, I expect. Of course, when customer “treachery” involves uprisings in the provinces and when the “unsocial” Christians’ rebellion requires instant crushing, the persecution of all involved, etc – you have to suspect that Marcus Aurelius may have earned his keep.

Meditations is essentially an early self-help book, written like a series of diary entries and reflective scribblings while Aurelius was on campaign from 170-180. The book contains some fairly classic aphorisms, including what is perhaps the first recorded instance of the phrase, “Live each day as if it were your last”, and – my personal favourite – “You are nothing but a soul carrying a corpse – as Epictetus used to say.”

Whether or not you agree with his philosophy – mainly based on Stoicism, with a dash of Epicureanism, the requisite Roman paganism and a healthy measure of cynicism – the man certainly had a gift for well-turned phrases. Flicking through the book looking for good one-liners was definitely more enjoyable than reading it all the way through, although the fact that it was written as a personal diary and was never intended for publication makes this approach seem a little more justified.

A notable feature of this particular edition is the lack of cover art, of which it is up to the reader to supply/draw/paint directly onto the cover – “Books by the greats – covers by you”. You can even view other people’s attempts at www.penguin.co.uk/mypenguin.

MARCUS AURELIUS

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