Inspiring People with Marcus Aurelius
Inspiring People with the Teachings of Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (r. 161–180 CE), is known as the last “good emperor” of the Roman Empire. His reign was characterized by his devotion to his people under his stoic philosophy.
Aurelius was born in Spain in 121 CE to an aristocratic Roman family which was considered the Spanish Royal Family. He was named after his father, Marcus Annius Verus, who had been named after his father and many fathers before that. His mother, Domitia Lucilla (c. 155–161 CE) was a wealthy patrician and was also very connected to the Royal Family. Sadly, Aurelius’ father died, when Aurelius was three and was therefore raised primarily by his grandparents and nurses.
Aurelius was highly respected in his lifetime. He reigned under two philosophical endurings, Meditations (his journal) and stoicism.
According to precedence, Aurelius was a stoic. His biographer, Julius Capitolinus, describes him just like that. Aurelius learned from a number of stoics and, in particular, mentions Rusticus. However, nowhere in the Meditations does Marcus explicitly call himself a Stoic. This may simply mean that Aurelius was writing only for himself rather than for an audience. Although it’s fair to admit that Aurelius was NOT open to ideas from other philosophical traditions, he was just intrigued by stoic philosophy and ruled according to it.
What is Stoicism?
Stoicism was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC but was famously practiced by the likes of Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy is about virtue (like wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behaviour, but words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.
Stoicism has just a few central teachings like:
- It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be.
- How brief our moment of life is.
- How to be steadfast, and strong, and in control of yourself.
- Finally, that the source of our dissatisfaction lies in our impulsive dependency on our reflexive senses rather than logic.
“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.” — Marcus Aurelius
The Meditations is Aurelius’ journal, written between 170–180 CE when he was on military campaigns in Germany and in this journal he expresses his philosophical, Stoic, view of life. Essentially, it is a reflection on how to live your best life and repeats many themes in its twelve books as Aurelius answers many questions at different times (Marcus Aurelius: Plato’s Philosopher King, 2018).
“The questions that the Meditations tries to answer are primarily metaphysical and ethical ones: Why are we here? How should we live our lives? How can we ensure that we do what is right? How can we protect ourselves against the stresses and pressures of daily life? How should we deal with pain and misfortune? How can we live with the knowledge that someday we will no longer exist?”
His Meditations have inspired countless people over the centuries but, right now, he is best known for his depiction in popular Hollywood films like Gladiator (2000). While his depiction in Gladiator is pretty fiction, especially the way he died and his how he wanted to rule Rome but, he was portrayed sympathetically in the movie as a commemoration to his legacy.
Antoninus Pius (c. 86–161 CE) adopted and groomed Aurelius as a Roman emperor but Pius preferred the life of a philosopher. In his Meditations, he keeps writing about the importance of living a true, honest life in the attempt to find inner peace rather than pay attention to the trappings of power and the kind of responsibilities inherent in ruling an empire.
Inspiring Excerpts from Meditations
- “To accept without arrogance, to let it go with indifference.” Translation: “Receive without pride, let go without attachment.”
Aurelius was known as a very stoic emperor, this is a prime example of stoicism in his books.
- In one passage, Aurelius writes about his love of art. He points out that tragedies (plays) that help remind us of curve balls life can throw us. “If something gives you pleasure on that stage, it shouldn’t cause you to anger on this one.” Translation: “If you can appreciate in fiction, you can appreciate it in life.”
This shows that there’s good in everything and people should realize that. It highlights his devotion to his people.
Challenges in Marcus Aurelius’ Authority
In 175 CE, he faced a great challenge, no one took him seriously. After hearing a rumor about Aurelius being deathly ill, Avidius Cassius claimed the title of emperor for himself. This forced Aurelius to travel East and regain control. However, he did not have to fight Cassius as he was already murdered by his own soldiers. Instead, Aurelius toured eastern provinces with his wife, re-establishing his authority. Unfortunately, Faustina (his wife) died during this trip.
While battling the German tribes, Aurelius made his son Commodus his co-ruler in 177 CE. Together they fought the northern enemies of the empire. Aurelius hoped to extend the empire’s borders through this conflict, but Aurelius didn’t live long enough to see this vision to completion.
Marcus Aurelius died on March 17, 180 CE. His son Commodus became emperor and soon ended the northern military efforts. Marcus Aurelius, however, is not best remembered for the wars he waged, but for his decision making and his fact-based reason.
In the end, there will always be people who challenge you and try to get you to stray from your right path but, remember to always stick by your morals. Aurelius never let anyone “get under his skin” and stuck by his stoic philosophies. Due to this, he was able to successfully rule and conquer all opposing tribes. He is a role model, and definitely, someone to look up to!
- He reigned under two philosophical endurings, Meditations (his journal) and stoicism.
- The philosophy is about virtue (like wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behaviour, but words.
- We don’t control and cannot rely on external events, only ourselves and our responses.
- The Meditations is Aurelius’ journal, written between 170–180 CE.
- In Meditations, he expresses his philosophical, Stoic, view of life.
- In 175 CE, he faced a great challenge, no one took him seriously.
- After hearing a rumor about Aurelius being deathly ill, Avidius Cassius claimed the title of emperor for himself.
- Marcus Aurelius died on March 17, 180 CE. His son Commodus became emperor and soon ended the northern military efforts.