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Stoic First, Everything Else Second

One of the many profound passages in Donald Robertson's book How to Think Like a Roman Emperor occurs when Robertson elucidates on Marcus's priorities: "He (twice) reminds himself that his purple imperial robes are mere sheep's wool dyed in fermented shellfish mucus. He tells himself to dye his mind with the wisdom of philosophical precepts handed down from his Stoic teachers. Marcus Aurelius, indeed, viewed himself as a Stoic first and an emperor second" (37).


People are often quick to admit their admiration for others who adhere to a strong moral compass. Many times, that admiration is highlighted due to the observation that the person admired comes from humble circumstances (e.g., poverty, poor health, chaotic parental environment, etc.). After studying many wealthy historical figures who resigned their moral dignity in the pursuit of greed, I am equally (if not more) impressed with those who come from affluent backgrounds and can still practice virtue. I find that such is the case with Marcus Aurelius. He realizes the true power of Stoicism (and philosophy in general) and places the practice of the disciplines on a higher pedestal than worldly wealth or renown.


In my own reflections, I can see why the Stoics warned against desiring wealth. Take a car for example. It is nice to have access to a car because it is nice to have access to transportation. However, the car comes with a laundry list of burdens. You have to make sure that the oil is changed periodically, the tires are rotated, and the gas is filled. The situation gets more complicated if you have a luxurious car. As if owning an expensive car is not enough, people start to realize that it is important that the car is always waxed and cleaned. Maybe people decide on adding pricey rims or other modifications. It would seem that living simply would help us avoid any unnecessary worries.


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