Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Department of Philosophy | Philosophy, Science and the Sciences | hpold | Courses | Summer Semester 2012 | HS Philosophy to cure the Mind: Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in the context of the Stoic Ethics

HS Philosophy to cure the Mind: Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in the context of the Stoic Ethics

Lo Presti, Roberto

Tue. 8-10, DOR 24, 1.405 (First Session: April 10)

The philosophy of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius can be found in a collection of personal writings known as the Meditations. These reflect the influence of Stoicism and, in particular, of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus. The Meditations certainly do not present philosophical theories similar to those that one can find in, say, the surviving works of Aristotle. Nevertheless, the Meditations remain essentially a philosophical text, even if they do not form a theoretical treatise designed to argue for a particular doctrine or conclusion; their function is different. In the Meditations Marcus engages in a series of philosophical exercises designed to digest philosophical theories, to transform his character or ‘dye his soul’ in the light of those theories, and so to transform his behaviour and his entire way of life. By reflecting upon philosophical ideas and, perhaps more importantly, writing them down, Marcus engages in a repetitive process designed to habituate his mind to a new way of thinking. Following the account of three types of philosophical training outlined by Epictetus (concerning, respectively, 1) desires and aversions, 2) impulse to act and not to act, and 3) freedom from deception, hasty judgement, and anything else related to assents), Marcus reflects in the Meditations upon a medley of physical, ethical, and logical ideas. These written reflections constitute a second stage of philosophical education necessary after one has studied the philosophical theories.


In this seminar we will read selected sections of the Meditations along with passages from works of Cicero, Epictetus, Plutarch, Seneca, and will try to analyse the rationale of Marcus Aurelius’ philosophical exercises in the wider context of the Stoic Ethics. Command of Greek is welcome but not compulsory (all texts will be presented with facing translation).



  • DALFEN, J., Marci Aurelii Antonini Ad Se Ipsum Libri XII, Bibliotheca Scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana (Leipzig: Teubner, 1979; 2nd edn. 1987)
  • HAINES, C. R., The Communings with Himself of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A Revised Text and a Translation into English, The Loeb Classical Library (London: Heinemann, 1916; later reprints by Harvard University Press)
  • LONG, A.A. & D.N. SEDLEY, The Hellenistic Philosophers, vol. 2. Greek and Latin Texts with Notes and Bibliography, pp. 341-422.
  • ASMIS, E., ‘The Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius’, ANRW II 36.3 (1989), pp. 2228-2252.
  • BRUNT, P. A., ‘Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations’, Journal of Roman Studies 64 (1974), pp.1-20.
  • CLARKE, M. L., The Roman Mind: Studies in the History of Thought from Cicero to Marcus Aurelius (London: Cohen & West, 1956)
  • HADOT, P., The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, trans. M. Chase (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998); a translation of La Citadelle Intérieure (Paris, 1992)
  • NEWMAN, R. J., ‘Cotidie meditare: Theory and Practice of the meditatio in Imperial Stoicism’, ANRW II 36.3 (1989), pp. 1473-1517.
  • RUTHERFORD, R. B., The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: A Study (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989)