Aurelius is one of the most remembered of the Roman emperors because of his Meditations (c. 169–c. 180), a classic work of Stoic philosophy consisting of a collection of his private notes gathered posthumously under one title. As the last of the five “good emperors,” as head of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180, and because he was revered for centuries after as the perfect emperor, Aurelius continues to be of great interest to historians. His short, literate essays reveal much about a time period not well represented and also much regarding the thought processes of the State. His work informed by Stoicism and other philosophies that attracted Aurelius. The Meditations also appeals to the general reader because it is approachable and largely understandable without special training. After fighting in fearsome battles with death all around him, Marcus writes simply on how to use reason and logic, how to control one's emotions, and how to practice self-mastery. He urges piety, not pride: “Be just and temperate and a follower of the gods; but be so with simplicity, for the pride of modesty is the worst of all.” Aurelius’s well–known aphorisms such as “Man is worth as much as what he is interested in is worth”—have served as both solace and guide to innumerable readers for many centuries.
Aurelius was born in Rome in 121. His father, Annius Verus, was a consular, his mother, Domitia Lucilla, was well educated, fluent in Greek, extremely wealthy, and also of aristocratic birth. Incorporated into their son's early education in character, culture, poetry, and public speaking, was an emphasis on instilling in him an appreciation for simplicity. Aurelius's studies continued at home after his father died and he benefitted from the best tutors in geometry, music and in Greek and Latin language. Aurelius came under the care of the childless Hadrian, who became emperor of Rome in 117. In 136...