If you've got the Penguin Classics edition, I'd strongly recommend reading the Notes section alongside the actual Meditations - they provide a lot of context (both historically and textually) for what Marcus is saying, and they can significantly help with understanding. It's a pain to flip back and forth in the book (I also suggest using two bookmarks), but I'd say it's worth it in the end.
Well, that isn’t Old English. It’s Modern English, just written with more complex syntax and elevated diction than most people commonly use.
I’d suggest you stick with it: your brain will get better at decoding those long sentences the more you read them. And as others have suggested, it also helps to have background knowledge of what he’s trying to say.
I also want to read this book. The original text was written in Greek, so any "Old English" words you encounter have to do with the specific translation that you bought. Maybe you could try a more recent translation?
The writing can be quite convoluted. I think what you need is honestly just to get better at English. It isn't my first language either, but to me the first fragment is just him talking about what Rusticus taught him, the second is him talking about seeking refuge in ones mind and how being a balanced person makes your inner self a place of resting, and the third is him talking about how to live according to ones nature by working and exerting oneself.
Check out r/stoicism and ask them about it. Those guys know whats their guy Marcus is talking about.
Some philosophers (cough, Nietzsche, cough) are intentionally opaque. Kierkegaard, I believe, once wrote something to the effect that he wrote in a difficult way because the only real way to understand what he was saying was if it involved some effort on the reader’s part. When it comes to Aurelius, I don’t think that is true - yes, it is his personal aphorisms, and sometimes he references unknown things. But mostly it’s universal, and just a question of translation.
Here are the same quotes from the Penguin Classics edition, translated by Martin Hammond:
> From Rusticus: to grasp the idea of wanting correction and treatment for my character; not to be diverted into a taste for rhetoric, so not writing up my speculations, delivering my own little moral sermons, or presenting a glorified picture of the ascetic or philanthropist; to keep clear of speechifying, versifying, and pretentious language; not to walk around at home in ceremonial dress, or do anything else like that; to write letters in an unaffected style, like his own letter written to my mother from Sinuessa; to be readily recalled to conciliation with those who have taken or given offence, just as soon as they themselves are willing to turn back; to read carefully, not satisfied with my own superficial thoughts or quick to accept the facile views of others; to have encountered the Discourses of Epictetus, to which he introduced me with his own copy.
> Men seek retreats for themselves - in the country, by the sea, in the hills - and you yourself are particularly prone to this yearning. But all this is quite unphilosophic, when it is open to you, at any time you want, to retreat into yourself. No retreat offers someone more quiet and relaxation that that into his own mind, especially if he can dip into thoughts there which put him at immediate and complete ease: and by ease I simply mean a well-ordered life. So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself. The doctrines you will visit there should be few and fundamental, sufficient at one meeting to wash away all your pain and send you back free of resentment at what you must rejoin.
> At break of day, when you are reluctant to get up, have this thought ready to mind: ‘I am getting up for a man’s work. Do I still then resent it, if I am going out to do what I was born for, the purpose for which I was brought into the world? Or was I created to wrap myself in blankets and keep warm?’ ‘But this is more pleasant.’ Were you then born for pleasure - all for feeling, not for action? Can you not see plants, birds, ants, spiders, bees all doing their own work, each helping in their own way to order the world? And then you do not want to do the work of a human being - you do not hurry to the demands of your own nature. ‘But one needs rest too.’ One does indeed: I agree. But nature has set limits to this too, just as it has to eating and drinking, and yet you go beyond these limits, beyond what you need. Not in your actions, though, not any longer: here you stay below your capability.
The meditations are basically a bunch of aphorisms. The book is not meant to explain things to the reader, it's just Aurelius' thoughts that he wrote down.
OP, it's going to be a learning process. From the translation you bought, it seems to be a mid century or early century academic version (I'm not sure there's any modern translation of it), and most tranlsation of greek literature is written in such a way (eg Plutarch's Lives of others, The Illiad - although the Illiad can be excused since it's meant to be an epic / poem, and not a prose)
Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I think what you're struggling with is the long conjoined sentences and keeping your train of thought while reading through it - which is a writing style that is common in old texts. Unlike modern texts where each sentence conveys a fragment, or a maximum of 1-2 facts / statements per sentence, old texts (I'm generalizing here) try to convey long string of facts that are interconnected and related within the same sentence that spans a paragraph. Break it down and segment the sentences, and I think you should be ok (at least I had an easier time).
eg the first para becomes -
I received the impression
that my character required improvement and discipline;
from him I learned
not to be led astray to sophistic emulation,
nor to writing on speculative matters,
nor to delivering little hortatory orations,
nor to showing myself off as a man who practises much discipline,
or does benevolent acts in order to make a display;
(to be a man that) abstain(s) from rhetoric, and poetry, and fine writing;
Once I could break the sentences down, I could understand the meaning behind the words - essentially it looks like Rusticus is demonstrating how to become someone Marcus desires to be, who's traits are (insert traits)
I hope this helped
English is not my native tongue but I don’t struggle with reading comprehension. Aurelius is actually a much lighter read for me than, say, later Joyce’s works or Shakespeare.
The language in this book is so economical and at the same time beautifully nimble.
Yes get the Gregory Hays translation. Much easier. Also follow the author [Ryan Holiday](https://ryanholiday.net/
). He healthily preaches stoicism and has written a few books regarding it. He also has a blog that shows you how to practically implement stoicism into your own life.
Medievalist here. This is not Old English.
This is Old English with translation courtesy of http://www.heorot.dk/beowulf-rede-text.html
Hwæt! Wé Gárdena / in géardagum
Listen! We --of the Spear-Danes / in the days of yore,
þéodcyninga / þrym gefrúnon·
of those clan-kings-- / heard of their glory.
hú ðá æþelingas / ellen fremedon.
how those nobles / performed courageous deeds.
The English you listed is closer to Early Modern English used by Shakespeare. With that having been said, the text would be difficult for many native speakers of Modern English due to the complex grammar and diverse vocabulary.
His Greek is easier than this English. I saw you said elsewhere that you're Greek, so you're gonna wanna just read it in the original.
It was also written as a journal of his own thoughts, not for publication, so sometimes the things he says don't make sense. He wrote it for himself -- the original title is literally Τὰ εἰς ἑαυτόν.
Well, if you've ever read Plato it'd be hard not to understand what hortatory orations are. *Gorgias - Plato*
And so begins the issue of philosophy that you just have to start reading at one point, because they all reference each other in some form.
Makes sense to me but i have been reading philosophy of this type since i was like 14 and had a brother and father to discuss it with.
And i took some philosophy in college.
Takes some getting used to.
Also didnt hurt that i played dragon warrior at 6 years old on nes when i ckild read well enough to play it.