Edited and translated by Robin Waterfield
Formats and Prices
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 30, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
As featured on the Today Show
Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is high on the list of the most famous and widely read works of philosophy in the world. It has often been translated into English, but the Greek in which Marcus wrote is frequently so difficult that there is always room for another version. The justification of this book, however, is not just an improved translation but an increased degree of annotation. The intention of the Introduction and the notes is that they should deepen anyone’s understanding of Marcus’s work while falling short of hardcore philosophical commentary. The Introduction covers general issues that illuminate the book as a whole, and I wrote notes wherever I felt that Marcus’s meaning would not be immediately clear to at least some readers. So the notes serve, as it were, the short-term function of explaining passages as they are read, whereas the Introduction has a more general purpose.
Stoicism, an ancient philosophical system, has been rediscovered in recent years, and many thousands of people around the world consider themselves Stoics and try to put it into practice. My acquaintance with this Modern Stoicism is minimal, and I have deliberately kept it so because I want to try to understand Marcus on his own terms and in his own day. But Meditations is a core text for Modern Stoics, and in a sense they are exactly the kind of reader for whom the book is intended.
I would like to thank James Romm for launching me on this project, and, at Basic Books, Dan Gerstle for commissioning the book, Claire Potter for seeing it through, and Alex Colston and Christina Palaia for their thorough and very helpful editorial work. David Fideler (stoicinsights.com) was supportive in various ways, not least by sharing some of his knowledge of Seneca with me. John Sellars graciously sent me a prepublication copy of his Marcus Aurelius. Above all I am grateful to friends new and old: my wife, Kathryn, was as usual my first reader, and then Brad Inwood and John Sellars, two of the world’s leading interpreters of Stoicism, commented on the finished typescript. I took note of all their suggestions for improvement.
 From my grandfather Verus:2 nobility of character and evenness of temper.
 From what I’ve been told and remember of my natural father:3 modesty and manliness.
 From my mother:4 reverence for the gods, generosity, and the ability to abstain not only from wrongdoing but even from contemplating it; also, a frugal lifestyle, far removed from the habits of the rich.5
 From my great-grandfather:6 not studying at places where teaching was publicly available; being taught by good teachers at home; and the recognition that education is something on which one should spend freely.7
 From my tutor:8 supporting neither the Greens nor the Blues,9 and neither the Lights nor the Heavies;10 endurance of hardship, reduction of one’s needs, working with one’s own hands; minding one’s own business and turning a deaf ear to malicious gossip.
 From Diognetus: not getting carried away by empty enthusiasms; skepticism about the claims made by wonder-workers and sorcerers for things like spells and the exorcism of spirits;11 not keeping quails for fighting or being excited by such pursuits; tolerating plain speaking; being oriented toward philosophy and attending the lectures of, above all, Baccheius, but also Tandasis and Marcianus;12 writing essays from an early age; being drawn to the pallet, the skin coverlet, and everything else that goes with a Greek-style upbringing.13
 From Rusticus: understanding the importance of correction and treatment of one’s character;14 not being diverted by an interest in sophistry;15 not writing about philosophical theories, or delivering homilies designed to get someone to change his life, or ostentatiously playing the ascetic or the philanthropist to impress people; avoiding rhetoric, the composition of poetry, and highfalutin language; not walking around at home in fancy clothes or doing anything of that kind; adopting an unaffected style in one’s letters (as in the letter written by him from Sinuessa to my mother);16 being forgiving and ready to get back on good terms with angry and offensive people as soon as they’re prepared to simmer down; reading attentively, not being satisfied with skimming a book at a general level, and not readily assenting to superficial interpretations; and reading Epictetus’s Discourses (he shared his personal copy with me).17
 From Apollonius: self-reliance and indisputable immunity to the dice-rolls of fortune;18 focusing exclusively and ceaselessly on reason; remaining always the same person whether one is in acute pain, or losing a child, or chronically ill; seeing clearly, in a living example, that it’s possible for one and the same person to be both highly energetic and able to relax; not resenting having to explain something; observing a man who plainly regarded his expertise and skill at the exposition of philosophical theories as the least of his gifts; and learning how to accept apparent favors19 from friends without thereby becoming their inferior or hurting their feelings by rejecting them.
 From Sextus: kindness; the example of a household governed by paternal authority; the true meaning of living in accord with nature;20 an unfeigned grace; paying solicitous attention to friends; tolerance of ordinary people and those whose opinions are not guided by philosophical theories; accommodating oneself to everyone (this was a feature which made his conversation more soothing than any flattery and yet at the same time made his companions treat him with the greatest respect); the convincing and methodical explication and systematization of the essential principles of life; never presenting as angry or in the grip of any other passion, but being simultaneously completely impassive and yet highly affectionate;21 praising without making a song and dance about it; and wearing one’s learning lightly.22
 From Alexander the language teacher: refraining from criticism; not jumping down a person’s throat and lambasting him when he makes a mistake in his vocabulary, syntax, or pronunciation, but adeptly introducing the correct form, the one he should have used, when responding to or confirming what he said, or when discussing the matter further with him—the matter itself, not his expression—or by finding some other tactful way to remind him.
 From Fronto:23 understanding the nature of despotic malice, deviousness, and hypocrisy, and the realization that, on the whole, our so-called Patricians are rather lacking in affection.24
 From Alexander the Platonist: the general avoidance, except when absolutely necessary, of telling anyone, to his face or in a letter, “I’m too busy”; and not making this kind of excuse for constantly evading the obligations that arise out of one’s relationships with one’s fellows, by using “the pressure of circumstances” as a pretext.
 From Catulus: not ignoring a friend’s criticism, even if it happens to be unreasonable, but actually trying to restore normal relations with him; wholehearted praise for one’s teachers, of the kind that is recorded for Domitius and Athenodotus; and genuine love for one’s children.
 From Severus: love of family, love of truth, and love of justice; that, thanks to him, I came to know about Thrasea, Helvidius, Cato, Dion, and Brutus,25 and conceived the notion of a political system with the same laws for all, governed on the principles of personal and political equality, and of a monarchy that chiefly prizes the freedom of its subjects.26 Also from him: a constant and consistent prizing of philosophy; a readiness to do good to others and a liberal generosity; optimism, and confidence that one is loved by one’s friends; his candor with those who got a dressing-down from him; and the way in which his friends never had to guess his likes or dislikes, since he didn’t disguise them.
 From Maximus: self-mastery and total immunity to passing whims; cheerfulness in all circumstances, even when ill; an integrated character, both gentle and dignified; doing what one has to do without complaining; how everyone trusted him to mean what he said, and to do what he did with the best of intentions; never being astonished or alarmed,27 never hurrying or hesitant or helpless, never showing a downturned mouth or a fawning grin—or, to put it another way, never grumpy or mistrustful; being benevolent, forgiving, and honest; making it clear that he was inflexibly upright rather than in need of straightening by others;28 how people could never take him to be looking down on them, but at the same time could never have consented to thinking of themselves as his superiors; a good sense of humor.
 From my father:29 calmness and an unshakable adherence to deliberately made decisions; indifference to the empty glory of so-called honors; industriousness and perseverance; a willingness to listen to any proposal that is in the interest of the state; impartiality in giving everyone his due;30 knowing by experience when to tighten the reins and when to slacken them; that he put a stop to homosexual affairs with teenagers;31 how he used considerately to excuse his friends from always having to dine with him and from the obligation of accompanying him on journeys out of town, and how he behaved no differently toward them after they had been unavoidably absent for some reason or other; diligence and patience in looking into matters arising from council sessions,32 so that one could never accuse him of giving up the investigation and being satisfied with first impressions; the ability to retain friends, and never being fickle or playing favorites; self-sufficiency in all situations, and joyfulness; the ability to provide for events well in advance and to arrange everything in advance, down to the smallest details, without making a big production out of it.
How he reduced public acclamations and all forms of flattery during his reign;33 his unceasing watch on the needs of the empire, his stewardship of its resources, and his tolerance of the criticism he received for these and similar measures;34 his freedom from superstition in approaching the gods, and his refusal, when dealing with men, to pander to the masses with demagoguery and obsequiousness; his sober reliability in all things, lack of vulgarity, and ability to resist new fads; his ability to enjoy the material comforts of life, which fortune gave him in abundance, in an unpretentious way, but also without apology, so that he simply accepted them as matters of fact when he had them and felt no lack when they were gone;35 the fact that no one could call him a sophist, a canter, or a pedant, but only a mature and peerless man, beyond the reach of flattery, and competent to manage others’ business as well as his own.
Then there was the way he honored genuine philosophers, and avoided either condemning the charlatans or being taken in by them;36 also, the fact that he was good and witty company, without taking it too far; the moderate degree of attention he paid to his bodily needs, stemming not from a strong attachment to life or from vanity, but from a true estimation of their importance, the upshot being that, thanks to his own ministrations, he reduced to a minimum any need of doctoring or medicines and treatments; above all, the way he deferred without a trace of resentment to those with some special ability, such as eloquence, or expertise gained from the study of law or human behavior or some other subject, and being supportive of their pursuits,37 so that each of them could achieve distinction for his accomplishments in his field; doing everything in compliance with tradition, without deliberately making it obvious; also, not chopping and changing, but remaining true to the same places and practices; his ability immediately to recover his vim and vigor and return to his usual routine after attacks of migraine; the fact that there was little he couldn’t talk about, because it was the exception rather than the rule for him to have secrets, and then the only ones he had were state secrets; being conscientious and professional when it comes to matters such as the provision of entertainments, the contracting of public building projects, and the distribution of largesse, as a man whose focus is on only what needs to be done, not on the glory to be gained by doing it.
He was regular in his bathing habits,38 not given to adding to his residences, careless about what he ate, unconcerned about the cut and color of his clothes, and indifferent to the physical attractions of his slaves. The fact that his clothes were brought up to him from his country estate at Lorium,39 and a great many details of his life in Lanuvium;40 the way he treated the apologetic customs officer in Tusculum,41 and his social graces in general.
There was no trace of stridency, obduracy, or impetuousness in him, nor was he the kind of man who, as they say, “gets in a sweat.” All his tasks were divided up and carefully thought through, as though he had all the time in the world, and carried out in an unperturbed, orderly, and resolute manner, in ways that suited whatever needed doing. The tale told about Socrates might be applied to him—that he had the ability both to refrain from and to enjoy the things that most people are too weak to refrain from and too inclined to enjoy.42 Strength of will—the ability to persevere in the one situation and remain sober in the other—of the kind that was displayed by Maximus in his illness.43
 From the gods:44 the goodness of almost all the people in my life: grandparents, parents, sister,45 teachers, members of my household, relatives, and friends, and that I never stumbled into offending them, despite having the kind of nature that might well have led me to do so, but, by the grace of the gods, the conditions never occurred that would have put me to the test; that I spent no longer than I did being brought up with my grandfather’s mistress;46 that I preserved my youthful innocence and didn’t become a man ahead of time, but was even rather late in doing so;47 that I was subject to a ruler and a father48 who was to strip me of all vanity and make me realize that one may live in a palace without requiring bodyguards,49 flashy clothing, torchlight, statues, and similar trumpery, and that an emperor can make his life almost as circumscribed as that of a private citizen without thereby debasing himself or being less active in carrying out the duties that are required of him on behalf of the state.
That I had a brother50 who was the kind of man who could rouse me to take care of myself, and who also delighted me with his respect and affection; that my children weren’t born mentally defective or physically deformed; that I went no further than I did with rhetoric, poetry writing, and the other pursuits that might well have absorbed me if I’d found myself making progress on that path; that I lost no time in establishing my tutors in the social rank to which I thought they aspired and didn’t fob them off with the hope that, since they were still young, I would see to it later;51 that I got to know Apollonius, Rusticus, and Maximus.
That I had a vivid and often-repeated sense of what it is to live life in accord with nature,52 such that, so far as concerns the gods (that is, the gifts I received from them, the ways in which they helped me, and the thoughts I had about them), nothing is stopping me from living in accord with nature right now, and, if I fall short of this ideal, that is my own fault and due to my failure to observe the reminders—one might almost say the instructions—that I’ve been given by the gods.53
That my body has lasted so long, given the kind of life I’ve lived;54 that I didn’t touch Benedicta or Theodotus,55 and that later in life as well, whenever I felt erotic passion, I was cured;56 that, although I was often angry with Rusticus, I didn’t take it further and do anything I might have regretted; that my mother, who was to die young, at least spent her final years living with me; that whenever I wanted to help someone who was in need of money or something, I was never told that I didn’t have the resources to make it happen; that I myself never fell into similar need and had to be helped by someone else; that my wife57 was the kind of woman she was, so biddable, affectionate, and unaffected; that I had no lack of suitable tutors for my children.58
That I was given help in my dreams, especially how to avoid spitting blood and getting dizzy;59 the response of the oracle in Caieta, “Just as you use yourself”;60 that when I was first attracted to philosophy, I didn’t fall into the hands of a sophist, nor did I shut myself away and study history, or analyze arguments, or occupy my time with the study of celestial phenomena.61
For none of the blessings I’ve listed are possible without the help of the gods and of fortune.62
1. This first notebook is very different from the reflections and precepts that make up the rest of the book, though there is a common core in Marcus’s concern with his own self-improvement. Marcus uses this notebook to give a selective account of his education, to acknowledge the people who, in retrospect, seemed to have had the most influence on his early life, and to inspire himself to emulate them. Moreover, this notebook is structured and planned, whereas the rest of the book usually consists of unordered jottings. The structure of this first notebook is not so much chronological as thematic: entries 1–4: family members; 5–11: educators; 12–15: friends; 16: Antoninus as preparing Marcus for emperorship; 17: the gods. The idea of such a survey might have been triggered by his writing of 6.30 and 6.48, so that it is a kind of offshoot of the rest of the book, despite being placed first. Stoics believed that one’s character was greatly conditioned by the people one met early in life (the soul being a tabula rasa at birth, with only dispositions for future knowledge and behavior), so Marcus is thanking these people for having put him on the path of philosophy and making it possible, or at least easier, for him to become a man of virtue and a good emperor.
2. For sketches of the people Marcus names, see “The People and Gods of Meditations,” 293–310. The lists that follow in this first notebook are not entirely consistent in syntactical terms. Usually, one can understand “I learned the value of” as the missing clause, but Marcus gradually introduces more and more character sketches of the people he is writing about, and for these “I benefited from” often works as the filler. But it is best to read each entry of this first notebook just as a list, a series of bullet points, without worrying too much about the precise syntax. See also the first note to 1.17.
3. Also called Marcus Annius Verus; he died when Marcus was quite young. Marcus was then brought up by his grandfather, yet another Marcus Annius Verus.
4. Domitia Lucilla.
5. Despite the fact that Lucilla herself was one of the wealthiest women in Rome.
6. Lucius Catilius Severus, his mother’s step-grandfather, a two-time consul, the governor of Syria, and proconsul of Asia. He clearly played a part in Marcus’s upbringing, and for a while in his early years Marcus added “Catilius Severus” to his name in homage.
7. There was quite a vigorous debate among the upper classes of Rome about the relative value of being taught at home or in school.
8. Probably a slave (and hence unnamed?), responsible for steering Marcus’s earliest years.
9. The Greens and the Blues were the two dominant teams of chariot racers; there were also Reds and Whites. The sport aroused great passion in imperial Rome, and furious, and sometimes violent, rivalry among opposing fans. Many emperors were known partisans of the Greens or the Blues, failing to recognize the importance of impartiality for an emperor.
10. Some gladiatorial contests pitted lightly armed against heavily armed fighters. At 6.46, Marcus reveals that gladiatorial fighting disgusted him (see also Cassius Dio, Roman History 72.29.3), and as emperor he restricted the number of shows per year. Several previous emperors had actually taken part in gladiatorial combat (as Marcus’s son Commodus would as well), though of course their opponents always submitted so that the emperor would win.
11. Despite this, an Egyptian magician called Arnuphis was a prominent member of Marcus’s court.
12. These lecturers are otherwise unknown. Some editors replace the name “Tandasis” with a known teacher of Marcus, Basileides of Scythopolis.
13. The word Marcus uses was commonly used for the notoriously tough training regime Spartan boys and men underwent. Asceticism was encouraged by both the Stoics and the Cynics. Marcus was about twelve years old when he began to be attracted to Greek ways and Greek philosophy, though it was probably another ten years or so before he became an actual practitioner.
14. For philosophy as therapy, see the Introduction, xxxvii–xxxviii.
15. By “sophistry” here, Marcus chiefly means rhetoric, which was taught and practiced in his day by a class of intellectuals called “sophists.” Although Marcus turned from rhetoric to philosophy, as emperor he often needed to rely on rhetoric (see 8.30), and since many of the sophists were eminent people in the empire and in their home towns, Marcus often had official business with them. So “sophist” was an honorific title, though the label had been tainted by Plato’s and Aristotle’s criticisms of earlier “sophists.” In Marcus’s day, they were in demand as keynote speakers for all kinds of public occasions, they traveled all over the world giving display speeches, and the sons of the best families might be apprenticed to them.
16. Sinuessa was a seaside town north of Naples. The bracketed aside is one of many features of the book which show that it was written for Marcus alone, not for publication, since the public would not have access to Rusticus’s letter to Marcus’s mother. Writers contemporary with Marcus had developed letter writing into an elaborate art form.
17. It is not clear that these are Epictetus’s Discourses as we have them. The word translated as “discourses” means literally “written versions of lectures.” This is what our Discourses are—they were put into book form by a disciple of Epictetus called Arrian (Lucius Flavius Arrianus)—but there were other such notes in circulation, including another four books’ worth from Arrian, supplementing the four books of Discourses that we have. Hence the existence of fragments of Epictetus from books that we no longer have. Rusticus may have attended Epictetus’s lectures and taken notes. But most of Marcus’s references to Epictetus in Meditations do seem to come from Arrian’s version.
18. Apollonius is being described almost as a “sage,” the Stoic term for an enlightened person. Only a sage is beyond the reach of fortune or any kind of accident. The idea originated with Socrates, at Plato’s Euthydemus 279c–280b.
19. The favors are called “apparent” presumably because, for a Stoic, they belonged to the populous class of things that were “indifferent” or morally neutral; see the Introduction, xl–xli.
20. The usual Stoic way of describing the ideal philosophical life, commonly recurring in Meditations (see, e.g., 1.17, 7.56, 10.15, 12.1 and the Introduction, xlv).
21. Although the Stoics regarded passions as forms of mental sickness, certain emotions or emotion-based practices were acceptable. See the Introduction, xlix–lii. Otherwise, passions were “irrational movements of the soul” or “impulses that have got out of hand.”
22. The foundation of interpersonal relationships for Marcus is the fact that all men are equally rational creatures and therefore should be treated with kindness, even if they go wrong. But Marcus found such kindness difficult, and often chastises himself for failing (e.g., 4.37, 5.5, 6.30, 6.39, 7.13, 7.63, 8.8, 9.27, 11.13).
23. Despite the warm relationship between Marcus and Fronto, as revealed by the surviving letters between them, it is noticeable how few of life’s important lessons Marcus felt he had learned from Fronto compared to, say, Rusticus (1.7). This reflects Marcus’s turn away from rhetoric (as taught by Fronto) and toward philosophy (under the influence of Rusticus, in the first instance), and it is perhaps significant that, of Marcus’s four rhetoric teachers, Fronto is the only one he mentions, whereas he mentions all six of his philosophy teachers. In their letters, Fronto tried to persuade him that the two disciplines were compatible, but Marcus did not agree, on the grounds that a rhetorician has to be self-satisfied, whereas for a philosopher there is always farther to go. On Marcus’s attitude toward rhetoric and sophists, see E. Bowie, “Marcus Aurelius, Greek Poets, and Greek Sophists: Friends or Foes?” in Intellectual and Empire in Greco-Roman Antiquity, ed. P. Bosman (Routledge, 2019), 142–159.
24. The Patricians of Rome were the ruling class; they either belonged to old noble families or had been recently elevated by an emperor. In one of his extant letters (Haines II.156), Fronto went further, denying that affection was a Roman attribute at all, or even that there was a Latin equivalent for the Greek word. Marcus tried to look for nobility of soul in the Roman aristocracy, not just nobility of wealth and birth, and even married his daughter Lucilla (after her first husband, Lucius Verus, had died) to a Knight, a member of the next order down from the Patricians.
25. Most of these men were famous, philosophically inspired martyrs to the cause of preserving or restoring the Roman Republic in the face of sole rule or the threat of it; see “The People and Gods of Meditations
- “The new edition by Robin Waterfield, a British classics scholar, has much to recommend it. The prose is wonderfully sober and taut, the choices felicitous….The volume’s stand-out feature is its wide-ranging set of footnotes, offering assistance to novice readers, insights that will intrigue specialists, and reformulations that clarify Marcus’ thoughts.”—Wall Street Journal
- “If you haven’t read Marcus Aurelius or if you have…you should read this book and then read it again.”—Ryan Holiday, "If You Only Read a Few Books in 2022, Read These”
- "The full and accessible notes make this volume particularly useful for those reading the work as life-guidance, as well as for other readers.... The translation.... aims at accuracy in conveying the Greek meaning, while at the same time bringing out the content in accessible and expressive English.... Waterfield’s version is highly effective in this aim: the line of thought is clear even in passages where Marcus’ thought processes are somewhat convoluted or oblique, and the English idiom chosen is widely accessible."—Chris Gill, Classical Review
“Robin Waterfield has given us a splendid translation of Marcus: accurate and idiomatic, it captures the personal tone of the Meditations wonderfully. The notes and introduction are detailed but clear, authoritative both historically and philosophically, telling modern readers what they need to know. This is the best translation of the Meditations available today.”—Brad Inwood, William Lampson Professor of Philosophy and Classics, Yale University
"This new edition of the Meditations really is superb. Robin Waterfield is one of the most accomplished translators of ancient Greek out there, and it is wonderful to see him bring his considerable talents to bear on Marcus Aurelius. His lucid and precise translation is based on a fresh assessment of variant readings of the Greek text. The engaging introduction does a marvelous job of setting out Marcus’s life, the distinctive characteristics of the Meditations, and the central ideas of Stoicism. The extensive notes take into account the latest scholarship while remaining accessible. This must surely become the first choice English edition of the Meditations for decades to come."
—John Sellars, author of Lessons in Stoicism
“This is a valuable addition to our stock of modern translations of the Meditations. The translation is accurate but also accessible and powerful. The full and informative introduction and the notes, helpfully placed at the foot of each page, make this a book that offers much to a wide variety of readers.”—Christopher Gill, emeritus professor of ancient Thought, University of Exeter, and author of Greek Thought
- “Do we need another translation of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations? Yes, especially when it is so thoroughly and informatively annotated as Waterfield's. The introduction alone is worth the price of admission.”—Massimo Pigliucci, author of How to Be A Stoic
- “Robin Waterfield, a leading classical scholar and translator, has given us a dazzling new translation of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Readers: Do not skip the introduction. In hard-hitting and eloquent prose, Waterfield explains the personal and private meditations of an emperor who turns to Stoicism for exercises in becoming a better person and a better world leader. The tension in juggling those worlds is part of Marcus’s enduring legacy. This modernized scholarly edition of the Meditations will quickly find its home on the modern Stoic’s bookshelf as well as on the reading lists of those of us who teach ancient Stoicism. It’s a most welcome addition to ancient Stoic scholarship.”—Nancy Sherman, professor of philosophy, Georgetown University
- “The best of both worlds: a lively, readable, and engaging translation, supplemented by extensive notes drawn from up-to-date scholarship. This edition can be studied in a graduate seminar or presented to an interested amateur for their casual enjoyment. Waterfield’s wide experience as a translator of Plato, Xenophon, and Plutarch has equipped him to tackle Marcus’ idiosyncratic musings, and he has improved the text with numerous corrections. Marcus emerges from the mists of time with a clear voice and a compelling vision.”—Tad Brennan, professor of philosophy and classics, Cornell University
- On Sale
- Aug 30, 2022
- Page Count
- 384 pages
- Basic Books