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The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

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The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius are treasured today - as they have been over the centuries - as an inexhaustible source of wisdom. And as one of the three most important expressions of Stoicism, this is an essential text for everyone interested in ancient religion and philosophy. Yet the clarity and ease of the work's style are deceptive. Pierre Hadot, eminent historian of ancient thought, uncovers new levels of meaning and expands our understanding of its underlying philosophy.

Written by the Roman emperor for his own private guidance and self-admonition, the Meditations set forth principles for living a good and just life. Hadot probes Marcus Aurelius's guidelines and convictions and discerns the hitherto unperceived conceptual system that grounds them. Abundantly quoting the Meditations to illustrate his analysis, the author allows Marcus Aurelius to speak directly to the reader. And Hadot unfolds for us the philosophical context of the Meditations, commenting on the philosophers Marcus Aurelius read and giving special attention to the teachings of Epictetus, whose disciple he was.

The soul, the guiding principle within us, is in Marcus Aurelius's Stoic philosophy an inviolable stronghold of freedom, the "inner citadel." This spirited and engaging study of his thought offers a fresh picture of the fascinating philosopher-emperor, a fuller understanding of the tradition and doctrines of Stoicism, and rich insight on the culture of the Roman empire in the second century. Pierre Hadot has been working on Marcus Aurelius for more than twenty years; in this book he distills his analysis and conclusions with extraordinary lucidity for the general reader.

351 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1992

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About the author

Pierre Hadot

44 books231 followers
Pierre Hadot (né à Paris, le 21 février 1922 - mort à Orsay, le 25 avril 2010) est un philosophe, historien et philologue français, spécialiste de l'antiquité, profond connaisseur de la période hellénistique et en particulier du néoplatonisme et de Plotin. Pierre Hadot est l'auteur d'une œuvre développée notamment autour de la notion d'exercice spirituel et de philosophie comme manière de vivre.

Spécialiste de Plotin et du stoïcisme, en particulier de Marc-Aurèle, il est un de ceux qui ont accompagné le retour à la philosophie antique, considérée comme pratique, manière de vivre et exercice spirituel. Ses livres, très agréables à lire et d'une très grande érudition, manifestent constamment un rapport avec l'existence, l'expérience, voire la poésie, la littérature et le mysticisme.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 80 reviews
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68k followers
December 23, 2020
Note to Self: Don’t Be a Dick

I find a comparison of the conversion experience of Marcus Aurelius with those of St. Paul and St. Augustine irresistible. Nothing shows more plainly the effect of Christianity on Western culture. More specifically, Christianity created a cult of language which the world has been trying to overcome ever since. Marcus Aurelius has left a legacy in his Meditations of what the world is like without that cult.

Saul of Tarsus was knocked from his horse, spent several years in meditation, presumably among followers of Jesus, emerged as Paul, and then came up with the startling idea of faith, a religious category unknown among Greeks, Romans, Jews or any other religion practised among human beings. This faith required accepting the story he told about Jesus as incontrovertibly true (this was minimal; the gospels had not yet been written and he had no first hand knowledge of Jesus). The practical implication of Paul’s idea of faith was, and remains, the establishment of a language superior to human intellect to which intellect must submit.

The experience of Augustine of Hippo is less dramatic but has an underlying similarity to that of Paul. Augustine during a period of acute psychic distress hears a child's voice telling him to "take this and read it.” This is in response to his recognition, probably already inspired by Paul, that his life had become a habit he was unable to break. So he reads in Paul’s letter to the Romans to “behave decently.” But this can be achieved according to Paul only by “clothing yourself in the Lord Jesus Christ,” that is by unquestioning belief in Paul’s story about Jesus.

Marcus Aurelius also had a conversion experience in his mid-20’s, quite possibly at about the same age as Paul and Augustine. By tradition, this experience was provoked, as with Augustine, by the reading of a letter. Crucially, however, there was no voice urging him to do so. He already was an avid reader and had what we would call today a spiritual director in the Stoic philosopher Junius Rusticus. The content of the letter by a Stoic philosopher dead more than 400 years concerned fine points of the law. Yet it had a profound effect on Marcus, causing a complete upheaval in his life. But exactly opposite to that of Paul and Augustine.

Instead of adopting an attitude of anything resembling faith, Marcus suddenly relativises everything he has learned, that is to say, all the language he has assimilated about life principles, philosophical doctrines, and spiritual methods. He is abruptly and decisively wary of language. He makes this clear to his mentor as he reports his intentions:
“To have had some idea of the need I had to straighten out my moral condition, and to take care of it.
That I did not let myself be dragged into sophistical ambition, or to compose treatises on philosophical theorems, to declaim fine exhortatory speeches, or, finally, to try to strike my audience's imagination by parading myself ostentatiously as a man who practices philosophical exercises, or is generous to a fault.
To have given up rhetoric, poetry, and refined expressions. Not to walk around in a toga while I'm home, and not to let myself go in such matters.
To write letters simply, just like the letter he himself wrote to my mother from Sinuessa.
To be disposed, with regard to those who are angry with you and offend you, in such a way as to be ready to respond to the first call, and to be reconciled as soon as they themselves wish to return to you.
To study texts with precision, without being content just to skim over them in a general, approximate way; and not to give my assent too quickly to smooth talkers.
To have been able to read the notes taken at the courses of Epictetus, which he lent to me from his own library.”

Clearly Marcus has come to a realisation that behaviour toward one’s fellow not knowledge of purported truths is the crucial core of ethics. Language of any kind whatsoever cannot substitute for the actual relationship one has with others. Actions not words are the substance of ethics; and ethical actions can only be achieved by acting. Even the genre of the Meditations reflects a suspicion of language. It is not a thesis, or a memoir, nor even a complete story, much less a gospel. The Meditations are ‘merely’ notes to himself, reminders. Much of the content is directly precisely toward the self-encouragement to act rather than think correctly. For example:
The best way to get even with them is not to resemble them (VI, 6).
Leave your books alone. Don't let yourself be distracted any longer; you can't allow yourself that any more (II, 2, 2).
Throw away your thirst for reading, so that when you die, you will not be grumbling, but will be in true serenity, thanking the gods from the bottom of your heart (II, 3, 3).

Here is the contradiction for Pauline faith. We have no word for it, but it represents an ethical attitude which is remarkably close to that of James the brother of Jesus and of Judaism in general. It is neither atheistic nor agnostic. But it is deeply human and humane. It typifies what ancient philosophy was about, namely how to act not how to think. Behaviour is what matters. One might use ideas to arrive at or explain correct behaviour but the ideas are always subsidiary to the behaviour. Pauline faith is fatal to such an ethic. The world of the second century was on a cusp and had no realisation of it. Very soon it would plunge into the ethical abyss of faith. We only have Marcus’s notes to himself to remind us what the world could have been like.
Profile Image for Timothy Kestrel.
Author 3 books12 followers
March 8, 2014
If my house was on fire and I had time to grab just one thing before I rushed out, it would be this book.
Profile Image for Christopher Porzenheim.
65 reviews46 followers
March 8, 2017
Has your life ever been changed by a book? The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius changed mine. Books that do this are necessarily rare. But even rarer than books that change your life are the books that change the way you understand life changing books. The Inner Citadel by Pierre Hadot is this rarest of book, it has fundamentally changed the way I understand the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius for the better.

If you want to better understand Marcus Aurelius, you want to read this book. Marcus’s stoic ‘collaborators,’ Epictetus and Seneca, show up in this book almost as frequently as Marcus. Hadot does not glibly summarize these philosophers views, he is interested in letting the ancients speak for themselves. Thus, almost every page is stuffed with quotes, analysis, quotes of analysis, and analysis of quotes. At times I felt buried under the sheer weight of Hadot’s quotes. But I was happily entombed. By providing the actual words of philosophers themselves, rather than the usual gloss of their views, Hadot does something rare in a modern work on ancient philosophy. Hadot makes philosophy, and Marcus Aurelius’s Stoicism in particular, accessible to the common reader.

Beware this book is long. But if you already interested in or love Marcus or Stoicism this book will be a great pleasure. A drink to sip over weeks and months, not for gulping. The way Marcus writes is as much his message as what he writes, and Hadot helps make clear why the Meditations is the way it is, what its influences were, and what makes it original. At the same time, Hadow shows how much debt Christianity and modern philosophy owe to Stoicism. Christianity, Hadot shows, was neither original nor unique in its belief in human rights or the value in loving one’s neighbor. Hadot even shows how Kant’s categorical imperative is nothing more than refurbished Stoicism. Reading the Inner Citadel is well worth your time if you have any interest in Stoicism, Marcus Aurelius, or the history of philosophy and religion in the West. There really is nothing new under the sun, but Hadot will help you see the old and new in clearer light.
Profile Image for Ryan Boissonneault.
185 reviews1,968 followers
March 16, 2020
If you were to pick up the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and read it without any kind of background or context, you’d probably come away with the feeling that the text is random, disorganized, and without structure. Since the Meditations were never intended for publication, Marcus didn’t go out of his way to explain the underlying principles he was reflecting on.

Despite appearances, however, the Meditations are, in fact, a cohesive set of philosophical exercises used to ensure adherence to a few basic Stoic principles. But this is not going to be apparent unless you have some familiarity with (1) the conception of philosophy in ancient times as “a way of life,” and (2) orthodox Stoic philosophy, especially as taught by Epictetus, who repeatedly advised his students to write about Stoic principles daily.

Pierre Hadot, having spent more than twenty years studying and translating the Meditations—in addition to studying ancient philosophy more broadly—shows that, throughout the Meditations, Marcus is simply reflecting on the “three rules of life” or disciplines of Stoicism developed by Epictetus. Once you learn these basic rules of life, the true value of the Meditations is made clear.

Throughout the Meditations, Marcus is reminding himself (1) to distinguish events from judgments, and that the true source of our freedom lies in our judgments alone (Rule #1: Discipline of Assent); (2) that we must accept with serenity that which we cannot control (Rule #2: Discipline of Desire); and (3) that our common human bond requires us to act in the service of others (Rule #3: Discipline of Action). Hadot shows that all entries in the Meditations are variations on these three themes, as developed by Epictetus.

Knowing this foundational theory in greater depth—through the unparalleled scholarship of Hadot—brings the Meditations into much sharper focus, making the Inner Citadel required reading whether you’ve already read the Meditations or not.

Some readers have commented that the material in Hadot’s book is dense, but this is necessarily so; if you really want to understand the practice of Stoicism (and Marcus’s approach), you have to put in the work to fully understand the foundational theory (which Marcus himself spent many years studying before writing the Meditations). And so, keeping in mind that Marcus dedicated his entire life to these ideas, don’t expect to fully understand them with minimal effort.

Profile Image for Massimo Pigliucci.
Author 56 books839 followers
September 2, 2022
An absolute must read for anyone interested in practical philosophy, philosophy as a way of life, and especially Stoicism. Although the book is about Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, in reality almost half of it is (rightly) devoted to the Stoic philosopher that most influenced Marcus: the slave-turned-teacher Epictetus. Hadot is an excellent guide for reading Marcus and understanding Epictetus. This book might very well change your life. For the better.
Profile Image for Andreea.
79 reviews80 followers
January 4, 2021
There's been a resurgence of interest in stoicism in the last few years. Many people I know have been reading either Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, or other books that attempted to popularize their thinking for the modern age. I've tried those books, but they left me wanting, largely because they're written by well-meaning people, but not historians or philosophers who can credibly place the work into a broader context.

The book is an excellent companion to Marcus' Meditations, going far beyond what he wrote, why, and how his writings came to be published and transmitted. Pierre Hadot loves his topic and has mastered it to the point where he can explain Marcus Aurelius' writings and Stoic thought to the modern reader without a degree in philosophy AND dismiss waves of historians' misinterpretations in one fell swoop. The intellectual shade-throwing had me laughing out loud at least once per chapter.

What I found most interesting was the notion that Meditations were a rigid thinking and writing experiment, with strict guidelines handed down to him and others by the school of thought subscribed to.

I admit I glossed over some parts that went into way more detail about competing stoic schools of thought than I was ready for while reading this over Christmas break. But I did find it helpful and rewarding to supplement the knowledge gained from the book with resources like the History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast, the Plato philosophy dictionary by Stanford, and even the bite-sized videos on philosophers from the School of Life on YouTube.
Profile Image for Ajay.
267 reviews16 followers
March 3, 2016
Aurelius' Meditations is one of my favorite works, I try to re-read it at the start of every year, this book added a layer to how I understand and think about the book. Recommended to those who find value in Meditations, and perhaps stoicism more generally (Hadot does extensively quote from Aurelius' work, so you might not need to have read it to benefit from this book.).
Profile Image for Lorinda.
134 reviews8 followers
May 20, 2018
I have not read The Meditations but I have learned much about Stoicism and the thought and aims of Marcus Aurelius by reading this book. And the book has stimulated me to learn more. Pierre Hadot's writing and the translation by Michael Chase are both clear and well-organized.

The book is full of abstract concepts with few, if any, concrete examples (even ones taken from life in the second century). Also, the tripartite structure of the philosophy is great the way it all hangs together and also encourages action to serve the human community. But what if the reader wants to argue with major tenets about the universe or other integral concepts? Does the whole thing fall apart? While the author discuss his position regarding some academic disputes, he does not argue basic philosophical points.

Profile Image for Jared Abbott.
147 reviews22 followers
February 2, 2019
This is such a wonderful book! I have a feeling this will be a book I read more than once.

Marcus Aurelius's Meditations are a classic, but Hadot has skillfully mined its depths, refuted its critics, and corrected common misconceptions in The Inner Citadel. He's done this so well, in fact, that I think it could be said that this is necessary reading to properly understand the Meditations.

His emphasis on practicing philosophy as a way of life, rather than a merely hypothetical, untested (perhaps untestable) system of thought, is a breath of fresh air.
Profile Image for Michael Baranowski.
385 reviews9 followers
February 9, 2019
Of the three major Stoic writers - Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius - I've always been an Epictetus guy. But Hadot's amazing book has cause me to, if not move Epictetus out of first place, certainly to elevate Marcus Aurelius. Erudite, engaging, and hugely informative - it's one of the first books I'd recommend to anyone with a serious interest in Stoicism.
Profile Image for Ross Cohen.
408 reviews11 followers
July 30, 2022
In "The Inner Citadel," Hadot reveals the system behind Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations," with clarity, sensitivity, and grace. He presents a fully-formed image of the world's most powerful man working on making himself a better man. Essential reading.
Profile Image for Mr_wormwood.
87 reviews8 followers
August 2, 2017
made an interesting point about the difference between Platonic and Stoic conceptions of reason. In short, Platonist's divide the soul into good and bad parts; reason is good, passion, impulse, everything irrational is bad. For Stoics, however, there is no division within the soul, rather a soul becomes bad, or deluded, because of the judgments it makes based on false understandings. I like this. it means there is no interminable battle between good and evil inside us, rather a plethora of different attempts to rationalize the world, some being superior to others
25 reviews42 followers
November 9, 2020
It is impossible to explain why this book is much more than 5 stars. It is nourishment for the soul. This book somehow helps you to feel calmer in the mind and more convinced of the actions that you need to take to lead a moral life. I am in no doubt, that this book will help me to be a better man. In the hardest moments of my life, it will be this that I turn to for help. When I am lost for words on how to help others, it will be this book I turn to.

Profile Image for Clem Paulsen.
88 reviews2 followers
July 19, 2019

I was looking for a general introduction, but there doesn't seem to be one -- if there is one, this isn't it These things are written by scholars and therefore, er, scholarly.

There was for me in the introductory 100 pages or so. If you're coming from a background in the subject, well good for you.

Still looking for my intro as the amateur I am.
Profile Image for Buck Wilde.
795 reviews39 followers
September 19, 2021
A must-read for anyone who wants to know what Pierre Hadot thought Marcus Aurelius was trying to say, overcomplicated in a way that only career academics can achieve. Honorable mention: anyone who studies Marcus Aurelius for a living and needs to know Pierre Hadot's guesses at what philosophical texts inspired Marc's stoic philosophical musings in his private journal. (Spoiler: it's mostly Epictetus, which we knew already. Our man quoted him directly and mentioned him by name before Hadot got involved).

If you are not a historian trying to reconstruct Marcus Aurelius's life, or writing some kind of second-generation Inner Citadel on what you guess Pierre Hadot's literary and philosophical influences might have been, you'd be better served rereading Meditations. Horse's mouth, and all that.
Profile Image for LaViejaPiragua.
116 reviews14 followers
March 27, 2022
No lo he acabado y le he puesto solo tres estrellas. Y sin embargo, es un libro buenísimo. Todo un clásico sobre el estoicismo. Pero no es adecuado para un lector medio, sin especiales conocimientos de filosofía. Es demasiado erudito. Al menos para mí. Si eres de los míos, es decir, interesado en el pensamiento estoico y sus aplicaciones a la vida cotidiana, pero sin formación específica en filosofía, te recomiendo estos dos, ambos geniales para gente como tú y como yo:
El arte de la buena vida: Un camino hacia la alegría estoica
Cómo ser un estoico
Profile Image for Martin Brochhaus.
145 reviews137 followers
April 6, 2021
This book is ultra dense and ultra repetitive.

The beginning is quite interesting, putting Stoicism into the greater context of history.

Also, learning how utterly difficult it is to interpret such an old text, is quite interesting: Language barriers. Different customs, phrases, idioms. Lost passages. Mistakes from translations and re-prints.

However, after 50% I gave up and skimmed the pages all the way to the end. The author truly puts every little detail and passage under the microscope and blows it up into pages and pages of interpretations... it was too much for me and I lost interest. For students of philosophy, this is probably a good book to have. For normal people, almost unreadable. 3/5
Profile Image for Jay Nichols.
Author 6 books4 followers
June 24, 2017
In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius posits that nothing really matters because in a thousand years we'll be dead and forgotten. But Marcus Aurelius has been dead for more than a thousand years and he's remembered, so I don't know what to make of all of this.
12 reviews
March 7, 2023
I have read Meditations many times, across maybe three translations. This work helped my understanding of it immensly. It provides context such as the ins and outs of Stoic philosophy and how it has changed over time, traces the sources of where Marcus likely got some of his ideas and so forth.

If you have read Meditations previously, especially if you have read it more than once, this is an invaluable next step in understanding. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Domagoj Bodlaj.
93 reviews1 follower
October 27, 2019
Impressive examination of Meditations supported by historical, cultural and philosophical context. However, it was at times (necessarily) boring. This shouldn't and doesn't stand in the way of the Hadot's accomplishment which was to educate the reader on Marcus Aurelius and his journal
Profile Image for Michael Billig.
19 reviews
July 30, 2021
Okay, this book was not a favorite of mine this year. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I didn’t do enough research about what this book was really about. For what it’s worth, this is definitely not a bad book - it’s just not what I was expecting. I think if you’re new to Marcus Aurelius and the world of stoicism, this is a fantastic read. For me, the fact that Hadot keeps reiterating the same points found, and I think expressed better, in other works was frustrating. I was also disappointed by the lack of showing opposing sides to stoicism. He references writers like Nietzsche and Epicurus but never actually dives into their arguments against stoicism and the similarities to it. I found that extremely frustrating and had to force myself to pick this book up every time. I usually read around 30-50 pages per night and I had a hard time reaching 15. I just didn’t find myself engaged. Now, what I did enjoy was the historical context of the meditations and the evolution of Marcus Aurelius as a philosopher. This book also delves into the metaphysics of stoicism; which is something I am unfamiliar with. Throughout “Meditations” Marcus Aurelius uses two voices: one that’s his more human side and one that’s the side of philosophy and reason. This book introduced me to another voice: the one of Marcus the emperor. Essentially, where he has to convince himself to do that which is right in his position rather than just an individual. It’s a good read if you’re new to stoicism or about to read “Mediations”.
Profile Image for Maughn Gregory.
996 reviews29 followers
June 27, 2021
I was instructed, enlightened, and deeply moved by this magisterial analysis of The Meditations. One of the most important lessons I re-learned is that "we must ... recognize the genuine difficulty of moral life.... Here we confront the eternal problem of moral effort, and of work by oneself upon oneself" (289). "Stoic philosophers knew that they would never be sages, but nevertheless attempted gradually to progress toward this ideal" (304).
Profile Image for Jack Greenman.
3 reviews
May 24, 2019
A brilliant explication of the philosophical practices and world view of the Stoics - particularly Marcus Aurelius. If you are already fairly familiar with the basics of Stoicism and are ready to explore it's broader implications and applications, this is an essential text.
25 reviews1 follower
January 20, 2015
Boring. So much jargon and metaphysics. This is why nerds bore people at parties.
Profile Image for Henry Manampiring.
Author 8 books989 followers
October 30, 2018
This is serious exposition on Meditations by Pierre Hadot. It is quite heavy and recommended for those wanting to learn Marcus Aurelius' take on Stoicism beyond beginner's level.
Profile Image for Myridian.
388 reviews42 followers
September 8, 2020
So I must say that I am not the target audience for this book. I never took philosophy in school. I had never ready about stoicism before and this book was not the best first introduction to the concepts. Rather this book felt as though Hadot was writing within the context of a well developed dialogue that I am unfamiliar with.

What Hadot did well was present explanations of specific concepts within Aurelius’ writings. Many of these explanations put me in mind of Buddhist concepts that constitute the only Philosophy that I have really delved into. Some others continue to be confusing to me. For instance, the idea of universal Reason. Why is this also referred to as Zeus if, as Hadot argues, the Stoics were generally agnostic in their belief in gods? Also, the disdain of earthly pleasures while also encouraging individuals to take pleasure in the natural world.

I do wonder about two things with regards to the perspective taken in the book. First of all this is a translations. The language was generally beautiful and evocative, but I have to think that the writings of Aurelius are now a trans platoon of a translation of fragments from thousands of years ago. How accurate is that? How specific can the conclusions we draw about what was meant by the themes and the phrases actually be?

Also, I do detect a whiff of Christian ideas in Hadot’s way of approaching the Stoic ideas presented by Aurelius. Is this because Stoicism had an impact on Christian thinking and therefore there’s a predicting relationship? Or is this part of Hadot’s milieu just as Zeus and the Roman gods were part of Aurelius’?

I did appreciate learning something about Stoicism which is seeing a resurgence in popularity and this book did an excellent job of highlighting ideas within Stoicism. However, I do not feel motivated to adopt these attitudes or seek out additional writings.
Profile Image for Trevor.
26 reviews
August 20, 2022
The Meditations are as significant in our cultural heritage as the bible. In his conclusion Hadot says that despite this they do not contsiture a religous dogma. However, they are spiritual exercises. Like any exercise they should be performed regularly. Meditated upon even. The purpose of meditating on these exercises is to develop our inner selves. There are three domains of practice. The ethical domain, the physical domain and the logical domain (the inner citadel). By meditating in each domain we learn to discipline our thoughts in each one. Thus there are three disciplines and meditations can be understood as a repetitive exercise explorings each discipline.

Describe each discipline here.
The logical discipline- How we think and it's relationship to universal reason.
The physical discipline- What is beyond our control and amor fati
The ethical discipline- How to behave to others and why goodness is essential

There is a lot of context provided for each point which I found useful but might easily irritate others. In some ways it takes the approach Marcus took. Repetitively pointing things out in order to ensure that the wisdom gets in. This puts me in mind of the technique used in Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance where the author purposedly seemed to write in a style that required deep focus on very mundane things in order to develop awareness.

Hadot concludes by pointing out that these disciplines persist either through Eastern philosophy or in the simple idea of human rights.
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