The sayings of Marcus Aurelius

Young Marcus, Naples Archeological Museum, photo by the author

I have recently examined three surviving speeches by Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic emperor. Here I will take a look at a number of scattered sayings — i.e., bits that do not appear either in the speeches or in the Meditations — collected as part of the excellent Delphi’s Complete Works of Marcus Aurelius and translated by C.R. Haines. As Haines’ introduction states, the picture of Marcus that emerges from these sayings is “a striking combination of ‘sweetness and gravity,’ of mildness and tenacity, of justice and mercy. We see a truly religious man who lived up to his creed, a tempered Stoicism.”

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The speeches of Marcus Aurelius

Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius on Capitoline Hill, Rome (photo by the author)

We are all familiar with Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, one of the most famous books of practical philosophy of all ages. But did you know that we also have three speeches attributed to Marcus? They are collected in Delphi’s Complete Works of Marcus Aurelius, and it’s worth to take a look even though they only indirectly speak to Stoic philosophy.

There are three such speeches: one to the Roman Army at the news of the revolt of Cassius in 175 CE; a speech sent by Marcus to the Senate after that same revolt; and his last words before dying.

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Stoic advice: I want a child, but I can’t conceive

[To submit a question to the Stoic advice column send an email to massimo at howtobeastoic dot org.]

N. writes: “I am a 35 year old woman and I would love to start a family. However, despite months of trying I have not conceived and continue to hope that this will happen either naturally or with fertility interventions. Like many women there is a feeling of longing to have a baby and nurture, and many of my friends now have families and I enjoy spending time with their children. I am aware of my biological clock and the fact that I have a condition which could effect my ability to conceive. I wonder what Stoicism would say about fulfillment of desires and coping with life not going as one would so desperately like it to. I would love a baby but want to manage my expectations as fate may have a different plan, and at present I feel very sad about the thought that my yearning for a baby may not be satisfied. This question could relate to any goal someone wants and feels would help make their life complete.”

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Stoic advice: gender identity

[To submit a question to the Stoic advice column send an email to massimo at howtobeastoic dot org.]

M. writes: “I am sending you a long email describing in considerable detail the complications in my life as they relate to my gender identity and, more broadly, how fact or truth can be determined by Stoics as well as some ethical issues. Hopefully, you will find it raises sufficiently meaningful questions to address at your wonderful website. Born on the cutting edge of the baby boomers as a biological male, I grew up in the Fifties and early Sixties, became a physician and continue to work full time. I have been married 49 years and have two adult daughters and two grandchildren. I am also transgender.”

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Stoic advice: I get into arguments and then I regret it

[To submit a question to the Stoic advice column send an email to massimo at howtobeastoic dot org.]

B. writes: “I’m not sure if foolishness deserves a post but I shall put it out there. I’m a naturally social person whose brazenness leads to offense. I don’t intend to confront those who I end up offending, I just generally try to make a point of an issue and end up being meaner than I both intend to and should be. Perhaps it is no more than attempting to being cleverer than I actually am, but I’m sure that I do more harm than good. If others point out the silliness of a comment I’m happy to accept it. I just seem to have an issue between the mind and the mouth. Can you think of any Stoic advice for someone like myself?”

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Stoic advice: how to deal with family feuds

The Montecchi vs the Capuleti family feud

[To submit a question to the Stoic advice column send an email to massimo at howtobeastoic dot org.]

K. writes: “My wife’s parents divorced when she was young. Her dad left her mom for another woman whom he’s been married to for years. Obviously the event didn’t sit well with the family. Her dad’s family disowned him (there was a physical scuffle between him and his two brothers) and haven’t spoken to him since. The same goes with her mom. The day he left was the last time they spoke. My wife went years without seeing her father but when she was older she reached out and they’ve had a relationship since, and she’s currently the only one in the family to do so. Her family holds grudges and every so often we’ll get questions or comments about her dad from the others but we’ve learned to shrug them off.”

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Stoic advice: traveling like a Stoic

[To submit a question to the Stoic advice column send an email to massimo at howtobeastoic dot org.]

M., writes: “How should a Stoic approach travel? When you travel — particularly to a part of the world that has a much different culture and language than one’s own — you are thrust into unfamiliar situations and environments, giving you a different perspective on things you may have taken for granted back home. These are great conditions and opportunities for practicing Stoicism. In the familiar situations and environments that many of us find ourselves in when at home, it often seems as though we have more control over external conditions than we actually do.”

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