Selections from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Selections from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

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Selections from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

Selections from the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

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"Marcus, the Roman emperor," says Suidas, "it is easier to admire in silence than to praise, for words cannot express his merits." And the judgment of the most sober critics is but little behind that of the worthy lexicographer. No one outside of sacred history has won more completely than the philosophic emperor the admiration of the world. Even to his contemporaries, who knew him as he lived, he was an object of unbounded reverence and affection. As he was borne from his death-bed in Pannonia to the mausoleum of Hadrian the people mourned him as a father, a brother, a son; he was deified without a dissenting voice; and it was long deemed sacrilege for any home to be without his image.

This admiration is justified by his career as a statesman and as a ruler. The virtues of the splendid line of Adoptive Emperors, who lifted Rome to the highest point of her grandeur and felicity, found in him their culmination. And it is also true that in him the administrative genius of his predecessors suffered no eclipse. Co-laborer from the age of seventeen to that of forty with Antoninus Pius, and for nineteen years longer sole ruler of the empire, to him at least equally with his father by adoption it is due that the "age of the Antonines" has come to be reckoned as one of the chief glories of history.

Yet even more admirable were his qualities as a man. The details of his private life are, it is true, but little known. Nor has he, of course, escaped calumny. But from what has been handed down concerning him the world has judged that his noble eulogy of Antoninus, in the "Meditations," is, in its entirety, applicable to himself. There was in him the same simplicity, the same sincerity, purity, fidelity to duty, devotion to the public weal, and unaffected dignity, and — we may well believe — the same clear conscience in the hour of death. To these are to be added a gentleness, a sweet reasonableness, an indefinable but most potent personal charm, and a refined and sensitive intellectuality that were all his own. And over all was the calm rationality of the philosopher and sage.

In truth, no other character known to us shows as perfectly as Marcus's the union of the best qualities of the man of action and the man of thought. Others may have surpassed him in the virtues of the active or the contemplative life; but to none has it been granted to show so fully and on so grand a stage that the completeness of humanity lies in the union of the two.

The chief support of this estimate of Marcus's character is the . . .

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