Even today, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is read by every class from kings to common people. The book is a universal classic, meaning it can be related to at any time, by anyone. The philosophies included in his book have spanned the centuries, and Meditations remains to be one of the most influential books ever written.
Marcus Aurelius was born on April 20, 121 AD into a family of royalty. His uncle and adoptive father, Antoninus Pius, was the emperor of Rome. Aurelius, too, was trained from birth to be a great ruler like his father. At age eleven, he dedicated himself to religion, although he considered philosophy to be the "true, inward" religion, one which did not require ceremonies necessary in others. Throughout his childhood and early adulthood, Aurelius was taught by several talented teachers. When he was young, the great Epictetus tutored him, followed by a man named Q. Junius Rusticus, who would accompany Aurelius throughout much of his life.
In 161 AD, Pius died, leaving Aurelius and Pius’s other adopted son, known as Verus, to rule together. The two brothers were quite different, although no disagreements are mentioned between the two. Verus was a headstrong man, who was more apt to want a war than the contemplative Aurelius. Verus was an "Epicurean" and definitely would never be called a philosopher. However, Verus died suddenly in 169, leaving Aurelius to rule Rome on his own. It is important to mention that during basically all of Aurelius’ rule, Rome was engaged in a long series of defensive wars. In fact, the book Meditations was written during these wars, possibly during the darkest of conditions. And even though these wars were successful, they were taxing both on Rome as a state, and on Aurelius himself. However, he somehow managed to stay somewhat unaffected throughout, an amazing feat unto itself.
Although Aurelius was considered a great man and emperor, he ruthlessly persecuted the Christians. He considered them a threat to his "imperial system." However, he did not know very much of the Christian doctrines that he was so against. In direct contradiction to this ruthlessness to the Christians was the way he treated his own people. He is considered to be the "Last of the Great Emperors." He ruled Rome during a time of declining prosperity. However, he did try to improve his home while he ruled it. He was a man concerned with public welfare. During his reign, he did such things as open schools, orphanages, and hospitals for the poor people in Rome. He also tried to "humanize" criminal laws, and have masters treat there slaves in a humane way. After Aurelius, Romans would miss such fair treatment.
After nineteen years of ruling Rome, Marcus Aurelius died on March 17, 180 in Vindobona, which is currently Vienna. He died of a plague while in the middle of yet another war to defend the territory of Rome. Aurelius was succeeded by his son, Commodus, who was the polar opposite of his father. Commodus was a corrupt and evil ruler. Apparently, his father was never aware of this fact, for Commodus fooled him into believing they were of the same mind when it came to ruling. Commodus was the first of the bad emperors to Aurelius’ last of the good emperors. This lack of an able ruler cemented the descent of the Roman empire.
Throughout his life, Aurelius was never able to be happy being an emperor. Even though he had money and privileges, and was royalty, he never became tranquil, or at peace with himself, with these material riches. It is evident when a person reads Meditations that Aurelius would much rather have lived the quite life of a philosopher than the public life of an emperor. He always wished that, at some point in his life, maybe when the wars were over, he would have some time to actively pursue philosophy. He never received that opportunity. However, he did, in the midst of all the wars he fought in, find the time to write down...
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