Marcus Aurelius (Haines 1916)/Introduction


It is not known how this small but priceless book of private devotional memoranda[1] 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. As Rénan has said, "tous, tant que nous sommes, nous portons au cœur le deuil de Marc Aurèle comme's il était mort d hier." Internal evidence proves that the author was Marcus Antoninus, emperor of Rome 7 March 161 to 17 March 180, and notes added in one MS between Books I and II and II and III shew that the second Book was composed when the writer was among the Quadi on the Gran, and the third at Carnuntum (Haimburg). The headquarters of Marcus in the war against the barbarians were at Carnuntum 171–173, and we know that the so-called "miraculous victory" against the Quadi was in 174.[2] But Professor Schenkl has given good reasons for thinking that the first book was really written last and prefixed as a sort of introduction to the rest of the work.[3] It was probably written as a whole, while the other books consist mostly of disconnected jottings. The style throughout is abrupt and concise, and words have occasionally to be supplied to complete the sense. There is here no reasoned treatise on Ethics, no exposition of Stoic Philosophy, such as the sectarum ardua ac perocculta[4] or the ordo praeceptionum,[5] on which Marcus is said to have discoursed before he set out the last time for the war in 178, but we have a man and a ruler taking counsel with himself, noting his own shortcomings, excusing those of others, and "whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honourable, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are pure," exhorting his soul to think on these things. Never were words written more transparently single-hearted and sincere. They were not merely written, they were lived. Those who accuse Marcus of pharisaism wilfully mistake his character and betray their own. Very noticeable is the delicacy of the author's mind and the restrained energy of his style. He eschews all the windflowers of speech, but the simplicity, straight-forwardness, and dignity of his thoughts lend an imperial nobility to his expression of them. There is a certain choiceness and even poetry in his words "which amply condone an occasional roughness and technicality of phrase. Striking images are not infrequent, and such a passage as Book II, 2 is unique in ancient literature. This is not a book of confessions, and comparatively few allusions to personal incidents are to be found except in the first book, while an air of complete aloofness and detachment pervades the whole. The author expressly disclaims all δριμύτης or originality and acuteuess of intellect, and there is a good deal of repetition unavoidable in the nature of the work, for "line upon line" and "precept upon precept" are required in all moral teaching.

Of his two great Stoic predecessors Marcus has no affinity with Seneca. He certainly knew all about him and they have many thoughts[6] in common, but Seneca's rhetorical flamboyance, his bewildering contradictions, the glaring divergence between his profession and his practice have no counterpart in Marcus. Epictetus the Phrygian slave was his true spiritual father, but we do not find in the Emperor the somewhat rigid didacticism and spiritual dogmatism of his predecessor. Marcus is humbler and not so confident. The hardness and arrogance of Stoicism are softened in him by an infusion of Platonism and other philosophies.[7] With the Peripatetics he admits the inequality of faults. His humanity will not cast out compassion as an emotion of the heart.[8]His is no cut and dried creed, for he often wavers and is inconsistent. Call not his teaching ineffectual. He is not trying to teach anyone. He is reasoning with his own soul and championing its cause against the persuasions and impulses of the flesh. How far did he succeed? "By nature a good man," says Dio, "his education and the moral training he imposed upon himself made him a far better one.[9] " "As was natural to one who had beautified his soul with every virtuous quality he was innocent of all wrong-doing." [10] The wonderful revelation here given of the ἄσκησις of the spiritual athlete in the contests of life is full of inspiration still even for the modern world. It has been and is a source of solace and strength to thousands, and has helped to mould the characters of more than one leader of men, such as Frederick the Great[11] Maximilian of Bavaria, Captain John Smith, the saviour of Virginia, and that noble Christian soldier, General Gordon. It was but the other day, on the fiftieth anniversary of Italian Unity, that the King of Italy, speaking[12] on the Capitol, referred to Marcus "as the sacred and propitiatory image of that cult of moral and civil law which our Fatherland wishes to follow," a reference received with particular applause by those who heard it. Whoever rescued the MS of the "Thoughts" on the death of their author in 180, whether it was that noble Roman, Pompeianus, the son-in-law of Marcus, or the high-minded Victorinus, his lifelong friend, we seem to hear an echo of its teaching in the dying words of Cornificia, his possibly last surviving daughter, when put to death by Caracalla in 215: "O wretched little soul of mine, imprisoned in an unworthy body, go forth, be free!"[13] It was doubtless known to Chryseros the freedman and nomenclator of Marcus who wrote a history of Rome to the death of his patron,[14] and to the Emperor Gordian I., for the latter in his youth, soon after the Emperor s death, wrote an epic poem on Pius and Marcus. He also married Fabia Orestilla, the latter's granddaughter through Fadilla (probably) and Claudius Severus. As their eldest son Gordian II. had sixty children, the blood of Marcus was soon widely diffused.

The first direct mention of the work is about 350 A.D. in the Orations of the pagan philosopher Themistius, who speaks of the παραγγέλματα (precepts) of Marcus. Then for 550 years we lose sight of the book entirely, until, about 900, the compiler of the dictionary, which goes by the name of Suidas, reveals the existence of a MS of it by making some thirty quotations, taken from books I, III, IV, V, IX, and XI.[15] He calls the book (συγγραφή) an "ἀγωγή (a directing) of his own life by Marcus the Emperor in twelve books." About the same time Arethas, a Cappadocian bishop, writing to his metropolitan, speaks of the scarcity of this μεγαλωφελέστατον βιβλίον, and apparently sends him a copy of it.[16] He also refers to it three times in scholia to Lucian, calling it τὰ εἰς ἑαυτὸν ἠθικά. Two similar references are found in the scholia to Dio Chrysostom, possibly by the same Arethas.

Again a silence of 250 years, after which Tzetzes, a grammarian of Constantinople, quotes passages from Books IV. and V. attributing them to Marcus. About 150 years later (1300 A.D.) the ecclesiastical historian, Nicephorus Callistus (iii. 31) writes that Marcus "composed a book of instruction for his son, full of universal (κοσμικῆς, ? secular) experience and wisdom." About this very time Planudes, a monk of Constantinople, may have been engaged in com piling the anthology of extracts from various authors,, including Marcus and Aelian, which has come down to us in twenty-five or more MSS dating from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century.[17] They are practically of no help in re-establishing the text,[18] and contain in all forty-four extracts from books IV.–XII. Our present text is based almost entirely upon two MSS, the Codex Palatinus (P) first printed in 1558 by Xylander but now lost, which contains the whole work, and the Codex Vaticanus 1 950 (A) from which about forty-two lines have dropped out by accidental omissions here and there. Two other MSS give some independent help to the text, but they are incom plete, the Codex Darmstadtinus 2773 (D) with 112 extracts from books I.–IX. and Codex Parisinus 319 (C) with twenty-nine extracts from Books I.–IV., with seven other MSS derived from it or from the same source. Apart from all these there is but one other MS (Monacensis 323) which contains only fourteen very short fragments from Books II., III., IV., and VII.

Translations of this Book have been made into Latin, English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Norse, Russian, Czech, Polish and Persian. In England alone twenty-six editions of the work appeared in the seventeenth century, fifty-eight in the eighteenth, eighty-one in the nineteenth, and in the twentieth up to 1908 thirty more.[19]

The English translations are as follows.

1. Meric Casaubon.—"Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. His Meditations concerning himselfe: Treating of a Naturall Man's Happinesse; wherein it consisteth, and of the Meanes to attain unto it. Translated out of the original Greeke with Notes by Meric Casauboii B.D., London, 1634."

This, the first English translation,, albeit involved and periphrastic, is not without dignity or scholarship, though James Thomson in 1747 says that "it is every where rude and unpolished and often mistakes the author's meaning," while the Foulis Press Translators of 1742 find fault with its "intricate and antiquated style." It may be conveniently read in Dr. Rouse's new edition of 1900, which also contains some ex cellent translations of letters between Fronto and Marcus.

2. Jeremy Collier.—"The Emperor Marcus Anton inus His Conversation with Himself. Translated into English by Jeremy Collier M.A., London 1701."

A recent edition of it by Alice Zimmern is in the Camelot Series, but it hardly deserved the honour. We may fairly say of it that it is too colloquial. James Thomson in 1747 speaks of it as "a very coarse copy of an excellent original," and as "bearing so faint a resemblance to the original in a great many places as scarcely to seem taken from it." R. Graves in 1792 remarks that it "abounds with so many vulgarities, anilities and even ludicrous expressions . . . that one cannot now read it with any patience." The comment of G. Long in 1862 is much the same, but it called forth an unexpected champion of the older translator in Matthew Arnold, who says: "Most English people, who knew Marcus Aurelius before Mr. Long appeared as his introducer, knew him through Jeremy Collier. And the acquaintance of a man like Marcus Aurelius is such an imperishable benefit that one can never lose a peculiar sense of obligation towards the man who confers it. Apart from this however, Jeremy Collier's version deserves respect for its genuine spirit and vigour, the spirit and vigour of the age of Dryden. His warmth of feeling gave to his style an impetuosity and rhythm which from Mr. Long's style are absent." The real defect of Collier as a translator, adds Arnold, is his imperfect acquaintance with Greek.

3. James Moor and Thomas Hutcheson.—"The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Newly translated from the Greek with notes." Glasgow: The Foulis Press, 1742. Certainly the best translation, previous to Long's, for accuracy and diction, and superior to that in spirit. Dr. Rendall (1898) praises it as "the choicest alike in form and contents." It. Graves, however, in 1792, while allowing its fidelity, had pronounced it "unnecessarily literal," and shewing a" total neglect of elegance and harmony of style." A very satisfactory revision of this translation appeared in 1902, made by G. W. Chrystal.

4. Richard Graves. "The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. A New Translation from the Greek Original, with notes." By R. Graves, M.A., Rector of Claverton, Somerset. Bath, 1792.

A fairly accurate and smooth version of no especial distinction, but superior to most of its predecessors. An abbreviated edition of this was published at Stourport without any date by N. Swaine with the title: "The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Philosophus collated with and abridged from the best translations."

5. George Long.—"The Thoughts of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus." Translated by George Long. London., 1862. This may be looked upon as in some sense the "authorized version" and it is from it that most people know their Marcus Aurelius. For nearly forty years it was master of the field. M. Arnold, though finding fault with the translator as not idiomatic or simple enough and even pedantic, yet gives him full credit for soundness, precision, and general excellence in his translation. The author tells us that he deliberately chose a ruder style as better suited to express the character of the original, and he was right, for in spite of Arnold's dictum to the contrary the book of Marcus has a "distinct physiognomy," and here, more than is usually the case, le style cest l'homme.

6. Hastings Crossley.—"The Fourth Book of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius." A revised text with Translation and commentary by Hastings Crossley, M.A., London, 1882. This specimen makes us regret that the author did not publish the whole version which he tells us was in MS. The book contains an interesting appendix on the relations of Fronto and Marcus.

7. G. H. Rendall.— "Marcus Aurelius Antoninus to Himself: An English Translation with Intro ductory Study on Stoicism and the Last of the Stoics." By Gerald H. Rendall, M.A., Litt.D., London, 1898. A second edition with a different introduction was published in 1901.

This version has been pronounced by many critics the best rendering of the Thoughts. Its accuracy, ability, and liveliness are unquestionable.

8. John Jackson.— "The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus." Translated by John Jackson. With an introduction by Charles Bigg. Oxford, 1906.

This version is the newest comer, and is a worthy presentment of the Thoughts. There are useful notes, but some very bold alterations of the text have been followed in the English version. The book would have been more acceptable without the introduction by Dr. Bigg, which gives a most unfair and wholly inaccurate view of the life and character of Marcus.

Besides the above versions there are several abridged translations of the Thoughts, which need not be enumerated here. But the two chief ones seem to be by B. E. Smith, published by the Century Company, New York, 1899, and by J. E. Wilson, London, 1902.

  1. Marcus may be referring in Bk. III. 14 to this his own work as ὑπομνημάτια
  2. See Dio, 71. 8.
  3. For a discussion of the chronology of the work, see Journal of Philology, vol. xxiii., No. 66, 1914.
  4. Victor de Caes. xvi. 9.
  5. Vulc. Gallicanus Vit. Av. Cass. iii. 7.
  6. Marcus never quotes him by name, and though there are plenty of similarities between the two writers in thought, and even in expression, it is not certain that there is a single case of borrowing. Most of the resemblances are based on commonplaces; see, however, Sen. Ep. 77 = vi. 2; Ep. 65 = xi. 10; de Prov. 4 = iv. 1; Ep. 36 = v. 18; de Ben. vii. 31 = xi. 18, 9; Ep. 74 = v. 8, § 3; Ep. 28 = v. 16.
  7. Even Epicurus is mentioned with approval, as he is also by Seneca.
  8. cp. Epict. iii. 24, 43; Man. 16, etc.
  9. Dio 71. 35, § 6.
  10. Aristides ad Reg. § 106 (Jebb).
  11. Who, however, in the field of morality cannot be said to have profited by its lessons.
  12. March, 19ll.
  13. See Dio, Fragm. Dindorf v. 214.
  14. 8 Theoph. ad Autol. iii. 27.
  15. See Index, under "Suidas."
  16. See A. Sonny in Philol. 54. 182f.
  17. One (Vat. 2231) has just come to light.
  18. Except Cod. Monacensis 2 = C. Hoeschelianus.
  19. See J. W. Legg,A Bibliography of Marcus Aurelius, 1908.