Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
BREDENKAMP, Francois. Some philological remarks on the provenance, nature and genre of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus' Meditations. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2008, vol.48, n.2, pp.204-216. ISSN 2224-7912.
Following the recent appearance (2007) of the author's (literary) translation into Afrikaans of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus 'Meditations (Meditasies van Marcus Aurelius Antoninus 2007]), this article reviews some philological dimensions of the work, especially for readers approaching that translation from various disciplinary angles and who may be unversed in Greek. The provenance and transmission of the text is traced, from its speculated possible origins as Marcus' personal diaries, first entered on wax-tablets during the Roman campaigns in Germania and kept in private circulation after the emperor's death, through the scant references to it, first by Themistios (200 years later), and then by bishop Arethas and the Suidas-lexicon in the 10'h century AD. While the work was apparently read widely in the Byzantine Empire, the editio princeps was only published in the Renaissance by Andreas Gesner in Switzerland in 1559. The textual tradition of the work runs back onto two variant manuscripts, the Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1950 (in the Apostolic Library of the Vatican) and the Toxites-manuscript, now lost through fire, on which the Gesner-edition was based. The work presented its first interpreters with many problems because of the stylistic dissonances displayed by the introductory first book with the remaining eleven books of the work, the very few geographic references encountered in it and the apparent incoherence of the thoughts presented in the work. Few commentators understood what Marcus actually was saying, although it was superficially clear that the work contained a number of2personal notes which were clearly meditative in nature. Various good editions of the work appeared in the twentieth century (Haynes, Trannoy and especially Farquharson), but it was only with the publication of Pierre Hadot's interpretation (La Citadelle interieure) in the eighties that a single, coherent principle of translation was suggested which explained the background and workings of Marcus' meditations. He identified and typified the Meditations as Stoic spiritual exercises derived from Epictetus, designed to transform the practitioner's inner discourse in a structured way. The Meditations in fact suggests three essential or disciplinary rules, embodied in three disciplinary activities, viz. that of rational decision-taking, of human desire and of impulse; the rules pertain to the three domains of individual capacity for decision-taking, Universal Nature and human nature. The exercises were calculated to influence the demeanour of the practitioner, always striving to renew him in the face of great personal challenges, especially that of death. The Meditations clearly formed an askesis - a self-discipline by the virtuous and good person. It posed universally valid values and norms to regulate practical conduct. Through the daily, and routinely, repeated dogmata (values, norms) one's inner intentions to do the good are affirmed and entrenched. By turning inwards, the practitioner regularly renews himself spiritually and is able to face life's challenges. Robert Newman has pointed out (ANRW) that the meditatio was characteristic of the Stoa, and that it became the most important ethical tool to heal the individual human spirit in the early Empire. The meditation was highly structured and practised on a routine basis by the use of standard phrases and images in a standard method. Thus Marcus' meditations summon the practitioner to exercise by way of the imperatives introducing so many of his aphoristic sententiae. The call is ever to impress the right norms on one's hegemonikon, the inner guiding rational spirit, to integrate with it in the ablility to guide one's conduct. Meditation was considered essential for the preservation of ethical integrity and for ignoring the non-essential, the externalia. Marcus' meditations have been characterised as 'free meditations' rather than repetititive and rigid 'question-and-answer'-sessions. Newman, in fact, distinguishes four basic types of meditations: short aphorisms containing sententiae; sententiae introduced by imperatives exhorting to a better life; freely composed meditations consisting of summaries of longer meditations, and, fourthly, long meditations including an exhortation containing a number of examples of such a meditation. Omnipresent in the Meditations is the matter of Marcus' own perceived looming death. In fact, his preoccupation with his own pain and suffering not only betrays a new (second century) form of cultural expression of the subjectivity of the human persona, but also Marcus' complete conversion to Stoicism (Judith Perkins).
Keywords : Marcus Aurelius; Mediations; Ancient Philosophy; Stoicism; Late Stoa; Textual transmission; Meditations; Genre of the Meditations; ascetics; death; development of persona.