Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Marcus Aurelius, warrior, emperor, writer, stoic and brief old man in the movie “Gladiator”. However, he is much more than an old man in a turn of the century film. Marcus Aurelius was the last of the 5 good emperors of Rome and was known for being wise ruler. Influenced at an early age by Diognetus he was introduced to philosophy and that seemed to stick throughout his life. Unlike most rulers of the time this emperor is most commonly known for his writing and not for his conquests. Meditations, which was his most famous piece of literature is considered one of the greatest works of philosophy of all time. The book is actually not a book at all. In fact, it is essentially Marcus’s personal journal that was technically never meant for the publics eyes. Luckily it was adapted into chapters and sections that we see today. The book itself is one the most significant sources of ancient Stoic philosophy we have on record.
Split up into twelve books, each book tries to follow some sort of cohesive narrative which is hard to do with a bunch of random journal entries. The whole book deals with existence, mortality, virtues, relationships, the gods, reason, duty, and death, but there are some strong thematic trends associated with many different chapters. Chapter one is a thank you letter to those that help raise him. He thanks his grandfather for teaching him to modest and even tempered. He thanks his father for teaching him to be frugal. He thanks his mother for instilling in him a sense of generosity, and to not be so worldly. Finally, he thanks his many teachers for teaching him self-discipline, and philosophy.
In book two he talks about how we will encounter bad people every day. He is quick to remind himself that everyone has faults so we should not be so quick to judge. He then goes on to talk about he we are just blood, bones and breath, but our mind is the most important aspect of us humans. He tells us that we should “lay aside all carelessness and passionate aversion from the commands of reason, and all hypocrisy, and self-love, and discontent with the portion which has been given to thee.” What he is say here is we shouldn’t be weighed down with selfish ambitions. We shouldn’t worry about fate, or be anxious of the present or nervous about the future. He reminds us that we shouldn’t worry about fame or fortune, but should keep our minds free and open to new ideas. He says this is the key to happiness “Thou seest how few the things are, the which if a man lays hold of, he is able to live a life which flows in quiet, and is like the existence of the gods; for the gods on their part will require nothing more from him who observes these things.”