In Memory of Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was born to the patrician class of Roman society, his father being a well-known politician and his grand-father a senator. Born in Rome 121 AD, Marcus’s gens (familial line) was said to have legendary claims of descendance to the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius.
Following his father’s death when he was 3, Marcus’ grandfather would retain his legal right as pater potestas (Roman term signifying “power of a father”) over the child and would take care of him until his formative years as a teenager. His grandfather owned a palace on one of the famous seven hills of Rome, the Caelian, an upscale area dotted with aristocratic palaces and very few public buildings. Marcus would spend his early years being educated at home, as was the custom of contemporary aristocrats, learning about philosophy, art, maths, and writing. He would later thank his grandfather for teaching him “good character and avoidance of bad temper.”
Having been groomed for politics and the art of philosophy, Marcus was destined to become the next Emperor. He was perfect for the job as he was a man of reflection and principle, guided by the ancient Greek philosophers and their mission of acquiring eudaimonia (happiness.)
Marcus was a stoic, an ancient Greek school of thought which stipulated that happiness was found in accepting every moment for what it is, by not allowing one’s desires and fears to be their master, by developing one’s mind to understand the world, and to work together and treat others fairly and justly.
Stoicism was the brainchild of Zeno of Cyprus, a wealthy merchant who was so impressed with the work of Socrates that he made it his life mission to embrace philosophy and learn all it had to teach. Stoicism is founded on the belief that there exists a rational universal order with a web of cause and effect. Additionally, Zeno emphasized the adoption of the four
cardinal virtues: Wisdom, Temperance, Justice, and Courage.
- Wisdom entailed the ability to navigate complex situations in an appropriate, logical, informed, and calm manner.
- Temperance covers the subject of moderation and self-restraint in all aspects of life.
- Justice being the art of treating everyone fairly, even when they have done you wrong.
- Courage is the strength and endurance to confront and withstand fear, uncertainty, and intimidation.
Stoicism argues that the cultivation of virtue offers to provide stability and mental fortitude as a means of overcoming debilitating emotions. One of the greatest stoic philosophers,
Epictetus stated that “We suffer not from the events in our lives, but from our judgement
Marcus Aurelius’ Meditation’s is today understood to be the personal journal of the late
Emperor. While he was on his many campaigns against the barbarian tribes on the outskirts of the Empire, Marcus would reflect on his life and write down these everlasting thoughts in his journal.
The meditations provide us with an overview of the spiritual development of Marcus and lay the framework for stoic philosophy. Accordingly, Nelson Mandela read
Meditation’s multiple times in his 27-year imprisonment and used it for his own spiritual
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find
“It’s a disgrace in this life when the soul surrenders first while the body refuses to.”
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”
“Because most of what we say and do is not essential. Ask yourself at every moment, is this necessary?”
“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”
“Doctors keep their scalpels and other instruments handy, for emergencies. Keep your
philosophy ready to — ready to understand heaven and earth, for nothing on earth succeeds by ignoring heaven.
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.”
“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.
“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question:
What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be
meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”
“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or
thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”
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