This book collects a large number of Marcus Aurelius’ thoughts about life as a Stoic. Marcus Aurelius, for those of you who don’t know, was Roman Emperor in the middle portion of the Empire. He might sound a little familiar because Joaquin Phoenix killed him in Gladiator.
The book reads like a set of Stoic tweets or fortune cookies. There is no flow to them, really, aside from a couple that seem to follow stream of consciousness style. When my children removed my bookmark from the book, I was quite in a spot, since you really cannot remember where you were based on context, because many of the things are repetitive and restate the same things only slightly differently. So this book took me a while to slog through.
I’m not a fan of Aurelius’ Stoicism; it is a philosophy of emperors and slaves (Aurelius’ mentor, Epicetus, was a slave, and I have his collection to get through sometime but not soon). It urges you to bear up under your life, as its course is determined outside of you, and to do right and live according to the tenets of Stoicism, which seems to include noticing that you’re not in control of your life and it really doesn’t mean much anyway since you will be forgotten.
As this is a Classics Club edition, it also includes other material, including:
- Several chapters of a novel entitled Marius the Epicurean which imagines and presents a fictional but descriptive portrait of Aurelius in his times (and a Christian ceremony at the time).
- Two satires by Lucian that make fun of Stoicism.
- A couple of pieces by Justin, including a dialog discussing his conversion to Christianity and an apology for Christianity (not an “I’m Sorry” kind of apology, but more an explanation of it) written with Aurelius in mind. These bits are very interesting in their own right (and rite) in that they very seriously compare the mysteries of Jesus Christ with various elements and deities in the Roman pantheon, saying these guys you worship did this, why is it so seditious that we believe Christ did this.
Overall, the most I derive out of this book is that I can say I read it. The philosophy within did not inspire me to something more, nor did it add anything to my credos. The pieces by Justin were interesting and helped provide me with some insight into early Christianity. The whole of it helped fill some historical gaps in my knowledge, I suppose, but I prefer Cicero to Marcus Aurelius when it comes to talking about Stoicism. This sort of Stoicism offers me no comfort since I prefer to believe in Free Will.