Marcus Aurelius, best known by his portrayal in Russell Crowe’s epic film, Gladiator, was actually a real-life Roman Emperor. In the film, we only saw Marcus as a dying old man who served mostly as a plot device to initiate Russell Crowe’s journey from beloved Roman legionnaire general to a slave gladiator. But in history, Marcus was one of the most acclaimed Roman rulers.
During his reign from 161 – 180 CE, he crushed the resurgent Parthian Empire (modern day Middle East), tussled and checked the barbaric Germanic tribes in Central Europe, and quelled a revolt by his Eastern regent Avidius Cassius. In a time of struggle and conflict, Marcus maintained some semblance of order and peace in the Empire. But he was much more than just a war leader. In fact, he was a prolific writer and thinker, and best known by philosophers as a leading voice in the Stoic school of thought.
Stoic ethics can perhaps be crudely chopped down to a few basic tenets: 1.) apply self-discipline and logic to become free from emotion in decision-making and judgment, 2.) happiness is a choice of free will and don’t let the world’s rigidity make that choice for you, and 3.) actions and behavior speak louder than words. Let’s take a look at Marcus’ writing to tease out the nuances of his stoic philosophy:
On getting things done:
I recommend that you check out his full Meditations to grok into the mind of a Roman Emperor. But at the end of the day, apply what you read and make great things happen in the world. I’ll leave you with one last Marcus tidbit:
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