July 26, 2013 by History in a Hurry
Marcus Aurelius — no saint, I’m sure, but what a remarkable person to learn about, after reading about psychos like Tarquin Superbus, Nero and Domitian. These excerpts are from Famous Men of Rome by J.H. Haaren and A.B. Poland. (By the way, according to the book’s title page, the authors were public-school superintendents. Children used to learn this stuff.)
In his youth Aurelius studied under the best teachers in the empire, and so had an excellent education. … He was one of the most learned of the Roman emperors, and his intimate friends were scholars and authors.
When a boy of only twelve years he joined the Stoics. These were followers of a famous wise man or philosopher of Greece, called Zeno. This man taught that the people should act according to reason and virtue, and should keep an even temper and a brave heart under all circumstances. …
The Emperor Aurelius was one of the best and most earnest of the Stoics. … His style of living was very simple. He had no idle courtiers at this house, and he kept only a few servants. He gave no costly dinners and entertainments. He spent much of his salary to improve the condition of the poor and to provide good schools for their children.
He used to walk through the streets of Rome in plain clothing, attended only by a favorite slave. … Any one could go to him and talk freely, and he encouraged the people to tell him about their troubles so that he might understand how to help them.
He gave the Senate a great deal of power which he thought it ought to have, and gave back to the people many rights and privileges which former emperors had taken away from them. …
He established libraries and halls of paintings and statuary. He himself wrote several books.