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Marcus Aurelius: Quotes, Writing & Speeches

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Marcus Aurelius was a scholarly emperor. His thoughts survive in a work called 'Meditations' and three speeches debatably attributed to him survive as well. Learn more about them through some quotes in this lesson.

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was one of the most, if not the most, scholarly Roman Emperor. He lived and ruled during the second century AD. We are lucky in that a lot of his thoughts have been preserved for the ages throughout the centuries since they were first written or spoken. In this lesson, you'll get a good taste of his writing and speeches, and thus his own thinking, as you read many quotes from his works.

Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius

Writings

The most famous of Aurelius' works is Meditations. This is a collection of his own thoughts on life, ones that are deeply rooted in his Stoic philosophy. Stoicism, in the most basic sense, is a kind of philosophy that advocates knowledge, logical action, and internal self-control over being controlled by destructive emotions, external events, and indecision.

Let's let Aurelius give a few examples of this definition of stoicism:

''Remember how long thou hast been putting off these things, and how often thou hast received an opportunity from the gods, and yet dost not use it. Thou must now at last perceive of what universe thou art a part, and of what administrator of the universe thy existence is an efflux, and that a limit of time is fixed for thee, which if thou dost not use for clearing away the clouds from thy mind, it will go and thou wilt go, and it will never return.''

Note above how Aurelius advocates against indecision.

''Do not waste the remainder of thy life in thoughts about others, when thou dost not refer thy thoughts to some object of common utility. For thou losest the opportunity of doing something else when thou hast such thoughts as these, What is such a person doing, and why, and what is he saying, and what is he thinking of, and what is he contriving, and whatever else of the kind makes us wander away from the observation of our own ruling power.''

Above, Aurelius clearly advocates we stop worrying about external events.

''Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, 'I have been harmed.' Take away the complaint, 'I have been harmed,' and the harm is taken away.''

Here, Aurelius gives concrete advice on how to control thoughts and emotions so they don't get the best of us.

Speeches

Besides Meditations, three speeches purported to be given by Aurelius have survived. One is a speech given to the Army. This occurred when, apparently, a rumor spread that Aurelius had died. As a result, Gaius Avidius Cassius, a military commander and governor, proclaimed himself emperor and unsuccessfully revolted.

''But perhaps even now, learning that I am alive, he has repented of his action; for surely it was only because he believed me dead, that he acted thus. But if he still maintain his opposition, yet when he learns that we are indeed marching against him, he will doubtless take a different view both from dread of you and from reverence for me.''

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