Marcus Aurelius: Says It All, Really.

I’m reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, which I read years ago but had the opportunity to pick up again for $8.33. (Woohoo, cheap Penguins!) The book is full of great thoughts and aphorisms but there are three, from Book 12, that have always appealed to me:

13, How absurd – and a complete stranger to the world – is the man who is surprised at any aspect of his experience in life!

15, The light of a lamp shines on and does not lose its radiance, until it is extinguished. Will then the truth, justice, and self-control which fuel you fail before your own end?

17, If it is not right, don’t do it; if it is not true, don’t say it.

I feel 13 a lot – and it’s rather embarrassing because I am often surprised by the world but I suspect that’s because I’m in my own head a lot. 15 is something I’ve said before, in different ways and never as elegantly, and it’s a great image.

17, however, says it all to me. It’s incredibly, naïvely simple but that is part of its appeal. It is probably one of the greatest maxims for teaching, in terms of commitment, in terms of content and in terms of bravery when faced with the choice of presenting something that you know to be true – and something that you’ve been told to teach.

Marcus Aurelius  was an Emperor, philosopher (philosopher king, even, a reputation he gained in his own life time) and the Emperor Hadrian, his sponsor, had a special nickname for him – “Verissimus”, the most true. Herodian wrote: “he gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life.”

I spoke earlier this week of champions. It’s nice to read Marcus Aurelius and be reminded of how many amazing thinkers have been contributing to our shared literary legacy over 2000 years.

“If it is not right, don’t do it; if it is not true, don’t say it.”



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