Marus Aurelius – An Artist’s Impression

From The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius’ father, Marcus Annius Verus, died when Marcus Aurelius was a young boy, around the age of three. Nevertheless he seems to have made a profound impact on his son, who pays tribute to him in his meditations. No doubt he depended on other people for some of the details of the portrait he paints here – which is, of course, rich in Stoicism.

I learned from my father gentleness and undeviating constancy in judgments formed after due reflection; not to be puffed up with glory as men understand it; to be laborious and assiduous.

He taught me to give ready hearing to any man who offered anything tending to the common good; to mete out impartial justice to every one; to apprehend rightly when severity and when clemency should be used; to abstain from all impure lusts; and to use humanity towards all men.

Thus he left his friends at liberty to sup with him or not, to go abroad with him or not, exactly as they inclined; and they found him still the same if some urgent business had prevented them from obeying his commands.

I learned of him accuracy and patience in council, for he never quitted an enquiry satisfied with first impressions.

I observed his zeal to retain his friends without being fickle or over fond; his contentment in every condition; his cheerfulness; his forethought about very distant events; his unostentatious attention to the smallest details; his restraint of all popular applause and flattery.

Ever watchful of the needs of the Empire, a careful steward of the public revenue, he was tolerant of the censure of others in affairs of that kind.

He was neither a superstitious worshipper of the Gods, nor an ambitious pleaser of men, nor studious of popularity, but in all things sober and steadfast, well skilled in what was honourable, never affecting novelties.

As to the things which make the ease of life, and which fortune can supply in such abundance, he used them without pride, and yet with all freedom: enjoyed them without affectation when they were present, and when absent he found no want of them.

No man could call him sophist, buffoon, or pedant. He was a man of ripe experience, a full man, one who could not be flattered, and who could govern himself as well as others.

I further observed that he honoured all who were true philosophers, without upbraiding the rest, and without being led astray by any.

His manners were easy, his conversation delightful, but not cloying. He took regular but moderate care of his body, neither as one over fond of life or of the adornment of his person, nor as one who despised these things.

Thus, through his own care, he seldom needed any medicines, whether salves or potions.

It was his special merit to yield without envy to any who had acquired any special faculty, as either eloquence, or learning in the Law, in ancient customs, or the like; and he aided such men strenuously, so that every one of them might be regarded and esteemed for his special excellence.

He observed carefully the ancient customs of his forefathers, and preserved, without appearance of affectation, the ways of his native land.

He was not fickle and capricious, and loved not change of place or employment. After his violent fits of headache he would return fresh and vigorous to his wonted affairs.

Of secrets he had few, and these seldom, and such only as concerned public matters. He displayed discretion and moderation in exhibiting shows for the entertainment of the people, in his public works, in largesses and the like; and in all those things he acted like one who regarded only what was right and becoming in the things themselves, and not the reputation that might follow after.

He never bathed at unseasonable hours, had no vanity in building, was never solicitous either about his food or about the make or colour of his clothes, or about the beauty of his servants.

His dress came from Lorium—his villa on the coast—and was of Lanuvian wool for the most part. It is remembered how he used the tax-collector at Tusculum who asked his pardon, and all his behaviour was of a piece with that.

He was far from being inhuman, or implacable, or violent; never doing anything with such keenness that one could say he was sweating about it, in all things he reasoned distinctly, as one at leisure, calmly, regularly, resolutely, and consistently.

A man might fairly apply that to him which is recorded of Socrates: that he could both abstain from and enjoy these things, in want whereof many show themselves weak, and, in the possession, intemperate.

To be strong in abstinence and temperate in enjoyment, to be sober in both—these are qualities of a man of perfect and invincible soul, as was shown in the sickness of Maximus.