Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Marcus Aurelius for the People

I have been reading and re-reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations for years.  The translation in the Penguin edition always suffered from a kind of stiff literalism.  It was as if the translator wanted to make the Meditations a more formal work than it is.

Gregory Hays, in his translation of the work, pitches the idea that the Meditations  was never meant for publishing, and as such, varies in formal style and quality.  He tries to capture this in English, by switching from somewhat stiff, philosophical language in some parts, to a more conversational tone in others.  He wants us to see the Meditations for what he believes it is: a kind of self-help book the Marcus Aurelius’ wrote for himself; a reminder of what his goals were and how to achieve them.

This makes Hays’ Meditations a much easier read than its predecessor; he gives Marcus’ voice a freshness and immediacy that is missing in other translation.  Most importantly, he give new life to the voice of a Roman emperor who lived nearly two-thousand years ago.

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