- The Inner Citadel. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius has sometimes been viewed as a Stoic "half-way to Platonism," so overawed by the brevity of human life within the infinite procession of eternity that he "almost lost faith in his own existence" (J. M. Rist). Hadot's book, however, in this excellent English translation (first published as La Citadelle Intérieure: Introduction aux "Pensées" de Marc Aurèle, Paris, 1992), argues not only that the Meditations are thoroughly Stoic in their doctrine, but that to call Marcus a Platonist (or a pessimist) is to misinterpret the techniques by which he seeks to live a Stoic life. For Hadot it is the teachings of the philosopher-slave Epictetus that explain the Meditations, and the bulk of the book is concerned with demonstrating that Marcus's writings are spiritual exercises by which the author seeks to instill in himself three basic Epictetan disciplines corresponding to the tripartite Stoic system of logic, physics, and ethics. Readers of Hadot's other works will already recognize his concern with the ancient conception of philosophy as a way of life . This study aims to show how Marcus's self-therapy relates to specific elements of Stoic doctrine and to redefine our understanding of the Meditations as a literary work.
The book begins by tracing Marcus's initiation into the philosophic life, with special emphasis on the role of statesman-philosopher Junius Rusticus, who introduced Marcus to the writings of his influential teacher, Epictetus. In Chapter Two Hadot approaches the text which we refer to as the Meditations and argues that they are better referred to as Marcus's "personal notes" (hypomnêmata): their characteristic features (discontinuity, repetition, self-address, and refined literary form) are due to their being the product of day-by-day exercises in which Marcus, focussed upon the definitiveness of the present moment, strove to keep the essential rules of life ever present in his mind. Marcus's constant repetition of familiar doctrine indicates that for him "the [End Page 116] essential thing was not to invent or to compose, but to influence himself and produce an effect upon himself" (244).
Hadot is at pains in Chapter Three, however, to reveal that these exercises derive from the "highly rigorous conceptual system" which he calls "the true key to the Meditations," namely, a set of three dogmas that require (a) the regulation of judgment to assent only to what is objectively true; (b) the restriction of the desires to that which is in accordance with universal Nature and Destiny; and (c) the disciplining of one's impulse toward action to be just and altruistic, in agreement with one's human nature. According to Hadot, this systematic distinction between the disciplines of judgement, desire, and impulse, and the three dogmas on which they depend, is "a doctrine which is peculiar to Epictetus and which is not found in Stoicism prior to him" (70). Marcus, then, in organizing his spiritual exercises around these three disciplines, "was working with pre-existing materials" (52). Thus Chapter Five is dedicated entirely to explaining how the practical disciplines of judgment, desire, and impulse to action, which Hadot argues correspond respectively to logic, physics, and ethics, operate within "the Stoicism of Epictetus."
There is a certain apparent tension generated by Hadot's argument concerning the Stoicism of Epictetus. Although he depicts him as a distinctive innovator, Hadot also states that Epictetus does not change the system of Zeno and Chrysippus but simply adds "color and tonality" (73)—a statement that allows him to classify both Epictetus and Marcus as authentic Stoics but thereby risks undermining his argument about Epictetus's distinctiveness. This real ambiguity could be explained by reference to the emphasis on originality in Stoicism, in which the embodiment of philosophy in each new Stoic establishes him as an independent authority. (As Seneca says to Lucilius, "Zeno said this. But what do you say?" Epistulae Morales 33.7.) Indeed Hadot illustrates how didactic procedures in particular were...