By Chet Yarbrough
By Marcus Aurelius
Narrated by Duncan Steen
MARCUS AURELIEUS (121 AD-180 AD, EMPEROR OF ROME FROM 161-180)
Marcus Aurelius has been called the last of the five good emperors of Rome. Edward Gibbon, the historian, went so far as to suggest that this is one of the best times in history for people to live. (Maybe, but Gibbon might be a little biased based on being male and white.)
PLATO, ATHENIAN PHILOSOPHER ( 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC)
Marcus Aurelius embodies the concept of the Philosopher King. Philosopher Kings are first described by Plato as the only totalitarian leader capable of ruling society. They would rule capably because of their wisdom and knowledge of the Good. “Meditations” suggests that Aurelius was the real deal.
In the modern world, Aurelius provides a bible for the leisure-class. However, one is not sure what the leisure class is in this era of doing rather than being.
Aurelius recognizes the ephemeral nature of life’s pleasures and chooses to write about and use Plato’s ideal forms to guide his rule.
The ideal forms are Plato’s essences of life, measures of the Good that in most people’s minds are only shadows in a cave.
Aurelius benefited from wealth and leisure by being in the lap of luxury while denying its seductive pleasures, His private education allowed him to study and understand the source of Plato’s shadows in the cave.
In the post industrial world the likelihood of a 21st century Philosopher King is inconceivable but “Meditations” does offer a wonderful guide to today’s leisure class. With time, education, and inclination, a human being can adopt Aurelius’ rules to live a life of joy and contentment.
A life of joy and contentment runs contrary human nature’s proclivities, the pursuit of money, power, and prestige, but the leisure class may have enough of each to stop climbing life’s ladder to despair.
Aurelius lives in the post Christian era (121-180 AD) and writes with some confusion about belief in gods or God but seems to believe in pre-ordination and humankind’s necessary acceptance of a lot in life.
Aurelius forsakes despair and honors acceptance of doing the best one can do in a short human life. Aurelius does not seek money, power, or prestige but accepts responsibility and lets actions define his life. He believes every person has a social responsibility and that to remove oneself from social interaction is a betrayal of living a good life.
There are many “pearls of wisdom” in Marcus Aurelius’s “Meditations”. If a listener is at a position in his or her life that allows meditation, this is a good place to start.