Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius

The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius
© 2000 Mark Forstater
288 pages

I first encountered Marcus Aurelius in November 2007, reading his Meditations during Thanksgiving. Although I did not mention it any detail here, the Meditations have stuck with me ever since, often providing me with a source of strength during troubled times. Aurelius' words provoked an interest in Stoicism, an interest that would lead me to visit sites such as the Humanist Contemplative and Humainism, two blogs/essay repositories focused on the intersection of Humanism, Stoicism, and Buddhism. DT Strain of the Humanist Contemplative has a "suggested reading" list, some titles of which I've read already and others I intend to track down. The first new book I read from this list is The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, functioning as a partial translation of the Meditations with preceding commentary.

After author Mark Forstater became interested in Stoicism, he decided to visit the Meditations in their most conservative translation, one promised to be as close to the literal meaning of the Greek as possible. He then began updating the language for easier reading while maintaining the original meanings of the word and Marcus Aurelius' tones. I was able to compare Spiritual Teachings' passages with my copy of the conservative translation I read two years ago and can say with reasonable authority that Forstater succeeded in his goal: while these passages read easily, they have abandoned the first text. I say this not because I believe conservative translations are better, but because while some readers are interested in the general message, others might be more interested in the way Aurelius expressed that message. This is the difference between those who love Sharon Lebell's modern interpretation of Epictetus in The Art of Living and those who loathe it. For stater has produced more of an edited translation than an interpretation.

Spiritual Teachings is not the meditations in whole: Forstater focused on specific passages and groups them into themes ("Cultivation of the Self" and "Death" are two), sometimes repeating passages or portions of passages when they address multiple ideas. The passages constitute the bulk of the book, being preceded by commentary from Forstater in the beginning. I would recommend the book to those who have heard of the Meditations but who don't want to dive head-first into the Roman emperor's biography and more esoteric references, or to those who have read the Meditations and are interested in a pocket-sized book containing their favorite passages.

4 comments:

  1. I have this on my shelf along with two of his other works - Seneca and the Tao. I keep meaning to read them at some point... [grin] But new and shiny books keep getting in the way.

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  2. Thanks for letting me know he has others works! I seem to have created my own "stack of books" sitting at the foot of my bed and in the passenger seat of my car. (

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  3. Happy to provide further details to allow you to track them down. I think I've got a book by him on Socrates too....

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  4. Theories of translation. I'm a purist, myself. I'm always more interested in knowing what the original orator/author had to say. Translations tend to be open to interpretation.

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