An article by David Wilson was printed on the South China Morning Post on the 2nd of June 2013, the National Day of Italy.
I believe that the journalist was informed by the editor that he had to come up with something related to Italy so he racked his brain to insert a few lines in the review of a classic just to keep Italians happy. He must have tough that a Gonzo review of a newly released edition of the book of the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, that he had to do anyway, will do.
Hey, but was not Marcus Aurelius born near Cordoba, Spain? Yes, indeed, but that is a small detail. So here we have a splendid example of Gonzo journalism that is to say speaking of things which are not related at all with the subject or the facts.
Marcus Aurelius was a superman: a great philosopher and a legendary emperor. Aurelius ruled from AD161 to his death in AD180, the last of the “five good emperors”, to use a phrase later coined by political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli.
His reign was dogged by attacks from Germany, rebellions in northern Italy and Egypt, and an outbreak of the plague. He wrote much of Meditations on campaign between AD170 and AD180. Northern Italy? Pardon me, Mr. Wilson do you mean Austria?
Written in Greek, Meditations remains admired as a masterpiece of moral, stoical logical thinking with a streak of sensitivity – the cultural critic D.A. Rees praised it as “unendingly moving and inspiring”.
Aurelius never intended his tour de force, which is split into 12 parts, to be published. Essentially, it is a grim hotchpotch of ruminations on whatever subject caught his eye.
Aurelius wrote with feeling about the morning. One of his tips reads: “Say to yourself in the early morning: I shall meet today inquisitive, ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill.”
Almost every statement Aurelius wrote is underpinned by grace and restraint. Reading Meditations could lead the reader to think he could be preferable to the current Italian president, “master puppeteer” Giorgio Napolitano.
Master puppeteer? What a finesse, what a flight of fancy, mister Wilson! Hard life to be a journo, eh? The sheet of white paper in front of you, the need to be on time…
After his death Aurelius was put on a pedestal as the perfect emperor, whose reign contrasted sharply with the eras that followed.
But despite Aurelius’ outward guru image, he was wedded to war – the expansion of the Roman Empire through its vicious efficiency. Another niggle: Aurelius’ writing has no sense of humour.
Still, winningly, Meditations keys into the stoical slant of modern popular psychology. “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength,” Aurelius wrote.
Some of his statements have entered our language in modified form. One example: “You will find rest from vain fancies if you perform every act in life as though it were your last.”
Aurelius achieved a kind of immortality. A bronze four-metre-high statue of him astride a horse remains in Rome’s Piazza del Campidoglio.
That is a copy, Mr. Wilson. The original was put away in 1981. You may see it inside the Musei Capitolini in Rome.
His statue is depicted on the reverse of the Italian €0.50 coin. He seems like the embodiment of a solidity that today’s teetering Italian economy sadly lacks.
Solidity of the Italian economy? Italian coin? That coin is called euro and it is also valid in Germany and France.
We are disappointed by this article, Mr. Wilson. We were expecting something on the state of potato growing on the Andes and the sexual habits of the polar bears. Never mind, perhaps next time.