Your Occasional Stoic: Marcus and the Perfect Mentors

From Maximus: self-mastery, immune to any passing whim; good cheer in all circumstances, including illness; a nice balance of character, both gentle and dignified; an uncomplaining energy for what needs to be done; the trust he inspired in everyone that he meant what he said and was well-intentioned in all that he did; proof against surprise or panic; in nothing either hurried or hesitant, never short of resource, never downcast or cringing, or on the other hand angry or suspicious; generosity in good works, and a forgiving and truthful nature; the impression he gave of undeviating rectitude as a path chosen rather than enforced; the fact that no one would ever have thought himself belittled by him, or presumed to consider himself superior to him; and a pleasant humour.

– Meditations 1:15

Maximus – Claudius Maximus, senator and stoic.  Maximus is most famous for appearing multiple times in the Meditations (he’s also referenced in  1:16, 1:17 and 8.25) and presiding over the trial of Apuleius (of The Golden Ass fame) for the crime of sorcery.   He’s the subject of Apuleius’s Apology.

As I’ve written before, the key to appreciating the repetitive, sometime plodding, Meditations is to remember that scholars believe Marcus wrote these aphorism for himself as a way to psych himself up and keep true to his principles.  Maximus was likely a teacher of some kind of Marcus and here, as elsewhere, Marcus is holding himself up in comparison to an idealized version of a mentor one who appears in Marcus’s presentation to have mastered the key points of stoicism: self master, humility, and distance from the cruel vagaries of life.

Of course, Maximus is unlikely to really have been immune to passing whims, or in good cheer in all circumstances.  But that’s besides the point isn’t it? Because Marcus here isn’t really describing Maximus, he’s describing the man he’d like to be.

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