Three Modern Translations of Marcus Aurelius

What’s the Best Version of The Meditations to Read First?

What’s the Best Version of The Meditations to Read First?

If thou would’st master care and pain,
Unfold this book and read and read again
Its blessed leaves, whereby thou soon shalt see
The past, the present, and the days to be
With opened eyes; and all delight, all grief,
Shall be like smoke, as empty and as brief.

This epigram is found at the end of a Vatican manuscript of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. It captures the perennial appeal of the book, which is that it offers a way to “master care and pain” by providing philosophical insights that promise to elevate our minds above worldly concerns, both the things we crave and those we fear.

One of the questions people ask me most often is: “Which edition of The Meditations would it be best for me to read first?” There are many translations of Marcus Aurelius available. Here are three that I would recommend to most readers.

Gregory Hays

ISBN: 9780812968255. Meditations: A New Translation (2003) by Gregory Hays is published by Modern Library, a division of Random House. It’s available in paperback and ebook formats. (Goodreads)

This is the most popular modern translation of The Meditations. It’s concise but very engaging and accessible, written in a style well-suited to lay readers.

Robin Hard

ISBN: 0199573204. Meditations: With Selected Correspondence (2011) is by Robin Hard, with an introduction and commentary by Christopher Gill, professor emeritus of ancient thought at the University of Exeter, and is published by Oxford University Press. It’s available in paperback and ebook formats. (Goodreads)

This is arguably a more literal and authoritative translation, with useful notes, more suited perhaps to readers who wish to make a closer study of the text. It also contains valuable excerpts from the correspondence between Marcus and his rhetoric tutor Marcus Cornelius Fronto.

George Long

ISBN: 0857088467. Meditations: The Philosophy Classic (2019) is my own modernized version of the classic George Long translation, published by Capstone Classics, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons. It’s available as a deluxe hardback edition. This is the only hardback of the three. However, I believe that, like other books in this series, it will eventually be available also in paperback, audiobook, and ebook versions. (Goodreads)

I was commissioned to update the much-loved translation first published by English classical scholar George Long in 1862, and turn it into plain English based on a close reading of the original Greek and comparison with more recent translations. It also includes my introductory essay on the life of Marcus Aurelius and the basic principles of his Stoic philosophy.

About Audiobooks

Several people have asked me about audiobook versions of The Meditations. It’s tricky because there as far as I’m aware there are no audiobook versions available of the Hard or Hays translations, although there may eventually by one for my version of the Long translation. There are versions of The Meditations for sale on Audible which don’t specify the translator. I’m guessing they’re all based on old public domain translations, probably Long’s in most cases. There are also paraphrases of The Meditations, such as this recent one recorded by Shane Stott called Meditations Made Simple.

If you’re interested in learning more about the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, there are several good books on the subject. Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is a classic. You may also enjoy my own How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius (2019). Happy reading!

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