Essential Reading of the Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius for Modern Students
When you think of relatable people, I’m sure “Roman Emperor” isn’t high on your list. You might be wondering, “What does a college student in 2022 have in common with a guy who died nearly 2,000 years ago?”
Surprisingly, quite a bit!
During his reign, Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome from AD 161 to 180, recorded his inner thoughts and Stoic philosophy in his diary-turned-book, “Meditations.” The “Meditations” is made up of 12 books, and before it scares you completely from reading it, each book is basically a chapter, and the “Meditations” in total are less than 200 pages.
As a philosophy major, I read various books by great philosophical thinkers. Yet, I have never read a philosophy book quite like the “Meditations”. Unlike long, convoluted philosophy books that seem very abstract and removed from your own reality, the “Meditations” are a personal collection of entries written by Marcus.
Basically, it was his diary.
Stoicism, the school of thought to which Marcus subscribed, separates all knowledge of the universe into three branches: logic, physics, and ethics. So there is something for everyone (well… most people)!
You don’t even have to be interested in philosophy or have a basic understanding of stoicism to benefit from “Meditations”. The book is a great read, with great advice and insightful excerpts.
At the start of Book Five, Marcus wrote about the difficulties of getting up in the morning and being productive – as students, I’m sure we can all relate.
Personally, I find this validates that the most powerful person in the Roman Empire also preferred to stay in the comfort of their bed rather than get up and go to work.
Marcus gives good advice and focuses on yourself only with what is in your control. Because you can’t control outside events, you might as well not worry about them.
While this advice is sound, it’s much easier said than done. I know I’m terrible at not worrying about things beyond my control, however, it’s always good practice to remember.
If you’ve ever dealt with people who are arrogant, ignorant, or downright rude, you’ll, in all likelihood, find Marcus’ rants and resolves cathartic.
“That men of a certain type behave the way they do is inevitable,” Marcus wrote. “To wish it otherwise was to wish that the fig tree would not produce its juice. In any case, remember that in a very short time you and he will be dead, and your very names will soon be forgotten.
So the next time you come face to face with a bold character, remember that in the grand scheme of things, none of this really matters. You don’t need to waste your energy on certain people.
One of the other great things about this book is that each passage is only a paragraph or two long, which means you can pick it up and read it for just a few minutes at a time. This is a great book if you’re someone, like me, who can never hold your attention to a book long enough to finish it.
Most people probably read the “Meditations” cover to cover, however, I preferred to just go back and read random passages that piqued my interest. There really is no wrong way to read this book.
Some of the messages I took away from the “Meditations” were: boring people are a part of life, stop caring about other people’s opinions, just be a good person, be kind to yourself and we’ll all die anyway, then you might as well enjoy life!
So if you’re looking for a quick read that will give you a few laughs and great tips for incorporating stoicism into your life, I highly recommend checking out “Meditations.”