Book Club: The Inner Citadel, 2, A first glimpse of the Meditations

Figs in Winter
5 min readDec 27, 2019
Marcus Aurelius

Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel, an in-depth analysis of the Stoic philosophy of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, is one of those landmark books that one fully appreciates only in retrospect. It contributed greatly to put the whole concept of philosophy as a way of life back to the forefront of public discourse. In the previous installation of this series we have looked at chapter 1, mostly focusing on Marcus’ teachers. We now tackle chapter 2, which provides a preliminary glimpse at the structure and content of the Meditations.

Apparently, Marcus’ personal philosophical diary was known relatively soon after his death, as it is, for instance, mentioned by Themistius about two centuries after. But we have to wait until the 10th century to find solid testimonies to the widespread copying of the work. The Meditations quickly became a staple of the Byzantine world, yet the first quotation of it in the Western world is as recent as the 16th century, in De Arte Cabalistica, by Johannes Reuchlin, published in 1517. The first printed edition appeared in 1559 in Zurich, based on a now lost manuscript. The only complete manuscript surviving is the Vaticanus Graecus 1950, dating from the 14th century. In other words — just like for so many other works of antiquity — it is by mere happenstance that we have Marcus’ work at all.

We are accustomed to the relatively convenient structure of the Meditations in modern editions, organized as it is in 12 books, but in fact neither the manuscripts nor the first edition are divided into chapters, the familiar layout dating to a Latin translation published in Cambridge in 1652.

Marcus, of course, didn’t call the book the Meditations, and Arethas (9th to 10th centuries), who was probably responsible for the preservation of the work, simply referred to it as “the very profitable book of the Emperor Marcus.” It is still Arethas that elsewhere uses the phrase “the ethical writings addressed to himself,” while a Latin translation with accompanying Greek text dating from 1559 proposes the title “On Himself or on His Life.” By the time of the English translation in 1634 the title had been rendered as “Meditations Concerning Himselfe.”