Trailhead: "Marcus Aurelius". In Our Time (2021-02-25)
This episode of BBC's In Our Time—one of my favorite radio shows (podcasts)—covered his entire life in 50 minutes, although there was an urge to get to Meditations, since that's what Marcus Aurelius is most known for. Two things caught my ear from the part before they got to Meditations.
The first was a reference to his teacher, Fronto. I might not have noticed but for the comment that he was the greatest Roman orator since Cicero—that perked up my ears a little. There's not much there on his Wikipedia page, but one thing I noticed that I would like to track down is a reference to using "unlooked-for and unexpected words" (insperata atque inopinata uerba). Without context, I don't know if that's the mark of a connoisseur or just an affectation.
The second thing was a point brought up by one of the panelists about whether or not Meditations was philosophical at all, or just a collection of homespun wisdom. I suppose it doesn't matter all that much. I've read George Long's translation of Meditations before. Meditations is often hailed as a good book about How To Be Manly. In and of itself, that's not necessarily bad.
So why does this elicit a bit of reflexive side-eye from me? I suppose it's something simple like: it's annoying to hear about people who are Totally Into Stoicism—modern Stoicism as a hustle cult—wax on about the importance of Meditations. Even I highlighted the book to death. It's got some nice passages. And I like the underlying ideas of accepting your job in life and dealing with it without complaining. (Even though that doesn't describe my actual approach to life, just an ideal.)
Meditations as common sense—that's OK. Meditations as a king hell philosophy—that might be a little thick. The book itself is the same either way. I suppose I should decide if I like it or not regardless of how it's packaged and sold by others.