MARCUS AURELIUS: PLATO’S PHILOSOPHER KING:
MARCUS Aurelius Antoninus (r. 161-180 CE), last of the “good emperors” of the Roman Empire, has been hailed as “the noblest of all the men who, by sheer intelligence and force of character, have prized and achieved goodness for its own sake and not for any reward” (Grant, 139). His reign was characterized by a devotion to his people and this, as well as his enduring philosophical work, Meditations, attests to the truth of Grant’s praise.
Scholar Michael Grant, however, is hardly the first to express such sentiments. Aurelius was highly respected in his lifetime and is referred to as “the philosopher” by later ancient sources such as Cassius Dio (c. 155-235 CE) and the author (or authors) of the Historia Augusta (4th century CE), a history of Roman emperors. It is clear from both these sources that Aurelius’ Meditations was known to them but the authors focus, not only on the written work – which Aurelius never intended for publication – but on how he lived his philosophy throughout his reign.
PEOPLE OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor)
MARCUS Aurelius reigned as Roman emperor from 161 to 180 CE and is best known as the last of the Five Good Emperors of Rome (following Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius) and as the author of the philosophical work Meditations. He has long been respected as embodying the Platonic concept of the Philosopher King as articulated in Plato’s Republic: a ruler who does not seek power for his own sake but to help his people. He was introduced to philosophy at a young age and his Meditations, composed while on campaign in his fifties, make clear that he held a deeply philosophical, specifically Stoic, view throughout his life.
His reign, in fact, is defined by the Stoic view and he is referred to as “the philosopher” by the later historian Cassius Dio (c. 155-235 CE) and the author (or authors) of the Historia Augusta (4th century CE), a history of Roman emperors. His Stoic outlook is expressed throughout his Meditations and his view of one’s responsibility to others is made clear in a line from Book VIII.59: “People exist for the sake of one another; teach them, then, or bear with them.”