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Marcus Aurelius by Joseph Kleinman

With the success of the motion picture Gladiator, it might be interesting to take a closer look at the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. It was at the end of this emperor's reign in the year A.D. 180 that the story begins as a war with German barbarians is drawing to a close. This isn't mentioned in the movie but it was the intention of Marcus to annex Germany into the empire as was done with Gaul and Britain in earlier centuries. Had that happened, the history of the world might have been changed for the better. In any case, Commoodus, the emperor's son, abandoned the project in favor of less worthy pursuits.

Now let's take a look at Aurelius the man by considering his thoughts and intentions as expressed by him in his own words. Marcus Aurelius kept a journal which was never intended for public consumption. He called it "To Myself," today we call it "Meditations." It was published by his family after his death. This writer keeps a copy on his nightstand and never tires of reading it for the wisdom it contains.

Book III Entry IV

"Waste not the remainder of your life in thoughts about others, except when you are concerned with some unselfish purpose. For you are losing an opportunity to do something else, when you have such thoughts as: What is such a person doing, and why, and what is he saying, and what is he thinking, and what is he contriving? And whatever else of the kind makes us forget our own ruling principle. We ought to check in the course of our thoughts everything that is without a purpose and useless, but most of all meddling and maliciousness. A man should train himself to think only of those things about which if you were suddenly asked, what have you now in your thoughts? With perfect openness you might immediately answer, this or that: so that from your words it should be plain that everything in you is sincere and kindly, and befitting a social animal, and one that cares not for thoughts of pleasure or sensual enjoyments or any rivalry or envy or suspicion, or anything else which you would blush if you were to say it was in your mind. For such a man, who delays not to enter among the best, is like a priest and minister of the gods and uses the divinity which is within him, which keeps him uncontaminated by pleasure, unharmed by pain, untouched by insult, feeling no wrong, a fighter in the noblest fight, one who cannot be overpowered by passion, steeped in justice, accepting with all his soul everything that happens and is assigned to him as his portion."

"Not often, nor without some great necessity and for the general interest, does he conjecture what another says, or does, or thinks. For it is only what belongs to himself that he is concerned about; he thinks constantly of what is assigned to him out of the sum total of things, and makes his own acts fair, and is persuaded that his own lot is good. For the lot assigned to each man moves along with him and carries him along with it. He remembers also that every rational being is his kinsman, and that to care for all men is natural to man; and that a man should not care for the opinion of everybody but of those only who live according to nature."

"As for those who live not so, he bears always in mind what kind of men they are both at home and abroad, both by night and by day, and what they are, and with what companions they live their evil life. Accordingly, he values not at all the praise which comes from such men, since they are not satisfied even with themselves."

Marcus Aurelius was the last of the so called "Good Emperors." After his death, the empire began its decline into despotism and eventual collapse.

Marcus Aurelius as emperor on a bronze sestertius:

aurelius.jpg (24613 bytes)
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