Marcus Aurelius: The Last of the “Five Good Emperors”
Marcus Aurelius, born in 121 AD in Rome, was adopted by Emperor Antoninus Pius at the age of 17. Known as the last of the “Five Good Emperors,” Aurelius was not born into power, but he was groomed to be the next emperor through his adoption. Historians refer to him as a wise and just ruler who was incredibly loyal to his duty to serve the Roman Empire.
As a boy, Aurelius was taught by various private tutors, and he became particularly interested in philosophy. It is even said that he took on the dress and behavior of a philosopher by sleeping on the floor at night, which made his mother unhappy. This story shows that Aurelius had a natural curiosity and a desire to be a self-experimenter. He believed that philosophy wasn’t just something to think about, but that it should also be practiced.
Today, Aurelius is perhaps best known for his collection of essays called Meditations. Although we don’t know many details about Marcus’ day-to-day life, Meditations offers a glimpse into his mind, his habits, and his approach to life. The very act of writing Meditations, which took him at least 10 years, is evidence of his commitment to habit, consistency, and improvement.
A book for one’s own self-improvement
For more ideas, quotes, and musings from Marcus Aurelius, reading his book, Meditations is highly recommended. As far as we know, it was written mostly for his own self-improvement, so it doesn’t follow a rigid structure of any type. Nonetheless, the book is widely regarded as one of the greatest texts on Stoic philosophy, and I think any reader would find something useful to take away from it.
Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC. It teaches that the path to peace and happiness is attained by accepting what is out of one’s control, cultivating virtues such as wisdom and self-control, and being impartial and kind to others. Marcus Aurelius was well-versed in Stoic philosophy and applied it to his life and leadership. Below, you will find some quotes from his book that reflect his Stoic philosophy.
Quotes from Marcus Aurelius
On fulfilling your duty…
“Everything, a horse, a vine, is created for some duty. For what task, then, were you yourself created? A man’s true delight is to do the things he was made for.”
On dealing with criticism…
“You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
“You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.”
“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.”
On taking action…
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”
On asking for help…
“Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?”
On living a good life…
“Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thoughts as, for example: Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible.”
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
Note: I’ve been told this final quote has been incorrectly attributed to Marcus Aurelius, but I left it in because I still find it useful.
Marcus Aurelius, the last of the “Five Good Emperors,” was a wise and just ruler who applied Stoic philosophy to his life and leadership. He believed that philosophy should not merely be something to think about but practiced as well. His collection of essays, Meditations, offers a glimpse into his mind, his habits, and his approach to life, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest texts on Stoic philosophy. Aurelius’ quotes reveal his Stoic philosophy and teach us how to fulfill our duties, deal with criticism, take action, ask for help, and live a good life.