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Was Marcus Aurelius a good Stoic?

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Was Marcus Aurelius a good Stoic?

Postby jpete » Sat Dec 03, 2005 8:08 am

I want to first thank Dr. Gythiel for encouraging his Medieval History class to read the Stoics. I must confess with embarrassment that, as a Christian, I wasn't sure if the Stoics were something I should read. Dr. Gythiel was correct in saying everyone should read the stoics, especially Christians. The books I have read by the Roman stoics (Seneca and Marcus Aurelius) have really improved my life and my faith. However, I don't want to get into religion. What I am curious about is was Marcus Aurelius a good stoic? I have read (in English I'm afraid) and thoroughly enjoyed his book of stoic philosophy. However, it is hard for me to believe that a man of such power could even think so humbly let alone act in accordance with these stoic beliefs. I've read that Seneca struggled greatly with balancing his power with the ideals of Stoicism. Was Emperor Aurelius true to his philosophy or did he talk the talk but not walk the walk? I'm afraid these aren't the kinds of questions historians care to answer since it has nothing to do with conquering Europe. Any learned opinion would be greatly appreciated. [/u]
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Re: Was Marcus Aurelius a good Stoic?

Postby Adelheid » Sat Dec 03, 2005 8:26 am

jpete wrote:I'm afraid these aren't the kinds of questions historians care to answer since it has nothing to do with conquering Europe.


As a historian I have :wink: to ask: what do you mean by that?
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No offense but...

Postby jpete » Sat Dec 03, 2005 8:47 am

"As a historian I have to ask: what do you mean by that?"

I don't mean this as a slight against all historians- as one with a History Bachelors Degree that would be silly. However, I don't think I am incorrect in saying that most history books focus on battles and wars and rarely address the less 'heroic' side of events or people. Since I no longer have access to a university library this problem is even more pronounced. Of course, my research skills may be more at fault that I am willing to readily admit.

Having said that, as a historian, what is your take on the life of Marcus Aurelius? Did he live up to the standards he set for himself? If you have any books to suggest I would be greatful.

As an aside, may I ask are you a teacher/professor? If so, what is the job market for historians? I am contemplating pursuing an MA but I don't know if it is worth it. I am pretty sure I will have to take a pay cut to become a professor but I really would like to follow that path. I would be totally happy teaching at a small university. I am taking time now to study more languages so I will be ready if I decide to begin graduate study.

John
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Postby Adelheid » Sat Dec 03, 2005 10:03 am

Hi John,

I am not employed at a university nor am I teaching. A long time ago I was offered an opportunity that could (large maybe here however) have resulted in such employment, but I declined it for 2 reasons: the first was, that 4 years of research would have to be spent on a subject not of my own choice (I knew my motivation/attention would dwindle), secondly, a job offer was by no means certain.

But I have always considered myself a historian, up to this day, having been trained in doing research and still interested in doing research myself.

I do not know that much about Marcus Aurelius, can only tell you what one of the handbooks tells me: in his diary he embraces stoic notions of human equality, but in practice he upheld the existing hierarchy and social distinctions. The handbook does stress that he seemed rather reluctant to do what was expected of him as an emperor, accepting this responsability however as a true stoic.
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Re: No offense but...

Postby GlottalGreekGeek » Sat Dec 03, 2005 6:10 pm

jpete wrote:However, I don't think I am incorrect in saying that most history books focus on battles and wars and rarely address the less 'heroic' side of events or people. Since I no longer have access to a university library this problem is even more pronounced. Of course, my research skills may be more at fault that I am willing to readily admit.


Perhaps, but there are different branches of history. The wars/battles history is military history, and the who conquered and ruled who history is political history. But history such as "What did people eat?" or "How did people have fun in 1000 AD?" is social history. There is also art/cultural history, which I am sure you can find lots of books about ^_^

A great deal of what we cover in my European History class is social history. The first essay we were required to write was about the purposes of European traditions and rituals, such as Carnival and Lent, riding stang, etc. It may not be a majority, but there is a lot of material on social history out there.

Sounds like you're looking for an in-depth biography of Marcus Aurelius.
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Postby Scotia 71 » Wed Jun 07, 2006 4:37 am

I'm only modestly aware of Stoic philosophy, but given that he allowed his manifestly unsuitable son to succeed him as Emperor, rather then a talented and well capable man, which had been the practice for the previous four Emperors. Rome never really recovered its old power after the century of disorder that followed.

So given that he gave in to his family sentiment rather then doing what was right for Rome, I would put it to you that in one key respect, he was NOT a good Stoic.
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Postby Rindu » Wed Nov 29, 2006 9:22 pm

The idea that History, as a discipline, is only concerned with wars and such is manifestly false. The discipline may have suffered an undue influence of Thucydides, to be sure, but Herodotus is pater historiae, and his work is nearly a work of anthropology! Nevertheless, there does exist such a thing as "Social History." Consider Veyne's History of Private Life, or Finley's book of the ancient economy. Infact, I just started reading a book called Europe in Crisis: 1598-1648, and the book begins with an analysis of the economy and climate of Europe during these years. This certainly isn't war.

That said, since History hopes to explain the present by examining the past, WAR is certainly a very important thing to examine. Like it or not, right or wrong, it cannot be denied by any but the most stalwart of fools that warfare has strongly shaped the world. I for one am a severe opponent of war, but I refuse to accept that war should not be studied.
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Postby IreneY » Wed Nov 29, 2006 10:34 pm

Rindu wrote:The idea that History, as a discipline, is only concerned with wars and such is manifestly false. The discipline may have suffered an undue influence of Thucydides, to be sure, but Herodotus is pater historiae, and his work is nearly a work of anthropology!
.


Well it sure isn't Thukydides' fault and one could only wish that others would be as diligent as he was in recording different aspects of history and try to be as objective as he tried to be. I do agree about sweet, much maligned Herodotus.

Now about the Stoic Emperor. He was both to the best of his abilities. If I was alive and in a position to do so and he wasn't dieing anyway I could have strangle him for asking people to bow to the rising sun of his son, true.

But I think it's harsh on the man to say that since he was an Emperor and did what he thought was best for his Empire he wasn't a good stoic and dismiss him so.

Read a bit of "traditional" history :twisted: and see what was the situation then. Internally and externally. Try to think like a Roman. A Roman who knows that he can do something about it even if it goes against his beliefs in some cases. He believed it was his duty to do certain things.

I would say that he didn't live like a stoic (since he couldn't, not being an emperor) but he shows in his works how he would like to live.

P.S. You might be interested in the works of Socrates if you haven't read them already by the way.
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Re: Was Marcus Aurelius a good Stoic?

Postby Aristoklhs » Thu Nov 30, 2006 7:13 pm

jpete wrote:I want to first thank Dr. Gythiel for encouraging his Medieval History class to read the Stoics. I must confess with embarrassment that, as a Christian, I wasn't sure if the Stoics were something I should read. Dr. Gythiel was correct in saying everyone should read the stoics, especially Christians. The books I have read by the Roman stoics (Seneca and Marcus Aurelius) have really improved my life and my faith. However, I don't want to get into religion. What I am curious about is was Marcus Aurelius a good stoic? I have read (in English I'm afraid) and thoroughly enjoyed his book of stoic philosophy. However, it is hard for me to believe that a man of such power could even think so humbly let alone act in accordance with these stoic beliefs. I've read that Seneca struggled greatly with balancing his power with the ideals of Stoicism. Was Emperor Aurelius true to his philosophy or did he talk the talk but not walk the walk? I'm afraid these aren't the kinds of questions historians care to answer since it has nothing to do with conquering Europe. Any learned opinion would be greatly appreciated. [/u]


He was true to his philosophy that is why he remained sane although he possessed so much power. Many emperors were not that successful.

Marc Aurel put the finishing touches to Stoic philosophy. He is part of that.

A heathen stoic (Vlassis Rassias) said that stoicism and epicureanism help to lead a practical life.
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stoicism

Postby Turendil » Fri Jan 26, 2007 4:11 am

The stoic philosophies are interesting for two reasons. First is that (in my humble opinion) the stoic philosophy of "do your duty and go your way" represents the best attempt by any philosophic school to establish a humanistic creed based on rational inquiry. I believe that the best example of this comes when marcus is adressing himself (I think in book three of the meditations) when he says "consider what type of man thou art, a little blood a little mucus and the ruling reason."

The second reason I consider the stoics to be fascinating is their conception of the logos married with heraclitus's idea of fire as first principle. The logos or ruling reason in stoic philosophy governed all things, and once a man mastered the logos or reason within himself there was no reason (no pun inteded) that he could not subsequently master the world. This conception of the logos in christian theology finds it's fullest expression in the gospel of john (forgive the bad greek I will take it up next year) where the writer says "en archae en ho logos tone prostione theon" or again in imperfect latin in principio erat verbum et verbum erat deum. In the begining was the word and the word was with god and the word was god.
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