Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations Is The Best Manual We Have On How To Live

ISBN: 048629823X

Marcus Aurelius was the only Roman emperor who fits the title of “philosopher king” as described by Plato, ruling with wisdom and prudence gained from his Stoic teachers. Thankfully for us, he maintained a diary called Meditations that relayed his knowledge and what he learned during his life. I became interested in reading it after getting value from his predecessors Epictetus and Seneca.

Below are my favorite passages from Meditations, organized by topic:

Remaining unaffected

From Apollonius [I learned] moral freedom, the certainty to ignore the dice of fortune, and have no other perspective, even for a moment, than that of reason alone; to be always the same man, unchanged in sudden pain, in the loss of a child, in lingering sickness.

[…]

From Maximum [I learned] self-mastery, immune to any passing whim; good cheer in all circumstances, including illness; a nice balance of character, both gentle and dignified; and uncomplaining energy for what needs to be done.

[…]

If this is no wrongdoing of mine, nor the results of any wrong done to me, and if the community is not harmed, then why do I let it trouble me? And what is the harm that can be done to the community?

Existence

It is high time now for you to understand the universe of which you are a part, and the governor of that universe of whom you constitute an emanation: and that there is a limit circumscribed to your time—if you do not use it to clear away your clouds, it will be gone, and you will be gone, and the opportunity will not return.

[…]

You may leave this life at any moment: have this possibility in your mind in all that you do or say or think. Now departure from the world of men is nothing to fear, if gods exist: because they would not involve you in any harm. If they do not exist, or if they have no care for humankind, then what is life to me in a world devoid of gods, or devoid of providence?

[…]

In man’s life his time is a mere instant, his existence a flux, his perception fogged, his whole bodily composition rotting, his mind a whirligig, his fortune unpredictable, his fame unclear. To put it shortly: all things of the body stream away like a river, all things of the mind are dreams and delusion; life is warfare, and a visit in a strange land; the only lasting fame is oblivion.

[…]

You are a soul carrying a corpse, as Epictetus used to say.

[…]

Think constantly how many doctors have died, after knitting their brows over their own patients; how many astrologers, after predicting the deaths of others, as if death were something important; how many philosophers, after endless deliberation on death or immortality; how many heroes, after the many others they killed; how many tyrants, after using their power over men’s lives with monstrous insolence, as if they themselves were immortal. Think too how many whole cities have ‘died’—Helice, Pompeii, Herculaneium, innumerable others. Go over now all those you have known yourself, one after the other: one man follows a friend’s funeral and is then laid out himself, then another follows him—and all in a brief space of time. The conclusion of this? You should always look on human life as short and cheap. Yesterday sperm: tomorrow a mummy or ashes.

So one should pass through this tiny fragment of time in tune with nature, and leave it gladly, as an olive might fall when ripe, blessing the earth which bore it and grateful to the tree which gave it growth.

[…]

Look back over the past—all those many changes of dynasties. And you can foresee the future too: it will be completely alike, incapable of deviating from the rhythm of the present. So for the study of human life forty years are as good as ten thousand: what more will you see?

[…]

‘No soul’, says Plato, ‘likes to be robbed of truth’—and the same holds of justice, moderation, kindness, and all such virtues.

[…]

Nothing can happen to any human being outside the experience which is natural to humans—an ox too experiences nothing foreign to the nature of oxen, a vine nothing foreign to the nature of vines, a stone nothing outside the property of a stone. So if each thing experiences what is usual and natural for it, why should you complain? Universal nature has brought you nothing you can’t endure.

Living a “long” life

It follows that the longest and the shortest lives are brought to the same state. The present moment is equal for all; so what is passing is equal also; the loss therefore turns out to be the merest fragment of time. No one can lose either the past or the future—how could anyone be deprived of what he does not possess?

[…]

…both the longest-lived and the earliest to die suffer the same loss. It is only the present moment of which either stands to be deprived: and if indeed this is all he has, he cannot lose what he does not have.

[…]

We must take into our reckoning not only that life is expended day by day and the remaining balance diminishes, but also this further consideration: if we live longer, there is no guarantee that our mind will likewise retain that power to comprehend and study the world which contributes to our experience of things divine and human.

[…]

An unphilosophic but nonetheless effective help to putting death in its place is to run over the list of those who have clung long to life. What did they gain over the untimely dead? Any any rate they are all in their graves by now—Caedicianus, Fabius, Julianus, Lepidus, and all others like them who took part in many funerals and then their own. In truth, the distance we have to travel is small: and we drag it out with such labour, in such poor company, in such a feeble body. No great thing, then. Look behind you at the huge gulf of time, and another infinity ahead. In this perspective what is the difference between an infant of three days and a Nestor of three generations?

[…]

But, my dear fellow, consider it possible that nobility and virtue are something other than saving one’s life or having it saved. Could it not be that anyone who is truly a man should dismiss any concern for a particular length of life, and not simply live for the sake of living? Rather he should leave all this to god and believe what the womenfolk say, that no one ever escapes the day of his fate: his thought should be on this further question, how best to live his life in the time he has to be alive.

[…]

All that you see will soon perish; those who witness this perishing will soon perish themselves. Die in extreme old age or die before your time—it will all be the same.

Accepting death

…and if anyone is frightened of a function of nature, he is a mere child. And death is not only a function of nature, but also to her benefit.

[…]

What of [death], then? You embarked, you set sail, you made port. Go ashore now. If it is to another life, nothing is empty of the gods, even on that shore: and if to insensibility, you will cease to suffer pains and pleasures, no longer in thrall to a bodily vessel which is a master as far inferior as its servant is superior. One is mind and divinity: the other a clay of dust and blood.

[…]

He who fears death fears either unconsciousness or another sort of consciousness. Now if you will no longer be conscious you will not be conscious either of anything bad. If you are to take on a different consciousness, you will be a different being and life will not cease.

Five ways a soul harms itself

The soul of a man harms itself, first and foremost, when it becomes (as far as it can) a separate growth, a sort of tumour on the universe: because to resent anything that happens is to separate oneself in revolt from Nature, which holds in collective embrace the particular natures of all other things. Secondly, when it turns away from another human being, or is even carries so far in opposition as to intend him harm—such is the case in the souls of those gripped by anger. A soul harms itself, thirdly, when it gives in to pleasure or pain. Fourthly, whenever it dissimulates, doing or saying anything feigned or false. Fifthly, whenever it fails to direct any of its own actions or impulses to a goal, but acts at random, without conscious attention—whereas even the most trivial action should be undertaken in reference to the end.

Experiencing pleasure

‘But better is what benefits.’ If to your benefit as a rational being, adopt it: but if simply to your benefit as an animal, reject it, and stick to your judgement without fanfare.

[…]

Never regard as a benefit to yourself anything which will force you at some point to break your faith, to leave integrity behind, to hate, suspect, or curse another, to dissemble, to covet anything needing the secrecy of walls and drapes.

Work

At break of day, when you are reluctant to get up, have this thought ready to mind: ‘I am getting up for a man’s work. Do I still then resent it, if I am going out to do what I was born for, the purpose for which I was brought into the world? Or was I created to wrap myself in blankets and keep warm?’ ‘But this is more pleasant.’ Were you then born for pleasure—all for feeling, not for action? Can you not see plants, birds, ants, spiders, bees all doing their own work, each helping in their one way to order the world? And then you do not want to do the work of a human being—you do not hurry to the demands of your own nature. ‘But one needs rest too.’ One does indeed: I agree. But nature has set limits to this too, just as it has to eating and drinking, and yet you go beyond these limits, beyond what you need. Not in your actions, though, not any longer: here you stay below your capability.

The cycle of life

There is a river of creation, and time is a violent stream. As soon as one thing comes into sight, it is swept past and another is carried down: it too will be taken on its way.

[…]

All that happens is as habitual and familiar as roses in spring and fruit in the summer. True too of disease, death, defamation, and conspiracy—and all that delights or gives pain to fools.

[…]

Reflect often on the speed with which all things in being, or coming into being, are carried past and swept away. Existence is like a river in ceaseless flow, its actions a constant succession of change, its causes innumerable in their variety: scarcely anything stands still, even what is most immediate. Reflect too on the yawning gulf of past and future time, in which all things vanish. So in all this it must be folly for anyone to be puffed with ambition, racked in struggle, or indignant at his lot—as if this was anything lasting or likely to trouble him for long.

[…]

Some things are hurrying to come into being, others are hurrying to be gone, and part of that which is being born is already extinguished. Flows and changes are constantly renewing the world, just as the ceaseless passage of time makes eternity ever young. In this river, then, when there can be no foothold, what should anyone prize of all that races past him? It is as if he were to begin to fancy one of the little sparrows that fly past—but already it is gone from his sight. Indeed this is the nature of our very lives—as transient as the exhalation of vapour from the blood or a breath drawn from the air.

[…]

You should meditate often on the connection of all things in the universe and their relationship to each other. In a way all things are interwoven and therefore have a family feeling for each other: one thing follows another in due order through the tension of movement, the common spirit among them, and unity of all being.

[…]

Loss is nothing more than change. Universal nature delights in change, and all that flows from nature happens for the good. Similar things have happened from time everlasting, and there will be more such to eternity. So why do you say that everything has always happened for the bad and always will, that all those gods between them have evidently never found any power to right this, so the world is condemned to the grip of perpetual misery?

[…]

Either all things flow from one intelligent source and supervene as in one coordinated body, so the part should not complain at what happens in the interest of the whole—or all is atoms, and nothing more than present stew and future dispersal. Why then are you troubled?

[…]

Whatever happens to you was being prepared for you from everlasting, and the mesh of causes was ever spinning from eternity both from your own existence and the incidence of this particular happening.

[…]

Constantly reflect that all the things which happen now have happened before: reflect too that they will happen again in the future. Have in your mind’s eye whole dramas with similar settings, all that you know of from your own experience or earlier history—for example, the whole ourt of Hadrian, the whole court of Antoninun, the whole court of Philip, Alexander, Croesus. All the same as now: just a different cast.

[…]

All things are short-lived—this is their common lot—but you pursue likes and dislikes as if all was fixed for eternity. In a little while you too will close your eyes, and soon there will be others mourning the man who buries you.

[…]

…our successors will see nothing new, just as our predecessors saw nothing more than we do: such is the sameness of things, a man of forty with any understanding whatsoever has in a sense seen all the past and all the future.

[…]

When you are high in indignation and perhaps losing patience, remember that human life is a mere fragment of time and shortly we are all in our graves.

[…]

Epictetus used to say that when you kiss your child you should say to yourself: ‘Tomorrow you may be dead.’ But these are ominous words! ‘No,’ he replies, ‘nothing is ominous which points to a natural process. Otherwise it would be ominous to speak of the corn being reaped.’

[…]

Any one individual activity which comes to an end at the appropriate time suffers no harm from its cessation: nor has the agent suffered any harm simply because this particular action has ceased. In the same way, then, if the total of all his actions which constitutes a man’s life comes to an end at the appropriate time, it suffers no harm from the mere fact of cessation: nor is the agent who brings this series of actions to a timely end exposed to any harm. The time and the term are assigned by nature—sometimes man’s own nature, as in old age, but in any case by the nature of the Whole, which through the constant changing of its constituent parts keeps the whole world ever young and fresh.

[…]

Continually review in your mind those whom a particular anger took to extremes, those who reached the greatest heights of glory or disaster or enmity or any other sort of fortune. Then stop and think: where is it all now? Smoke and ashes, a story told or even a story forgotten.

Playing the cards that you are dealt

Wherever it is in agreement with nature, the ruling power within us takes a flexible approach to circumstances, always adapting itself easily to both practicality and the given event. It has no favoured material for its work, but sets out on its objects in a conditional way, turning any obstacle into material for its own use. It is like a fire mastering whatever falls into it. a small flame would be extinguished, but a bright fire rapidly claims as its own all that is heaped on it, devours it all, and leaps up yet higher in consequence.

[…]

‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.’ Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it? Or in general would you call anything a misfortune for a man which is not a deviation from man’s nature?

[…]

…display those virtues which are wholly in your own power—integrity, dignity, hard work, self-denial, contentment, frugality, kindness, independence, simplicity, discretion, magnanimity. Do you not see how many virtues you can already display without any excuse of lack of talent or aptitude? And yet you are still content to lag behind. Or does the fact that you have no inborn talent oblige you to grumble, to scrimp, to blame your poor body, to suck up, to brag, to have your mind in such turmoil? No, by heaven, it does not!

[…]

[Unsophisticated people] say: ‘Fate brought this on him.’ Now if ‘brought,’ also ‘prescribed’. So let us accept these prescriptions just as we accept those of Asclepius—many of them too are harsh, but we welcome them in the hope of health.

[…]

So there are two reasons why you should be content with your experience. One is that this has happened to you, was prescribed for you, and is related to you, a thread of destiny spun for you from the first by the most ancient causes. The second is that what comes to each individual is a determining part of the welfare, the perfection, and indeed the very coherence of that which governs the Whole. Because the complete Whole is maimed if you sever even the tiniest fraction of its connection and continuity: this is true of its constitute parts, and true likewise of its causes. And you do sever something, to the extent that you can, whenever you fret at your lot: this is, in a sense, a destruction.

[…]

The mind adapts and turns round any obstacle to action to serve its objective: a hindrance to a given work is turned to its furtherance, an obstacle in a given path becomes an advance.

[…]

Love only what falls your way and is fated for you. What could suit you more than that?

Suicide

But if you feel yourself falling away and losing control, retire in good heart to some corner where you will regain control—or else make a complete exit from life, not in anger, but simply, freely, with integrity, making this leaving of it at least one achievement in your life.

Acting in the present

No, you do not have thousands of years to live. Urgency is on you. While you live, while you can, become good.

[…]

I always take the present moment as raw material for the exercise of rational and social virtue—in short, for the art of man or god.’ Because a god or a man can assimilate anything that happens: it will not be new or hard to handle, but familiar and easy.

[…]

You must compose your life action by action, and be satisfied if each action achieves its own end as best can be: and no one can prevent you from that achievement. ‘But there will be some external obstacle.’ No obstacle, though, to justice, self-control, and reason. ‘But perhaps some other source of action will be obstructed.’ Well, gladly accept the obstruction as it is, make a judicious change to meet the given circumstance, and another action will immediately substitute and fit into the composition of your life as discussed.

[…]

Live through life in the best way you can. The power to do so is in a man’s own soul, if he is indifferent to things indifferent. And he will be indifferent if he looks at these things both as a whole and analysed into their parts, and remembers that none of them imposes a judgement of itself or forces itself on us.

[…]

You should let nothing stand in your way—not the iniquity of others, not what anyone else thinks or says, still less any sensation of this poor flesh that has accredited round you: the afflicted part must see to its own concern.

Other people

Whenever you meet someone, ask yourself first this immediate question: ‘What beliefs does this person hold about the good and bad in life?’ Because if he believes this or that about pleasure and pain and their constituents, about fame and obscurity, death and life, then I shall not find it surprising or strange if he acts in this or that way, and I shall remember that he has no choice but to act as he does.

[…]

Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. All this has afflicted them through their ignorance of true good and evil. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own—not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity. Therefore I cannot be harmed by any of them, as none will infect me with their wrong.

[…]

Men are born for the sake of each other. So either teach or tolerate.

[…]

Presented with the impression that someone has done wrong, how do I know that this was a wrong. And if it was indeed a wrong, how do I know that he was not already condemning himself, which is the equivalent of tearing his own face?

Wanting the bad man not to do wrong is like wanting the fig-tree not to produce rennet in its figs, babies not to cry, horses not to neigh, or any other inevitable face of nature.

Deception

The conscious liar sins to the extent that his deceit causes injustice: the unconscious liar to the extent that he is out of tune with the nature of the Whole and out of order with the nature of the ordered universe against which he fights. And it is fighting when he allows himself to be carried in opposition to the truth. He has received the prompts from nature: by ignoring them he is now incapable of distinguishing false from true.

[…]

…the corruption of the mind is much more a plague than any such contaminating change in the surrounding air we breathe. The latter infects animate creatures in their animate nature: the former infects human beings in their humanity.

Happiness

‘If you want to be happy’, says Democritus, ‘do little.’ May it not be better to do what is necessary, what the reason of a naturally social being demands, and the way reason demands it done? This brings the happiness both of right action and of little action. Most of what we say and do is unnecessary: remove the superfluity, and you will have more time and less bother. So in every case one should prompt oneself: ‘Is this, or is it not, something necessary?’ And the removal of the unnecessary should apply not only to actions but to thoughts also: then no redundant actions either will follow.

[…]

In every contingency keep in your mind’s eye those who had the same experience before, and reacted with vexation, disbelief, or complaint. So where are they now? Nowhere. Well then, do you want to act like them?

[…]

One man prays: ‘How can I sleep with that woman?’ Your prayer is: ‘How can I lose the desire to sleep with her?’ Another prays: ‘How can I be rid of that man?’ You pray: ‘How can I stop wanting to be rid of him?’ Another: ‘How can I save my little child?’ You: ‘How can I learn not to fear his loss?’ And so on. Give all your prayers this turn, and observe what happens.

[…]

…remind yourself also that what has once changed will be no more for the infinity of time. Why then this stress? Why not be content with an orderly passage through the brief span you have?

[…]

When you fret at any circumstance, you have forgotten a number of things. You have forgotten that all comes about in accordance with the nature of the Whole; that any wrong done lies with the other; further, that everything which happens was always so in the past, will be the same again in the future, and is happening now across the world; that a human being has close kindship with the whole human race—not a bond of blood or seed, but a community of mind. And you have forgotten this too, that everyman’s mind is god and has flowed from that source; that nothing is our own property, but even our child, our body, our very soul have come from that source; that all is as thinking makes it so; that each of us lives only the present moment, and the present moment is all we lose.

Politics

What does not benefit the hive does not benefit the bee either.

The good life

If you set yourself to your present ask along the path of true reason, with all determination, vigour, and good will: if you admit no distraction, but keep your own divinity pure and standing strong, as if you had to surrender it right now; if you grapple this to you, expecting nothing, shirking nothing, but self-content with each present action taken in accordance with nature and a heroic truthfulness in all that you say and mean—then you will lead a good life. And nobody is able to stop you.

[…]

How to understand your own good: the lover of glory takes it to be the reactions of others; the lover of pleasure takes it to be his own passive experience; the intelligent man sees it as his own action.

[…]

…a person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he values.

[…]

Do not dream of possession of what you do not have: rather reflect on the greatest blessings in what you do have, and on their account remind yourself how much they would have been missed if they were not there. But at the same time you must be careful not to let your pleasure in their habituate you to dependency, to avoid distress if they are sometimes absent.

[…]

You know from experience that in all your wanderings you have nowhere found the good life—not in logic, not in wealth, not in glory, not in indulgence: nowhere. Where then is it to be found? In doing what man’s nature requires. And how is he to do this? By having principles to govern his impulses and actions. What are these principles? Those of good and evil—the belief that nothing is good for a human being which does not make him just, self-controlled, brave, and free: and nothing evil which does not make him the opposite of these.

[…]

Always have clear in your mind that ‘the grass is not greener’ elsewhere, and how everything is the same here as on the top of a mountain, or on the sea-shore, or wherever you will.

[…]

The model for the application of your principles is the boxer rather than the gladiator. The gladiator puts down or takes up the sword he uses, but the boxer always has his hands and needs only to clench them into fists.

Pursuing fame, pleasures, luxuries, or gratitude

On who is all in a flutter over his subsequent fame fails to imagine that all those who remember him will very soon be dead—and he too. Then the same will be true of all successors, until the whole memory of him will be extinguished in a sequence of lamps lit and snuffed out. But suppose immortality in those who will remember you, and everlasting memory. Even so, what is that to you? And I do not simply mean that this is nothing to the dead, but to the living also what is the point of praise, other than for some practical aspect of management?

[…]

It is ridiculous not to escape from one’s own vices, which is possible, while trying to escape the vices of others, which is impossible.

[…]

Vanity is the greatest seducer of reason: when you are most convinced your work is important, that is when you are most under its spell.

[…]

Disgraceful if, in this life where your body does not fail, your soul should fail you first.

[…]

How many who once rose to fame are now consigned to oblivion: and how many who sang their fame are long disappeared.

[…]

When you have done good and another has benefited, why do you still look, as fools do, for a third thing besides—credit for good works, or a return?”

[…]

Above all, when you complain of disloyalty or ingratitude, turn inwards on yourself. The fault is clearly your own, if you trusted that a man of that character would keep his trust, or if you conferred a favour without making it an end in itself, your very action its own and complete reward. What more do you want, man, from a kind act? Is it not enough that you have done something consonant with your own nature—do you now put a price on it? As if the eye demanded a return for seeing, or the feet for walking. Just as these were made for a particular purpose, and fulfill their proper nature by acting in accordance with their own constitution, so man was made to do good: and whenever he does something good or otherwise contributory to the common interest, he has done what he was designed for, and inherits his own.

How to live

The universal cause is a torrent, sweeping everything in its stream. So, man, what does that mean for you? Do what nature requires at this moment. Start straight away, if that is in your power: don’t look over your shoulder to see if people will know. Don’t hope for Plato’s utopian republic, but be content with the smallest step forward, and regard even that result as no mean achievement.

[…]

The time you have left is short. Live it as if you were on a mountain. Here or there makes no difference, if wherever you live you take the world as your city. Let men see, let them observe a true man living in accordance with nature. If they cannot bear him, let them kill him—a better fate than a life like theirs.

With this book I felt like I was reading secret knowledge that I shouldn’t have been allowed to access, even though it’s freely available for sale to the public. If this isn’t secret knowledge, I could believe that Aurelius was told the mysteries of nature and humanity by a spiritual being. While this may sound crazy, it does seem that he was able to see through the code of the universe to understand both the role and flow of our lives. Until we’re all swept away in life’s wind, he advises us to be a right man through right actions and thought while resisting base pleasures and calls for glory, comfort, and luxury. Meditations is not easy reading, but it’s the most effective manual for living that I’ve ever encountered.

If you are familiar with Eastern philosophy, nothing that Aurelius preaches should be new or conflicting for you. There is such an overlap between stoicism and Buddhism that I’m certain Buddhist ideas made its way to the West by the time of Christ. They both share the idea that anything which happens to the individual is required by nature’s whole. If you consider that your very existence depended on all historical events of the past, both good and evil, including that which has happened within the universe before Earth’s formation, there is no need to interpret future events that happen to you as good or bad, but merely as what nature requires to fulfill its cycle based on the unknown rules that govern it. This includes your own death.

One complaint I have is that Aurelius seems to be proto-Christian by adopting passivity when it comes to fighting enemies. While I don’t interpret Aurelius as someone who took abuse and always turned the other cheek, I could see a monk using Aurelius’ teachings to justify an existence where he is trampled on by those stronger than he. Then again, it is in my nature to fight back against those who harm me, and doing so doesn’t directly conflict with Aurelius’ teachings. I wonder if merely whatever action you instinctively respond with to an acute event is indeed part of your nature, and for you that is the correct response. Hopefully your nature is good.

Overall this is perhaps the most important book I’ve ever read, and it came to me at exactly the right time, for if I read it three years ago it wouldn’t have impacted me as much as it has now. While I’m not sure if Meditations will impact you in the same way, I highly recommend the book to all men who have previously found stoic or Buddhist thought to be helpful in their lives.

Read More: “Meditations” on Amazon

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Durandel Almiras
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I wouldn’t say Aurelius is being Proto-Christian with the weak stance against enemies. The tendency to just take it is likely in the European blood and thought. It took a long while for Christians to pacify and uphold Gandi, a nonChristian, as the Christian example. Speak to your monk writer on ROK and even Quintus, who isn’t Christian, might know enough history of the faith to inform you when the pacifist movement in the faith really took hold.

It’s annoying to me as a Christian, to hear my fellow Christians say our faith is pacifist. It isn’t. They just justify their cowardice as “blessed are the meek” but the faith does not tolerate evil and does not acquiesce to it when confronted by it.

Granted, like you, I’m part Armenien (other is Italian) so perhaps my sense of the faith is colored by my passionate blood. But when I was in seminary, all the priests except for the cucky Leftist one said the faith allowed for the use of violence.

Marcus Antonius
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Agreed. And Aurelius was far far from pacifist! He spent much of his career as emperor in he field protecting Rome from the barbarians…. Indeed he died whilst on campaign (sadly being succeeded as Emperor by his son, the dreadful Commodus).

citizen49a
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It’s important to understand the context that Marcus wrote in, and to realize that he is less proto-Christian than an influence that Christianity relied on to explain and justify itself.

Maxwell Staniforth’s introduction to Meditations in the Penguin Classics edition is very useful in seeing the relation between Stoicism, Meditations, and Christianity. Essentially Christianity lifted some good ideas from the Stoics to help elaborate and justify itself, as distinct from Christianity originating in Stoic thought.

jz95
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I read somewhere that Quintus Curtius was of Lebanese Christian descent. What is he then?

CaptainObvious
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That is the type of Christianity I could stand behind. A kind that will not tolerate its enemies trampling it into the ground.

However sadly this is not the case with mainstream Christianity at least in the west.

Aurelius could not be considered proto Christian in my eyes.

Firstly in the quote listed about suicide and one that I tend to agree with is that when sickness or old age or injury prevent you from being a sensible man, it is honorable to end your life.

No Christian of today’s age would ever agree with that and most say that suicide ALWAYS ends with you going to hell.

Such a view is too simplistic.

Also regarding ghandi, I don’t think he was the kind of man that modern history remembers him as. He was a nationalist that at times advocated violence. Far from how he is currently represented.

Charlie Baud
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Suicide is fatalistic and cowardly. It is the route of someone who has nothing to fight for. The opposite of the heroic Christian vision.

Roosh
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But get ready: when you suggest any kind of aggression from your Christian faith, and of spouting winnable military strategy, you will be labeled a “crypto-Muslim.” I get that just for advocating for patriarchy, which pre-dates Islam by thousands of years.

him
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him
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Please check the history, Christian crusaders were not as pacifist as many today would like to believe.

Orfi'
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Please check the history, after 400 years of muslim rape and pillage of Europe, yeah the christians got the shits and did 5 offensives, this is after 100’s of battles fought against Christendom.

You better check yourself before you wreck yourself

Charlie Baud
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The Reconquista, armed Christian defence against Islamic invaders, pre-dates the crusades by centuries. To say nothing of Charlemagne’s attacks against invading Muslims. Christianity defended itself long before the Crusades.

Gladius
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Right the “Churchies’ are the main groups bringing in immigrants because they get $$$ money from the government. Saps for the pews and money for the till….

anonymous
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You should not strike back. You should not reciprocate evil with evil. Remember the disciple who cut the ear of one of the guards. What did Jesus say? I do believe that the time will come when evil will not be allowed anymore. Until then, we have to wait. When the time comes, Jesus will be the Just Judge during Final Judgement.

jsragman
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Excellent article. I would also recommend “Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot” by Admiral Jim Stockdale. It is a collection of his essays and speeches that touch on the topics of courage, leadership and the influence of the Stoics on his life. Especially Epictetus and how Stoicism helped him survive 7yrs as a POW in Vietnam.

xcalibur88
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This is the material that should be taught in schools. It rings true even after 2000 years

Nomad Prince
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Too dangerous for ‘Equality’

Marcus Antonius
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Totally agree!
The Meditations is one of a handful of books I return the again and again specially at difficult periods of my life, and have done for over 2 decades now. Truly there are few, if any, examples of stoic philosophy that truly convey the sense of a Man ‘walking the walk’. The most powerful man of his age, one of the most powerful of all time, and his *virtue*, in the true Roman and original sense of the word, meant more to him than, literally, than all the power and money in the world. It is one thing to claim the high moral ground (as, for example, SJWs so regularly do) when one has nothing to speak of, but to actually live it when one is the *ultimate* Alpha? Magnificent…
Marcus Aurelius represents an early, but still resonant, role model of what it means to be a man.

CanadianSamurai
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These meditations are mirrored very very close in Buddhist/Jainist/Hindu Yoga traditions. It’s very surprising to find two separate cultures meet at the same path. This is true wisdom for life. It’s very surprising to hear westerners speak of their unity with nature, and acceptance of death etc. Perhaps back then we were much more enlightened than we are now.

Marcus Antonius
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Yes I understand… I have seen the same thing, and am a huge fan of the overlap between a number of philosophical traditions with some Asian combat systems. It is frustrating to see how the efforts of a couple of generations of *western hating*, and frankly hysterical, leftist-SJW types have convinced vast swathes of the west that our own philosophical traditions and ‘ways’ (and yes I mean this in the same sense as ‘do’ or ‘Tao’) are somehow inferior!
Our finest philosophers interacted with ‘Eastern’ and Indian ones, and by no means in one direction only…
A longer view sets this straight… The last few generations have been pretty disastrous…

Marcus Antonius
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A tiny quibble…
Aurelius was overtly the kind of ‘Philosopher King’ recognisable from Plato’s description, but do not underestimate Octavian…
Well schooled in Greek Philosophical thought, Octavian (later Augustus) managed what his uncle Julius couldn’t and solved the near-fatal flaws of the late Roman republic and ushered in perhaps the longest golden age of peace and prosperity in the West. Along with Alexander it is arguable he laid the pattern that literally would become western civilisation.
A Philosopher King of the very first class…

Of course others might consider him the archetypal fascist dictator, but personally I think the alternative to his rise would have been far far worse…

$136606304
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“It has only been recently that Christianity has come to be synonymous with ‘wimp.’ For much of history it wasn’t that way, because Christianity celebrates the masculine.”

http://no-maam.blogspot.com/2006/01/feminization-of-christianity.html

Marcus Antonius
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There was *certainly* interactions between Hellenic philosophical thought (and not just stoicism) and Buddhism… Alexander pushed deep into India and certainly had philosophers in train (Alexander himself was tutored by Aristotle no less). There are literary remains of the interactions, for example the Milinda Panha (dating from ~100BC clearly showing the dialogue. And it was not all one way! Though perhaps out of fashion thanks to the PC crowd dismissing all western thought and traditions our philosophy is as good, often better, than any other tradition on the planet, including Buddhism…

citizen49a
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There is such an overlap between stoicism and Buddhism that I’m certain Buddhist ideas made its way to the West by the time of Christ.

I have been acquainted with Thai Buddhism for many years, and when I read Marcus I had the same thought. In fact, I went back and read Walpole Rahula’s What the Buddha Taught after Marcus, and confirmed my impressions.

There’s much to contemplate here. It shouldn’t be lost on the modern reader that Marcus is one of the western originators of the idea of framing.

The teachings of the Stoics generally are also considered to be congruent and somewhat generative of the ideas expressed in the field of cognitive psychology.

There’s an interesting treatment of all these ideas in the article “The Coddling on the American Mind” in a recent issue of The Atlantic. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/the-coddling-of-the-american-mind/399356/

An excerpt: “For millennia, philosophers have understood that we don’t see life as it is; we see a version distorted by our hopes, fears, and other attachments. The Buddha said, “Our life is the creation of our mind.” Marcus Aurelius said, “Life itself is but what you deem it.” The quest for wisdom in many traditions begins with this insight. Early Buddhists and the Stoics, for example, developed practices for reducing attachments, thinking more clearly, and finding release from the emotional torments of normal mental life.”

One complaint I have is that Aurelius seems to be proto-Christian by adopting passivity when it comes to fighting enemies

I was struck by this impression too, initially. But remember, we’re talking about the Roman Emperor here. Meditations was written while he was away from home literally defending the empire against the barbarian hordes on the war front.

His thoughts may strike us now as being passive, but we should recall that this man was commanding armies and running a far flung empire. He didn’t achieve his position or execute his duties all those years by being inert and passive in the face of fate.

feministand SJWsarescum
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now you’ve got my respect back. I also think Epictetus, Seneca and Schopenhauer kick ass. I have read a lot of books, especially all this American ‘self help’ shit like Robbins, etc….it’s all crap. The only books worth truly reading are philosophy books. Just keep the hell away from Hegel, Schilling and the like

Pilgrim_Shade
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I will say Hegel, Schilling, etc. would be useful only as to understand the basics rather than self-application.

feministand SJWsarescum
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in the ‘American self-help shit’ list I also include all the overrated assholes like Schwarzenegger and other overrated ignoramuses like that, whom most equally ignorant guys seem to kiss ass to. It seems that most guys only know about goddamn Schwarzenegger and Steve Jobs, and when you mention Epictetus they stare at you like idiots. And, of course, let’s not even talk about how ignorant most women are. They can only talk about meaningless junk you’ll never care about. A lot of Americans know too much about Americans and not much about much else. Philosophy pisses around all these stupid self-help books about how to become a millionnaire by next week, how to be a ‘winner’, how to never lose, how to be invincible and all this stupid and laughable shit. In Europe people laugh about Anthony Robbins. A while ago I mentioned the title of one of Robbins’s books to someone, ‘Awaken the Giant Within’. They laughed and I laughed with them. This stuff is so stupid. What’s worse, they are all fakes. They tell other people ‘how to’, but they themselves are not what they ‘teach’ people to be. They aren’t fucking millionnaires, or even wealthy. They just write a book about how to supposedly become wealthy. Real millionaires DETEST self-help books, i.e. Felix Dennis. And so many idiots just believe a book cover and buy it, instead of seriously questioning who the authors are. They just assume someone like Robbins know how to succeed in life on multiple levels. It’s just American hype, supported by weak minds who can’t think for themselves and who do not know anything about life.

Nick
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Modern Europeans aren’t good examples for Americans to follow (perhaps with the exception of the Eastern Europeans resisting the current invasion). I don’t see anything useful in your rant.

advancedatheist
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Our degenerate academic elites have rejected the Stoic tradition by teaching college students to see, and become indignant about, racism, sexism, white privilege, rape threats and other micro-aggressions everywhere, instead of teaching young people to shrug off these incidents by changing their thinking about them.

advancedatheist
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Look back over the past—all those many changes of dynasties. And you can foresee the future too: it will be completely alike, incapable of deviating from the rhythm of the present .So for the study of human life forty years are as good as ten thousand: what more will you see?

Marcus shows a lack of imagination here. But then he lived in a time of economic, scientific and technological stagnation, and he never traveled outside of his Empire. We can see that life has a whole lot more to offer over the centuries than the rise and fall of dynasties.

spicynujac
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While this site doesn’t get near the traffic of ROK, I appreciate the less frequent posting of articles, so that I can take time to digest and think about important ideas such as Marcus Aurelius’ above. I need to learn more about this man.

MajorStyles
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Long time fan of this book. Glad you covered it.

Energy
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Adam Levinson
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I have been listening to Meditations audiobook, and it is fascinating, but I must admit, a lot of it is very difficult for me to understand because of the combination of abstract ideas being presented, and old world language. It’s a bit like trying to decipher the Holy Bible. I am going to turn to the physical book instead, so I can read the passages over and over until I understand them. I’d recommend others do the same, possibly even using a highlighter to mark key sections.

OlioOx
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Remember that the Meditations is translated from 2nd-century Latin, and that it doesn’t need to be in ‘old world language.’ You are probably reading an old translation; look around for more recent ones. With books like this it is often helpful to read more than one translation at a time; sometimes a different way of putting something clears it up. You might look at the 2013 Oxford University Press translation by Christopher Gill.

Adam Levinson
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Thanks for the tip.

Shmalkandik
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Strange to see Christian adulation of one of their major enemies.
He saw their religion as the enemy of society, government, religion, and morals.
The pagan ethic is very different than the Christian.
The tenor of the article suggests the reclamation of male freedom is the pagan ethic to expel Christianity.
I note that even as Constantine chose Christianity for the new State religion, the Army stayed with Mithras.

Charlie Baud
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It was Christianity that made the west, not Paganism. You can look at Julian the Apostate’s attempts at “reclaiming the pagan ethic” to see why.

Shmalkandik
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True. But we can avoid the error in believing Christianity’s triumph as a monopoly religion was in any sense inevitable. Had Julian not been killed, it would have retarded the progress of the belief considerably. Expelled from the schools at Athens, deprived of state subsidies and gifts, expelled from the civil service, it would have received a considerable setback under Julian’s rule. Moreover, it would have been kept out of the army even longer, and there Mithraism might have reclaimed its popularity. Remember why Constantine chose Christianity as the new State religion. He believed, as did Roman emperors before him, that the support of the State required a state religion. He chose Christianity because after his defeat of Maxentius, a man definitely identified with the pre-existing Roman culture, he needed to establish a unifying principle. Absent subsequent state support, Christianity would not have necessarily established itself before what was left of the Western empire fell to the Barbarians.

I haven’t thought through the Eastern Empire. That part of the world is where Christianity already had great success, independent of State subsidies and political support.

Charlie Baud
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The Empire would have been Christianized anyway. As you said, it was already established in the Eastern Empire, and had persisted in the Western despite earlier persecutions. Paganism was decadent and dying, and wouldn’t have lasted much beyond Julian’s designs, no matter how long he lived.

Shmalkandik
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I think it would after been a very different Christian world if conversion comes after the Barbarian triumph,say, like the re-christianization of Britain after the disappearance of sub-roman Britain.

OlioOx
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Starting to smell a little smoke in the room, Roosh? (wink)

OlioOx
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btw, Giulio Andreotti (look him up) lived by the wisdom of his beloved Aunt Mariannina, which consisted essentially of the following four maxims:
–Never over-dramatize things.
–Always maintain a certain detachment from everything.
–Everything can be fixed.
–Few things in life are really important.

ScandinavianJake
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Just read all the quotes, but noticed something.
The exact same quote is mentioned two times. Might be a mistake or on purpose, I don’t know.

The last quote, number 9, in Existence is the same as quote number 6 in The cycle of life.
“Loss is nothing more than change. Universal nature delights in change, and all that flows from nature happens for the good. Similar things have happened from time everlasting, and there will be more such to eternity. So why do you say that everything has always happened for the bad and always will, that all those gods between them have evidently never found any power to right this, so the world is condemned to the grip of perpetual misery?”

Roosh
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Fixed

Nick McBain
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Nice to see you’re still amomng the breathing. Just about anyway. Read http://markmanson.net/woman-lovers-and-haters

OlioOx
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Everyone, I have found a modern translation of the Meditations which seems to be freely available:
http://seinfeld.co/library/meditations.pdf

buggers
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Thank you Roosh for the most excellent synopsis and for bringing this great work to my attention. To share the one quote that really hit me in the temple would be to lessen the others too much.

I will have to save this post for present and future reference as well as read the book.

Orfi'
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Definitely one of my favourite books.
Met a very famous “writer/thinker” who had not read this book,
not that i had much respect for him or his writing but he dropped to a new low when he said he had never read this, I gave him my copy, saw him a few years later, still a loser.

Imperator82
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the book ‘A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy’ is a great primer to The Meditations.

Gladius
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Read this….was great. Like the format…thank you for mentioning..

Shabtai Shazar
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It was written in Greek, not Latin.

KrakenKorpus
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RUTHLESS WITH MYSELF, COMPASSIONATE WITH OTHERS.
INTEGRITY IN YASUNÍ

Morrison
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Roosh which version are you pulling the qyotes? Cant find the passage about suicide in any of the versions I downloaded from amazon.

Gladius
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“Most important book I’ve read”….wow. Stoicism aka Western Buddhism… Tom Wolfe’s book “A Man in Full” is supposed to have many Stoic themes…

René
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René
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Note that the original was written in Greek!

Shmalkandik
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I can’t think of a philosopher whose beliefs are more inconsistent with the concept of Game than Marcus Aurelius. Game is about fulfilling desire, while the Stoics were about extinguishing it. Similarly, he was deliberately and deeply opposed to Christianity – C.S. Lewis famously accused not just of the sin of Pride, but of “Hard Pride”, pride that is proud of itself. While claiming much and deserving much was undoubtedly a pagan virtue explained at length by Aristotle in his Ethics, I don’t understand why any one calling themselves a Christian would want to claim Aurelius for his own. Similarly, pity is a vice according both to Aristotle and Aurelius. One final bit of fact – Aurelius was Geroge Orwell’s favorite philosopher, but Orwell was also a hard-core social democat – a political disposition which is very often strongly criticised on this and complementary sites.

Epicurus might seem to be the better guide for the war against the Femen. he is unique among the ancients as having as a maximand not Virtue but Ataraxia – freedom from aggravation. Virtues are merely instrumental, the practice of them useful to the extent they support Ataraxia. There is one case where Epicurus allows Ataraxia is not the best maximand, where the political environment makes it impossible to follow. In that case, and in that case only, Epicurus commends participating in politics. Else, he favors that each man go his own way. He commends pleasures, such as he would consider Game to be, as useful only to the extent their attainment supports Ataraxia. But, this approach to the problem of how best to live life is very much the opposite of the Christian one.

So I see some unresolved problems in commending either Aurelius or Epicurus as a guide to life.

Nick McBain
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So distorted, so deluded. “Ill will and resentment destroy all the benefits of spiritual practice. Ill will is the most destructive state, and kṣānti is the best ascetic practice. So we should develop kṣānti in every way we can, and with all the effort we can muster.” [from The Bodhicaryāvatāra of Śāntideva, 1,2]

Matthew Buchinger
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That has got to be one of my favorite books of all time. Thanks for sharing it with more people.

Samson
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I found that I could be satisfied by just reading a few paragraphs in the morning and focusing on applying them to my life that day. There is so much truth about life in his writing.

Taxman
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Living by “Love only what falls your way and is fated for you. What could suit you more than that?” has helped me stay focused in life. I’ve actually heard a variation of this and it goes “mi destino es muy parejo, YO LO QUIERO COMO VENGA.” It’s from a song sung by Vicente Fernandez called “El Hijo del Pueblo.”

Charlie Baud
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Why do people always take “turning the other cheek” to mean passivity? Jeus also told his followers to sell their cloaks and buy a sword.

The context for this passage (Luke 22:36) is Christ preparing to enter
into His Passion, and giving his disciples directions concerning how to
carry on His ministry without Him and through dark days. It is
interesting that He instructs his friends and followers to acquire arms
just outside of Gethsemane, and then rebukes Peter for lashing out with a
sword once the guards arrive. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
But this reproach is not a contradiction of the precedent Christ sets
of carrying a sword; neither is His famous and often-quoted admonition
of turning the other cheek. Christ’s message is indeed one of peace, but
it is also one of the sword. I came not to send peace, but the sword. To
carry arms for the defense of life is not living by the sword—as is
striking out in rage at a servant when there are soldiers about. A slap
on the face is not a life-threatening assault. Turn the other cheek to
insult. But draw your sword to preserve innocent life when it is
required.

The whole thing about “turning the other cheek” being the pussy way out
is wrong. That was a gesture to show the futility of using war and
violence in general to solve a problem. It doesn’t work. Christians are
called to LEAD BY EXAMPLE which takes tremendous inner strength. Isn’t
it harder to contain your rage and instead teach someone to use his head
before his fist? That doesn’t mean that you can’t defend yourself! If
someone is trying to hurt you or your family for no reason then by all
means fight back!

Marcus Aurelius may have some wise maxims, but they are just those, maxims. They don’t offer the full moral vision and clarity that Christianity does, which is why Christ ultimately won the Empire. The comparison to Buddhism is an apt one, as like Buddhism, it offers Westerners some sense of guidance and wisdom without actually forcing them into the uncomfortable position of having to adhere to a higher morality. But without that higher morality, things break down.

Charlie Baud
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It’s interesting to note that for as much as it is lauded, his Stocism didn’t seem to help him much in the real world.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

“Philosophy became a disease in his mind and cut him off from the truths of practical life. He was steeped in the grossest superstition; he surrounded himself with charlatans and magicians, and took with seriousness even the knavery of Alexander of Abonoteichos. The highest offices in the empire were sometimes conferred on his philosophic teachers, whose lectures he attended even after he became emperor. In the midst of the Parthian war he found time to keep a kind of private diary, his famous “Meditations”, or twelve short books of detached thoughts and sentences
in which he gave over to posterity the results of a rigorous
self-examination. With the exception of a few letters discovered among
the works of Fronto (M. Corn. Frontonis Reliquiae, Berlin, 1816) this history of his inner life is the only work which we have from his pen. The style is utterly without merit and distinction, apparently a matter of pride for he tells us he had learned to abstain from rhetoric, and poetry, and fine writing. Though a Stoic deeply rooted in the principles developed by Seneca and Epictetus, Aurelius cannot be said to have any consistent system of philosophy. It might be said, perhaps, in justice to this “seeker after righteousness”, that his faults were the faults of his philosophy rooted in the principle that human nature naturally inclined towards evil and needed to be constantly kept in check”

Ereetreeya
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I see Aurelius’ thoughts to be very Nihilistic, and fatalistic if you count the quote about the cheapness of life. If you simplify things as efficiently as he has, you realize there is no reason for anything or life. What I don’t understand is then why doesn’t he adopt nihilism in his actions? Why not kill yourself then? A ruler must have motivations to accomplish anything of any meaning, but clearly he doesn’t believe what he is saying since his rule was full of meaning, and studied by generations of men. If you seek to accomplish anything, you can’t simply accept that nature has a plan for you, and that you have no freedom of will since you cannot improve your standing in life, according to his philosophy.

I outright disagree that if you die, you merely “take on a different form” no. When you die, your body and mind are lost. This is why ownership of things is crucial, because it is the work one does that entitles us to the assets won by that work. Aurelius seems to advocate that trying to advance your life is futile because “all you have is the present moment”, but you don’t. You have scars you carry with you that you cannot remove, and yet you also have the assets that pay you from those scars you’ve received.

He also asserts that old age is some kind of scourge. Getting old isn’t this fun experience, but men become powerful with age, so long as they’ve been faithful to the virtues he mentions (truth, courage, justice, freedom, etc.) unlike women. I would then also argue that Aurelius would be disgusted by the entire Asian culture that which gave us Buddhism, for the same reason. I agree that living a life of a slave is not desirable, nor an honorable life, but he completely ignores the need for human self-preservation. Again, you don’t like your life? Why not just kill yourself? Because you would be denying yourself the future pleasure you might one day have. Because you’ve been scraped and bloodied in your pursuit of what is rightfully yours.

adsdim
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Marcus Aurelius was undoubtedly one of the greatest (both in character and charisma) emperors of the Roman empire. His book meditations is indeed a guide on how to live a virtuous life. However Marcus Aurelius was not the only Roman emperor who fits the title of “philosopher King”, they were others especially in the later years of the Roman Empire. One example was Julian https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_(emperor) the so called Apostate, the last pagan emperor of the Roman Empire. He was a philosopher before he eventually became an emperor and had wrote many books in ancient Greek. Misopogon https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misopogon and against Galilaeans https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Against_the_Galilaeans are one of his most notable works still surviving today. He was not a stoic as Aurelius but rather a neoplatonist mysticist. Roosh you should check him out!

Marcus Antonius
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A fine point… and quite correct, I think.

One could make a similar argument for Octavian, who started the whole thing off! Well renowned for being a ‘bookworm’ and compulsive reader of Greek philosophy in his youth…