Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180) was one of the great 5 Roman Emperors. He is widely regarded to be the model for a just Roman ruler. He combined statesmanship with a profound interest in stoic philosophy. His meditations reflect his thoughts on self enquiry and self-improvement.
“Waste no more time talking about great souls and how they should be. Become one yourself!”
– Marcus Aurelius
“Look well into yourself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up whenever you look there.”
– Marcus Aurelius.
Marcus was born into an aristocratic family with strong ties to the Emperor. In 138, he was hand picked by Hadrian to be his successor. He was educated in the classical Latin and Greek texts of the day. He also became fascinated with Stoic philosophy and the writings of Epictetus. Epictetus was a former slave instrumental in developing stoic philosophy and the philosophy of calm detachment to the vagaries of life.
In 161, Hadrian died and Marcus Aurelius could have legitimately seized power. However, he decided to govern jointly with Lucius Verus being made joint emperor in the East.
On a domestic front, Marcus generally implemented more progressive policies for the marginalised of society – slaves and women.
At the time, Rome was constantly under attack from enemies in Germany and the Partian Empire in Syria. Much of Marcus Aurelius’ meditations were written against the backdrop of war and death. He frequently pointed out the transitory nature of life and the importance of not fearing death.
“Every instant of time is a pinprick of eternity. All things are petty, easily changed, vanishing away.”
– Marcus Aurelius
It was the historian Edward Gibbon who described the 5 Good emperors. The other emperors were Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius and Marcus Aurelius. Although they had absolute power, they rule under the guidance of wisdom and moral virtue.
Meditations: Marcus Aurelius