Who Was Marcus Aurelius?
Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor. He lived between 121 and 180 A.D. and covered the role of Emperor between 161 and 180. His reign was characterized by a sequel of unfortunate circumstances, such as a malicious plague – known as the Plague of Galen – that spread in the empire between 165 and 180. Aurelius had also to fight wars throughout his entire reign, including those against the Marcomanni, the Quadi, the Sarmatians, and the Germanic tribes.
It was during the campaign in Greece between 170 and 180 that he wrote his philosophical masterpiece, the Meditations.
Aurelius’s Meditations is probably the best account of Ancient Stoicism that we can read. Written as a series of aphorisms, the text covers all major areas of philosophical inquiry, most notably metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.
Early modern philosophers such as Descartes were evidently influenced by Aurelius’s work; this is evident not only from the title of one of the major works of Descartes, the Meditations on First Philosophy, but also from the philosophical questions that Descartes investigated most actively in the latter part of his life, that is the passions. Aurelius’s Meditations are indeed a great way to reflect on our own passions, the extents and the means through which we can control them. Let us see some sample passages.
"You will find rest from vain fancies if you perform every act in life as though it were your last."
"The longest-lived and the shortest-lived man, when they come to die, lose one and the same thing."
"For a man can lose neither the past nor the future; for how can one take from him that which is not his? So remember these two points: first, that each thing is of like form from everlasting and comes round again in its cycle, and that it signifies not whether a man shall look upon the same things for a hundred years or two hundred, or for an infinity of time; second, that the longest lived and the shortest lived man, when they come to die, lose one and the same thing."
"Remember that man lives only in the present, in this fleeting instant; all the rest of his life is either past and gone, or not yet revealed. Short, therefore, is man's life, and narrow is the corner of the earth wherein he dwells."
"Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains; and thou too art wont to desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in thy power whenever thou shalt choose to retire into thyself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul."
"All that is harmony for you, my Universe, is in harmony with me as well. Nothing that comes at the right time for you is too early or too late for me. Everything is fruit to me that your seasons bring, Nature. All things come of you, have their being in you, and return to you."
"Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things are the cooperating causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web."
"All things are implicated with one another, and the bond is holy; and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other things. For things have been co-ordinated, and they combine to make up the same universe. For there is one universe made up of all things, and one god who pervades all things, and one substance, and one law, and one reason."
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