Your Occasional Stoic: Poetry, but not a poet

as part  of collection,  Roman Art from the Louvre, currently on display at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.     BY JIM BECKEL, THE OKLAHOMAN ORG XMIT: KOD

To the gods I am indebted for having good grandfathers, good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good associates, good kinsmen and friends, nearly everything good.

Further, I owe it to the gods that I was not hurried into any offence against any of them, though I had a disposition which, if opportunity had offered, might have led me to do something of this kind; but, through their favor, there never was such a concurrence of circumstances as put me to the trial.

I am also thankful to the gods that I was not longer brought up with my grandfather’s concubine, and that I preserved the flower of my youth, and that I did not make proof of my virility before the proper season, but even deferred the time; that I was subjected to a ruler and a father who was able to take away all pride from me, and to bring me to the knowledge that it is possible for a man to live in a palace without wanting either guards or embroidered dresses, or torches and statues, and such-like show; but that it is in such a man’s power to bring himself very near to the fashion of a private person, without being for this reason either meaner in thought, or more remiss in action, with respect to the things which must be done for the public interest in a manner that befits a ruler. I thank the gods for giving me such a brother, who was able by his moral character to rouse me to vigilance over myself, and who, at the same time, pleased me by his respect and affection.

I thank the gods that my children have not been stupid nor deformed in body. That I did not make more proficiency in rhetoric, poetry, and the other studies, in which I should perhaps have been completely engaged, if I had seen that I was making progress in them; that I made haste to place those who brought me up in the station of honor, which they seemed to desire, without putting them off with hope of my doing it sometime after, because they were then still young.

I thank the gods that I knew Apollonius, Rusticus, Maximus; that I received clear and frequent impressions about living according to nature, and what kind of a life that is, so that, so far as depended on the gods, and their gifts, and help, and inspirations, nothing hindered me from forthwith living according to nature, though I still fall short of it through my own fault, and through not observing the admonitions of the gods, and, I may almost say, their direct instructions.

That my body has held out so long in such a kind of life; that I never touched either Benedicta or Theodotus, and that, after having fallen into amatory passions, I was cured; and, though I was often out of sorts with Rusticus, I never did anything of which I had occasion to repent.

That, though it was my mother’s fate to die young, she spent the last years of her life with me.

That, whenever I wished to help any man in his need, or on any other occasion, I was never told that I had not the means of doing it; and that to myself the same necessity never happened, to receive anything from another.

That I have such a wife, so obedient, and so affectionate, and so simple; that I had abundance of good masters for my children; and that remedies have been shown to me by dreams, both others, and against bloodspitting and giddiness; and that, when I had an inclination to philosophy, I did not fall into the hands of any sophist, and that I did not waste my time on writers of histories, or in the resolution of syllogisms, or occupy myself about the investigation of appearances in the heavens; for all these things require the help of the gods and fortune.

-Mediation 1.17

  • Book 1 is dominated with tributes to those who have influenced Marcus. It is no surprise he ends with a thanks to the Gods. (Or did he end it here? The order of the Meditations may have solidified later.)


  • Marcus’s objections to his grandfather’s mistress seems related to his ideas of sexual purity and restraint – the rare young man who was happy to remain a virgin.


  • Marcus was an emperor with scholarly inclinations, not a scholar who ended up emperor. From this and other Mediations, he clearly views the arts and professional philosophers and sophists with some disdain. He was a thoughtful man, but also a man of the world. This, like all the mediations was not the reflections of a hermit scholar, but self-help for a man of action.


  • Appolonius, Rusticus and Maximus were mentors to Marcus and are discussed in more detail elsewhere.


  • No one knows who Benedicata or Theodotus were, but it’s believed they were slaves who, as emporer, Marcus could have raped if he chose. That he appears not to have sets him apart from his time and class (if not from modern sensibilities).


  • Marcus’s wife, Faustina, beared him FOURTEEEN children. Most died in infancy, only one survived Marcus, his son, Commodus, who would be elevated to emperor in 180 – though he not hold the laurel long. He was executed in 192 and was apparently terrible at the job.


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