The Making Of A Philosopher

Before Marcus Aurelius donned the golden laurel wreath as the Roman Emperor, he was a seeker of wisdom, a diligent scholar, and a curious young man growing up in the heart of Rome.

Born into the Annius family in 121 AD, Marcus was of noble lineage and had access to tutors and texts that would forever shape his philosophical interests and knowledge. These early influences came from the tutelage of his mentors — the foremost being Rusticus, whose teachings were influenced by the well known Stoic principles of Epictetus. Through Rusticus, Marcus was introduced to Epictetus’s Discourses, a text that would lay the foundational framework for his Stoic perspectives.

From Rusticus I received the impression that my character needed improvement and discipline,” Marcus wrote in Meditations. This humility, and a willingness to mould his spirit through learning and the application of stoic principles, characterised his entire life.

The Stoic philosophy that Rusticus imparted was not just theoretical, it was about living virtuously, embracing acceptance of each moment, and practising mindfulness – lessons Marcus incorporated into his daily life. Despite his high birth, he adopted a lifestyle of severe simplicity and discipline, a testament to his commitment to the Stoic ideal of ‘apatheia’, or freedom from passion.

His day was simple:
– Rise at dawn
– Physical exercise and drills
– Morning studies
– Light meals
– Afternoon lessons
– Reflection in the evening

Marcus’s education was also deeply impacted by the teachings of the philosopher Herodes Atticus, a strict disciplinarian who grounded Marcus in the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle. This foundation in Greek philosophy, coupled with his Stoic principles, enriched Marcus’s understanding of virtue and ethics and allowed him to craft a unique perspective through his own explorations of these teachings.

Throughout his life, Marcus demonstrated a consistent dedication for introspection and self-discipline. He wasn’t merely content with absorbing philosophical teachings, but strove to apply them in every facet of his existence. This philosophical pragmatism was unique, but grounded in the teachings of his time. Stoicism, in Marcus’ time, was a contemporary and popular philosophy amongst the Romans.

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” This statement embodies his lifelong dedication to action over speculation, an echo of the Stoic principle of living in agreement with nature.

The pre-imperial life of Marcus Aurelius sets an example for embracing a rigorous dedication to learning, virtue and philosophical application. If we want to better ourselves, we should study those who we admire and seek to learn from their triumphs, struggles, and journey. Marcus Aurelius illuminates the path for us all to become better, wiser, and more virtuous individuals.