Born on A.D. 121 in Rome, Marcus Annus Verus was renamed Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, the name by which the would-be emperor is referred to in history, after having been adopted by the Emperor T. Aurelius Antoninus. He inherited the empire in A. D. 161 and was a ruler until his death in A. D. 180. M. Aurelius was taught by the orator Fronto, but shifted from studying rhetoric to studying Stoic philosophy—that which circles around the denial of emotion in order to free man from the pains and pleasures of the material world—of which he was known as the last distinguished articulator. Among his most memorable articulations under Stoicism, the “Meditations,” written in Greek during his campaign in Central Europe in A. D. 171-175, stood out since the emperor practiced what he philosophized. With extreme conscientiousness, M. Aurelius carried out his randomly-composed reflections with great consistency both in his public and private life. M. Aurelius wrote his diary as a source for his own guidance and self-improvement. It is vague whether or not he intended these writings to be published in order to survive and inspire up to this day, so the title “Meditations” is only one of the many usually designated to this collection. These meditations assume the structure of quotations with length that varies from one sentence to kilometric paragraphs. Calling his collection “The matters addressed to himself,” M. Aurelius’ “Meditations” literally means “thoughts/writings addressed to himself.” As was mentioned above, he wrote his personal reflections and aphorisms during his march to public military service in Central European battlefields. Hence, Book I is entitled 'This among the Quadi on the Gran,” and Book II, “Written at Carnuntum.” All twelve books contained in M. Aurelius’ “Meditations” have philosophical questions that resemble the teachings of fellow Stoic Epictetus (A. D. 55-135). The latter philosopher’s fundamental principles were “Endure” and “Abstain.” M. Aurelius emphasized these principles in his musings by reflecting that freedom is to be achieved through the submission to the force of the universe, and rigid detachment from the things beyond one’s power. The emperor went on to say that the only way a man can be injured by others is to permit his reactions to intoxicate him. While there was no specific evidence of his religious faith in “Meditations,” the author seems inclined in the belief that a rational, good force arranges the universe in such a manner that even bad happenings happen for the benefit of the whole. This is proved by the beginning of Book I, Chapter XVII: “Whatsoever proceeds from the gods immediately, that any man will grant totally depends from their divine providence. As for those things that are commonly said to happen by fortune, even those must be conceived to have dependence from nature, or from that first and general connection, and concatenation of all those things, which more apparently by the divine providence are administered and brought to pass. All things flow from thence: and whatsoever it is that is, is both necessary, and conducing to the whole (part of which thou art), and whatsoever it is that is requisite and necessary for the preservation of the general, must of necessity for every particular nature, be good and behoveful.” One such bad occurrence is the collapse of the well-received Pax Romana, which happened during his reign. This must have influenced what continues in Book I, Chapter XVII: “And as for the whole, it is preserved, as by the perpetual mutation and conversion of the simple elements one into another, so also by the mutation, and alteration of things mixed and compounded. Let these things suffice thee; let them be always unto thee, as thy general rules and precepts.” A significant component of Stoicism was the recurrence of everything: the entire universe turns to fire and then repeats itself. The Rome he was ruling had had a great celebration of imperial peace, but all was set to end; in the case of Pax Romana, one and a half centuries. It was the will of the providence at work in the demise of Roman Peace. Book I of “Meditations” offers a readable organization and unity, yet the others do not show these qualities. Marcus Aurelius pondered upon his philosophical summary during the last years of his life while on campaign along the marshlands of the faraway Danube . Among the central themes is man's destiny to die and be forgotten. "What should be valued?", he queries, but does not find the answer in the rewards of glory. When Stoic philosophy pointed to humanity’s duty of discovering living harmoniously with natural order, he sadly hoped he could this live this out, too: “Even in a palace life may be lived well.” His meditation on death is paradoxical: “He who fears death either fears the loss of sensation or a different kind of sensation. But if thou shalt have no sensation, neither wilt thou feel any harm; and if thou shalt acquire another kind of sensation, thou wilt be a different kind of living being and thou wilt not cease to live.” Speaking of death, death was integral to the emperor’s philosophy. He was not an avid fan of the afterlife. “We live for an instant,” he wrote, “only to be swallowed in complete forgetfulness and the void of infinite time on this side of us.” He said further, “Think how many ere now, after passing their life in implacable enmity, suspicion, hatred... are now dead and burnt to ashes.” According to Marcus Aurelius, all things will become absolute oblivion, including legends. “Of the life of man the duration is but a point, its substance streaming away, its perception dim, the fabric of the entire body prone to decay, and the soul a vortex, and fortune incalculable, and fame uncertain. In a word all things of the body are as a river, and the things of the soul as a dream and a vapour; and life is a warfare and a pilgrim's sojourn, and fame after death is only forgetfulness.” “Everything existing” is already disintegrating and changing... everything is by nature made but to die." 'The length of one's life is irrelevant, "for look at the yawning gulf of time behind thee and before thee at another infinity to come. In this eternity the life of a baby of three days and the life of a nestor of three centuries are as one." 'To desire is to be permanently disappointed and disturbed, since everything we desire in this world is "empty and corrupt and paltry." For Marcus Aurelius, death was something to be desired since it is an end to all desires to be had.. In spite of these reflections on life and death, Marcus Aurelius was an advocate of logical virtue. He harbored indifference towards the brutalities in life. As an emperor, he had Christians subjected to persecution and fought regularly on military campaigns. He rationalized his actions by pointing at the unimportance of global affairs. A zealous devotee of the Roman religion, Marcus Aurelius deemed the Christians fanatics, who do not face death with stoic dignity. “How lovely the soul that is prepared—when its hour comes to slough off this flesh—for extinctions, dispersion, or survival! But this readiness should result from a personal decision, not from sheer contrariness like the Christians...” Perhaps, Marcus Aurelius was virtually of Christian beliefs. It was significant to point out this context in the emperor’s because the ferocious ruthlessness with which the persecution was implemented in Gaul was a contrast of his writings. He doubtlessly believed that the religion threatened the values that established Rome’s glory. Aurelius might not have been an original or clever thinker, but his “Meditations” manifest well the Stoic spirit in Greco-Roman culture. The recurrence of themes and the groups of quotations from other authors improve this impression. One example may be found in Book III, Chapter XVII: “To be violently drawn and moved by the lusts and desires of the soul, is proper to wild beasts and monsters, such as Phalaris and Nero were. To follow reason for ordinary duties and actions is common to them also…” This runs parallel with that one-liner found in Book VII, Chapter VIII: “To a reasonable creature, the same action is both according to nature, and according to reason.” Via the “Meditations,” he put stress on the importance of reason as the guiding arm of Stoicism. The “Meditations” faithfully depict the mind and character of the noblest of the Emperors that’s Marcus Aurelius. These musings, uncomplicated in style and sincere in tone, are an enduring record of the proportion attained by pagan aspiration in its attempt to address the problem of conduct. The “Meditations” were the theoretical manifestation of the practical character Marcus Aurelius exuded in his tempered life as a Roman emperor.
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