An Interesting Look At A Role Model

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

I’ve been preoccupied elsewhere this week and haven’t written much of anything. So, I’ll let someone else do the talking. I came across the lecture posted below that someone loaded on YouTube. The speaker is Professor Michael Sugrue, who has been a lecturer in history and philosophy at Princeton and currently at Ave Maria. His topic is Stoicism, specifically the figure of Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor (considered one of the few good ones) and a practitioner of Stoicism. He is best known for his “Meditations” which was really a personal journal where he reminds himself of the ideas that sustain him. It was never intended for public consumption.

I first encountered Meditations years ago as a student long before really considering Stoicism as a living practice. I confess I have given the good emperor scant attention compared to one of the other great surviving Stoic voices, Epictetus. Since Epictetus was an actual teacher of Stoic philosophy I was more inclined to turn to his words. After listening to this lecture and also recently reading some of Pierre Hadot’s thoughts on the subject I’ve been giving Meditations some renewed attention. Its also true that Marcus Aurelius penned one of my all-time favorite passages:

“Concentrate every minute like a Roman – like a man – on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice. And on freeing yourself from all other distractions. Yes you can – if you do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life, and stop being aimless, stop letting your emotions override what your mind tells you, stop being hypocritical, self-centered, irritable. You see how few things you have to do to live a satisfying and reverent life? If you can manage this, that’s all even the gods can ask of you.”

– Gregory Hays translation

One of the most compelling ideas presented by Sugrue is how much Marcus Aurelius stands as a role model.  Marcus not only studied Stoicism but he lived it.  He “walked the walk” while facing the enormous pressures and temptations of absolute power.    If you find this sort of thing at all interesting I recommend checking out the lecture.  The first part is background information but as it goes the character study is very well done.

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