Stoicism is a traditional philosophy of the Hellenistic world that was a famous practice of the highly educated persons of the Roman worlds. This was before Christianity, and was presumably a development of early Christianity. The famous stoics of that time were Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius who had an astounding audience for their beliefs, and had a lasting impact on the western cultural tradition. Furthermore, the word ‘stoic’ is synonymous with philosophy and it depicts the calmness and courage in someone’s face during harsh and tempting circumstances, which was the core of stoicism.
Born in Rome, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was a stoic and philosopher who discovered stoicism at an early age of eleven, and gave up all other studies at his early twenties for philosophy. His father was Annius Verus, and while still a child, he got recognition as having spectacular traits as compared to fellow compatriots. This did not only lead to his appointment to the priesthood by Emperor Hadrian, but further escalated him to the throne of a king at the age of 40. Besides being the only philosopher king in the historic times, Marcus Aurelius had a lasting impact on the Western people, especially through his writings and meditations, which facilitated fortification of stoicism. This Roman Emperor also expressed his philosophical beliefs and understanding of the world that everything is interconnected and governed by one supreme power, which is God as he states “For there is one Universe out of all, one God through all, one substance and one law, one common reason of all intelligent creatures and one truth” (Aurelius 141). By this, he communicates that all forces in the worlds are responsible to a common being who is the creator of them all.
Marcus Aurelius, in one of his meditation quotes said, “Never regard something as doing good if it makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill-will or hypocrisy or a desire for things best done behind closed doors.” From this, it is explicit that you would not get any benefit from doing, or saying something that will one day make you go against your own word. There would be no value if you engage in something that makes you lose self-respect, makes you hate someone, or even curse and suspect another person. Furthermore, there is no advantage in pretending to be someone you are not, as Marcus said, and it is very wrong to have lust for something that you would not seek in bright daylight.
Again in the words of Marcus Aurelius: “Whatever happens to you has been waiting to happen since the beginning of time. The twining strands of fate wove both of them together: your own existence and the things that happen to you.” This may sound very philosophical but it makes a lot of sense in this context. Actually what Marcus tries to communicate with this is that someone should remain calm at all times, especially if what is happening at a particular time is beyond his or her control. It is only important that someone embraces what is happening, be it bad or good, what remains, as a fact is that if it’s beyond your control, then you are not justified to celebrate too much about if it brings you joy, or mourn because of the harm or pain it causes. Still yet, it could be something happening to an individual, but it is for the good of the whole society. This is the message passed on by the stoics that at all times, one should remain happy. It could be when they are facing sickness, death, or anything else external. What remains important is that they stay calm and fearless through the situation because they do not have any control over it, and it was destined to happen as fate has it.
Even more exciting amongst the quotes on Marcus’ Meditations: “Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power be good.” Just as discussed in the previous quote of this context, there are external forces to life that we may not have control over, at all. Just like death. It comes to you at any time, and at the least expected moments. With that in mind, Marcus’ message is that someone should not live with an extravagant notion of the amount of time left to be alive. You never really know when death would strike, so it is important to live with utmost courtesy and care. Doing well at all times is paramount because you may not have the time to undo the wrong things done or to mend broken pieces.
Born in Asia and having lived between 50 BC AND 130 BC, Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher, brought to Rome as a slave, while still a young boy. He went through hard times as a slave. Things that put him through pain and torture that left him lame and crippled for the rest of his life. However, upon getting freedom from slavery, he sought to study philosophy and established a philosophical school at Nikopolis in Greece. Unlike Marcus, Epictetus didn’t actually leave much writing, but fragment notes from his disciple, Arrianus have been collected and used to compile Epictetus’ philosophy, known as ‘Enchiridions’ (Plato 116).
Enchiridions 1 (E 1) is particularly very interesting: “Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible. Most people, in fact almost everyone gets concerned when culture, health, death and the wellbeing of our family members at stake. On the contrary, Epictetus argues against fear of death. He goes even further and tells us to care less about our kids, wives, husbands and other relations, which may sound absurd to many people. Nevertheless, that is his conviction, and he says that you would only live a happy life if you have no worries. Moreover, that is not enough because he did not stop at that. From (E 3) he says that “if you love an earthly vessel, say it is an earthly vessel which you love; when it has been broken, you will not be disturbed. If you kiss your child or wife, say that it is a human being whom you are kissing, for when your wife or child dies, you will not be disturbed.” In another teaching, (E 26) to be precise, he says; “is the child or wife of another dead? There is no one who would not say ‘this is a human accident’ but if anyone’s own child happens to die, it is presently ‘Alas! How wretched am i!’ but it should be remembered how we are affected in hearing the same thing concerning others.” Well, that is how plainly how he puts it. However, hearing that you are not supposed to be concerned about all these things around you, yet you cherish them so much is frustrating. You should not worry about your health, your family, your friends and the society you live in, and every other possession that you may have. Well, putting you in that position for a moment does not feel good, but that is one of the core values taught passionately by Epictetus.
In summary, Marcus Aurelius taught values that guided many rulers and educated people of the West, and weighing what him and his counterpart, Epictetus taught, it goes without doubt that they added so much value to humanity. They raised issues on the common good and their teachings became a guide to living a happy and fulfilling life. However, when someone tells you not to care about the things you treasure and hold dear to your heart, it becomes very frustrating. Particularly, asking you to care less about the life you live, your health, your wife or husband and your own children; asking you to regard them as earthly vessels or beings that you should not worry about losing is horrific. That does not sink in easily and does not get a warm reception by many people.