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People react to conflicts and crisis in disparate means with some being too radical whilst others stand out as opportunists. The ability to react to and solve predicaments in the right way is a fundamental element of determining a good ruler who is leading his or her subjects in an admirable way. Knowing the different techniques of addressing the challenges facing the human race is essential for human survival and one must strive to have such information.
The following are some of the issues that Marcus Aurelius attempted to address as he wrote Meditations, which is a set of his personal view on how he presumed life should be lived. How do the classics help when one or a country is witnessing predicaments, and does the intelligence of the poets, philosophers as well as rulers relevant in such times? In 1915, Robert Graves utilized the knowledge he got from poets to fight in an ongoing war.
In 1991, Anthony Swofford, a US marine official, successfully used the principles of Homer and Camus during the Gulf War. However, most readers including Frederick the Great assert that one of the best sources of instruction and moderation is Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations. This assertion is evident in the way Marcus has displayed his loosely structured set of opinions linked with stoic philosophy.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Born on April 26, A.D. 121, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was an emperor of Rome that ruled the Roman Empire for two decades. He was a nephew as well as the son-in law of Antonius Pius and came from a noble family, which was very religious, which is an indication why his ruling was virtuous.
Marcus lost his parents at a young age and he was later adopted by his grandfather, Annius Verus. Throughout his childhood, he was coached to dress plainly and restrain from luxurious lifestyle. Moreover, he participated in activities such as wrestling and hunting that nurtured his body to become robust. His hardiness was evident in the way he was fascinated with meeting vicious boars.
Marcus inherited the throne after the demise of Antoninus Pius in 161 and allied with L. Ceoinius Commodus, a man who had been adopted by Pius at a young age. They worked together in administrating the empire. However, soon after Marcus had assumed the throne, a stream of war plagued Rome (Van Ackeren 112).
The aftermath of the war was an epidemic that was accompanied with starvation, which was caused by floods that had damaged huge quantities of crops. Marcus applied every means possible including selling the regal ornaments to collect money that could combat the crisis. Eventually, the Roman Empire under his leadership eliminated barbarian communities, and reestablished the stability of Rome. Being the commander-in-chief, he was a shrewd as he appointed effective lieutenants (Sellars 84).
Marcus was not only faced with war predicaments, but also domestic problems. His wife, Faustina, bore him children that he loved dearly. All his children died except Commodus who was viewed as puny, as well as insignificant by the subjects. After the demise of Marcus, he assumed the leadership of the Empire despite the immense resentment. The subjects complained that his leadership was oppressive and brutal. It is essential to have such knowledge even as one understands the contents of Marcus’ book- Meditations (Fein 36-37).
In Meditations, Marcus spent a little time and space in addressing the issue of war. However, it is evident that he spent a lot of time in his two decades of governance in prevalent battles. There are passages in his book that prove this assertion and suggest that he was familiar with the battleground.
In the book, he asks if one has ever witnessed a hand, foot, or a head cut from the other parts of the body and lying miles away. He asserts that that is what people do to themselves when they attempt to ignore what goes on in their lives or when they do something that is considered narcissistic (Sellars 88).
It is certain that, as a fighter, Marcus had the ability to administrate prudently as well as meticulously. He strived to imitate the previous rulers, but always made sure that he abstained from corruption and performed all his duties accountably and responsibly. However, it would amount to bias for one to conclude that he was a perfect leader as he was erroneous in particular scenarios. For instance, he introduced a compeer in Rome similar to that in Verus, an extremely risky innovation for people feared that it would cause obliteration.
Some years later, the fears came into reality when Diocletian caused the Roman Empire to disintegrate because of the innovation. He also gaffed in his governance because it was too centralized despite being impartial. He established charitable foundations to cater for his deprived citizens and regions that were vulnerable to calamities. However, one notable fact was his reluctant approach towards Christians (Talbot 63-66).
During his administration, several incidents of devotion resulted to death of many believers. It is also unwise to argue that the atrocities on Christian martyrs occurred without his knowledge, and if that is true, then he failed in administering his duties as an emperor.
However, irrespective of these errors, Marcus is still undoubtedly among the best rulers of the Roman Empire and is admired by many. Though he ruled during hard times for the Roman Empire, he was meek, shrewd, and humble. “Meditations” stands out as evidence that he had little interest with issues such as personal fame, but rather he was a knowledgeable man with a considerate soul (Sellars 46).
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“Meditations” is a collection of short stories that have been composed in twelve disparate books. The writings appear in a way that some are in short paragraphs whilst others carry only single lines. Marcus begins his writing by sharing the knowledge he got from his relatives, tutors, as well as allies.
He mentions his grandfather, the good relationship he had with him, and the virtues he taught him. The book is difficult to visualize as a material that can be used by conflicting forces. Some of the contents support the hand-to-hand warfare that most lieutenants discourage.
He states that weapons should be laid down and encourages soldiers to clench their fists and fight. Although Marcus is not precise in his writing, he shares a notable advice on pain-management by stating that no one experiences anything that s/he cannot tolerate. He also advises non-combatants who are disheartened by carnages that the solution to such problems is to count on their blessings (Fein 36-37).
The doctrine of stoicism is also prevalent in the book, a philosophy that he was deeply fascinated in and applied in his solving daily challenges in life. The Roman Empire had two competing schools that employed two disparate doctrines, viz. Stoicism and Epicureanism.
Stoicism asserts that virtue alone can cause contentment as well as peace of mind. Virtue in this case consists of obedience to the top authority and everything that it provides, in mastery that surpasses the human race’s animal nature, in liberation from every perturbation, as well as in the whole autonomy of the Inner Self.
As a resolute follower of the philosophy, Marcus strived to live according to the virtue that the creed suggested. He writes Meditations to share all the knowledge he learned throughout his lifetime, thus making the book a good source that people can reflect on when making various decisions about life (Van Ackeren 119).
Marcus states that as a human being, there is imperfection, intermittent missteps, and faults; however, these elements do not prevent one from pursuing the upright path. Most of his views that he offers in the book are extensive and rational.
Most of his passages attempt to address the triviality of man (Fein 36-37). “Meditations” is a succession of devout exercises and the extent to which the book can relieve a reader relies on the individual’s belief in human progress. Marcus categorically states that people normally have similar behaviors and problems from generation to generation, for example, marrying, falling ill, as well as fighting.
According to Marcus, nothing novel is introduced in any of these generations and man can do nothing to alter this fact. Marcus states that life is not good and compares it to a rotting meat. However, he argues that if an individual can accept every challenge then one can easily become happy.
Another persistent theme in the book is the issue of mortality – everything that is alive will soon experience death. Marcus states that death is a natural practice just as sex. Irrespective of the position one holds here on earth, everyone will soon become history. Marcus asks why people lament the demise of a loved one whilst life is so insignificant and somnolent (Vernezze 91).
He therefore encourages his readers to face death with joy because it relieves those who depart from numerous depressions of the world. He states that whatever is of great significance is ones spirit and not the body. Marcus also uses Meditations to advise his readers to ensure that everything they do let it appear as if it were the last thing they were to participate in before they died.
He argues that people commit injustice by being idle. In everything an individual does, his or her main intention should always be to improve (Van Ackeren120). Moreover, one should refrain from arrogance and avoid getting irritated with individuals who are imprudent and of little importance. He advises people to strive in achieving modesty, piousness, honesty, and cooperate with others in accomplishing various activities in the society (Vernezze 75).
For those who might find it hard it to get out of their beds, they should note that what completes them as human beings is working in unity with other people. Furthermore, he reminds those who are prone to fleeing when their fellow neighbors hurt them to acknowledge that one can always flee any minute he or she desires as long as he or she is to the back roads of him/herself.
According to Marcus, everything that exists on the surface of the earth plays a particular role. Man’s role as a creature that thinks is to free his memory from debris and delusions. He asserts that the applause of peers and posterity are all delusions that one must refrain from in the journey of life.
He argues that doing things for commemoration is as insignificant as seeking popularity, and thus every individual must be ready to live with their minuscule abilities (Fein 36-37). The main intent of Marcus book is to teach his readers how to endure challenges. Even though the theme of endurance if prevalent in the book, Marcus also advises his readers on how they can enjoy life.
He states despite the delights of the flesh are meager sensation; sometimes people should part with their books and participate in leisure activities such as “pretty singing”. It is vividly evident that most of the ideas that Marcus shares in Meditations are a direct reflection of the life he lived before and during his reign as a Roman Emperor (Talbot 63-66).
Clearly, “Meditations” is a book that almost every individual can use as a manual for solving the challenges that appear in life. However, some of Marcus’ thoughts are eccentric hence revealing the weak side of the book. For instance, he argues that evil causes more danger on the perpetrator than on the victim.
This assertion is not true in cases such as assassination, rape, or slavery. Furthermore, the assertion that evils committed because of lust are more dangerous than those committed due to anger is erroneous. It is better for a man to commit infidelity with a neighbor’s wife than murdering her. Some of the passages also sound as a New Year’s resolution whilst others call for readers to leap their thoughts; for instance, when he states, “don’t gussy your imagination”- very few readers can comprehend the message.
Some who have read the book admit that it is an impregnable wintry kingdom because it informs one of the worst and once an individual has such information, he or she will rarely get surprised on such issues. Nonetheless, for those who need some advice in life, it is time they became acquainted with Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
Fein, Michael. “Meditations.” Library Journal 135.15 (2010): 36-37. Print.
Sellars, John. Stoicism. California: University of California Press, 2006. Print.
Talbot, John. “Unpruned meditations.” New Criterion 28.8 (2010): 63-66. Print.
Van Ackeren, Marcel. A Companion to Marcus Aurelius. Massachusetts, MA: John Wiley & Sons, 2012. Print.
Vernezze, Peter. Don’t Worry, Be Stoic: Ancient Wisdom For Troubled Times. Maryland: University Press of America, 2004. Print.