Tag Archives: Stoicism

The Philosopher King’s Quest

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor, one of the good ones, not like Caligula, Nero, or even Commodus, his son who was emperor after him.

But what made him good? Obviously the fact that he was beloved by the Roman people, even the senators and the very people who would’ve benefitted personally by his failure and demise.

He was a good administrator that benefitted the people with public works. He was a good military leader who maintained the Pax Romana until his death in 180 A.D.

Of course, his son, Commodus, blew that all up by being such an incompetent dictator that his own Praetorian Guard assassinated him (as portrayed in the movie Gladiator, though that movie also made him out to be his father’s murderer, of which there is no real evidence.)

But my friend Emperor Marcus was so much more than just a good ruler. He was a good man. And this is due almost entirely to the fact that he was a well-known Stoic Philosopher.

He embraced the philosophy of Greek philosopher and Roman slave Epictetus. Stoicism is the belief that you, as an individual do not control anything in the outside world to the degree you can control yourself. It is not the things, people, and events around you that matter, since you can’t control those. It is your own set of principles that you have to put in place and adhere to that affect the outcomes in life. In fact, you should view the setbacks and roadblocks to your accomplishments not as a negative thing, but as a learning opportunity. Learn all you can while you may, and at every opportunity. The Stoic welcomes hardship, because the overcoming of hardships shapes the man or woman you will become.

I found this philosophy to be the only way forward some days during the course of my teaching career. I was always more successful in meeting challenges head-on as they arose in front of me. Delaying, making excuses, or running away are all easier to do than that. But those other wimpy tactics never yield the success you can have by defeating your opposition and hardships face-to-face. Of course, you have to remember too that overcoming opposition does not have a selfish quality if you are a Stoic. In fact, you must respect all men, even your enemies. Marcus Aurelius, in response to victory in battle won by having thirsty troops offer a Christian prayer and then have their problem solved by a fortuitous rain storm, told the Senate they must no longer persecute Christians. They started to be considered good Roman citizens no matter what their religion.

Marcus Aurelius made it clear in his writings, the Meditations written in Greek, that, “In order to win the day, you must first win the morning.” To him this meant you had to be an early riser, tackling each problem of the day as it came up in the order they happened, morning to night.

So, the Philosopher King’s Quest, by this Stoic philosophy, is managed by first putting yourself right. You must examine your beliefs, test your hypotheses, and prove yourself to yourself before trying to tackle the world.

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