18 Things You Didn’t Know About Marcus Aurelius | The Daily Stoic with Ryan Holiday

Check out The Daily Stoic Episode Page 

Key Takeaways

  • “A stoic doesn’t have to stuff their emotions down. The idea is that you don’t let those emotions overwhelm your life or override your ability to make rational decisions.”Ryan Holiday
  • Hadrian gave Marcus the nickname “Verissimus,” which means “the truest one.”
  • The fact that Marcus had insomnia makes the fact that he woke up early all the more impressive
  • Meditations contain a couple of jokes, including one about a man who was so rich he had no place to shit
  • When Marcus returned to Rome after one long absence, the people showed their love for him by holding up four fingers on each hand, symbolizing the eight years he had been away
  • Marcus lost eight of his children before he passed away
  • Marcus Aurelius never claimed to be a Stoic
  • Marcus loved Faustina deeply, even in the face of rumors of her adultery
  • He experienced Imposter Syndrome before becoming an emperor
  • Marcus Aurelius was deeply impacted by the book (Epictetus lectures) given to him by his teacher, Quintus Junius Rusticus

Intro

  • Re-reading a book, re-watching a film, or revisiting a place can lead to new discoveries. Marcus Aurelius, a famous philosopher, leader, and thinker, can still teach us something new even after centuries of study
    • In this episode, Ryan Holiday discusses some lesser-known facts about Marcus Aurelius, like his insomnia, nicknames, sense of humor, and even his garage sale!
  • Host—Ryan Holiday (@ryanholiday)

He Lived Through a Pandemic

  • The Antonine Plague of 165 CE
  • They named it after him
  • Millions were infected. Between 10 and 18 million people eventually died
  • The plague may have influenced Marcus Aurelius’ writings
  • His words: “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think,” can be seen in a different light when considering the context of the plague
  • There are two kinds of plagues:(1) the plague that can take your life, (2) the plague that can destroy your character
  • The plague that can destroy your character—the Roman Empire was fracturing, and people were at odds with each other during this time

He Was a Crier

  • “A stoic doesn’t have to stuff their emotions down. The idea is that you don’t let those emotions overwhelm your life or override your ability to make rational decisions.”Ryan Holiday
  • Marcus Aurelius sobbed uncontrollably when his favorite tutor died
  • He was not weak for crying but rather was expressing his humanity
  • Antoninus (his stepfather) allowed Marcus to express his emotions without judgment
  • He was more in touch with his feelings than Marcus; he understood Marcus’s struggles and emotions
  • Antoninus was a compassionate ruler who understood the importance of natural feeling
  • He refused to allow anyone to try to calm his stepson down or remind him of the need for a prince to maintain his composure
  • He believed that neither philosophy nor empire could take away a natural feeling

His Nickname Was “Verissimus”

  • The emperor Hadrian recognized Marcus’ potential at a young age
  • Hadrian gave Marcus the nickname “Verissimus,” which means “the truest one.”
  • Marcus’ earnestness and honesty defined his time in power

He Had Insomnia

  • The fact that he had insomnia makes the fact that he woke up early all the more impressive
  • Marcus Aurelius was strict on himself about sticking to a schedule
  • He motivated himself to get out of bed by reminding himself of his purpose
  • He believed that he had to do what he was born to do

He Had a Sense of Humor

  • Marcus wrote a letter to his tutor Fronto about a prank he played on a shepherd
  • Meditations contain a couple of jokes, including one about a man who was so rich he had no place to shit

His Most Trusted General Attempted a Coup

  • His general Avidius Cassius betrayed Marcus Aurelius in 175 CE 
  • Despite the betrayal, Marcus handled the situation with grace and understanding 
  • He even wept when he was deprived of the chance to grant amnesty to his former enemy
  • “The best revenge is to not be like your enemy.”Marcus Aurelius

He Spent 12 Years at War

  • Marcus Aurelius spent twelve years of his life-fighting wars on the empire’s northern border
  • When Marcus returned to Rome after one long absence, the people showed their love for him by holding up four fingers on each hand, symbolizing the eight years he had been away
  • As a token of his gratitude and benevolence, Marcus distributed eight hundred sesterces apiece to the people, the largest gift from the emperor to the people ever given

He Had a Co-Emperor

  • Emperors and kings often eliminated potential heirs to their power.
  • Marcus Aurelius chose to share his power and wealth with his stepbrother, Lucius Verus
  • Absolute power can corrupt, but Marcus Aurelius showed that it can also be used for good

He Lost Eight Children

  • Marcus lost eight of his children before he passed away
  • It was the hardest thing he ever went through—he writes about this loss in Meditations
  • He held firmly to the belief that the universe was both logical and good
  • He saw it as his duty not to fight against the swings of Fortune

He Liked the Simple Life

  • Marcus Aurelius slept on the floor as a boy and only reluctantly consented to sleep on a couch
  • He was not interested in money or luxuries and preferred to spend time on his farm
  • When money was given to him, he signed it away to those who needed it

He Never Claimed to Be a Stoic

  • Marcus Aurelius never claimed to be a Stoic
  • In the ancient world, philosophy was expected to provide a “design for living.”
  • Stoicism was likely the school of philosophy that Marcus Aurelius would have chosen

He Actually Loved His Wife

  • Marcus and Faustina were married for 35 years
  • Marcus loved Faustina deeply, even in the face of rumors of her adultery
  • Marcus would rather live on a desert island with Faustina than in a palace without her

He Had Imposter Syndrome

  • Marcus Aurelius experienced Imposter Syndrome before becoming emperor
  • He was able to overcome his doubts and fears through a dream (his shoulders were made of ivory)
  • He was able to prove to himself that he had the strength to take on the role of an emperor—all of us have stronger shoulders than we think

He Once Held a Garage Sale

  • The Antonine plague wiped out much of the Roman army
  • Marcus held a vast auction of contents of the imperial palace to raise funds for new troops
  • Marcus sold items such as gold, crystal, and myrrhine drinking vessels, silk and gold-embroidered clothing, and jewels

He Was a Nerd and a Jock

  • He had a lean athletic body and enjoyed activities such as boxing, swimming, fishing, and hunting
  • He was also known for his gracious speech and manners

He Had His Life Changed by a Book

  • Marcus Aurelius was deeply impacted by the book (Epictetus lectures) given to him by his teacher, Quintus Junius Rusticus
  • Marcus Aurelius thanked his teacher in the first book of Meditations

He Wrote in Greek

  • Marcus Aurelius wrote in Greek, a language more complex than his native Latin
  • Greek was “the language of philosophy.”

He Spent His Last Moments Consoling Others

  • Marcus was quite sick near the end of his life
  • He sent his son away to avoid any complications about succession
  • He was still teaching and trying to be a philosopher, even in his last moments
The Daily Stoic : , , , ,
Notes By Dario

More Notes on these topics

Top Insights and Tactics From

31 Best Podcasts of All Time

FREE when you join over 35,000 subscribers to the
Podcast Notes newsletter

No Thanks