Marcus Aurelius, by Matthew Arnold

I read somewhere (now lost) that the Victorian writer and critic Matthew Arnold was responsible for bringing Marcus Aurelius to a broader, modern audience.

Here’s Arnold’s essay, originally published in The Victoria Magazine in 1863, and here republished by the University of Adelaide.

For the impatient, the real discussion starts at paragraph 9:

“[Aurelius] is perhaps the most beautiful figure in history. He is one of those consoling and hope-inspiring marks, which stand forever to remind our weak and easily discouraged race how high human goodness and perseverance have once been carried, and may be carried again. The interest of mankind is peculiarly attracted by examples of signal goodness in high places; for that testimony to the worth of goodness is the most striking which is borne by those to whom all the means of pleasure and self-indulgence lay open, by those who had at their command the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. Marcus Aurelius was the ruler of the grandest of empires; and he was one of the best of men.”

Arnold quotes heavily from the 1862 translation by George Long. For a contemporary eye, the translation is rather full of thous, thees and seests.

My own copy is from the wonderful Penguin Great Ideas series (volume 2 of the series) and is a 1964 translation by Maxwell Staniforth. I’m on my second copy and it is both accessible to read and compact enough to be portable.

However, I rather like the look of this new (2006) translation by Martin Hammond (and sampled via Amazon’s Look Inside). The language seems more direct.

Translations are important. Unavoidably, in a translation you see through other eyes.That might be good or bad, but it’s never neutral. Often you don’t realise unless you compare two versions directly.



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