Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, a book series introduction.
An emperor who ruled Rome in AD 117-38 liked to call a young boy verissimus (most true and truthful). When the young boy was adopted, he was given the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus or commonly known as Marcus Aurelius.
Marcus Aurelius received the titles Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus on 7 March AD 161, to which was added the title and the office of Pontifex Maximus, the highest religious office in Rome. He ruled Rome until his death on the northern frontiers of the Roman Empire on 17 March AD 180.
Marcus spent most of his life responding to the urgent solicitations of letters and petitions. And during his reign, there were natural disasters at home: the flooding of the Tiber and the plague that reached Rome.
Despite the external pressures from every side, he managed to maintain a very private life. In the last twenty years of his life, he somehow found or made time to address himself in a form of journal or letters. These carefully written compositions of Marcus Aurelius that have already helped many people were now known as Meditations.
Could this ancient book give relevant answers to modern life questions?
The answer is yes. Let me tell you why.
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius address a self that has retreated from public view. Also, it can be observed that the higher self is confronting the weaker part of the self that threatens the pursuit of a virtuous life.
There is much more than inner dialogue to be found in The Meditations. There are long reflections on duty, virtue, in the place of human rationality, self-control, happiness, choices, the nature of anger, death, and regret, and epigrams, aphorisms, and quotations that seem to be relevant with the stories of common people of the modern time.
Common people who experience external pressures and disturbances should take a moment and address themselves – their decisions, their external and internal situations, their choices, their actions, or even their fundamental beliefs.
Addressing oneself seeks to review and confirm ones fundamental beliefs. Like Marcus, he does not attempt to disqualify his beliefs or to win an argument, but he attempts to have a reformed attitude that will direct his mind and action. The desire to have control over his mind and his actions seem to be caused by an early influence on Marcus Aurelius by the Stoics.
Stoicism: A Brief History
Stoicism was a school of philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium. He derived the name stoic from the Greek word Stoa (in English “porch”) where he first taught his students. When Zeno moved from Cyprus to Athens in 313 BC, Zeno’s successor, Cleanthes, became the head of the school in Athens from 263 – 232 BC. Then, Chrysippus (c.280 – 207 BC) succeeded him and was credited with establishing an all-encompassing Stoic orthodoxy.
The word stoic has two meanings: it describes both a member of the school of philosophy Zeno founded in the Painted Stoa at the approach to the ancient Agora of Athens and a person who represses his emotions and desires, is indiffirent to pleasure or pain, and is enduring.
A Brief IntroductioN to Stoic Philosophy
We cannot control all events, but we can control our attitude toward what happens. It is useless to fear future events, for they will happen in any case. But it is possible by an act of will to control our fear. To simply put it together, there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
“Do not demand that events should happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.”Epictetus
For stoics, human rationality does not simply mean that people are able to think or to reason about things. It has a deeper sense. It means that a person’s nature participates in the rationality of the structure and order of the whole of nature.
Human rationality represents our awareness of the actual order of things and our place in this order. It involves our awareness that all things obey the law. Marcus refers to human rationality or the controlling principle as the ‘directing mind’ over impressions, impulses, desires, and passions.
For example, in the drama, it is the author or the director that gives each a role (depending on individual abilities). The actor does not have control over this role assignment. Also, actors do not have control over the story or the plot but only the director. But there is one thing that the actors can control – their attitudes, emotions, and their portrayal of their role.
In reality, we sulk and become jealous because someone else is chosen to play the role of a hero, a wealthy man, an educated man, a privileged man. We sulk or become jealous of not being able to get what we want. But neither sulking nor being jealous can alter the fact that we do not have the role that is not assigned to us. These feelings can only rob us of happiness and ignore the things we already have.
Instead of sulking or feeling jealous, we can use our reasoned choice to reorient our perceptions and actions to an external event. In hope we can get a better outcome, for this instance, to be given the role we think we deserve.
“Our ‘reasoned choice’ is our ability to use our reason to choose how we categorize, respond, and reorient ourselves to external events.”Epictetus
The stoics know that the wise person is the one who knows and accepts his or her role. And he/she will more likely achieve serenity and happiness that are a mark of a wise person.
Some of the advocates of stoicism in Rome were Cicero (106 – 43 BCE), Epictetus (60 – 117 CE), Seneca (ca. 4 BCE – 65 CE), and Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE).
The Stoic Emperor: Marcus Aurelius Meditations are Medications
Marcus Aurelius was influenced by Stoics in his early years. His adoptive father, Antoninus Pius, was a stoic. He adopted the ‘Greek way of life’ which meant wearing a rough cloak and sleeping on the ground.
Marcus Philosophy is the therapy of the soul. He practices a variety of therapies on his soul:
- Merismos – the word means breaking into part or dissection. He was convinced that of the projects of Philosophy is to analyze the world of men and matter into its parts; then to reach a conception of the Whole of which they are parts – or members.
- We can only live in (if not for) the present moment by analyzing the pleasure of watching a dance by breaking it down into movements that become jerks as they are arrested frame by frame.
- The project of withdrawing into the self or, in our sense of the word, ‘meditation’.
“Withdraw into yourself. It is in the nature of the rational directing mind to be self-content with acting rightly and the calm it thereby enjoys.”Marcus Aurelius
In this sense, his Meditations become his medications.
The Meditations were composed to provide personal consolation and encouragement.
By reading this book, we too could find consolation and encouragement. Especially on those days that we feel our life is full of disruptions, external pressures, and problems,.
Allow ourselves to be relaxed and be renewed by retreating into ourselves, or in short, turn into meditations like Marcus Aurelius, the adopted child who changed the lives of many people.
I am thrilled to share with my first ever book series!
You can find them in my new category, BOOK SERIES!
The goal of my book series is the same goal I have expressed in Why Do I Write.
If there is anything you want to say about my writing,
please comment them down below or send me an e-mail!
My 2020 goal is to read a book per month; share with people what I learn from and feel about the book. For July 2020, the book I read is The Meditations By Marcus Aurelius.
1. The Meditations By Marcus Aurelius.
2. The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living.
3. Socrates to Sartre and Beyond: A History of Philosophy by Samuel Enoch Stumpf.
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