The Wisdom of Marcus Aurelius


*If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it, and this you have the power to revoke at any moment. 


Epictetus, one of the great proponents of Stoicism said something in a similar vein around A.D. 90,  i.e., events don’t hurt or hinder us, but our views of them can.  It is our attitudes and reactions that cause us trouble.  Don’t dread death or pain; dread the fear of death or pain.   We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.

Stoicism was a philosophy that flourished for nearly 400 years in ancient Greece and Rome and its main objective was to teach people how to be calm and brave in the face of overwhelming anxiety and pain.  Stoic philosophy taught fortitude, self-control, and courageous acceptance of whatever lies beyond one’s control.  In the modern day we still talk about people who are stoic or stoical following a personal tragedy so the terminology and practice is still hugely relevant.  In Great Thinkers by the School of Life, they recommend the Stoic writings of Nero, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, whose works remain “highly readable and deeply consoling, ideal for sleepless nights, those breeding grounds for runaway terrors and paranoia”.   

The father of evolution theory, Charles Darwin, also had something to say on the subject in The Descent of Man, “The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognise that we ought to control our thoughts.”   Sounds easy?  Perhaps not, but then nothing ever worthwhile is.  You’re welcome.





*the photograph above was taken by me at the Chelsea Flower Show and is a Roman bust which looks a little like Marcus Aurelius, well I thought so anyway.  The best place to see Roman busts (in London anyway) is at the British Museum.




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