This book is a collection of fourteen short stories and nine poems. Rather than trying to write a condensed review judging the entire book by its cons...moreThis book is a collection of fourteen short stories and nine poems. Rather than trying to write a condensed review judging the entire book by its constituent parts, I instead jotted down my thoughts about each story individually. Hopefully this helps give a better idea of what this collection has to offer.
MS. Found in a Bottle -- What a terrible choice to start off the book. I know this story won Poe a $50 prize way back in the Wayback, but frankly I think it's lame, and I would personally never have chosen it to lead off this collection. I mean, maybe it was really awesome and edgy and fear-inspiring back when Poe wrote it, and I, as a jaded modern reader, simply don't have the capacity to appreciate it, but I just don't think it's very good. It's kind of pointless, it's a little absurd, and it's decidedly not scary, though it tries very hard to convince you that it is.
Morella -- This is a bit of an unsettling story, though I wonder if it's for the reasons Poe intended. I suppose to know that, we would first have to decide what he was really saying here. Is this just a story meant to prey on Victorian fears, about a woman who dies in childbirth and lays a curse on the husband who never returned her affections? Or is it a story about a sort of vampire; a woman who, in her dying moments, figures out how to transfer her consciousness, her soul, into the body of her infant daughter and, in essence, become her? Or perhaps the child was already dead, and by passing into the empty vessel, Morella enabled a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think maybe the possibilities are creepier to think about than the story itself was.
Ligeia -- I'm not entirely sure what happened here. Perhaps it's because I read this story while in a stupor caused by my monthly battle with parasomnia, but I just couldn't figure out whether Ligeia was some kind of vampire, or if this was a case of ghostly possession, or what. Maybe dude was just balls-out insane and hallucinating, I don't know. At any rate, I thought it was a stupid choice for this story to be placed directly after Morella, considering how similar the two stories are. I would really like to know who got paid to put this thing together, and whether I can have his (or her) job. I could do better than this, apparently, after four days of no sleep.
The Fall of the House of Incest: or, Don't Fuck Your Sister Because You'll Go Crazy and Die -- Yep. That's basically it. Typical Victorian fare about the joys of premature burial. While I wouldn't necessarily say it's still relevant--after all, by the time you get put in a tomb or a coffin these days, there is a 0% chance you're still alive--it is absolutely still horrifying to think about.
William Wilson -- Called it. I'm not sure if it's another possible example of my privileged modern viewpoint--I've seen all these tropes before--or if it's that Poe was, well, a hack. I've heard the accusation before, and I can kind of see why. Poe had a tendency to be a bit cliched, a little purple, but then, maybe it was just the time period. Maybe to him, modern writers would seem like a bunch of barely literate plebeians vomiting words onto paper or mashing violently at our keyboards. But at any rate, the story itself is decent. It's interesting to think about--a man dogged and tormented by his own conscience. And if a man could kill his own conscience, as if it were a separate entity from him, would he indeed die as well? After all, sociopaths exist, however unfortunately, and one of the hallmarks of sociopathy is lack of conscience. Perhaps the fate of Wilson is meant to be taken figuratively, as an indictment on the quality of life if one had no conscience. In that respect, could a person truly live? Food for thought.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue -- Oh hey, a murder mystery. I'm down with that. I really enjoyed this story, though perhaps much of that enjoyment was because it's one of the few where the answer is, as Tim Minchin would say, decidedly not magic. It's a little bit exposition-y, true, but I can deal with that. I'm a sucker for a good old-fashioned denouement of this variety--probably because I'm so very bad at them myself. I always wanted to write a murder mystery, or a detective novel, that sort of thing, but I just don't have the mind for it, alas. Apparently I'm more of a "several thousand words of introspective angst" sort of writer. Oy. At any rate, my only problem with this story is that I'm not sure whether it offers an accurate portrayal of orangutan behavior. I know that they do have amazing strength, and I know that they can become violent if agitated, like chimpanzees, one of which ripped a lady's face off here in Ohio a few years ago. (No, seriously. It ripped her face off.) However, I'm just not sure that an orangutan would do much of what Poe claimed his fictional orangutan did. Probably Poe had never even seen an orangutan, except perhaps in drawings, and I don't think he knew very much about them at all. But then again, neither do I, so--pot, kettle.
The Oval Portrait -- Probably the shortest of Poe's short stories, but effectively so. Is this a story about a man whose obsession spurs him to paint the life of his young bride into a portrait? Or is it a warning not to succumb to our obsessions and lose sight of what's truly important, lest we lose the things that are dearest to us? You decide.
The Masque of the Red Death -- Nero fiddled while Rome burned. The old saying always creeps into my head whenever I think of this story, about a prince and his courtiers who hold a great masked ball while the rest of the country sickens and dies of a mysterious plague. But where Nero was a blundering, ineffectual narcissist who didn't know, at least at first, that Rome was burning, Prince Prospero is far more sinister. He deliberately shuts himself up in the abbey with his lords and ladies, intending to wait out the terrible plague, and leaves his subjects to their own devices--meaning, of course, he leaves them to suffer and die. But you cannot hide from death. Even the rich and the privileged are not immune. Darkness and decay and the Red Death hold dominion over all.
The Pit and the Pendulum -- Is there anybody who doesn't know this story? Even people who have never read it know about it, and with good reason. This scenario is one that really sticks with you, as it must have stuck in the minds of generations of readers, until it became a part of the greater American consciousness, this idea of such prolonged horror, the maddening, interminable wait as the specter of a gruesome and seemingly inescapable death looms over you. Honestly, I don't know that anyone could keep their head in such a situation, especially not enough to devise and implement a plan like the one our anonymous narrator does. But somehow it works--the exigence makes your awareness of the gradual, unalterable decent of the pendulum that much sharper. About the very end of the story, however, I'm not so forgiving. I guess Mr. Poe never heard the phrase deus ex machina.
The Tell-Tale Heart -- Nothing is more terrifying than a madman who thinks he's sane. In this story, the narrator is so tormented by an old man's pale blue eye that he's driven to murder, yet the most chilling part of the story is his repeated insistence in his own sanity. Each example he gives, however, proves him more insane than the one before. In the end, it's nothing more or less than his own madness--the same madness that drove him to kill an innocent man--that causes his downfall.
The Black Cat -- In this tale, a formerly kind and sensitive man takes to drink and becomes a monster who mistreats his wife and his pets. When he lets his irrational anger get the better of him and lashes out at his once-beloved cat, a specter of the wronged animal proceeds to torment the narrator. But is it really his murdered pet seeking vengeance, or is it only his own conscience that drives him to madness and ruin?
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar -- Hypnotism can suspend the laws of nature, apparently. Good to know. I'll be sure to remember that when I'm creating my zombie army in a final push for world domination. In all seriousness, though, I think Poe really missed the boat on this one. He took what could have been a really interesting concept and reduced it to its lowest common denominator, intending only to horrify and, failing that, to gross out the reader, rather than exploring the truly chilling conundrum of such a scenario--was Valdemar truly caught in that mysterious moment between life and death, or was it only his physical body that was suspended, serving as a prison for an echo of the consciousness that once lived there, a ghost in the shell?
The Cask of Amontillado -- For me, the most chilling, most terrifying stories are not the ones about the supernatural, but rather the ones that highlight the very worst of humanity. As in this tale, wherein Montresor is so offended by some perceived slight from Fortunato that he leads the drunk and ailing man into the catacombs beneath his house and walls him up there. Montresor leaves Fortunato to languish and suffer and die, alone, in the dark, and not once does he demonstrate even a glimmer of doubt whether he has any right to condemn the man, nor does he seem, even for a moment, to consider whether anyone truly deserves such a horrible end, regardless of his trespasses. And how many people like that are out there, in the real world? The answer is what makes this one of Poe's most effective stories, in my opinion, because the truth is that, for every mature and rational person who realizes that they don't have the right to take the life of another human being, there is another person who honestly believes so strongly in their own supremacy, that their own sense of ego is so sacrosanct, that they feel no compunction about harming or killing someone in cold blood. In reality, madmen and cutthroats lurk around every corner, and that is far scarier than any story about ghosts or ghouls.
Hop-Frog -- Nobody tosses a dwarf! Am I the only one who thinks Poe intended this as a thinly-veiled allusion to people who mistreated their slaves? Hop-Frog and Trippetta are abducted from their homes, shipped off to a foreign country, and are under complete control of the king and at the mercy of his every whim. Sounds familiar. The king, despite being a "joker", is also a cruel tyrant who forces Hop-Frog to drink even though he knows how it affects the dwarf, and who abuses poor Trippetta when she dares beg the king to spare her friend. In the end, it's this last offense that invokes the wrath of Hop-Frog and leads to the gruesome demise of the king and his sycophantic ministers, but what is the message here? Don't be cruel to those under your dominion or else this may happen to you? Or, people who abuse those at their mercy will get what's coming to them in the end? Perhaps both.
The Poems -- I'm not generally much of a poetry person, to be honest, and when I do enjoy it, it tends to be of the post-modern variety. Or maybe that's post-post-modern. Or post-post-post--you know what? Basically, if your poem rhymes, I probably think it sucks. Let's just put it that way. So, needless to say, Poe's poems aren't really my cup of tea. However, For Annie is actually pretty good; it's a total creepfest, and I do recommend that you read that one. And then you should read Lenore, The Raven, Annabel Lee, and The Bells, if only because they're classics.(less)
Apparently, Queen Margot was originally published serially in several newspapers and magazines of the day, and I imagine that it was basically the 19t...moreApparently, Queen Margot was originally published serially in several newspapers and magazines of the day, and I imagine that it was basically the 19th century French equivalent of a soap opera. It certainly reads like one. But guess how many fucks I give? None! Not a single fuck.
Don't get me wrong--I'm really not the kind of girl who enjoys that sort of thing. Space operas, yes. Soap operas and generally similar things? Not so much. But come on, how can I not love this book? Courtly intrigues! Dastardly plots! Clandestine love affairs! Poisonings and assassinations and duels, oh my! Queen Margot is a fast-paced, high-spirited, romping adventure revolving around the 16th century French court.
Let's not kid ourselves, though. Obviously dear Alexandre took liberties with history and blurred the line between fact and fiction. But again, the number of fucks I give is holding steady at zero. After all, I didn't snatch this book off the shelf at the library because I thought it would be a comprehensive and historically accurate account of the life and times of Marguerite de Valois. If that was what I wanted, I'm sure there's no shortage of texts available to me. But no, I chose this book because it combines so many of my favorite things: history, batshit royals, intrigue, daring heroics, and swashbuckling adventure. (Oh, and a pretty epic bromance, but I didn't know that until later. Bonus!*) I figured it would keep me entertained during the long hours at the hideously boring and uneventful job I was working at the time, and I was not disappointed.
So, here's the thing: if you like historical fiction, you'll probably like this book. And if you like The Three Musketeers and other similar type stories, then you'll probably especially like this book. Just don't go into it expecting it to be anything other than what it is. Queen Margot is a fun, ridiculous, over-the-top adventure story that doesn't take itself too seriously, and if you can appreciate it as such, then you will, I hope, enjoy reading it as much as I did.
*Your mileage may vary. As another reviewer points out, there is a pretty squicktastic moment toward the end.(less)
I agree with the reviewer who said this was the worst ending ever. Not only does it have the worst ending, but the book itself is the worst ending to...moreI agree with the reviewer who said this was the worst ending ever. Not only does it have the worst ending, but the book itself is the worst ending to any series that I have ever read. Period.
Seriously, Mr. Lewis, what the hell is this though? Aside from the phenomenally craptacular ending--where we're supposed to believe that the very best thing that could possibly happen is for everybody to die--this book was just a whole lot of suck. It seemed to have no point whatsoever, except that Lewis decided he was done writing Narnia stories, and instead of leaving it open for fans to imagine what adventures might've come after, he figured he could cram some more Christian allegory in there and thoroughly traumatize his young audience by killing off every single character they'd come to love. Except Susan, because we shun the nonbeliever, shuuuunnnn.
Whatever. It was completely unnecessary, and the "but it's okay because they went to heaven" ending made me roll my eyes so hard they were in danger of falling out, but it didn't piss me off half so much as the convoluted End Times theme. What the fuck? There was absolutely no rhyme or reason to it whatsoever, at least that I could pinpoint. Basically some jerkass old ape (I see what you did there, Mr. Lewis) dresses up this gullible ass in a lion skin and starts ordering the Narnians around as the mouthpiece of Aslan, so instead of punishing Shift for his wickedness, Aslan DESTROYS THE WORLD. Because that's not overreacting or anything. Apparently Lewis ascribed to the angry, vengeful God of the old testament. I mean, wow. Was it because the Narnians were so easily deceived by the false Aslan and their love for him turned to fear and revulsion? Because it seems to me to be largely a result of Aslan's long absence, combined with the apparent inherent stupidity of Narnians, that made them susceptible to the lies of Shift and the Calormenes, which Aslan in his omniscience would've known would happen if he stayed away. So, in other words, he punished THE ENTIRE WORLD for something that he could've prevented and chose not to. Nice. But maybe I just don't get it, wicked atheist that I am.
Anyway. Unless you're a hardcore fan of the Narnia series, or OCD like me, I recommend skipping this one. It's not worth your time.(less)
Green Eggs and Ham is one of the best children's books ever. Possibly I am biased, because it was my favorite for a lot of years and I made my mother...moreGreen Eggs and Ham is one of the best children's books ever. Possibly I am biased, because it was my favorite for a lot of years and I made my mother read it to me over and over and over and over and over, ad nauseam, for which she has probably never forgiven me, considering I could read on my own by the time I was 3. But, at any rate, I still maintain that anyone between the ages of zygote and dead should be able to enjoy this wonderful classic work of children's literature, and if they can't, then that person is clearly not a person but has in fact been replaced by an alien doppleganger incapable of joy and wonder.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen owned a thesaurus.
I know I'm supposed to love this book, both as a woman and as someone who's...moreIt is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen owned a thesaurus.
I know I'm supposed to love this book, both as a woman and as someone who's had a lifelong love affair with classic works of literature, but honestly, I found it only just tolerable enough to keep reading to the end.
The language is extremely heavy, at times even daunting, due to Ms. Austen's apparent neurotic compulsion to use only four or five syllable words wherever possible. It's not that I'm afraid or unappreciative of big fancy words, but sometimes? Simple is better. Writing isn't about cramming as many big words as you can into your story; there is ease of reading too, a lyricism and flow to your narrative to keep in mind. That's why it's ART, damn it. Furthermore, I find it extremely hard to believe that people actually talked like that. The 18th century has never been a particular area of interest for me, so for all I know, they did. I'm just saying, the idea makes me a bit dubious, and also makes my head hurt to imagine.
Aside from that, Pride & Prejudice didn't even really get interesting until Kitty [ETA: It was Lydia. Oops. Whatever, they're basically the same character] ran off with what's-his-face. Wickham, I think. She should've stayed gone, if you ask me. I would kill my sister, if she acted like that. In fact, I'd kill her if she acted like any of the characters in this book. What a bunch of vain, self-obsessed, self-important ninnies, all preoccupied with wealth and prestige and the mindless indulgences of the rich and idle. Even Elizabeth isn't exempt, though we're apparently just supposed to love her to pieces, or something, and we're supposed to believe that Mr. Darcy does too, despite the fact that she spends the first two-thirds of the book doing everything in her power to mortally offend him and snub him and make him dislike her. She doesn't return his affections until around the last third of the book, yet we're led to believe, through Eliza's own convictions, that she and Mr. Darcy will be the paragon of marital bliss. Oh, please.
Despite these complaints, however, I think the book is actually rather interesting as a window into the social conventions of the time. There are probably better books for that, I admit, but if you want a little fiction (and maybe a supposed love story) to go with your history, and if you can hack Austen's blatant thesaurus abuse, it's worth a read.(less)
Finally, a proper novel! Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Sixth time's the charm, eh?
The Silver Chair is my favorite out of all the Narnia books. Not only does i...moreFinally, a proper novel! Thank you, Mr. Lewis. Sixth time's the charm, eh?
The Silver Chair is my favorite out of all the Narnia books. Not only does it have all the usual elements of this wonderful, rich fantasy world Lewis created, but the characters are better, at least in my opinion, the story feels less contrived, and it has the added benefit of being a proper novel. That is to say, it has: a) an actual plot; b) an identifiable climactic point; and c) a clear, concise denouement. For once, I wasn't left scratching my head at the end and going, "What the hell was the point of that?"
In this book, we're reunited with Eustace, the Pevensies' cousin, who has turned into an all right guy since we first met him in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Pity how he's kind of bland now that he's not an insufferable git anymore. Fortunately, it wasn't Eustace, but his schoolmate Jill who really made the book for me. Jill is a modern sort of girl; she has new age hippie parents who send her to a new age hippie school, and though Mr. Lewis obviously didn't seem to think much of it, I rather think it did her some good. Unlike the Pevensie girls, who had a tendency to be ninnies and were very much girls of their time, Jill is a pretty level-headed kid, and neither expects nor receives any particularly special treatment on account of being a girl. She's a real, honest-to-god herione, who takes a--if not the--central role in the proceedings, rather than just sort of standing around observing while the boys do all the important stuff. Girl protagonists, for the win! I love it.
Also, I feel it's worth mentioning that Jill using the sort of behaviors, if a bit exaggerated, that annoyed me about Lucy and Susan to trick the giants of Harfang, and with no small amount of disgust, amused me greatly. Maybe Lewis finally got the memo that post-war girls were a different breed.
But even though I rather adored Jill, I think my favorite character--not just from this book, but out of the whole series--has to be Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle. God, what a character! In my opinion, he has the most personality of any of Lewis's other characters. I love his upbeat sort of persistent doom and gloom, though that would seem to be an oxymoron, and his bravery and resolve despite his bleak, pessimistic outlook on life. I also loved that he was the only one who kept his head and saved the day through a heroic and selfless act when the witch was trying to enchant them. And I really hope we get to see him again in The Last Battle.
The other thing I really enjoyed about The Silver Chair is that it's a Quest story. I mean, who doesn't like a good Quest story? If there's a story where so-and-so goes on a long, harrowing journey to complete a difficult and dangerous task, I am all about it. The only thing I didn't particularly like was that the journey itself didn't last long enough for my tastes, and the final conflict and resolution were a little too easy, but since it's a children's book, I'm willing to handwave those points.
Definitely worth a read if you're into fantasy. And overall, if you were going to read just one of the Narnia books, I would recommend this one.(less)
Hey, did you get enough Christian allegory in the first four books? Are you sure? Are you really sure? Well, here, have some more anyway.
Basically, as...moreHey, did you get enough Christian allegory in the first four books? Are you sure? Are you really sure? Well, here, have some more anyway.
Basically, as far as I can tell, Dawn Treader is Lewis's vehicle for introducing this kid Eustace, who's kind of a dick. Until he finds Aslan. (And yes, I totally mean that in the "finding Jesus" sense, because duh.) As with most stories of this kind, Eustace starts out unlikable to the point of absurdity and pretty much hates everyone around him, and doesn't find the Way and the Light until he runs into trouble and needs some help. Naturally. Because why bother with religion unless it can do something for you, right? Nice message you guys are sending there. But anyway, after that Eustace realizes what a jerk he's been and magically stops sucking as a person, the moral of the story being that Jesus Makes Everything Better! Or something. I guess. Whatever.
Aside from that, I'm not entirely sure what the hell this book was supposed to be about. Eustace, Lucy and Edmund, and Caspian all embark on this long, drawn-out adventure to find the seven lost Lords, but what exactly is the freaking point? Seriously. I kept expecting them to find out something important, maybe something that the Lords learned during their exile, or for something really interesting to happen once they'd found all seven. But no. The Lords are all basically useless and do little more than serve as waypoints as the Dawn Treader sails farther east toward Aslan's country, WHERE NOTHING CONTINUES TO HAPPEN.
So here's the deal. Lewis was a pretty good storyteller, but not a very good writer, and what he did here was write a story with no clearly delineated plot, no climax, and no proper denouement just to tell one important thing (I'm assuming what Aslan tells Lucy and Edmund in the end is what was supposed to be the point of all this), which he could have done with less story and more plot. So unless you're a hardcore fan of the Narnia series, or you're OCD like me and absolutely have to read every book, then I say skip it.
P.S. If Eustace getting baptized by Aslan after he repented for his prickish ways wasn't anvilicious enough, Aslan showing up as a lamb in the final scene really drives it home. Thank you, Mr. Lewis, we totally would've missed your amazingly subtle point if you hadn't bludgeoned us half to death with it.(less)
For a book entitled Prince Caspian, I would've liked for more of the story to actually have been about Caspian, rather than the Pevensies. I feel like...moreFor a book entitled Prince Caspian, I would've liked for more of the story to actually have been about Caspian, rather than the Pevensies. I feel like Lewis could've contrived a better way of bringing the children into the story that didn't involve taking up about a third of the book with their journey from the ruins to Aslan's How. It felt largely unnecessary to me, except as a vehicle for Important Religious Message #2, and I would've much preferred if Lewis had devoted more of the narrative instead to elaborating on the fight between Caspian and Miraz, which was pretty much the entire point of the book in the first place.
Also, I still really hate third person omniscient. Who ever thought this was a good idea? Seriously.
But since this is, after all, a children's book, I can't judge it too harshly. I doubt its target audience is going to be concerned with its literary shortcomings; all kids are going to care about is whether it's fun to read. And it is. Prince Caspian is another fast, fun little adventure in the Narnia series, with a lot of interesting new characters to meet, some suspense, some intrigue, a couple of fight scenes that would probably be exciting to the younger reader, and a few really good messages for kids, even if they are buried beneath a lot of anvilicious religious parallels.(less)
I liked this book better than its predecessor, largely because it felt like more of a proper story than, "A girl goes through a wardrobe to a magical...moreI liked this book better than its predecessor, largely because it felt like more of a proper story than, "A girl goes through a wardrobe to a magical land, and here, have some Christian allegory. And how about a bit more Christian allegory, with a side of Christian allegory, topped with Christian allegory?" Aslan is still Jesus, obviously, but he only shows up toward the end of the book, so you don't get overwhelmed by the religious message.
The rest of the book is a fun, fast-paced little adventure with interesting characters to meet and places to see. It sometimes requires a suspension of disbelief, and also suffers throughout from POV issues (I usually loathe third person omniscient, which reads like exactly what it is: a spastic writer with the neurotic compulsion to tell the story from every single character's perspective), but since this is a children's book, rather than something really intended for the more discerning adult, I'm willing to overlook that. Mostly.(less)
I didn't enjoy this book quite as much I'd thought I would. The plays weren't exactly bad, but neither were they what I expected of classic literature...moreI didn't enjoy this book quite as much I'd thought I would. The plays weren't exactly bad, but neither were they what I expected of classic literature that won awards and whatnot way back in the Wayback, which leads me to wonder whether this might not be one of the better translations. Mr. Roche certainly seems to think himself extremely clever (judging by the lengthy self-masturbatory introduction explaining his own personal method of translation--about which I care not at all--and the massive amount of swotty little footnotes, most of which I could have done without), but I beg to differ, and it's unfortunate that his is the first translation I happened to read because I doubt I'll take the time to read a different one.
All else aside, the plays themselves are rather interesting and somewhat educational, insofar as lending insight into the lives and culture of the ancient Greeks, and I would certainly recommend them to my fellow nerds. I particularly recommend Plutus, which is not only the best of the four, but is also an important piece of literature as being among the first generation of New Comedy. I just don't recommend Roche's particular translation.(less)
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is not your typical book on philosophy. It does not contain carefully constructed arguments establishing or support...moreThe Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is not your typical book on philosophy. It does not contain carefully constructed arguments establishing or supporting a particular school of thought, as you might expect, but rather the reflections of a man who was ruler of arguably the greatest empire in antiquity. These are thoughts on the qualities and virtues Marcus held in esteem, on his personal beliefs and his views on the world around him, sometimes religious, sometimes social, and his exhortations to himself to become a better person.
"Whatever anyone does or says, I must be a good man. It is as if an emerald, or gold or purple, were always saying: 'Whatever anyone does or says, I must be an emerald and keep my own colour'."
The original title of the Meditations was, in Greek*, something like: To Himself. Because, in actuality, these writings by Marcus Aurelius were never intended by him for public consumption, but were instead the ponderings and reminders and admonitions from Marcus to Marcus. A rather sophisticated diary, more or less. Therefore, there is a lot of repetition to be found here. Marcus knew his own shortcomings and was continually exhorting himself against anger, to be kind to others, to be content with the life Fate had given him to, and so on. But in between these constant reminders, and the rather tedious recitation of Marcus's** personal beliefs about life, death, and Providence, are a few gems worth digging to find.
"All things of the body stream away like a river, all things of the mind are dreams and delusion; life is warfare, and a visit in a strange land; the only lasting fame is oblivion."
Some of these reflections and philosophical tidbits resonated very strongly with me, as I'm sure they will with others, or at least spark a few deep thoughts and introspection. But I think perhaps the Meditations will be more compatible on the whole with people who share Marcus's particular brand of spirituality--not necessarily the paganism, of course, since monotheism is all the rage these days, but the general shape of his belief structure that has survived the ages. Personally, as an atheist, there was much in this book I simply could not get behind. For example, Marcus believed very strongly in Providence; the gods will provide. He believed they take an active interest in our lives, and that they have spun out the threads of our Fate and determined how they weave into the larger Whole. Those are nice thoughts, I suppose, but not ones I happen to share.
Nor do I share the belief that, because the gods have preordained the course of our lives, we should therefore be content with our lot, regardless, and not complain or wish it were otherwise. That particular philosophy is all well and good, of course, if you're at the top of the hierarchy, but I assure you that the view from below is not so good. When you're at the bottom, it's difficult to accept the men were born for each other mentality, to simply be happy with your shitty life, and not wish it were better or want to change it. Which is exactly why philosophies of this sort were invented in the first place, naturally; because if it's personally beneficial to you to perpetuate a desperately unequal class system, you don't want the lowly wretches beneath you thinking they could ever be anything besides proletarian drudges.
But perhaps I should stop there before this deteriorates into a disgruntled sociopolitical diatribe that has little to do with philosophy. My point is: I guess I'm just not much of a Stoic. I'm more of an Epicurus than an Epictetus, myself, and I think people who find their views aligned more with the latter will enjoy the Meditations more than I did.
That said, however, regardless of your personal beliefs, I feel this book is definitely worth a read for the historical context alone. I mean, how often do we really get insight into the private thoughts of a Roman emperor? (I mean, the really private thoughts, since he never meant anyone else to read these.) And not even one of the batshit Caesars, either, but one of the best loved, who earned the title of "philosopher king" in his lifetime. Surely his Meditations are worth a few hours of your time? If you're a fast reader, and if you skip or skim the notes, you can probably finish this in an afternoon, and perhaps you'll walk away with some food for thought.
*Yes, he wrote his meditations in Greek; I am not confusing my apples with my Romans.
**Marcus's. Ess-apostrophe-ess. Can we just discuss for a moment how concerned I am with the prevalence of Marcus' in the notes of my edition? I'm under the impression that Martin Hammond is from England, though I may be wrong, and maybe grammar is different in the UK, I don't know. But where I come from, since we are only discussing one Marcus, the possessive should be Marcus's. Only if there were two or more Marcuses would the possessive be Marcus'. Honestly. These academics need to learn how to use Google. Type "plural possessive" into search bar, get 1.5 million results in 0.11 seconds. NOT THAT DIFFICULT. (technologicallychallengedduck.png)(less)