Write Like Marcus Aurelius

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is one of the greatest original books ever written in human history. It’s a stoic’s bible loaded with practical wisdom on life and dealing with misfortune.

It’s an unusual book in the sense that it wasn’t written in the standard format and is not meant to be read only once. It is to be re-read multiple times and used as a life compass where you carefully ponder each word, each sentence. It’s not only about what he says, but why he says what he says.

Who was Marcus Aurelius and why is his book so popular?

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a famous Stoic philosopher. He wrote Meditations during his reign as a source of psychological advice for himself. This took place so long ago that a lot of the semantics were lost in translation over the years, as words and language changed.

In the lost Greek manuscript used for the first printed edition, the work was entitled “To Himself” as it was quite literally written for himself. Marcus never published his work as they were strictly personal writings (Marcus refers to them as his “notes” or “notelets” in 3.14.1).

Codex Vaticanus from c. 1300 AD, now in the Vatican Library, is the oldest existing and complete manuscript of the Meditations.

“In fact, it seems unlikely that Marcus himself gave the work any title at all, for the simple reason that he did not think of it as an organic whole in the first place. Not only was it not written for publication, but Marcus clearly had no expectation that anyone but himself would ever read it.”

“How do we categorize the Meditations? It is not a diary, at least in the conventional sense. The entries contain little or nothing related to Marcus’s day-to-day life: Few names, no dates and, with two exceptions, no places. It also lacks the sense of audience… It suggests not a mind recording new perceptions or experimenting with new arguments, but one obsessively repeating and reframing ideas long familiar but imperfectly absorbed… On this reading, the individual entries were composed not as a record of Marcus’s thoughts or to enlighten others, but for his own use, as a means of practicing and reinforcing his own philosophical convictions”[1].

This selfish philosophy for writing is beautiful. And the sheer incalculable positive impact that his genuine writing has had on billions of humans—and will have on billions more—is even more inspiring.

I have previously spoken about why I write. Primarily for myself, secondarily for my loved ones, and tertiarily for other smaller reasons. But it truly is mainly for me. I’ve even gone to the extreme length of turning down passive income I could be earning on this website by removing ads, sponsorships, and affiliate links.

This is because when money is involved, particularly with content creation, then it becomes almost impossible not to be influenced to post about certain topics and write a certain way for more clicks. That’s why all revenue-earning media companies have agendas, biases, motivations, and incentives. Removing money and other externalities from the equation is the only way to purify the content from practically all influences and what remains is genuine.

I do not expect my writing to be nearly as (accidentally) impactful as Marcus’s Meditations, nor do I want it to be. With everything I write, I am achieving my main goal which is to learn. And by putting it out there, I am permeating ideas and wisdom to my family, and to you who are reading this right now.

I’ve recently been on a bit of a hiatus because I was struggling to find topics to write about. Many of my ideas felt trifling, and not worth exploring. Meditations reminded me to write for myself, without expectations and inspired me to just simply write.

[1] Aurelius, M., & Hays, G. (2003). Meditations: A New Translation. Penguin Random House.