Meditations | Study Guide

Marcus Aurelius

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Meditations | Summary



Book 1

As the most clearly defined unit of distinct thought, Book 1 is a dedication to all the people who influenced Aurelius's frame of thinking, moral virtue, power of reasoning, and education. It is here the reader gets some idea of the author's character as sincere, straightforward, and reverent to the life of the mind. He is serious, but with a wry sense of humor creeping in now and then.

Book 2

Book 2 starts by presenting all the aggravations other people contribute to daily life, and a reminder that paying too much attention to what other people think is not nearly as important as what a person knows about himself. Self-discipline, Aurelius concludes, is the key to knowledge and acceptance. Furthermore, only the philosopher can keep untouched the divine spirit within.

Book 3

Making the most of the present moment is the theme of Book 3. This is done by attending to the duty each individual is guided to perform without distractions or complaint based on others' judgments. People can form opinions, but they should be in keeping with nature and with what a reasonable person would believe. Those who live in this way can then die in peace.

Book 4

Book 4 continues this line of thinking by stating that the rule of each creature is according to nature. Being distracted by creating physical sanctuaries only creates a temporary sense of refuge, with the side effect being discontent. The antidote to this is to live as simply and directly as possible in the present moment, according to one's own natural condition.

Book 5

Book 5 speculates on the variety of human beings and their allotted stations in life to which they are suited by their own natures. Aurelius uses this thought to remind himself that it is useless to blame or praise others who are acting according to the force of that nature, as it is the whole of society that benefits the individual, just as it is the individual who supports the whole.

Book 6

In Book 6, Aurelius explores a consideration of the universe as perfectly balanced in such a way that it can be neither evil nor benign—a thought that seems to support the perception of ultimate rationality as both random and absolute. Whether the universe is good or bad makes no difference, because reason and the individual's course of action based upon it is constant.

Book 7

Book 7 urges an even and compassionate attitude toward other people, regardless of their attitudes that either irk or please the individual. In this book, Aurelius brings out several examples from Plato, who urges an overview of all things and events as if from above, and as a mix of contrary, opposing, dynamic, and changing conditions subject to a universal core.

Book 8

In Book 8, Aurelius looks at the illusions of power and wealth by comparing two groups of historical figures. The first group consists of Roman emperors, and the second of philosophers. By believing they possess power, the emperors seem unaware of the fact that having such power and possessions makes slaves of them to many things. By contrast, the philosophers own nothing but command of themselves, and are therefore as free as any person can possibly be.

Book 9

Book 9 uses logic to explore the idea that "injustice is impiety," a condition supported by a desire for pleasure with a corresponding desire to avoid pain. The interconnectedness of all people as individuals contributing to or detracting from the whole of creation brings forward the strongest perspective yet of a central consciousness engaged in a continuity of co-creation with the creatures of its own creation.

Book 10

Book 10 is about how the soul focuses on what it desires instead of recognizing that it already has everything it needs. However, Aurelius backtracks a bit here on the "intent" of the universe, stating that whether a person can bear the struggles that come his way is not the point. Either way, complaining about it does no good. It is not useful and is therefore a waste of time and effort.

Book 11

Without directly referencing Aristotle, Aurelius presents a number of concepts on the nature of art and the rules of art-making, which Aristotle outlined in his writings. In this book, allusions to the dramatic arts are woven into perceptions of illusions and mimicry in an odd fashion. That is, while pointing out the transience of a performance as being more or less useless, the author also suggests that each person in society necessarily performs a series of roles relative to position and status.

Book 12

Meditations makes a general (although somewhat vague) progression from a non-creationist to a creationist point of view over the course of the work. This is clearly evident in the use of the word "God" and "Providence." Determining whether or not the universe is ordered or random is beside the point, because human beings have no way of knowing everything. The composition of a human being is simply of "body, breath (life) and intelligence," and while the first two are temporary, the third is not.

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