Recently I picked up a copy of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations
. A collection of aphorisms written by the Roman philosopher-emperor, the work itself is good but mostly dry, morsels of Stoicism that are easily held and turned in the mind over the course of a day, like Proverbs for the pagan-set. One thing that attracts attention, though, is the acknowledgments.
As with any thesis, novel, or cereal box (if they came with one), the acknowledgments give insight into the character of the author, a place where the snow-job that follows is set aside and suspended, where the author steps from behind the curtain and talks directly (if cryptically) to the audience.
Here's a taste of the acknowledgments from Meditations
(the George Long translation available here
"From my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper.
"From the reputation and remembrance of my father, modesty and a manly character.
"From my mother, piety and beneficence, and abstinence, not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts; and further, simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich.
"From my great-grandfather, not to have frequented public schools, and to have had good teachers at home, and to know that on such things a man should spend liberally."
And it goes on and on. In fact it's the whole of Book One, ending with "To the gods I am indebted for having good grandfathers, good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good associates, good kinsmen and friends, nearly everything good."
I was thinking of writing my own acknowledgments (to what work, I don't know). But if I were to begin in the same style, my Book One might go like this:
"From my father I learned an easy way to make friends, how to laugh much and loudly, a sense of wonder for the natural world, and appreciation for the simple things.
"From my mother, attention to detail, a love of words and language, how to be a good host, and the danger of chasing after the opinions of others.
"From my brother, a lesson in gentleness, an appreciation for baseball on the radio, and a fondness for summertime comprising video games and idle pursuits.
"From Brad Newton, the encouragement that comes from a green light to whims, a love of baseball cards, and how to persist from great loss.
"From Colleen Webb, a love for etymology and the ancient world, a dry sense of humor, stern but gentle advice for the future."
My list would go on and on as well. It's a useful exercise to write the acknowledgments to a life's work, even if the rest of the work itself has yet to be written. We are all of us the sum of these experiences and repaying a great debt by the conduct of our lives.