Marcus Aurelius: emperor of the Roman world (r. 161-180).

AV K M AVR ANTΩNEINOC CEB, laureate head of Marcus Aurelius right / IRHNOPOLITWN FAYCTEINA CEB, draped bust of Faustina II, hair tied in a bun behind head, date Q-IR across fields.

Ephesus, Parthian Monument, Adoption of Marcus Aurelius

IMP CAES M AVREL ANTONINVS AVG P M, bare head right, slight drapery on left shoulder / LIB AVGVSTOR TR P XV COS III, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, togate, seated left on high podium nach links; an assistant (RIC: "Liberalitas") with an abacus and staff standing before them and a citizen holding out his toga to catch the largesse standing right at the foot of the steps.


Eupator with Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus.

Levavasseur, 1830), also by Marcus Cornelius Fronto (page images at HathiTrust)

IMP CAES M AVREL ANTONINVS AVG, bare head right / CONCORDIAE AVGVSTOR TR P XV COS III, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus standing facing each other with clasped hands; one holds roll.


Who was Marcus Aurelius? An introduction to the last …

In one passage of the Meditations, Marcus gives the‘providence or atoms’ alternatives when he is clearlyinterested in the convergence of ethical opinion among all thewise—not only Stoics and Epicureans, for he also citesDemocritus, Plato and Antisthenes—on the insignificance ofmatters which ordinary people value most (life and death, pain,reputation) and the far greater importance of virtue (vii.32ff.). In this context, Marcus puts Epicurus’ view that atdeath our soul-atoms are dispersed and we cease to exist on all fourswith the Stoic view that Nature either extinguishes or transforms us atdeath. Here Marcus also quotes Epicurus on pain withapproval: pain is either bearable (if long-lasting) or short (ifintense). His point seems to be that whatever one’sparticular philosophical allegiance, allegiance to philosophy involvesrising above pain, death, and reputation—and also, it turns out,involves not grumbling: for if the way things are is due toprovidence, then they could not be better and one is wrong to grumble,but if the way things are is due to chance, then it is pointless togrumble (viii.17, ix.39).

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Nine times in the Meditations, Marcus lays out thealternatives: providence, nature, reason, on the one hand, or atoms,on the other (iv.3, vi.24, vii.32, vii.50, viii.17, ix.28, xi.39, x.6,xi.18). (On these passages, see Cooper 2004.[]) Although he does notexplain, the reference is clear enough: either the world and whathappens is the design of a providential God, as believed by the Stoics(and Platonists), or the outcome of atoms colliding randomly in thevoid, as believed by the Epicureans. What is not obvious is why Marcusis laying out these alternatives. Is it because his grasp of Stoicphysics is so tenuous that he must be open to the possibility thatEpicurean physics is true (Rist 1982, 43, Annas 2004, 116)? Marcusdoes at one point express despair about his own grasp of physics(vii.67). Or is his point that whether one’s physics is Epicurean orStoic, one must live as the Stoics enjoin (Annas, 108–114,Hadot, 148), that is to say, rationally, with a single purpose, risingabove conventional goods and evils (ix.28)? Does the convergence ofEpicureans and Stoics on such ethical points, in view of the twoschools’ very different physical opinions, strengthen his confidencein the ethics (Annas, 109)?

Bust of Marcus Aurelius in the Musée Saint-Raymond, Toulouse

IMP CAES M AVREL ANTONINVS AVG P M, bare head right / CONCORD AVGVSTOR TR P XVI S-C, COS III in ex, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus standing, clasping hands.