4 Key Stoic Terms Compared in 10 Translations of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations

Christopher Hurtado —  August 1, 2017
4 Key Stoic Terms Compared in 10 Translations of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations | Christopher Hurtado
If you’re reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations for the first time and you’re looking for a readable translation, Ryan Holiday recommends the Gregory Hays translation for its readability, and it is quite readable. But if you are looking to better come to terms with Marcus Aurelius, the best translation is the one that best handles key technical Stoic terms. But which one of them does?


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As I’ve studied Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in various translations and in the original Greek, his master, Epictetus’ Enchiridion and Discourses, other Stoic writings, and the secondary literature on these, I’ve come to better understand the technical Stoic terms Marcus Aurelius employs and look to translations which best handle these terms. After all, Marcus wrote in Greek because of them.

Here are the four key Stoic terms Marcus employs, as defined in Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon, the definitive lexicon:


1. φαντασίαν (phantasia). “appearance, presentation to consciousness, whether immediate or in memory, whether true or illusory,” (Liddell and Scott)


2. ὁρμή(horme). “impulse to do a thing, effort,” (Liddell and Scott)


3. ὄρεξιν (orexis). “appetency, conation” (Liddell and Scott)


4. ἡγεμονικόν (hegemonikon). “the authoritative part of the soul (reason)” (Liddell and Scott). This is the part of the soul that “alone is free, because it alone can give or refuse its assent to that inner discourse which enunciates what the object is which is represented by a given phantasia.” (Hadot 107)


Below is a key passage (9.7) in which Marcus employs all four of the above technical Stoic terms in ten different English translations:


1. Pierre Hadot and Michael Chase“Erase your representations (phantasia) (1);
“Stop your impulse toward action (horme) (3)
“Extinguish your desire (orexis) (2):
“Have your guiding principle (hegemonikon) within your power.”
(Hadot and Chase 45).


2. A. S. L. Farquharson“Wipe out imagination [phantasia]: check impulse [horme]: quench desire [orexis]: keep the governing self [hegemonikon] in its own control” (Aurelius and Farquharson 82).


3. G. M. A. Grube“Erase the impressions of sense and imagination, stay your impulse, quench your desire, withdraw your directing mind within itself” (Grube 88).


4. C. R. Haines“Efface imagination [phantasia]. Restrain impulse [horme]. Quench desire [orexis]. Keep the ruling Reason [hegemonikon] in thine own power” (Aurelius and Haines 237).


5. Martin Hammond“Erase the print of imagination [phantasia], stop impulse [horme], quench desire [orexis]: keep your directing mind [hegemonikon] its own master (Aurelius and Hammond 85).


6. Robin Hard“Blot out imagination [phantasia]; put a curb on impulse [horme]; quench desire [orexis]; ensure that your ruling centre [hegemonikon] remains under its own control” (Aurelius and Hard 84).


7. Gregory Hays“Blot out your imagination [phantasia]. Turn your desire [horme] to stone. Quench your appetites [orexis]. Keep your mind [hegemonikon] centered on itself” (Aurelius and Hays 119).


8. C. Scot Hicks and David V. Hicks“Blot out imagination [phantasia]; restrain impulse [horme]; stifle desire [orexis]; give your reason [hegemonikon] the upper hand” (Aurelius and Hicks 10).


9. Francis Hutcheson and James Moor“Wipe out the fancies of imagination [phantasia]: stop all eager impulses to action [horme]: extinguish keen desires [orexis]; and keep the governing part [hegemonikon] master of itself” (Aurelius and Hutcheson 109).


10. George Long. “Wipe out imagination [phantasia]: check desire [horme]: extinguish appetite [orexis]: keep the ruling faculty [hegemonikon] in its own power” (Long 86).


I esteem Hadot and Chase’s the best translation of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations based on a comparison of their handling of the four key Stoic terms above defined. Alas, Hadot and Chase did not translate all of the Meditations into English. The passage above is included in The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius by Pierre Hadot, originally written in French and translated into English by Michael Chase in close consultation with Hadot. I esteem Hutcheson and Moor’s the second best translation and Grube’s the third.


Question: Which of the ten english translations of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations do you esteem best in handling the four key stoic terms above defined?

Christopher Hurtado

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Christopher Hurtado is President and CEO of Linguistic Solutions and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy and Political Science at Utah Valley University. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. He coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America. He is married to children's book author and homeschool mom, Alysia Gonzalez. Together they have nine children. They are active in their church and in their community.

4 responses to 4 Key Stoic Terms Compared in 10 Translations of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations

  1. Found this very helpful. Forwarded the link to Mr. Chase.

  2. Hi, thanks for your flattering comments. It’s true that Hadot and I did not aim to produce a complete translation of Marcus. Unfortunately Hadot died before he could complete his own (French) translation. Best,Mike

    • Christopher Hurtado September 1, 2017 at 3:15 am

      You’re welcome! Didn’t he publish a partial translation? And if so, is it the 57-page Ecrits sur lui-même, tome 1, livre 1 published by Les Belles Lettres (15 December 2002)? Thanks in advance!