Nonfiction > Harvard Classics > Marcus Aurelius > The Meditations
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. (121–180).  The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
Introductory Note
MARCUS ANNIUS VERUS was born in Rome, A. D. 121, and assumed the name of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, by which he is known to history, on his adoption by the Emperor T. Aurelius Antoninus. He succeeded to the imperial throne in 161, and ruled till his death in 180. His reign, though marked by justice and moderation at home, was troubled by constant warfare on the frontiers of the Empire, and Aurelius spent much of his later years in the uncongenial task of commanding armies that no longer proved irresistible against the barbarian hordes.  1
  M. Aurelius was educated by the orator Fronto, but turned aside from rhetoric to the study of the Stoic philosophy, of which he was the last distinguished representative. The “Meditations,” which he wrote in Greek, are among the most noteworthy expressions of this system, and exhibit it favorably on its practical side. His own precepts he carried out with singular consistency; and both in his public and his private life he was in the highest degree conscientious. He and his predecessor are noted as the only Roman emperors who can be said to have ruled with a single eye to the welfare of their subjects.  2
  During his reign Rome was visited by a severe pestilence, and this, with reverses suffered by his armies, threw the populace into a panic, and led them to demand the sacrifice of the Christians, whom they regarded as having brought down the anger of the gods. Aurelius seems to have shared the panic; and his record it stained by his sanction of a cruel persecution. This incident in the career of the last, and one of the loftiest, of the pagan moralists may be regarded as symbolic of the dying effort of heathenism to check the advancing tide of Christianity.  3
  The “Meditations” picture with faithfulness the mind and character of this noblest of the Emperors. Simple in style and sincere in tone, they record for all time the height reached by pagan aspiration in its effort to solve the problem of conduct; and the essential agreement of his practice with his teaching proved that “Even in a palace life may be led well.”  4


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