Front Page Titles (by Subject) INTRODUCTION Containing some of the MOST MEMORABLE PASSAGES, Preserv'd, of the Life of the EMPEROR MARCUS ANTONINUS. - The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
INTRODUCTION Containing some of the MOST MEMORABLE PASSAGES, Preserv’d, of the Life of the EMPEROR MARCUS ANTONINUS. - Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus 
The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, trans. Francis Hutcheson and James Moor, edited and with an Introduction by James Moore and Michael Silverthorne (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The authors of this translation, judging that these divine sentiments of Antoninus,1 may be of some advantage to many who have not access to them, while they are kept in the learned languages, undertook to make them as plain as the subjects would admit. Some of these meditations cannot well be apprehended, without a considerable acquaintance with the philosophy and stile of the Stoics: Some of them are only memorial hints this great man intended only for him-self, the design of which, the commentators cannot pretend certainly to explain; and the true text of the original is not always certain: but, there are many of them obvious to every capacity; which contain some of the plainest, and yet most striking considerations, to affect the hearts of those who have any sense of goodness, and warm them with the noblest emotions, of piety, gratitude, and resignation to GOD; contempt of sensual pleasure, wealth, worldly grandeur, and fame; and a constant inflexible charity, and good-will and compassion toward our fellows, superior to all the force of anger or envy, or our little interfering worldly interests.
The old English translation2 can scarce be agreeable to any reader; because of the intricate and antiquated stile. The late translation3 seems not to preserve sufficiently the grand simplicity of the original. This translation, therefore, is almost intirely new; according to Gataker’s edition of the original, and his Latin version.4
’Tis quite foreign to our design, either to shew art and ingenuity in drawing a character of this great man; or in making encomiums upon him; or to display our diligence or knowledge, in making an history of his life. His own meditations, to every judicious reader, will present a great soul; adorned with the soundest understanding, the most amiable sweetness and kindness of affections, the most invincible meekness, steddy justice, humility, and simplicity, and the most entire resignation to GOD. And the history of his life, even as ’tis imperfectly preserved to us, will shew his great capacity, and penetration, in public affairs, and his strength of mind, calmness, and intrepidity amidst the greatest dangers.
To give these meditations the greater force upon the mind of the reader; as well as to gratify his natural curiosity; and, to remove what prejudices may possibly occur to him; we subjoin the following short abstract of his life, taken from the collections made by Dacier and Stanhope.5
Marcus Aurelius6 was born in the year of our Lord 121, during the reign of Adrian.7 By his father Annius Verus, he was of one of the greatest families in Italy, descended, as ’tis said, from Numa.8 His grandfather had been thrice Consul and Prefect of the city, and sur-vived Annius Verus. His aunt by his father, Annia Faustina, was married to Antoninus Pius the Emperor. Marcus Aurelius’s mother was also of an eminent consular family, the daughter of Calvisius Tullus.9
Our Emperor’s first name was Annius Verus, the same with his father’s. Adrian, who had loved him from his infancy, called him Annius Verissimus; probably, from the early appearance of candour and veracity in his temper. When he was adopted into the Aurelian family, he took the name of his adoptive father Marcus Aurelius. He was but a child when his own father died; but was educated by his grandfather; who procured for him the best instructors in pronunciation, music, geometry, Greek, and rhetoric, or, oratory. But his soul was soon intent upon something still greater than these ingenious accomplishments; and he shewed no high taste for them. He was instructed in the Stoic philosophy by Sextus Chaeronensis, Plutarch’s grandson,10 Iunius Rusticus, Claudius Maximus, and Cinna Catulus; and in the Peripatetic, by Claudius Severus.11 Philosophy was his favourite study.
He shewed his perpetual gratitude to these good men; not only by promoting them in the world, to dignity and wealth; but by a continual respect for them, even when he was in the highest elevation of fortune. And, in the very beginning of his meditations, he has perpetuated their memory, his own gratitude, and his honest humility, in ascribing all his virtues to their instructions, and nothing to himself; in a manner truly original, and peculiar to him. He studied also the laws of his country under Volutius Mecianus, the most celebrated lawyer of that age.12
He was dear to Adrian, so early, that he was advanced to the equestrian dignity at six years of age; and made one of the priests of Mars at eight. He was even intrusted with some great charges, before he was twenty; and acquitted himself with as great decency and dignity, as any of the old magistrates. He had some taste for painting, in his youth, and practised it for some time. But he more admired wrestling, racing, tennis, and hunting, as the natural means of health and vigour, for the discharging all honourable offices. He often encountered the fiercest boars, with safety and honour.
But, his chief delight was in the Stoic philosophy; and that in practice, as well as speculation. He lived up to all their austerities, in spare diet, plain dress, and abstinence from all softness, effeminacy, and luxury; even from his being twelve years of age. Nature had formed him for the greatest dignity and constancy; with a singular firmness of soul; not to be moved by any accidents; so that most of the historians assure us, that scarce ever did joy or grief make any change in his countenance; and this gravity was ever easy to others; being free from all moroseness or pride.13
He gave up all his father’s, and his mother’s estate too, to his sister Annia Cornificia, who was married to Numidius Quadratus.
ad139. Adrian, upon the death of his former adoptive son Cesenius Commodus, inclined to have adopted Marcus Aurelius to be his successor, then about 18 years of age; but deeming him too young, he adopted Antoninus Pius, on condition that he should immediately adopt Marcus, and L. Verus, the son of the same Commodus. ’Tis said that Marcus had dreamed, the preceeding night, that his shoulders and arms were of ivory, and that he found them much stronger than formerly. The news of his adoption seemed to afflict him; and he spoke a great deal, on that occasion, about the evils and dangers which always attend supreme power.
ad140. Upon Adrian’s death, Antoninus Pius his successor betrothed his daughter Faustina in marriage to Marcus Aurelius, and raised him to the consulship; and, soon after, conferred on him the honours of the successors to the empire. These things increased his keenness in the study and practice of philosophy; and Antoninus Pius brought Apollonius the Stoic from Athens, to assist him.
About this time, Marcus’s old tutor died; who had had the constant charge of him from his infancy. On this occasion, he could not refrain from tears; and when some about the court, put him in mind of his usual constancy and steddiness, Antoninus Pius replied in his defence, “You must give him leave to be a man: neither philosophy nor im-perial dignity can exstinguish our natural affections.”
ad147. At the age of 25, he married Faustina: a wife no way suited to such an husband. She soon bore him a daughter; and, in the same year, the senate conferred on him all manner of honours and powers; even higher than on any of his predecessors; and he ever employed them for the good of the state; always promoting men solely on account of their merit; and seemed to pay still greater deference to Antoninus the Emperor, perpetually attending him, and doing him all manner of kind offices; so that their mutual friendship was inaccessible to all the attempts of designing men, to raise any distrusts or suspicions between them.
ad161. Upon the death of Antoninus Pius, the senate obliged Marcus Aurelius to take upon him the government; and he assumed L. Verus as partner in it. They both took the name of Antoninus; and Marcus betrothed his daughter Lucilla to Verus. After this, they celebrated, with the greatest magnificence, the funeral, or, apotheosis of Antoninus; the ceremonies of which are told by all antiquaries; and each of the new Emperors made a funeral oration upon him.
As soon as he was settled in the supreme power, application was made from all quarters, by the heathen priests, philosophers, and governors of provinces, for leave to persecute the Christians. But, whatever persecution there might be in the remoter provinces, we have no assurance that it was authorised by the Emperor; as indeed it was intirely contrary to his principles and inclination. ’Tis even denyed by Valesius, in his notes upon Eusebius, that the apology of Justin Martyr called the first, tho’ truly the second, was addressed to this Emperor, or to the senate, during his reign. He brings several reasons to prove that both these apologies were wrote and presented to Antoninus Pius.14 ’Tis, however, probable, that there have been some considerable persecutions, in several parts of the empire, during his reign. Eusebius preserves to us a letter of this Emperor’s, upon applications made by some of the heathens, for leave to persecute the Christians, when they had been terrified by some pretended prodigies and earthquakes. It was directed to some general council of Asia, and carries along with it many characters of this author, tho’ some ascribe it to his predecessor.15
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, &c. To the assembly of Asia, greeting. I am sure the gods will take care that such men as you describe, should not be hid; and it suits themselves much better to punish such as refuse them worship, than you. Your harassing them with charges of Atheism, only confirms them more in their sentiments. To them it must be eligible, rather to die for their own God, under such accusations, than to live. Thus they always defeat you; throwing away their lives rather than do what you require of them. As to those earthquakes, for some time past, which yet continue, ’tis proper to admonish you, to compare your conduct with theirs. They, on such occasions, confide more in their God; but you, all this time, through your ignorance, neglect the Gods, as well as other things, and all the worship due to that immortal Being, whose worshippers, the Christians, you are harassing and persecuting to death. Many of the go-vernors of provinces wrote about these matters, to my divine father; and he prohibited their giving the Christians any disturbance; unless they were found making some attempts against the Roman state. Many have applied to me about the same matter. I wrote to them in the same sentiments with my father. If any shall still persist in prosecuting them, merely as Christians, let the person prosecuted be acquitted, tho’ it should appear he were a Christian; and let the prosecutor be punished.
This letter, and that extraordinary character which the Christian writers, as well as the heathen, give to this Emperor, for justice, and lenity of temper, must easily convince us that he never could authorise such persecution of men, merely for christianity.
In this first year of his reign, his son Commodus was born; whose horrid vices were, they say, fore-boded by several dismal prodigies; such as inundations, earthquakes, and the burning of several cities. The Emperor was immediately engaged in wars on all sides; by the invasions of the Parthians, all the way to Syria; and of the Catti, into Ger-many, as far as to the country of the Grisons: the Britons too revolted. Calphurnius16 Agricola was sent to command in Britain; Aufidius Victorinus to oppose the Catti;17 and Verus went against the Parthians.
But as soon as Verus left Rome, and was no longer overawed by the authority and virtue of Antoninus, he gave himself up to all debauchery, and fell sick at Canusium. M. Antoninus went thither to see him, and gave him his best advice as to his future conduct. Verus, upon his recovery, continued his march; but was not reformed by his sickness. He plunged again into all sort of debauchery at Daphne, one of the suburbs of Antioch, and committed the war to his lieutenants; which they managed successfully. Antoninus, pleased with the success, and, either unapprised of his returning to his vices, or, hoping to reclaim him by all the ties of affection, offered him in marriage his daughter Lucilla, a princess of singular beauty; and sent her to him, while he was in Syria. He declined going with her himself; lest any should imagine he aimed to share the glory of these conquests. He wrote to the several * proconsuls and governors in her way, to be at no vain expence in her reception, as she passed through their provinces; but to let her perform her journey in a private manner. This princess shewed as little regard to virtue, or her character, as her husband. Upon the success † of this war, the two Emperors had a triumph.
About this time, upon an insurrection of the Germans, Antoninus marched against them in person; and from his own judgment of the abilities of Pertinax,18 who afterwards was raised to the empire, made him one of his lieutenants; and never had reason to repent of his choice. This war was also successful. The Germans were defeated, after their many vigorous efforts, by the bravery of the Emperor and his army. Antoninus shewed his wisdom and steddiness on this occasion, when the victorious army, after their great and dangerous services, demanded an augmentation of their pay: he refused it; telling them that “he could not do it but at the expence of their brethren and kinsmen; for whom he was accountable to God.”19
ad169. The year following, a more dangerous war arose from the Quadi and Marcomanni; while the plague also raged in Italy. The Emperor used great variety of sacrifices and religious rites, to appease the Gods; and then went against the enemy, taking Verus along with him, who rather inclined to have continued in his debaucheries at Rome. Antoninus soon conquered the enemy; and, in his return, Verus died of an apoplexy at Altinum, or, as some suspect, by poison, given him by his wife Lucilla, upon finding an incestuous intrigue of his with his own sister.
About this time, the governors of some remote provinces renewed the persecution against the Christians. There is no other evidence of the Emperor’s authority interposed, or countenance given, for this purpose, except, that, in answer to a letter of the governor of Gaul, asking what the Emperor inclined should be done with some Christian prisoners, he ordered, “that such only as confessed, should be put to death, and the rest released.”20 Now, Christians were ordinarily accused for other crimes than any religious tenets; such as treason and sedition, the murdering of infants, and eating them, and incestuous debaucheries in their assemblies. ’Tis very credible the Emperor intended by this order, that only such should die, as confessed these crimes, and not all such as confessed that they were of the Christian religion; for, at that rate, scarce any would have been released; and yet, upon this ambiguity, there was, in some provinces, a violent persecution. ’Tis thought that Antoninus was not at Rome in the year 166, but abroad, when Justin Martyr is said to have suffered.21 It was probably on this occasion, that Athenagoras composed, and sent to the Emperor, his beautiful and just defence of the Christians yet extant;22 insisting for less ambiguous orders, that none should be punished for the name of Christian; but only upon a fair trial, whether they were guilty of the crimes laid to their charge; and vindicating the Christians from them: This, probably, procured them peace, during the rest of this reign.
The Marcomanni and Quadi, assisted by the Sarmatians, Vandals, and other nations, made more terrible efforts than ever, attacked Antoninus’s army, and put the Romans to flight, with a great slaughter of near 20000. But the Emperor rallied them at Aquileia, and defeated the enemy, and drove them out of all Pannonia.23
About this time, the Moors ravaged Spain, and the shepherds in Egypt took arms, and gave the greatest disturbance to the Romans in that province; but both were quelled by the vigilance of the Emperor, and the bravery of his lieutenants who commanded there;24 while he was heading the armies in the north; where he forced at last the barbarous nations to submit to his own terms.
When peace was restored, the Emperor was continually employed for the good of his people; making wise laws, for prevention of frauds, and the speedy administration of justice, and reforming all abuses; sharing his power with the Senate. He discovered the greatest penetration, as well as fidelity, toward the public, in searching out and promoting men of ability and integrity, to all the great offices; and the greatest patience and constancy, in the administration of justice, and consulting in the Senate about public affairs; scarce ever losing one moment of his time. His assidui-ty was the more surprizing, that his health had, for some years, been exceedingly impaired by the great fatigues he had endured. He was particularly inquisitive about the censures past upon his conduct; which he bore with the greatest meekness; his aim being only that he might reform whatever was amiss in it. He would admit of no lofty titles, nor that impious flattery of building altars and temples to himself.
The old enemies of the Romans, the Marcomanni, watching their opportunity; when the Roman troops were diminished by a plague, and the treasury much exhausted, which the Emperor’s compassion for his people kept very low, perfidiously renewed their hostilities. He supplied his treasury, by selling, under a clause of redemption, the most valuable moveables of his palace; and his army, even by employing the gladiators.
Before he marched against the enemy, he lost his second son Verus, then seven years old; and bore it with such fortitude, that he omitted no public business on that account. This expedition proved more tedious and dangerous than any of the former. He at first gave them a defeat; having exposed himself to the utmost hazard; from which, the grateful love of his soldiers protected him. After the battle, the Emperor himself went to the field, weeping over the slain among the enemies, and endeavouring to preserve all that could be cured or relieved.
The enemy, soon after, by skirmishing parties, feigning a flight, led the Emperor and his army into such straits amidst mountains, that they were inclosed on all sides, and could not escape; all the passes being possessed by the enemy. Here they were like to perish with heat and thirst, deprived of all water. They made some vigourous efforts to force their way; but without other effect, than to convince them that they were reserved sacrifices to the fury of the Barbarians. All the Emperor’s efforts to rouse the spirits of the fainting soldiers, were vain. He is said to have committed himself and them to God, with the most ardent prayers; appealing to God for the innocence of his conduct in life. There were also many Christians in the army; employed no doubt, in like supplications to God. In the event, clouds suddenly arose, and thunder, with a most plentiful shower; while all the lightning fell among the Barbarians: With this, the Romans take courage, and the enemy are dismayed. The Romans attack them in this confusion, and put them to flight, with great slaughter, enraged with the fresh remembrance of their late danger.
The heathens ascribe this deliverance to the Emperor’s piety;25 and the Christians universally to the prayers of the legion of Mitilene,26 which some ignorantly averred had on this occasion got the name of the Thundering Legion. That name was given to this legion, in the days of Augustus, for a quite different reason, because they had thunderbolts engraved or painted on their shields.27 ’Tis told indeed confidently, by Christian writers near those times, that the Emperor was advised by the captain of his guards, to employ the Christians of his army in prayer to their God, who, he said, refused nothing to their prayers; and that he did so, and found the surprizing event immediately answering upon their prayers; and that, in consequence of this, he wrote to the Senate, to stop all prosecutions against them, and give them full liberty for the exercise of their religion. ’Tis not improbable, from these bold affirmations of Christians, so near the time of that event, that there has been such a letter; tho’ the one now bearing that stile, is reputed by many to be a forgery.28 No doubt, such a letter would be suppressed by an heathen Senate.
Antoninus pursued this war, with the greatest bravery, conduct, and clemency; sometimes, in the pursuits, going himself into the woods and marshes, where the poor Barbarians were lurking, and protecting them from the fury of his own soldiers. At last, he defeated them intirely, by many perilous encounters; and possessed himself of all their fortresses. He had added all these countries as provinces to the Roman empire, had he not been interrupted by the revolt of Cassius; and even forced to accept of less advantageous terms of peace from these Barbarians, than they had formerly agreed to.
The Emperor’s conduct in the whole affair, of this revolt, deserves to be more particularly related; as by it his temper, and the greatness of his soul, is more shown than by his glorious military atchievements.
Cassius had been endeared to the army, by his early atchievements in Armenia, Egypt, and Arabia. He was a man of great art, courage, and patience, but prodigal, and dissolute; tho’ he could well conceal his vices. He revived the antient strict military discipline, with great rigour, and kept the army sober, and constantly employed. On the account of these good qualities, Cassius was employed by the Emperor to recover the army quartered in Syria from their luxury, contracted under Verus; and he was much recommended by the Emperor to the governors of these eastern provinces. When he was thus promoted, he formed high designs, pretended to draw his pedigree from the old Cassius,29 and talked much of restoring the old common-wealth. Verus, before his death, had suspicion of his ambitious designs, from his conduct, and his jests upon Antoninus’s studious disposition; and wrote his suspicions to Antoninus, warning him to prevent his designs against him and his children, by putting him to death. To which, this was Antoninus’s answer.30
I have read your letter; which shews more of an anxious and timor-ous spirit, than of that becoming an Emperor, and suits not my government. If the Gods have decreed him the empire, we cannot dispatch him, tho’ we would. You know your great grandfather’s proverb, “no prince ever killed his successor.” But if ’tis not decreed him, he will perish without any cruelty of ours. There is no condemning a man whom no body accuses, and whom the army loves. And, then, in cases of treason, we are deemed to have injured even those persons who are fully convicted. You know what your grandfather Adrian used to say, “The lot of sovereigns is hard, they are never credited about conspiracies formed against them, till they fall by them.” I cite him to you, rather than Domitian, the author of the observation; because the best sayings of Tyrants have not the weight they may deserve. Let Cassius take his own way; especially, since he is a good general, keeps strict discipline, is brave, and necessary to the state. As for caution about my children, by dispatching him, let my children perish, if Cassius better deserves the love of the Romans than they, and it be more the interest of our country, that Cassius should live, than the children of Marcus.
ad175. Cassius, when he had formed the ambitious design, either raised a report of Antoninus’s death, and that the army in Pannonia had elected himself for Emperor, or took occasion, from this report, to assume the sovereign power. He gave all places in the army to his friends, and caused all to submit to him, from Syria to mount Taurus. He sends a letter to his son at Alexandria, as a manifesto, inveighing against the corruptions in the administration, the extortions of the proconsuls and governors, and the decay of antient rigour and severity of manners, under a bookish Emperor, who neglected public affairs; and concludes, “Let the Gods favour the Cassii, and the common-wealth shall regain its antient dignity.”31
Martius Verus, sent accounts of all these things to Antoninus; and he endeavoured to conceal them from the army; but, the matter was soon divulged: Upon this, he addressed the army, (as Dion Cassius relates),32 to this effect. He first expressed the deepest regret for the impending misery of a civil war, the corruption of men, the ingratitude and perfidy, discovered by those to whom he had done the kindest offices, and in whom he had confided: But he exhorted his soldiers, not to imagine that all faith and integrity were gone out of the earth. He had still many faithful and brave friends: He had no fear of success; supported both by his own innocence, his knowledge of the dastardly disposition of these dissolute troops and nations who had revolted, and his experience of the fidelity and bravery of these he addressed. He subjoined the tenderest expressions of clemency and pity, even toward Cassius, and that preserving his life, and pardoning him, would be to him more joyful than any triumph.
He wrote also to the same purpose to the Senate, which immediately declared Cassius a traitor, and confiscated his estate to the city, since the Emperor would not take it to himself. He wrote also to Faustina this letter.
“Verus’s account of Cassius was true, that he designed to usurp. You have heard what the fortune-tellers have told him. Come, therefore, to Alba, that we may consult about these affairs, without fear, under the protection of the Gods.” She returned this answer. “I will go to Alba to morrow, as you order; but must advise you, if you love your children, to extirpate these rebels. Both the officers and soldiers, are grown very seditious. They will cut you off, unless you prevent them.”
Faustina being detained, contrary to her expectation, the Emperor wrote to her to meet him at Formiae, where he was to embark, but she was detained at Rome, by the sickness of her daughter, and wrote him this Letter.
In a like revolt of Celsus, my mother advised Antoninus Pius, first, to shew his tenderness and goodness to his own, and then to others. A prince cannot be deemed to have the just fatherly affection to his people, who neglects his wife and children. You see the tender years of Commodus. Our son-in-law Pompeianus is old, and a stranger. Consider, then, how you ought to treat Cassius and his associates. Don’t spare those, who would not, if they were victorious, spare you, nor me, nor our children. I shall speedily follow you. Fadilla’s sickness hindered me from meeting you at Formiae.—I shall send you accounts, if I don’t overtake you, what Cassius’s wife and children, and son-in-law, are talking about you.33
Cassius made all efforts to strengthen his party. He wrote a long letter to Herod,34 a man of good abilities, who commanded in Greece, and had fallen under Antoninus’s displeasure for some maladministration, to engage him to join against Antoninus. But Herod had such veneration for the Emperor, that before he had read out all Cassius’s letter, he returned him this short answer; “Herod to Cassius. You are mad.”35
Cassius succeeded no better in soliciting some other provinces to revolt; and began to lose his credit with the army; and, at last, was dispatched by some of them, about three months after his revolt; and his head was sent to Antoninus, before he left Formiae, or had returned an answer to Faustina’s last letter. On this occasion, he wrote to her thus.
My dear Faustina, You shew a most dutiful concern for me, and our children. I have read your Letters to me at Formiae twice over; pressing me to be severe toward the conspirators with Cassius; but I am resolved to spare his children, his son-in-law, and his wife, and shall write to the Senate, that they make no rigid proscription, nor any cruel punishments. Nothing can more recommend a Roman Emperor to the love of all nations, than clemency. ’Twas for this virtue that Cesar and Augustus were reputed Divinities. This obtained your father the title of Pius. Had the war ended as I would have wished, Cassius himself had not died. Don’t be afraid. The Gods protect me. My fatherly affection to mankind must be acceptable to them. I have made Pompeianus our son-in-law consul for next year.36
Some thought this clemency too great. One used the freedom to ask him, how he thought Cassius would have treated him and his family, had he been victorious? He replied, “I have not served the Gods so ill, or lived in such a manner, that I had reason to fear the Gods would allow Cassius to conquer me”: And counted over most of the Emperors who had been dethroned and assassinated; shewing, that their own tyranny or folly occasioned their fate.37
Of his letter to the Senate, this part is yet preserved:
In gratitude, therefore, for my victory, you have made my son-in-law consul; whose years seemed long ago to have claimed it; had not some brave worthy persons intervened, to whom that debt was first to be paid by the state. As to the revolt of Cassius, I beseech and obtest you, Fathers, that, laying aside your rigour, you would act suitably to my clemency, and your own. Let no Senator be put to death, or punished; nor the blood of any eminent person be shed. Let the banished return; and restore the estates of the proscribed. Would to God I could recall to life many of the dead. I never can like an Emperor’s resentment of any injury aimed at himself. It appears too severe, even when very just. You must, therefore, pardon the sons of Cassius, his son-in-law, and his wife. But, why say I par-don? they have committed no crime. Let them live secure; and feel they live under Antoninus. Let them live on the fortune of the family given up amongst them: Let them enjoy their gold and silver plate, and furniture: Let them live in wealth, and security; and at their full liberty to stay or go as they please; and carry with them, among all nations, the marks of my clemency, and of your’s. This clemency to the wives and children of the proscribed, Conscript fathers, is but a small matter. I must request you further: defend all the conspirators of the Senatorian or Equestrian order, from death, proscription, fear, infamy, popular odium, and all manner of vexation. Allow it, for the honour of my government; that, in this case of usurpation, those who were killed in the suppressing of the tumult, may be deemed justly slain.38
This letter was read with innumerable acclamations and blessings. The Emperor buried Cassius’s head decently, expressing no small grief for the loss of such a man. He marched immediately to the East: soon appeas-ed the revolt, with the greatest clemency; and reformed many abuses. When he came to Syria, he burned all the papers of Cassius without reading them, to prevent entertaining suspicions or hatred against any. Some say, this had been done by his faithful friend Martius Verus, before his arrival; justly presuming, it would be pleasing to the good Emperor; and saying, if it was not, he could willingly die, to save the lives of so many of his fellow-citizens.
ad176. Faustina died in this expedition, near mount Taurus. The Senate, out of mean flattery, renewed their severity against the late conspirators; thinking it would be some alleviation of the Emperor’s sorrow, to shew their zeal for him. But, upon the first notice of it, he wrote the most pressing letter to the Senate, to stop these proceedings, concluding, “If I cannot obtain from you the lives of all the conspirators, I shall wish to die.”39
Cassius’s eldest son Mecianus was killed in his government at Alexandria, on the very day in which Cassius was killed: His other children were only banished to an island; retaining all their estates. His daughter, indeed, and son-in-law, continued in Rome; and were treated in a friendly manner by Antoninus. The Senate paid extravagant honours to Faustina. Antoninus, having settled the East, returned to Rome, after eight years absence; having extended his liberality to Athens, the old seat of learning, heard Aristides the orator40 at Smyrna, and having been initiated in the Eleusinian mysteries:41 On this occasion he gratified the Romans * with magnificent shews, and great liberality to the distressed.
The peace of the empire was soon disturbed by new commotions in the North. The Scythians took arms again, and attacked the Emperor’s lieutenants. And he, tho’ old and infirm, resolved upon another expedition: Nor could his friends of the Senate, who were exceedingly solicitous about his life, dissuade him from it. He spent three days in discoursing with them, and advising them about state affairs; and about the great principles of philosophy; and then set out for the army. In this expedition, his prudence and valour appeared invariably the same, and were always suc-cessful; tho’ the particulars of the wars are not preserved. But, at Vienna in Austria, or at Sirmium, he was seized with a distemper; which, in a few days, put an end to his glorious life. When he apprehended there was no hope of his recovery, his strength of mind and resignation to the divine will, made him easy, as to his own death; but his affection to his country gave him considerable anxiety. Tho’ his son had not disclosed his vicious dispositions during his life, yet the examples of Nero and Domitian made him dread that any good instructions he had received, or any dispositions of his to virtue, would not be able to withstand the temptations he would be exposed to in that dangerous elevation. He saw his northern conquest very unsettled; and other provinces not sufficiently established. With all these cares oppressing him, his sickness and pains recurred more violently the last day of his life, and made him aware of his approaching end: Upon this, he called for his principal officers, who stood around his bed: He presented to them his son; and, exerting all his strength, he sate up, and spoke to this effect.
I am not surprized that you are troubled to see me in this condition. It is natural to mankind, to be moved with any sufferings of their fellow-creatures; and, when they are before our eyes, they excite a deeper compassion. But, you are under more peculiar tyes to me. From my consciousness of the most sincere affection to you, I presume you have the like to me. Now is the opportunity, for me to discern that the honours I have conferred on you, and the long series of kind offices done, were not employed in vain; and for you, to make grateful returns, and to shew you have not forgot the favours you received. You see there my son, who was educated by your selves, just entring into manhood, like a ship in a stormy sea, needing prudent pilots; lest, being carried aside, through want of experience, he be intirely shipwrecked among vices. Be you to him, therefore, so many fathers in my stead; always watching over him, and giving him good counsels: For, no treasures can satisfy the luxury of tyrants; nor any guards protect them, when they have lost the affections of their people. These princes only have had safe and long reigns, who have infused into the minds of their people, not any dread by their cruelty, but an hearty love by their goodness. Such alone, as obey with good-will, and not from necessity, are to be confided in, and will obey their prince, or suffer for him, without flattery and dissimulation; nor will such ever rebel, or prove refractory; except when they are forced into it by insolent oppression. In unlimited power, ’tis hard to set proper measures or bounds to men’s passions. If you suggest such thoughts to him, and keep him in mind of what he now hears, you will make him an excellent prince to yourselves, and to all the state, and do the most grateful office to my memory; as by this alone you can make it immortal.42
As he was thus speaking, his voice failed, he fell down on the bed, and died next day, in the 59th year of his age. Never was there a more universal undissembled sorrow, than what ensued among all ranks; who loudly bewailed his death, with all possible encomiums of his virtues: All which were no more than his due; and with the dearest appellations of their good Emperor, their general, their protector, their father, or their brother.
The only prejudices which can obstruct the most favourable reception of these divine meditations, from the author’s character, are these two: First, his continuing in the Pagan religion; even zealously sacrifising to false Gods, deifying his predecessor, and admitting the like honours to be paid to Verus and Faustina: and, secondly, his suffering the Christians to be persecuted, during his reign.
As to the first, tho’ no man of sense can vindicate the heathen worship; as it was full of ridiculous superstitions; without any proper evidence; yet, let us not imagine it worse in the wiser heathens, than it truly was. Maximus Tyrius,43 and many others, assure us, that all Wise men in the heathen world, believed only one supreme God, or, original cause, of all.44 We see that Antoninus, and all the Stoics, agreed in this. But, they also believed there were many inferior created spirits, to whom, the government of certain parts of na-ture was delegated by the supreme God; that the souls of some good men were advanced to this dignity; and that honours were to be paid to these presiding spirits; according to old traditions and custom. Now, this very doctrine generally prevailed, both in the eastern and western christian churches, for many centuries; even from the 5th to the reformation; without any other difference than that of sound; the heathens using the words God, or, Daemon, for what christians called Angels and Saints; and both often raised to this dignity, the souls of persons, who had very little real virtue. The persons denoted by these names in the heathen and christian religions, were, indeed, different. The heathens worshiped the old heathen heroes and princes, and the christians their own heroes and martyrs. Nay the protestants allow that created beings may have delegated powers from God, and be employed as ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation, in their several nations; and superintend the civil affairs of them. But, having no particular knowledge who these Angels or Saints are, nor how they are employed; nor any evidence that they can know our devotions, our prayers, or expressions of gratitude to them; and, seeing all such worship prohibited in the holy scriptures, as it generally has a bad tendency; they universally abstain from it, and condemn it. But, the moral evil of such practices, in those who have had no prohibitions by revelation, is not so great as we commonly apprehend it. Some men of little constancy in their conduct, who have been guilty of some very bad actions, have had also some eminent virtues not universally known. Nay ’tis probable the vices of Faustina were never known to Antoninus; (See B.= I. 14). Verus too had his virtues; and many of his vices have been hid from our author. ’Tis a small fault to err on the charitable side, about the dead. Let us shew an impartial candour in this matter; remembring what mixed characters are recorded of some Jewish and Christian authors whose works we read with veneration.
As to the second charge, of persecuting the Christians:45 Let us remember, that we have no proof of his giving orders for it: We can only charge him with the omission of his duty, in not making a strict inquiry into the cause of the Christians: This, tho’ a great fault, is less than that of the apostle Paul, who himself persecuted with great fury; and yet could afterwards truly say, he had served God with all good conscience; that is, sincerely, according to what he then thought his duty. To extenuate this fault in the Emperor, not to mention his perpetual avocations, by almost continual wars, beside the multitude of civil affairs in so vast an empire, let us remember, that, whatever better knowledge the inferior magistrates might have of the matter of fact, the princes must, generally, have had only such views of the Christians as the zealot pagan priests and magistrates presented to them. Now, they were represented as a confederacy for the most monstrous wickedness; such as, the murdering of infants, and feeding on them, all incestuous impurities, avowed atheism, the blaspheming all the Gods; and rebellion against the state. This last is the common charge, made by all persecutors, against such as differ from the established orthodoxy: As we see in all the defences of the R. catholic persecutions in France, and the protestant persecutions in England and Scotland; when the clergy have once persuaded the legislator, impiously to invade the prerogatives of God, over the consciences of men, by penal laws about such religious opinions, and forms of worship as are no way hurtful in society.
Under these impressions of the Christians; a prince of great goodness might even directly order a persecution against them; not, indeed, without the guilt of a great omission of his duty; since he ought to have made a more thorough inquiry into the matter; and his ignorance could scarce be wholly invincible. But, his intention might be only the suppression of the most odious crimes, which he thought chargeable on the Christians.
But, grant he had persecuted the Christians upon their religious opinions, their rejecting and reviling the heathen Gods, and their rites of worship: Let such as make this objection to his character, consider, that any persecution is the more odious, the smaller the difference is, between the religious tenets of the persecutor, and those of the persecuted; as it shews a greater insolence of pride and ill-nature, to be so much provoked for such small differences; And it shews also the baser sentiments about the Deity, to conceive him so furious and captious, that the smaller mistakes in opinion or wor-ship, can exclude his creatures intirely from his favour, and from all compassion or mercy, notwithstanding their hearty intention and desire to please him, as far as they know what is acceptable to him.
Now, the christian religion was intirely opposite, in every thing almost, to the Pagan. It rejected all their popular Gods: Nay, the early Christians averred them all to be impure devils, and that their worship was instituted by such devils; and refused any sort of joint worship with them. A devout heathen, deeply prejudiced by education, in favour of these popular Gods, and confirmed by a philosophy which espoused a good deal of the popular superstitions, would be under strong temptations from his very devotion, while under these mistakes, to suppress Christianity: This is a great extenuation of the Emperor’s guilt.
But, what shall we say of Christians persecuting each other, who yet believe in the same God, and the same Saviour, and own the same grand practical rules of life, of loving God with all our heart, and our neighbour as ourselves! Let none make this objection to Antoninus, but those, who, from their hearts, abhor all Christian persecutions, who cannot hate their neighbours, or deem them excluded from the divine favour, either for neglecting certain ceremonies, and pieces of outward pageantry, or for exceeding in them; for different opinions, or forms of words, about some metaphysical attributes or modes of existence, which all sides own to be quite incomprehensible by us; for the different opinions about human liberty; about which the best men who ever lived have had opposite sentiments: for different opinions about the manner in which the Deity may think fit to exercise his mercy to a guilty world, either in pardoning of their sins, or renewing them in piety and virtue. As for these who are conscious of such sincere undissembled good-will to all, even those whom they think mistaken in such points; who have no partial attachments to their own parties, from prejudices of education, and their uniting in the same cause; no vanity or pride exciting any anger at the different opinions of others, opposite to what they in their own wisdom have pronounced sound and orthodox, and so detracting from their superior penetration, and diminishing their glory and popularity; Those who find the simple, peaceful, meek, and humble love of truth alone, influencing their sentiments, and a perpetual love to God, and a calm uniform charity operating in their hearts toward all men, even those who despise and affront their religious sentiments; persons of this character, may with some shew of decency, reject these noble devout sentiments, on account of the author’s having persecuted, or suffered others to persecute during his reign. But such men will easily see, that these pious and charitable meditations and suggestions must be valuable for their own sakes, and useful to every attentive reader; whatever were the sins or failings of the author.
’Tis needless, I hope, to prevent another silly prejudice; as if because the author was not a Christian, he could have no real piety or virtue acceptable to God, none of these divine influences, which we are taught are necessary to every good work. No doubt, he is not to be defended in his neglecting to examine the evidences of christianity, or, in not embracing it. But, let men consider the power of education, and how much he was employed from his very youth, in a constant course of public business, which allowed little leisure. How little probability could there occur to him, that, in a sect at that time universally despised, and represented, not only as weak and illiterate, but most horridly impious, immoral, and flagitious, he should find any better instructions in theories of religion, or any better motives to virtuous actions, than what were among the philosophers? We see with what a just contempt of ease, pleasure, and luxury, he keenly embraced the scheme of philosophy most remarkable for piety, austerity, and disinterested goodness; and how long christian magistrates, spirited up by the pretended embassadors of the meek Jesus, have been persecuting their fellow-christians with fire and sword; and that for very honourable tenets; often much better than those of the persecutors. Let this be a warning to all men, against rashly entertaining ill-natured representations of whole sects or bodies of men. Christians may be ashamed to censure our author on this account; considering how rashly, arrogantly, and presumptuously, they are cursing one another in their synodical anathemas; and in their creeds, pronouncing eternal damnation on all who are not within the pale, or hold not the same mysterious tenets or forms of words.
’Tis but a late doctrine in the christian church, that the grace of God, and all divine influences purifying the heart, were confined to such as knew the christian history, and were by profession in the christian church. The earliest Christians and martyrs were of a very different opinion. However, they maintained that it is by the merits of our Saviour alone, men can either be justified or sanctified; yet they never denyed these blessings could be conferred on any who knew not the meritorious or efficient cause of them. To maintain they could not, is as absurd as to assert, that a physician cannot cure a disease, unless the patient be first instructed in the whole art of medicine, and know particularly the physical principles by which the several medicines operate. Nay, the early Christians believed the spirit of Christ operated in Socrates, Plato, and other virtuous heathens; and that they were Christians in heart, without the historical knowledge: And, sure, we may charitably judge the same of this Emperor, who plainly depended on God for such sanctifying influences; and recommends them as the matter of our most earnest prayers; and often, with the deepest humility and simplicity of heart, * acknowledges that he owes to God’s preventing grace, in his providence about him, all those virtuous dispositions, in which he had any delight or complacence.
[* ]ad 167.
[† ]ad 168.
[* ]ad 177.
[* ] B. I. 14. B. IX. 40. B. IV. 26. and in many other places.
[1.] Hutcheson and Moor normally refer to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (emperor 161–80) as Antoninus rather than Marcus Aurelius, as he is commonly called today.
[2.] Casaubon, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus the Roman Emperor, His Meditations Concerning Himselfe (1634). See bibliography.
[3.] Collier, The Emperor Marcus Antoninus His Conversation with Himself. See bibliography.
[4.] Gataker, Markou Antoninou tou Autokratoros (1652/1697). See bibliography.
[5.] Dacier, Reflexions morales de l’Empereur Marc Antonin avec des remarques de Mr. & de Mad. Dacier. The Daciers added a prefatory “Life of Marcus,” which is the ultimate source of the biographical material in Hutcheson and Moor’s introduction. See the editors’ introduction, pp. xii–xiii.
[6.] The chief literary sources for the life of Marcus Aurelius are Dio Cassius, Roman History, LXXI–LXXII, and the “Lives” of Marcus, Verus, and Avidius Cassius in the Historia Augusta (or Scriptores historiae Augustae). A full-length biography is Birley, Marcus Aurelius; and a short account of the reign by Birley may be found in the Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 11, pp. 156–86.
[7.] The emperor Hadrian (r. 117–38). For further information on persons and places, see The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed., and Brill’s New Pauly.
[8.] The second king of Rome, noted for his piety.
[9.] For Marcus’s own account of his family, see bk. 1, art. 1, p. 25.
[10.] Sextus was a nephew of Plutarch (Scriptores historiae Augustae, “Life of Marcus” 3.2). See the endnotes, bk. I, p. 171n9.
[11.] For these persons, see the endnotes, bk. I, p. 170n6, p. 171nn13, 15.
[12.] Lucius Volusius Maecianus, eminent lawyer and imperial administrator under Hadrian and Antoninus Pius.
[13.] There is no paragraph corresponding to this in Dacier’s “Life.”
[14.] Valesius produced an edition of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History in 1659. At bk. IV, chap. 11, Eusebius refers briefly to Justin Martyr’s two “apologies” for the Christian religion, which Hutcheson mentions here; see note 21, below.
[15.] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4.13.1–7 ascribes this letter to the emperor Antoninus Pius. It is generally regarded by historians as spurious.
[16.] Normally now spelled “Calpurnius.”
[17.] Normally now called “Chatti.”
[18.] After the assassination of Commodus, Pertinax was emperor for three months until he was himself assassinated in March 193.
[19.] Dio Cassius LXXII.3.3, in Dio’s Roman History (Loeb ed., vol. IX, pp. 12–13).
[20.] This appears to be a paraphrase of Eusebius, History of the Church V.1.47: “For Caesar had written that they should be tortured to death, but that if any should recant they should be let go.”
[21.] Justin Martyr, author of two Apologies for the Christian religion addressed to Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius jointly, was executed in 165. The Greek text of the Apologies is found in Justini Martyris Apologiae, ed. Marcovich, 1994, and a translation in Justin, The First Apology, ed. and trans. Falls, 1948.
[22.] Athenagoras, Christian apologist; his Presbeia peri Christianōn (A Plea for Christians), addressed to Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus, is a defense of Christians from the charges of immorality frequently leveled against them. See Athenagoras, Legatio and De resurrectione.
[23.] The “Marcomannic Wars” continued for much of the 170s.
[24.] In 171 occurred the Moorish inroads into Spain and the revolt of the Bucoli (Herdsmen) in Egypt.
[25.] The incident is related by Dio Cassius LXXII.8–10, in Dio’s Roman History (Loeb ed., vol. IX, pp. 26–33). Dio ascribes the miracle to an Egyptian “magician” invoking Hermes Aetios. The “Life of Marcus” 24.4 in The Scriptores historiae Augustae (Loeb ed., vol. I, pp. 192–93) describes thunderbolts hurled against the enemy by Jupiter in response to Marcus’s prayer. See the account in the Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 11, p. 170.
[26.] The Christian interpretation is preserved in Eusebius, History of the Church V.5, who gives Tertullian as his source (see the endnotes, “The Life of the Emperor,” pp. 168–69n45).
[27.] Legio XII Fulminata was descended from Julius Caesar’s twelfth legion, and, as Hutcheson and Moor say, already had the name Fulminata in the first century. In Marcus’s time, this legion was recruited in the regions of Melitene, where there were many Christians, according to Bury (Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ed. Bury , vol. II, p. 116n107).
[28.] This letter purporting to be by Marcus, but certainly spurious, is appended to Justin Martyr’s First Apology (Greek text in Marcovich, ed., pp. 165–68; English translation in Falls, pp. 110–11). The incident and the letter are also referred to by Tertullian, Apology V.6, in Tertullian, Apology, De spectaculis (Loeb ed., p. 31).
[29.] Gaius Cassius Longinus, one of the assassins of Julius Caesar.
[30.] The letter of Verus about Cassius, and Marcus’s reply to it, are found in the “Life of Avidius Cassius” 1.7–9 and 2.1–8 in Scriptores historiae Augustae (Loeb ed., vol. I, pp. 234–37). These letters are forgeries. Indeed the whole of this “Life of Avidius Cassius” has been described as “mainly fictional, except for a few passages dealing with the revolt in 175” (Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 11, p. 157n52).
[31.] “Life of Avidius Cassius” 14.8, in Scriptores historiae Augustae (Loeb ed., vol. I, pp. 262–63).
[32.] Dio Cassius LXXII.23.3–26.4, in Dio’s Roman History (Loeb ed., vol. IX, pp. 39–45). This speech may contain the gist of what Marcus actually said (Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 11, p. 177).
[33.] This purported correspondence between Marcus Aurelius and Faustina, found in the “Life of Avidius Cassius” 9.5–10.10, is spurious. See Scriptores historiae Augustae (Loeb ed., vol. I, pp. 252–55).
[34.] The sophist Herodes Atticus, the friend and teacher of Marcus Aurelius and of Lucius Verus (Dio Cassius LXXII.35.1, in Dio’s Roman History, Loeb ed., vol. IX, pp. 64–65). He is not mentioned in The Meditations, but he is the subject of five letters between Marcus and Fronto (Fronto, Correspondence, Loeb ed., pp. 59–71). For his life see Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists II.1 (Philostratus and Eunapius, The Lives of the Sophists, Loeb ed., pp. 139–83).
[35.] Philostratus, Lives of the Sophists II.1 (563) (Loeb ed., pp. 175–77).
[36.] A forged letter from “Life of Avidius Cassius” 11.3–8, in Scriptores historiae Augustae (Loeb ed., vol. I, pp. 254–57).
[37.] “Life of Avidius Cassius” 8.2–5, in Scriptores historiae Augustae (Loeb ed., vol. I, pp. 248–51).
[38.] A forgery in “Life of Avidius Cassius” 12.1–10, in Scriptores historiae Augustae (Loeb ed., vol. I, pp. 256–59).
[39.] Dio Cassius LXXII.30.2, in Dio’s Roman History (Loeb ed., vol. IX, pp. 52–53).
[40.] Aelius Aristides, a prominent sophist, to whom Marcus gave an audience at Smyrna in 176. Among his many surviving speeches is a panegyric of the Roman empire (“To Rome”); he also composed Sacred Teachings, an account of the revelations made by Asclepius, god of healing, with regard to his medical problems.
[41.] Marcus was initiated into this ancient cult of Demeter at Eleusis near Athens in 176. The emperor Hadrian had also been initiated.
[42.] The source of this purported deathbed speech of Marcus is Herodian I.4., in Herodian (Loeb ed., pp. 14–21).
[43.] Maximus of Tyre, a “middle Platonist,” who was popular among humanists of the Renaissance and later; the conception of God articulated in Oration 11 “Plato on God” was particularly influential. See Maximus Tyrius, Philosophical Orations, pp. 93–106.
[44.] See also bk. V, art. 22, p. 65n: “God, the great governour of this city”; bk. VIII, art. 19, p. 98n: where the inferior gods of “the heathen philosophers” are compared with the angels believed in by “many Christians”; and bk. IX, art. 1, the asterisked note: “This is a clear acknowledgement of the one supreme God.”
[45.] Marcus was regarded by Christians as one of the major persecutors. The highly influential History of the Church by Eusebius (composed early in the fourth century at a time of widespread persecution) devotes most of its account of the Church in the reign of Marcus (IV.14.9–V.10.3) to the persecutions of the reign, beginning: “In this period Asia was thrown into confusion by the most savage persecutions.” Eusebius assigns the celebrated martyrdom of Polycarp to Marcus’s reign, though it actually occurred in 156. He gives an account of the execution of the Christian apologist Justin Martyr and of many other Christians in Asia. He also describes the martyrdoms in Gaul in graphic detail. Eusebius left to succeeding centuries the impression that persecution was general throughout the empire in the reign of Marcus, summarizing as follows (V.2.1): “Such were the experiences of the Christian churches [in Gaul] under Marcus Aurelius: from them one can easily guess what happened in the other provinces of the Empire.” (The quotations in this note are from Eusebius, History of the Church, trans. Williamson, 168, 203.) A recent historian, however, expresses the widely accepted view that Marcus simply followed the policy of his predecessors since Trajan of permitting prosecution of Christians if initiated by private citizens: “Marcus’s own conduct appears to me at all points traditionalist, not least in the scrupulous respect for Roman religious ceremonial, and it would not be astonishing if he simply assumed without examination that the measures taken by his predecessors against sectaries who spurned the ancestral cults were correct” (Brunt, “Marcus Aurelius and the Christians,” 499).