Aurelius Embodied the Truths of the Great Stoics

The Great Stoics and its Truth That the Great Aurelius Embodied

Though many philosophers came before him, Aurelius' position as an emperor of Rome gives us a unique look into the guiding principles of the man.
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
By Mark Hoerrner

There is no destiny and no future, or at least, so Marcus Aurelius believed. Wisdom guides judgment, and judgment is king.

Marcus Aurelius was born Marcus Annius Catilius Severus on April 26, 121 B.C. When he was named as the Roman Emperor in 161 B.C, he was given the name Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. He ruled Rome for nearly 20 years, until his death in 180 B.C. He is considered to be the last of the "five good emperors" of Rome.

We know from Aurelius' 12-volume work, Meditations, that he measured joy as opposed to pleasure, that the mind was an impregnable citadel and that the only factor the people truly have control over, is the present moment.

He would go on to say that people should master their feelings as emotions could be distracting and that the quality of the moment-not the quantity-was the important facet in happiness. In fact, he likened one moment of joy to a lifetime of joy. To participate in that story, that moment, was to be filled with joy.

His thoughts were to control judgment, desire, and will to the point that one found harmony, not just internally, but externally with people and nature.

"Set aside subjective value judgments and govern inner discourse. Assent to true, dissent from false, suspend judgment on uncertain," Aurelius wrote.

The only good and evil are moral goods and moral evils. Things, by themselves, are not evil. Marcus Aurelius would lend nothing but indifference to indifferent things. Nature, he said, put us in juxtaposition with other people and places, and thus determined to whom we would be obligated and to whom we would feel a sense of duty. Knowing this, he said, puts us in harmony with nature and leads us to truth, good temperament, and wisdom. Pleasure and pain, he wrote, are not evils. In fact, in his view, the only real evil was that perpetrated against a moral code, and even then it was not perpetrated truly against us, but against the transgressor.

Furthering his call to live in the moment, and as such he looked towards death as a positive phenomenon. For him, each day was his last and was to be lived like a man who is living on borrowed time. Like the Christian faith, he advocated "dying to self" in order to achieve a greater, more universal objective.

"He who has learned to die has unlearned slavery," he wrote.

In writing his meditations, part of his meditation was the writing. He advocated that writing was a nod to universality and that it makes solid what lies dormant and intangible in the mind. The subjective, through writing, can become objective and make the writer part of a community wherein his writings is a form of exercise and catharsis.