Posts tagged ‘Roman’

My Glorious Publishing career- Pt 3- Finding Marcus’ Voice

Liv Blumer. my new agent, approached Hodder and Stoughton to see if they would publish a book as well as an audio of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. They agreed, so now it was up to me to write an introduction, something that terrified me. I started to do serious research on Marcus Aurelius’ life, the history, beliefs and practises of stoic philosophy, and Roman life, religions and customs. I met with Professor Richard Sorabji of King’s College, London, to discuss stoic philosophy and read voraciously in the Greek and Roman Library at the University Of London.

After about six months I felt that I could discern the forest from the trees. That is, I was not an expert in any of these areas, but I now knew enough to write knowledgably about the subjects. The aim was to impart the knowledge I had gained to a general readership. And so I started to write. After about 20 pages I gave the manuscript to my then wife Jo and asked her for a critique. She said you sound like a professor, and you’re not a professor. What is it that you personally like about this work? Why do you bother to read it? I admitted that the model I was using for the introduction was the Penguin Classics, which are usually written by scholars. Her point was that since I was not a scholar why imitate one, she thought I needed a new approach.

I took myself off to a coffee shop to ponder. And then it hit me. If I was going to write an intro which had any validity, it had to be one that reflected my life and my ideas, and which explained why Marcus Aurelius’ 2000 year old meditations had meaning for me today. So I began with a different approach. I started writing,

“I’m sitting in a cyber cafe in Soho, London, sipping on a cappuccino.
Inside, young business men and women with mobile phones keep in touch with their offices, friends and lovers across the country. Travellers sit at consoles surfing the Internet and collecting e-mail from around the world.
Outside, cars, taxis and buses criss-cross the polluted city ferrying people through the crowded streets. Below my feet, underground trains speed through the bowels of the earth. Nearby, high-speed trains depart for Brussels, Paris and Rome.
Overhead, planes with hundreds of people on board travel vast distances. Unseen, communication satellites circle the earth.
Although we live in a time of an incredible explosion of communications, knowledge, and wealth, we have begun to realise that it will not be possible to sustain the life we are currently leading for very much longer.
We are faced with a world that is suffering at our own hands. Science, technology and ‘progress’, the gods that we believed would provide all the answers, have shown themselves to hold false promises.
Science and technology have extended and increased the power of individuals and groups to an extent undreamt of by our ancestors. The ordinary person in the developed world lives a life of comfort and luxury that most emperors and kings in history could not attain. The rapid access to information and goods, instant communication and high speed travel have transformed our lives.
But there is a price to be paid; there is still no free lunch. This power has had an enormous impact on the environment, human rights and the human condition in general. The major concern we will have to address in the new millennium will not be how to increase technological power but how to control it.
Throughout history technological development has always moved itself forward, leaving the moral order trailing behind. In our time technological change and innovation have been so swift and transformative that the moral order has lagged well behind and is now struggling to catch up.
However, the dynamic nature of morality means that it does eventually catch up and confront the technological order. People are stimulated to rethink moral conventions, to create new values that demand the control and limitation of science and technology.
In this confrontation, ancient Greek philosophy, and in particular Stoicism, is well placed to help us manage the future.”

I had found my voice, and The Spiritual Teachings Of Marcus Aurelius was born.

September 4, 2014 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

My Glorious Publishing Career- Pt 2- Mark meets Marcus Aurelius

Following the success of the Tao te Ching audio, Rupert Lancaster – my editor at Hodder and Stoughton – commissioned me to produce an audio version of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. These short ‘meditations’ were spiritual exercises that Marcus wrote for himself while attending to his day job – Emperor of Rome. He would have preferred to be a stoic philosopher, but Hadrian picked him as his successor and this forced him to keep his philosophy as a private self-help guide. The meditations were a way of reminding himself how to respond to people and events.

Marcus was a Roman but he wrote in Greek, the ancient language of philosophy. Since I don’t know classical Greek (being mono English), I needed to find a translation to work from. I started to read the various translations then in print but didn’t find one that really spoke to me. Some were a bit dated in language, while others were seeped in Christianity, not suitable for a pagan Roman. I saw a reference to a Victorian translation by George Long that was said to be completely literal, and since it was out of copyright, I set about re-writing this archaic language into the kind of contemporary language that I thought reflected Marcus’ vision of life. At the same time I did not want to lose the sense of his second-century mind, so I tried to evolve a style that gave meaning to the text, in a way that would read to a contemporary audience, but which still sounded like the words of a Roman Emperor.

Once I began, I could see that Marcus had a holistic, cosmic view of life resembling the ancient Indian and Chinese philosophers. His ability to look objectively at the world and to penetrate deeply into his own mind seemed similar to Buddhist psychology. I was also impressed that Marcus’ perspective of the world was an ecological one, very close to our own view of the link between humanity and the environment.

Once I had re-written some 10 of the meditations, I realised I was creating a new copyright, and thought perhaps these could serve as a book as well as an audio. I wrote to a handful of New York literary agents to see if there was any interest. One large agency immediately turned me down, but a smaller agent- Liv Blumer-responded almost immediately. When we spoke, I was surprised to hear that Liv had never heard of Marcus Aurelius or his Meditations. The next day she went to a branch of Barnes and Noble and asked the salesperson if they had a copy. The saleswoman responded by telling Liv that it was the best book ever written, that she kept it by her bedside and read a meditation before going to sleep. Serendipity.

Once she understood what I was working on, Liv said she thought a book could get published, but I would have to write the introduction. What! I had never written anything longer than two pages since leaving university, and the thought of writing an introduction to a philosopher filled me with dread.

August 28, 2014 at 7:47 pm Leave a comment


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