Review: The Inner Citadel

Few modern stoic texts have influenced my understanding of the philosophy more than Pierre Hadot's The Inner Citadel. I've heard the book referred to as a study of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. It is that, in part. However, Hadot's deep knowledge of ancient thought makes it much more than an explanatory text. He expounds on Aurelius' words. He shows the influence of earlier teachers, and illuminates what seems to be uniquely Aurelius. More important to the stoic practitioner, Hadot takes a bare philosophical framework and fleshes it out. The Inner Citadel presents a livable philosophy. Hadot brings out ideas that can be locked within the original stoic texts for years if a student is left to personal reflection.

This is not to say that Hadot is a sage, or that all his thoughts are unimpeachable. Not at all. However, his work serves to elevate the discourse surrounding Stoicism. I find myself continuously returning to his chapters on the Three Disciplines, which alone make the book indispensable.

So yes, I like The Inner Citadel. I do not suggest handing it out as a gift for people new to the philosophy. It's not that sort of book, unless your pal is really into wisdom literature in which case, go for it. The Inner Citadel is for those of us who already practice stoicism in our daily lives. For us, it can expand our knowledge of the philosophy and assist in shaping our inner discourse.

Review: The Emperor's Handbook

The Emperor's Handbook, a new translation of Marcus Aurelius' meditations by the Hicks brothers, is a must for any practicing stoic as well as for anyone who is interested in wisdom literature. Aurelius' writings provide the rare opportunity to share in the daily thoughts of a common stoic. Not common concerning his position as emperor, but common in that he is seriously applying stoic principles to his lived experience. He is not a teacher addressing students nor an old man addressing his protege. His only audience is himself. As such, the Handbook provides a guide for how high a bar stoics should set for their own judgments and actions. This new translation makes Aurelius all the more potent.

Prior to being gifted this translation (thank you Christy) I was using a free version of the Meditations on my Kindle. Here's some practical advice from Emperor Aurelius,

Use thyself even those things that thou doest at first despair of. For the left hand we see, which for the most part lieth idle because not used; yet doth it hold the bridle with more strength than the right, because it hath been used unto it.

Here's that same thought updated for modern eyes,

Practice also the things you don't expect to master. The left hand, clumsy at most things from inexperience, grasps the reins more confidently than the right because it's used to them. (Book 12, 6)

My guess is that the second version came off a bit less stilted, and Marcus is just pumping himself up to practice something he's not a natural at. When his writings are more philosophical and more technical, the difference in impact between the two translations is night and day.

The Emperor's Handbook has helped me to appreciate a strong stoic voice that I had previously dismissed. Before I would read him and think, "I get it, you've read Epictetus have I pal." Then I'd go read Epictetus again. Now I find a brother in the pages. He's a peer who also struggles to live a joyful stoic life in a turbulent world. Every stoic should have this book on their nightstand or next to a favorite reading chair. If you do, Marcus will become a daily counselor and friend.