A slim undated hardback of an old English translation of the “meditations” of the emperor Marcus Aurelius came into my hands last week for a couple of pounds in a seaside second-hand bookshop. The long preface by the unnamed translator -who proves to be George Long, a 19th c. scholar – was a bit odd, but contained some definite gems such as the following:
A man’s greatness lies not in wealth and station, as the vulgar believe, not yet in his intellectual capacity, which is often associated with the meanest moral character, the most abject servility to those in high places and arrogance to the poor and lowly; but a man’s true greatness lies in the consciousness of an honest purpose in life, founded on a just estimate of himself and everything else, on frequent self-examination, and a steady obedience to the rule which he knows to be right, without troubling himself, as the emperor says he should not, about what others may think or say, or whether they do or do not do that which he thinks and says and does.
Is this not well said?
But it left me wondering, as I always do, how the often-translated thoughts of Marcus Aurelius in 12 books came down to us. A search for an edition proving fruitless, I eventually found a JSTOR article that enlightened me.
The manuscripts are:
A – Codex Vaticanus Graecus 1950, 14th century. This is the only complete text.
- T – A now lost manuscript (labelled P by Farquarson) used by Xylander for the edition princeps of Zurich, 1559. This too was complete, although Xylander describes it as mutilated.
- D – Cod. Darmstadtinus 1773, 14th century. This contains extracts from books 1-9. The text is very close to that found in A.
- M – Cod. Monacensis 323, 16th century. This contains short excerpts from books 2-4, and also 7.50.
- C – Excerpts in several manuscripts from books 1-4.20.
- W – Excerpts in several manuscripts; 4.33, and excerpts from books 4.33, 6, 7, 8, and 11.
- X – Excerpts in several manuscripts; 4.49 and excerpts from books 5-12.
- The ‘Folium Treverense’ containing 5.6.6-5.12.3.
- There are also quotations from books 2 and 4-12 in Bryennius, a 15th century Byzantine scholar, who presumably had access to a complete manuscript.
An edition is referred to as well – that of J. Dalfen, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus: Ad se ipsum libri XII, Teubner: Leipzig, 1979; 2nd revised ed. 1987. But of course this is not online. An earlier edition of I.H. Leopold, 1908, ought to be accessible online somewhere?