Your Occasional Stoic – From the Father: Integrity, Hard Work, Modesty

In my father I observed mildness of temper, and unchangeable resolution in the things which he had determined after due deliberation. No vainglory in those things which men call honors. A love of labor and perseverance. A readiness to listen to those who had anything to propose for the common weal. An undeviating firmness in giving to every man according to his deserts; and a knowledge derived from experience of the occasions for vigorous action and for remission.

I observed that he had overcome all passion for boys; and he considered himself no more than any other citizen. He released his friends from all obligation to dine with him or to attend him of necessity when he went abroad, and those who had failed to accompany him, by reason of any urgent circumstances, always found him the same.

I observed too his habit of careful inquiry in all matters of deliberation. His persistency, and that he never stopped his investigation through being satisfied with appearances which first present themselves.


His disposition was to keep his friends, and not to be soon tired of them, nor yet to be extravagant in his affection; and to be satisfied on all occasions, and cheerful; and to foresee things a long way off.  To provide for the smallest without display, to check immediately popular applause and all flattery.  To be ever watchful over the things which were necessary for the administration of the empire, and to be a good manager of the expenditure. To patiently endure the blame which he got for such conduct; and he was neither superstitious with respect to the gods, nor did he court men by gifts or by trying to please them, or by flattering the populace. He showed sobriety in all things and firmness, and never any mean thoughts or action, nor love of novelty.


The things which relate in any way to the commodity of life, and of which fortune gives an abundant supply, he used without arrogance and without excusing himself; so that when he had them, he enjoyed them without affectation, and when he had them not, he did not want them.


No one could ever say of him that he was either a sophist, a home-bred flippant slave or a pedant — everyone acknowledged him to be a man ripe, perfect, above flattery, able to manage his own and other men’s affairs. Besides this, he honored those who were true philosophers, and he did not reproach those who pretended to be philosophers, nor yet was he easily led by them.


He was also easy in conversation, and he made himself agreeable without any offensive affectation. He took reasonable care of his body’s health, not as one who was greatly attached to life, nor out of regard to personal appearance, nor yet in a careless way, but so that, through his own attention, he very seldom stood in need of the physician’s art or of medicine or external applications.


He was most ready to give way without envy to those who possessed any particular faculty, such as that of eloquence or knowledge of the law or of morals, or of anything else; and he gave them his help, that each might enjoy reputation according to his abilities.


He was not fond of change nor unsteady. He loved to stay in the same places, and to employ himself about the same things; and after his paroxysms of headache he came immediately fresh and vigorous to his usual occupations.


His secrets were not but very few and very rare, and these only about public matters. He showed prudence and economy in the exhibition of the public spectacles and the construction of public buildings. His donations to the people, and in such things, for he was a man who looked to what ought to be done, not to the reputation which is got by a man’s acts.


He did not take the bath at unseasonable hours; he was not fond of building houses, nor curious about what he ate, nor about the texture and color of his clothes, nor about the beauty of his slaves. His dress came from Lorium, his villa on the coast, and from Lanuvium generally.


We know how he behaved to the toll-collector at Tusculum who asked his pardon; and such was all his behavior.


There was in him nothing harsh, nor implacable, nor violent, nor, as one may say, anything carried to the sweating point; but he examined all things severally, as if he had abundance of time, and without confusion, in an orderly way, vigorously and consistently.


That might be applied to him which is recorded of Socrates, that he was able both to abstain from, and to enjoy, those things which many are too weak to abstain from, and cannot enjoy without excess. But to be strong enough both to bear the one and to be sober in the other is the mark of a man who has a perfect and invincible soul, such as he showed in the illness of Maximus.

– Marcus Aurelius, Mediations, 1.16


  • Marcus’s adopted father was Antonius Pius, one of the five good emporers who ruled Rome from 86 AD – 161 AD.


  • Pius was clearly the model for Aurelius own reign and the themes which are repeated through-out the mediations are made clear here – integrity, modesty (of an empirial sort), hard work. These are the attributes Marcus gives to his adopted father and they are the one’s he strives for himes.


  • The line about putting a stop to the pursuit of boys may be a reference to Hadrian, whose love for his companion Antonius was legendary (and often frowned upon). It could also be a reference to Pius’s own self-restraint. As with much of the mediations, we just don’t know.


Ephesus, Antinous, and Guide Stories

You don’t need a guide to visit the wonderfully preserved Roman ruins of Ephesus, but it helps.  The sight lacks much signage and is overwhelmed with tourist.  Having someone to guide us through the crowds, and ensure that we didn’t miss anything, made our day there special.  Our guide, Dicle* was deeply knowledgeable about Ephesus and able to situate all that we were seeing in Roman history.  Thankfully she was willing to tell us the “guide stories” of Ephesus while admitting that they were, just that, stories.

All guides in Turkey must take a series of rigorous tests to become licensed tour guides.  They all know the history of the site, and they’re all pretty professional.  But ancient history is full of gaps and uncomfortable facts.  There is much about life in roman times we do not know, and there is much else which is can lead to uncomfortable conversations about freedom, sexuality and more.  Some guides choose to fill these gaps with legends and stories, or change the facts to make their guests more comfortable.  Others, like Dilce, will give you the guide story, while also telling you the full story, or admitting that we just do not know what really occurred.

The Ephesus Latrines

At Ephesus, the classic guide stories involve the public latrines.  Guides will tell you all kinds of stories about the toilets – the more scatological the better.  Slaves kept the seats warm for their masters!  Romans cleaned themselves with sponges on sticks!  Etc, etc.  Very few, if any, of the stories told by the guides at the latrines are substantiated by scholarship, but that doesn’t meant make them any less entertaining or popular with the tourist who flock to the site by the busload to have their picture taken sitting on an ancient crapper.

The Temple of Hadrian

More fascinating to me is the story (or stories) told about the carving at the center of the entry way to the temple of Hadrian.  Built sometime before 138 A.D., the temple honors the Emperor Hadrian, who visited Ephesus in 128 A.D.  It is decorated with frescos of mythical founding of Ephesus, and on the second arch, the depiction of a human head.  If you ask most of the guides at Ephesus, they’ll tell you this is medusa, but according the Dicle, a more likely theory is that it is Antinous, Hadrian’s presumed lover.

Antinous as a god

Hadrian, was they say the “tourist emperor”.  He traveled throughout the Roman Empire, building a wall here, an arch there.**  With him for much of those travels was Antinous, a Greek man who was, almost surely, Hadrian’s lover.  Antinous drowned during a visit to Egypt in 130 A.D.  After his death, Hadrian was inconsolable.  He commissioned statute after statute to honor Antinous, he created a city in his honor and, eventually, he had him deified.  Including Antinous on the arch of a building meant to glorify Hadrian would have surely curried favor with the grief stricken emperor.

We don’t know who, exactly is supposed to be represented on that arch, Antinous as the model for the human head on the temple makes more sense to me than Medusa, and according to Delice, some scholars agree, however, some scholars do not agree, seeing the figure as too feminine to be Antinous.  The ambiguity remains, but many guides continue to tell their clients without question that the head is medusa, avoiding the uncomfortable fact that one of the greatest of the roman emperors was gay, and that this great Roman city may have been willing to honor his dead lover in a place of such prominence.


*If you are going to Ephesus I would highly recommend Dilce.  Get in touch and I will give you her contact information.

** Hadrian was a great fan of Greek philosophy and culture, he was also a terrible enemy to the Jews, banning the study of Torah, and putting down the Bar Kokhba revolt.