Have you ever applied stoicism to fear

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Book excerpt from Donald Robertson: “Think like a Roman ruler. The stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius. "


Robertson.Donald Robertson (Photo: Mandy Robertson)



Temporary madness

In May 175, a nervous courier handed a letter to Gaius Avidius Cassius, commander of the Syrian legions and governor-general of the eastern provinces. It only contained a single Greek word. To his consternation it said emanes, which means something like "You are crazy", "You have lost your mind".

Cassius got angry and tore up the letter. He wasn't someone to be intimidated by anything like that. In fact, he was notorious for his brutality. One of his favorite punishments was to have men chained together in groups of ten and drowned in the middle of the river. Rumors circulated that he had once tied dozens of his enemies to a sixty-meter-high mast and set it on fire so that their compatriots could see them burned alive from miles away. Even by the brutal standards of the Roman army, it was considered incredibly cruel.

With his troops, Cassius was known for his strict discipline, which sometimes took on brutal traits. He cut off the hands of deserters, broke their legs and hips, and left them crippled - as a warning to everyone else what would happen to them if they did not obey his orders. However, he was also an outstanding military hero. After the emperor, he was the second highest in command of the Roman army and possibly the second most powerful man in the entire empire.

Cassius ’strict regiment was legendary and made it indispensable to Rome. Marcus Aurelius and Cassius had been family friends since time immemorial, although rumor has it that Cassius criticized the emperor behind his back. Mark said to his courtiers, “It is impossible to make people the way you want them to be; we must take them as they are. ”His reputation for grace and forgiveness contrasted sharply with Cassius’s ruthlessness. Despite their contrasting characters, however, Mark put his full trust in Cassius as a general.

In the Roman-Parthian War, while Lucius Verus indulged in his vices far from the battlefields, Cassius won one victory after another and persecuted King Vologaeses deep into the Parthian Empire. In a short time he rose to be in command of Lucius ’right hand. Towards the end of the war, however, he allowed his men to plunder the twin cities of Seleukia-Ctesiphon on the Tigris, where they allegedly contracted the plague. The returning troops dragged the plague into their military garrisons in the provinces, and from there an epidemic of the plague spread across the empire. Cassius was rewarded for the expulsion of the Parthians from Syria, however, with the appointment of the emperor's legate (a governor with the highest authority) of the province of Syria and was now directly subordinate to the emperor. A few years later, in 169, the premature death of Emperor Lucius left a power vacuum that wanted to be filled.

In 172, during the first Marcomann War on the northern border of the realm of Marcus Aurelius, the Bucoli tribe, or "Herdmen" from the north-western region of the Nile Delta near Alexandria, incited the local population to revolt against the Roman people Authorities - a serious crisis that necessitated Cassius' invasion of Egypt with two Syrian legions. That in turn meant him imperium had to be conferred, that is, the highest military authority by which he was on an equal footing with the emperor in his absence.

The native Egyptians, however, were fed up with the burden of tax increases to finance Marcus Aurelius wars in the north. As a result, more and more of them shifted to raids and highway robberies and finally, out of desperation, formed a rebel army, which was led by a charismatic young warlike priest named Isidorus. It is said that a handful of these men disguised themselves as women and approached a Roman centurion on the pretext that they were going to pay him a sum in gold to release their captured husbands. They then lured him into an ambush, then took another officer prisoner and killed him, allegedly swearing an oath over his bloody entrails before they ritually ate them. News of this alleged act of terrorism spread like wildfire in Egypt and eventually led to a general uprising.

In a short time, the Bucoli gained enough support from other tribes to encircle and attack Alexandria. In an open field battle between the Egyptian legions and the tribal warriors, the vastly outnumbered Roman troops suffered a humiliating defeat. The Bucoli and their allies besieged Alexandria for months while the plague and famine raged in the city. If Cassius and his troops had not rushed from Syria to liberate the Alexandrian garrison and put down the insurrection, Alexandria would have been sacked and pillaged. But Cassius faced so many tribal warriors that he dared not counterattack directly, despite commanding three full legions. Instead, he bet on time, sowing strife and discord among the hostile tribes until he could finally separate and subdue them. As a reward, he was allowed to do so imperium retained in the eastern provinces, giving him a unique power and status hardly inferior to that of the emperor.

By the age of forty-five, Cassius had become a hero among his compatriots because of his dramatic military victories. His authority was reinforced by his aristocratic origins: his mother, Julia Cassia Alexandra, was a member of the ancient Roman Cassii family, famous for their old-school tenacity. She was a princess descended on her father's side from King Herod the Great of Judea and on her mother's side from Augustus, the first Roman emperor. In addition, she asserted the descent of another Roman vassal king, namely Antiochus IV. Epiphanes of Commagene, which made Cassius a member of the imperial dynasty of the Seleucids.

In short, Cassius was born to rule. Given his aristocratic pedigree and celebrated military victories, he undoubtedly considered himself a natural successor to Emperor Lucius Verus. Far to the north, however, Marcus Aurelius had promoted Claudius Pompeianus, another Syrian general of far more humble origins. Pompeianus had already made a name for himself in the Roman-Parthian War and married Mark's daughter Lucilla, the widow of Lucius Verus. During the Marcomannic Wars he served as the senior general on the northern border and became the emperor's right-hand man. Rumor has it that Marcus Aurelius even asked Pompeianus to become Caesar, but for some reason he refused. Most likely, the idea that an ordinary Roman citizen could be superior to him was unbearable to Cassius.

Following Lucius' death, he has steadily and inexorably climbed the ladder of power. In 175 he had held quasi-emperor power in the eastern provinces for three years. There is only one step left to get to the top of the empire, and Marcus Aurelius is the only person standing in his way. The single word that he now holds in his hands - emanes - comes from Herodes Atticus, the sophist who taught Marcus Aurelius Greek rhetoric in his youth. Herod was famous for his eloquence and elaborate speeches. This letter, however, is distinguished by the kind of laconic blow that was more typical of Stoics than Sophists. A single word is enough to get his message across. Driven by his hunger for absolute power, Cassius has instigated a civil war that threatens to tear the entire empire in two and spark a bloodshed that could wipe out the lives of many millions.

Far away, on the other side of the empire, more than fifteen hundred miles away, an exhausted dispatch rider arrives at the encampment in Sirmium, the capital of Lower Pannonia (present-day Serbia). The soldiers who received him hurriedly take him to the emperor's residence in the center of the camp. It took more than ten days via the express communication channels for the news from the eastern provinces to reach the northern border via Rome. The messenger hesitates before starting to speak; his news is so surprising that he can hardly believe it himself: “My Lord and Caesar, General Avidius Cassius has betrayed you ... the Egyptian Legion has proclaimed him emperor. «The courier hands Mark Aurel a letter from the Senate confirming the news: On May 3, 175 Avidius Cassius was proclaimed Emperor of Rome by the Egyptian Legion in Alexandria. "Sir, they tell everyone you are dead," the courier explains.

The news comes from Publius Martius Verus, governor of the Roman province of Cappadocia (modern-day Turkey). Martius Verus had served with great distinction as a general alongside Cassius and Pompeianus in the Roman-Parthian War. However, his alarming news is accompanied by the assurance that he and the three legions under his command have declared their unwavering loyalty to Marcus Aurelius. However, Cassius reportedly received support for his rebellion in the region south of the Taurus Mountains, which is roughly half the size of the Eastern Empire. A number of Roman senators who opposed the marcomman's campaign have seized the opportunity to speak out on behalf of Cassius. So far, however, the Senate as a whole has been loyal to Marcus Aurelius. However, Cassius is a highly competent general to whom seven legions are subordinate. He also controls Egypt - the bread basket of the empire and by far the richest province in the east. Its capital, Alexandria, is the second largest city and has the largest port in the empire. If exports from Egypt were interrupted, Rome would eventually run out of bread. Unrest and looting would be the result. So the fate of the entire empire hangs by a thread.

In fact, Mark Aurel has recently gotten very sick, maybe even close to dying. At forty-five and widely known as frail and in poor health, he has long been the talk of the town in Rome. His wife Faustina had traveled back to Rome several months earlier. Rumor had it that she feared the possibility of his imminent death and urged Cassius to lay claim to the throne. Aurel's only surviving son, Commodus, is thirteen years old and knows full well that his life will be in grave danger if his father dies or a usurper takes the throne before he reaches adulthood. Allegedly, Faustina should have planned to forestall Mark's death and to ensure that Cassius can outmaneuver other heir to the throne and maybe even secure Commodus ’succession by marrying her. Others say Cassius acted of his own accord and deliberately spread the false rumor that Mark was dead in order to seize power. Or maybe he was just acting rashly and not treacherously because he was fooled by the false news of the Emperor's death. The Senate is alarmed in any case and immediately declares Cassius to be hostis publicus - a public enemy - and confiscates his and his family's property. However, this only exacerbates the conflict. Cassius must feel the situation is getting out of hand. He can't go back; civil war seems inevitable.
Whatever Cassius’s motives, Marcus Aurelius is facing one of the most serious crises of his reign. The emperor has recovered from his recent attack of illness and is wasting no time responding to the high treason. He lets his gaze wander over the faces of his generals. You already know that he must prepare to leave the northern border of the empire and in a great hurry to lead an army to the east. Cassius ’legions may march into Rome with the intention of securing his claim to the throne. The immediate threat has plunged the city into a state of extreme panic and fueled Mark's critics in the Senate. The reputation that Marcus Aurelius has with the mighty legions that fought under him on the banks of the Danubius is unshakable.

The following morning he sends a mounted courier to Rome, with whom he gives letters to the Senate, to his ally Martius Verus in Cappadocia and, more importantly, to Cassius in Egypt. His message is unmistakable: The emperor confirms that he is alive and in good health and will return soon. Now he must hurry to ensure peace in the north so that he can march with a clear conscience to the southeast of the empire, strengthen his loyal followers in Cappadocia and stifle the unrest by appearing in person. However, it would be premature to inform his troops of the incident until he is certain that civil war is inevitable. His troops still have to put down resistance flaring up here and there among the Nordic tribes, and he does not want the barbarians along the Danubius to find out about the crisis in the empire until the peace negotiations are over dry.

He is still secretly pondering his reaction to the news. The hardest part is the uncertainty of the situation. Mark assumes that Cassius believes, to a certain extent, that he is doing the right thing: he acts out of ignorance of what is really right and what is wrong, because - as Socrates and the Stoics taught - no one knowingly does wrong. Of course, it is precisely this philosophical attitude that resents Cassius Mark, because he sees the ability to forgive as a sign of weakness. This leads to a power struggle between their two personalities, two different styles of rule and two philosophies of life: one harsh and relentless, the other merciful.

Several weeks have passed since Marcus Aurelius received the dispatch informing him of the events in Egypt. His first act after receiving news of the rebellion was to call his thirteen-year-old son, Commodus, to Sirmium, where he received the toga virilis was awarded, declaring him an adult Roman citizen in preparation for his appointment as emperor. He is presented to the troops as Marcus Aurelius' legitimate successor to undo Cassius ’claim to the throne. The news that the emperor was alive must have reached Cassius, but nothing is known that he withdrew his ambitions as a result. However, the fact that Cassius failed to extend the uprising beyond the Taurus Mountains to Cappadocia means that he did not have enough troops to be sure that he could defend Syria against a major offensive by the loyal army . Nevertheless, there is growing unrest in Marcus Aurelius and rumors are spreading. The time has come for the emperor to speak to his men and announce that he will march southeast to reunite with Martius Verus in Cappadocia before they confront Cassius’s main army in Syria.

Mark Aurel prepares for the following day by reflecting on Cassius ’actions and the senators who are working against him. As always, Mark tells himself that he must be willing to accept intrigue, ingratitude, violence, betrayal, and resentment. According to the Stoics, people make moral errors because the majority of them have no firm idea of ​​the true nature of good and evil. No one is born wise; rather, we must acquire wisdom through education and practice. Mark believes that philosophy taught him the difference between right and wrong and the ability to grasp the nature of people like Cassius, who appears to be doing wrong. He reminds himself that even those who are hostile to him are his brothers - not brothers in blood, but his fellow men in the universal community, who fundamentally have the potential for wisdom and virtue. Even if they may act wrongly, they cannot seriously harm him because their actions cannot tarnish his character.As long as Mark is aware of this, he can feel neither anger nor anger towards them. Those who are hostile to him are also in the world, he says, to work with him and everyone else, just as the top and bottom teeth work together to grind food. To turn angrily against men like Cassius or even to let them fall would be unreasonable and against the law of nature. Mark warns himself not to regard the rebels as enemies, but to treat them with the benevolence with which a doctor speaks to his patients. In quiet contemplation and knowing how important it is to keep a cool head in an adverse situation - especially in view of the tremendous power with which the Roman people have endowed him - he takes time for a meditation. Then he throws on his military cape; Pompeianus and a few other advisors meet him in front of the tent. It is time he turned to the soldiers who have gathered in the center of the garrison camp.

Mark greets you as one of them. He says there is no point in feeling bitter about the rebellion in the east. He accepts whatever may come his way as Zeus' will. He asked the soldiers not to be angry with Heaven and expressed his sincere regret that they had to go from war to war in his service. He wished Cassius had come to him first and presented his arguments to the Army and the Senate. Mark promises them that he would have resigned and handed the kingdom over to him without a fight if he had been convinced that this would serve the common good. But it is too late for that, because the war is already here.

Mark reminds his troops that their reputation far surpasses that of the Eastern Legions, and they have every reason to be optimistic. Although Cassius was one of the most valued generals, Mark said, he was ultimately an "eagle leading a flock of jackdaws" - a comment that made him laugh at some gloomy smack. It was not Cassius himself who won all those famous victories, but precisely the soldiers who are now standing before him, Mark. They will also be supported by the loyal Martius Verus - a general who is no less competent than Avidius Cassius. Mark tells them he hopes Cassius will show remorse now that he knows the Emperor is alive. He must assume that this once so loyal general had betrayed him in such a shameful way only because of the false assumption that he was dead. Otherwise, and should Cassius insist on his revolt, he would be forced to reconsider when Marcus Aurelius marched against him at the head of such a great army of seasoned veterans from the north. (The Roman historian Cassius Dio presents the supposedly original text of this remarkable speech.)

The legionaries who have gathered before Mark know well enough that their beloved emperor and commander is a stoic philosopher. But what follows must have amazed even her deeply. Mark assures them that his greatest wish is for mercy:

To forgive a man who has done wrong; to maintain friendship with a man who has trampled it; to be loyal to someone who broke that loyalty. What I am saying may seem incredible to you, but you must not doubt it. For the moral good is not yet completely extinct among men; there are still remnants of an ancient virtue within us. If someone doesn't believe it, it just strengthens my desire so that people can see with their own eyes things that no one thought possible. Because that would be the one gain I could get from my current problems: If I could bring the matter to an honorable end and show the whole world that there is a right way to deal with a civil war myself.

In other words, it is not a misfortune; Enduring a difficult situation with dignity is a good fate. Rusticus and the other Stoics had taught him that in his childhood. There is no trace of anger in Marcus Aurelius' words, although the news of Cassius ’rebellion turned the city of Rome upside down and threw the whole empire into turmoil. The soldiers under his command know that he would react calmly and with dignity, even to a shocking betrayal like this. Nevertheless, for the average legionnaire who stood in the mud on that day and listened to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, it must have been remarkable that his supreme general forgave not only his usurper but also all his enemies.

After he finishes his speech, Mark instructs his secretary to send a copy to the Senate. Then he withdraws back to his residence, closes his eyes and continues to think about the best way to deal with the emerging crisis and to look for orientation in his philosophy.


Marcus Aurelius was actually not of a peaceful nature; rather, he had to make an effort to get a grip on his quick-tempered temperament. Already in the first sentence of Meditations he praises his grandfather for his gentleness and gentleness, and in the course of his notes he repeatedly returns to the problem of controlling his irascible temper. He has been known to fight his anger and work to become calmer, calmer, and more sensible for writing about it. Book 1 of the Meditations he concludes by thanking the gods for never succumbing to the bad habit of insulting his friends, family or teachers, even if he occasionally felt that he was in danger of losing his temper.

People who suffer from exhaustion and chronic pain, like Marcus Aurelius, can often be irritable and quick-tempered. When a frail man who has slept badly and is plagued by chest and stomach pains is occasionally irritated by the countless people trying to manipulate and deceive him, it's no wonder. For stoics, anger is an irrational and unhealthy passion that we should never give in to. As we have seen, it is in the nature of man automatic Experiencing feelings of irritation in response to life's problems. For Stoics, this "primal passion" is inevitable, so they accept its manifestation with equanimity.

Of course, even a stoic would prefer other people to behave more pleasantly. He could also do something to stop the person concerned, but the wise person does not get upset about things over which he has no control, such as the behavior of other people. Stoics have a wide variety of psychological techniques that they can use to counter the anger that arises and replace it with a more relaxed but equally determined attitude.

Overcoming anger and anger by cultivating greater empathy and understanding of other people is one of the recurring themes in the meditations. While modern psychotherapy typically focuses on anxiety and depression, the Stoics have increasingly focused on the problem of anger. By the way, Seneca has written an entire book on the subject, the title is About the anger. It has been preserved to this day and deals with stoic theory and overcoming passions in great detail.

As in most areas of life, Aurel's greatest role model was his adoptive father. First and foremost, he had learned "gentleness" and a mild temperament from Emperor Antoninus. Antoninus always showed "patient tolerance" to even the harshest critics of his prudent use of the resources of the empire. In particular, Mark remembers the dignity of his adoptive father on one occasion when he accepted an apology from a customs officer in Tusculum; that was typical of his friendly character. Unlike his predecessor Hadrian, Antoninus was never rude, abusive, or violent towards other people, and he never fell out of character. He considered each situation for himself, calmly, calmly and methodically, as if he were doing it out of pure leisure.

Elsewhere, too, we hear of Antoninus ’meek demeanor and" how he endured those who unfairly criticized him ", as well as his" tolerance of people who openly opposed his ideas and his joy when someone found a better solution ". The patience and gentleness that Antoninus showed as ruler were among the most important virtues that Mark learned. Indeed, Marcus Aurelius was famous for remaining perfectly calm when provoked. However, he had to practice this for a long time and train himself to control his temper. What's the stoic recipe? The Stoics considered anger to be a form of desire "to seek revenge on someone who did wrong inappropriately," said Diogenes Laertius. In a more informal way, anger is typically a desire to offend someone because we believe that they have wronged us and deserves punishment. (Occasionally, it might be more wanting someone else to teach that person a lesson, such as saying, "I wish someone would teach you a lesson!") This is similar to modern cognitive anger therapies, which are defined as anger is a feeling based on the belief that a rule that is important to you has been violated by someone else. Anger comes from the idea that someone has committed an injustice or that someone has done something they shouldn't have done. It is often associated with the impression that one is being threatened or harmed by the behavior of this person, which makes anger a close companion of fear: "He did something to me that he shouldn't have done - that was wrong!"



Donald Robertson: “Think like a Roman ruler” - 304 pages, 24.99 euros, FinanzbuchVerlag, https://www.m-vg.de/finanzbuchverlag/shop/article/16894-denke-wie-ein-roemischer-herrscher /


Accordingly, the stoic antidote to anger is similar to the general therapy applied to unhealthy desires and desires that we have already talked about. However, it is worth repeating the typical steps of this approach and considering how to apply them to the passion anger:

1.            Introspection. Look out for early warning signs of anger emerging so you can fight it right away before it escalates. You may notice your voice begin to change, frown frowns, or muscles tense. You may also think that someone has acted wrongly or violated one of your personal rules: "How dare she tell me such a thing!"

2.            Cognitive distance. Recall that it is not the events that make you angry; it is your opinion of them: “I find myself telling myself, 'How dare she,' and it is this contemplation of things that makes me angry caused."

3.            Put off. Wait for your anger to subside on its own before deciding how to react to the situation. Take a deep breath, walk away, and come back in a few hours. If you still feel like you have to react, take your time deciding what the best answer is.

4.            Modeling Virtue. Ask yourself what a wise person like Socrates or Zeno would do. What virtues could you use to respond wisely? In your case, it may be easier to think of a role model with whom you are more familiar, like Marcus Aurelius or someone you know from your own life: “A wiser person would try to show empathy in their situation move and react patiently ... "

5.            Functional analysis. Imagine the consequences of giving in to your anger, or following your mind and tempering yourself: "If I let my anger guide me, I'll probably yell at them and start arguing, and then things will get worse until." we don't even speak to each other anymore. If I wait until I have calmed down, it will take some effort at first, but with a little practice it will be easier for me, and when she has calmed down too, she may listen to me and see my point of view. "

The Stoics learned the old concept of waiting to react to a situation for their anger to subside, probably from the Pythagoreans, whose school was nearly seven hundred years old in Marcus Aurel's day. They were known to never speak in anger, but rather to withdraw for a while until their emotions had calmed down. They did not react until they felt able to act rationally and calmly. Today's therapists sometimes refer to this as "time out" from anger, which one should take to find inner peace.

In addition to these basic strategies, Aurelius also describes a whole repertoire of stoic cognitive techniques aimed at treating the underlying beliefs that trigger the anger in the first place. These are different ways of looking at the angry situation, that is alternative points of view. You can take it at any time. As long as you are still in the grip of anger, it is difficult to change your perspective.

By the way, one of the most common mistakes we make is trying to question our angry thoughts when we are not in the mood to do so. It is better to apply this mental strategy already beforehand so before dealing with any situation that may infuriate you, or after this You have taken the time to find your calm and serenity again. Aurelius admonished himself to do some of these things first thing in the morning as he prepared to deal with difficult people later in the day.

In one of the most impressive passages of his Meditations Mark gives a list of ten thinking strategies that he can use to "protect himself against anger at others." He describes these anger management techniques as that ten gifts of Apollo and his nine muses. Apollo is the god of medicine and healing - the god of therapy, one might say today - and these are stoic psychotherapeutic concepts. The Meditations contain numerous other references to the same methods that make it clear what Marcus Aurelius meant.



The first strategy that Marcus Aurelius describes as a possible response to anger is to remember the Stoic doctrine that rational beings are inherently social beings designed to live in communities and one another to help in benevolence. As such, we have a duty to live wisely and in harmony with our fellow human beings in order to reach our natural potential and to prosper.

In one of his most famous quotes from the Meditations, the aforementioned introductory text to Book 2, Mark describes how each morning he prepares himself mentally to deal with problematic people throughout the day. He writes: "I can neither be angry with my neighbor nor hate him, for we live to help and support one another" and that mutual hindrance through resentment or rejection runs counter to our rational and social nature. Indeed, he writes, for a rational being the moral good lies partly in his attitude towards his fellow men. Mark even goes so far as to claim that disregarding our closeness to our fellow human beings is a form of injustice, a vice and an ungodliness because it is unnatural to humans.

The stoic goal of living in harmony and harmony with the rest of humanity does not mean that we should assume that everyone is kind to us. On the contrary, we should be prepared to meet many stupid and evil people in our lives and accept this as an inevitable fact. However, we should not face unpleasant people and enemies with anger, but rather regard them as an opportunity to prove our wisdom and our virtue. Stoics view problematic people as if it were a doctor's prescription or a sparring partner assigned to us by a boxing trainer. "We live for one another," said Aurelius, "and if we cannot raise those who are hostile to us, we must at least learn to tolerate them."

These challenges help us develop our virtues and become more resilient.If your patience has never been tested, then you will lack opportunities to show virtue in your relationships with others. In the plant Eulogium on Marcus Aurelius, a historical fiction that is closely based on the Roman chronicles, the stoic teacher Apollonius is put into the mouth with the following words: »There are bad people - they are of use to you; why would there be virtues without them? "



The next strategy is to take a more holistic view of the person you are angry with, rather than just focusing on the sides of their character that you find most angry. Marcus Aurelius calls upon himself to think carefully about the type of person that typically hurts him. Then he patiently imagines these people in their everyday lives: They eat at their dining tables, sleep in their beds, have sexual intercourse, relax and so on. Then he thinks about how arrogant, presumptuous and angry they can be, but he also thinks about the fact that they are at times the prisoners of other desires and desires.

The idea behind this is that we should expand our awareness and not just think about the actions of a person with which they have hurt us, but look at them from a holistic point of view and remind ourselves that no one is perfect. If we widen our field of vision, our anger will likely settle down on that person. This approach is a variant of mitigation through analysis.

Indeed, Mark says we should imagine looking into their souls and understanding what is going on within them when they dump their hatred on us, blame us for anything, and offend us. The better we understand them, the more likely their hostility will appear to us to be misguided and powerless. Mark appears to have done that to Cassius, which probably helped him react calmly and calmly to the sudden threat of civil war, while the Senate acted reflexively. According to Aurelius, one should not only put oneself in the shoes of other people, but analyze their character in such a way that one goes straight to the core questions: who do they want to please, with what purpose and with what kind of actions? What are their guiding principles in life, what do they do and how do they spend their time?

Imagine that your soul was naked and bare in front of you and that all of its flaws and weaknesses were revealed to you. If you can imagine this, it will end up seeming absurd to you that the blame or praise of another person could ever gain power over you. A wise person only values ​​the opinions of those who "live in harmony with nature", so he always pays attention to who he surrounds himself with. He understands who these people are, "at home and on the move, by night and by day, what vices they indulge in and with whom".

The Stoics believe that evil people are profoundly self-respecting and estranged from themselves. We need to learn to be empathetic with them and view them as victims of misguided beliefs or misjudgments, but not as bad people. According to Marcus Aurelius, we should realize that they have been blinded by their own misguided opinions and forced into their behavior because they did not know any better. When you recognize this, it will be easier for you to ignore their criticism, to forgive them and still, where necessary, to defend yourself against their behavior. Understanding everything means forgiving everything, as the saying goes.



This observation follows from the previous point. This is one of the central paradoxes of Socratic philosophy adopted by the Stoics: Nobody knowingly does evil, and that implies that nobody does evil willfully. Marcus Aurelius granted Cassius a bonus by assuming that the usurper probably believed he was doing the right thing and was simply mistaken. In the Meditations he says to view other people's actions as a simple dichotomy: either they are doing the right thing or the wrong thing. If they did the right thing, it should be accepted and no longer angry with them. In that case, it would be best to let your anger go away and learn from them. However, if they did the wrong thing, one should assume that they just didn't know any better. As Socrates pointed out, nobody wants to make mistakes or be deceived; all rational beings naturally long for truth. If someone is completely mistaken about what is right, you should feel sorry for them, if at all.

Nobody likes to be labeled dishonorable or evil. In some ways, people are convinced that what they are doing is right, or at least acceptable. No matter how perverse this belief may be, it believes it is justified. If we always consider others to be mistaken and not evil, as people who are deprived of wisdom against their will, we will automatically be milder towards them. Marcus Aurelius therefore says that whenever you believe someone has wronged you, you should first consider what underlying value concepts that person has that determine what they consider right or wrong. Once you understand their thinking, you have no reason to be surprised by their actions, and this should naturally subside your anger.

Misjudgments dominate people just as much as illness or insanity. Knowing this, we can be benevolent and forgiving to others. After all, we don't judge children harshly when they make mistakes because they don't know any better. Adults make the same moral mistakes as children. They don't want to be ignorant, but unwittingly and unintentionally acting like ignoramuses.

Marcus Aurelius believed that people basically deserved our benevolence because they were our fellow human beings. But they also deserve our sympathy, he says, because they cannot distinguish between good and bad - a social "handicap" that is just as serious as blindness. Our moral errors lead us to passions like anger that can easily get out of hand. We should remind ourselves that ignorance will lead other people to act as they do and let our anger fade away. Epictetus advises his students to simply repeat this maxim again and again: "It seemed right to him" when they encounter someone with questionable behavior.



Remembering that all human beings are human and flawed can help to accept criticism (or praise) more calmly and in a less emotionally charged way. And realizing that you are not perfect either - nobody is - it can help you to lower your anger towards others. To see the splinter in the eye of others, but not the beam in your own eye, is a double standard. Marcus Aurelius therefore calls himself to the knowledge that he too is doing a lot of things wrong and in this respect is just like all other people. In fact, he recommends using injuries others inflict on us as a signal to pause, focus our attention on our own characters, and realize that we often act similarly injustices. Mark makes the very honest psychological observation that he himself often shies away from injustice because he is afraid of the consequences or the loss of his reputation. Often times it's nothing more than a vice that keeps us from another vice, says Mark - another idea that goes back at least to Socrates. For example, many people shy away from a crime because they are afraid of being caught, not because they are virtuous. So even if we don't make the same mistakes as other people, there may well be a tendency to do so. Mark was therefore willing to listen to Cassius because, despite his status as emperor, he did not consider himself infallible.

There are no gurus in stoicism. Even the founders of the school - Zenon, Kleanthes, and Chrysippos - never claimed to be wise through and through. They believed we were all stupid, evil, and to some extent slaves to our passions. The ideal type of the wise person is perfect by definition, but only one hypothetical idealjust as the concept of a utopian society is a utopia. Ironically, the very anger we have at others who have hurt us can be used as evidence of ours own fallibility be seen. Our anger proves that we are capable of doing wrong under the influence of strong emotions. Always remember that fallibility is the common fate of all people, including you, and it can dampen feelings of anger and anger. If you point your finger at someone in your anger, keep in mind that three fingers of the same hand can point back in your direction.



We don't know what's on other people's minds, so we shouldn't make any guesses about their intentions. Without knowing someone's intentions, we cannot be sure that they are doing something wrong. People can do things that seem bad but they have good reasons for doing. Marcus Aurelius himself was an experienced judge at the Roman court and was also a good judge of people. He remembered that you first have to find out a lot about a person before you can form a firm opinion about their personality and motives. And even then, our guesses are only probabilities. So when the Civil War broke out, Mark assumed that ultimately he had no certainty about what really moved Cassius' heart.

In contrast, anger has one unfounded certainty about other people's motives. Cognitive therapists refer to this as the Fallacy of mind readingwhich consists in drawing conclusions about the motives of others, even if these ultimately remain hidden from us. We should therefore always remain open to the possibility that our counterpart has no unfair motives. Note that there may be other plausible interpretations of behavior. Staying open to interpretations other than your own will help reduce your anger.



Marcus Aurelius warned himself to always remember the transience of events in the grand scheme of things. He suggested that you should remember that you and the person you are angry with will eventually be dead and forgotten. From this perspective, it doesn't seem worth getting excited about other people's behavior. Nothing lasts forever. If events seem mundane in retrospect, why should we get upset about them here and now? That's not to say we shouldn't be doing anything. But if we keep calm, we can better plan our response and act accordingly. Mark did not remain idle when Cassius incited the population to civil war. He quickly mobilized the army against his general. But he didn't let fear or anger cloud his judgment.

The Meditations were probably written before the Civil War, but Marcus Aurelius probably took the same philosophical stance toward Cassius' betrayal when it broke out. "Remember, that moment will soon be over," he told himself, "and then things will inevitably change."

As we shall see, the civil war proved extremely short-lived. No monuments of Avidius Cassius have survived. Few people today even know his name, even though he did technically considered a Roman ruler, if only for a few months. But one day, Marcus Aurelius will also be forgotten. He always kept this in mind when making decisions. He always admonished himself not to worry about how future generations would judge him, but only to do what the mind recommended as the right course of action in the concrete situation. When we realize that nothing is forever, it is no longer worth the effort to get angry with other people.



It should come as no surprise that Marcus Aurelius mentioned what is perhaps the most famous stoic technique known as cognitive distance. So when you are angry, remind yourself that it is not things or other people that anger you, but your opinion of them. If you manage to stop judging things and people and calling their actions "terrible", your anger will also evaporate. As Seneca pointed out, it is normal for us to fall into anger spontaneously - a natural reaction that the Stoics called a primal passion (propatheiai). We share these emotional responses with animals to a certain extent; they are natural and inevitable, like the fear of the stoic teacher caught in a storm, as Gellius once described. Mark said it was up to us, however, to indulge in our anger. Although we cannot control our first, spontaneous reaction, we can decide how we want to react to it: What counts is not what happens spontaneously, but what we consciously do next.

How can we learn to pause and gain cognitive distance from our spontaneous feelings of anger instead of being carried away by them? By realizing that another person's actions cannot damage our character, according to Marcus Aurelius. So all that really matters in life is whether you are a good person or a bad person - and that is up to you. Other people can harm your property or your body, but not your character unless you let them. As Mark rightly pointed out, if you can dispense with evaluating the event, the feeling of being hurt will go away. And when the feeling disappears, so too does the perceived injury. Often it is enough to be aware that it is not the events that make us angry, but their evaluation so that the anger dissipates.


8. Anger does more harm than good to ourselves

Mark Aurel often combines the acquisition of cognitive distance with functional analysis. Think about the consequences of an angry reaction and compare it to the consequences of a rational, calm reaction that may even be accompanied by empathy and kindness. Alternatively, you can simply remind yourself that anger does more harm than good. The Stoics liked to see how ugly and unnatural anger looks - a contorted face, an angry grimace, an ugly blush, much like someone with a terrible disease. Mark regards the deep ugliness of anger as a sign that it is unnatural and unreasonable.

And besides, what does it bring us? Often times it is perfect unconscious. One should always remember, says Mark, that people carry on as usual anyway, even if we are bursting with anger ourselves. Worse, our anger is not only in vain, it is counterproductive. Mark noted that managing the aftermath of a tantrum often takes much more effort than tolerating the actions that make us angry.

Stoics believe we feel hurt and offended because we assume that other people's actions are in some way harmful to our interests. However, once we realize that our anger is a greater danger for us, as the things we are angry about, the anger automatically loses power. Anger about perceived insults harms us much more than the insult itself. The actions of third parties have nothing to do with us and cannot affect our character. But our anger makes us a different kind of person - it makes us animalistic - and for stoics that is the greater harm.

Mark Aurel therefore always remembered that the vices of other people cannot harm your own character unless you let it. Ironically, anger does the most harm to the person who is feeling it, while the only one who can stop it. Therefore, in most cases, your top priority should be to do something about your own anger before attempting to take action against the events that sparked that anger.

In the Meditations Mark expresses this in always different ways, namely by exhorting himself to leave the injustice with those who committed it: “Is someone wronging me? That's his problem, not mine. ”Those who act wrongly act against themselves. Those who are unjust only harm themselves, according to Mark. He harms his own character. One should not keep him company in his misery by judging his actions as offensive and insulting.

One is tempted to imagine that Marcus Aurelius was thinking of opponents like Cassius when he warned himself not to reciprocate his enemies' feelings towards him in the same way. You should therefore not repay the perceived insult to your counterpart with the same coin. In short, the best form of revenge is not to go down on his level by letting him get mad at him. If someone hates you, according to Aurelius, that's their problem. Your only concern is to avoid doing anything that involves hatred earned.



Mark Aurel also recommends applying another familiar stoic technique to feelings of anger: contemplating one's own virtues. You should ask yourself what virtue or ability nature has given you to cope with situations like the one you are facing. There are several closely related questions you can ask yourself about this: How do others deal with anger? What would my role models do? What do I admire about the way certain people deal with situations in which others get angry? "

Mark said that one should accept that injustice inevitably happens in the world and then ask, "What virtue has nature given man to respond to injustice?" To do this, he compares virtues with drugs that nature uses as an antidote to Vice prescribes. The primary antidote to anger for him is the stoic virtue of friendlinesswhich, together with fairness, forms the cardinal social virtue of justice. While Stoics view anger as a desire to harm others, kindness is essentially the opposite: benevolence towards others and a desire to be towards them help. What other people do, however, is beyond our control, so we should always keep the reservation clause "if fate permits" in the back of our minds when we are friendly and benevolent. Like Cato's archer, a stoic should have a goal (to do good to others), but be content with having acted kindly and be ready to accept with equanimity whether his kindness is having an effect or not.

Marcus Aurelius gives a concrete example by describing a fictional encounter with someone who tests his patience with hostile behavior. He imagines himself directing the person in question in a friendly manner in the right direction by answering in the following manner: “No, my son, we were made for other things. It can't harm me, you're only harming yourself. ”Mark says we should speak gently to our enemies, reminding them that people are made to live in communities like bees and other social beings, and not to fight hostility . We should neither be sarcastic nor harshly reprimand our counterpart, but rather react with warm friendliness. We should be simple and decent and not teach others like a schoolmaster, as if we wanted to impress casual observers. Again, there is a temptation to wonder if Mark was considering how to deal with men like Cassius or even his son Commodus.

For stoics, kindness first and foremost means educating others or wishing them to become wise, free from vice and passions. That is the wish to make friends out of enemies - if fate allows it. Mark's example of friendly behavior involves educating the other person in two of the main strategies mentioned earlier:

1. Anger harms whoever feels it more than whoever it is.

2. People are essentially social beings. Nature didn't want us to fight, but rather that we help each other.

Marcus Aurelius regards this as a further dichotomy: Either we succeed in educating our counterpart and changing his or her opinions, or not. If we can show that person another path, we should do it. If not, we should accept this fact without irritation. Mark, therefore, showed great respect for the person he was angry with and devised a tactful way of reconciling himself with them. Was this a lesson he had learned from the way Rusticus and others had treated him and corrected his behavior when he was a young man?



Aurelian describes these first nine strategies as gifts from Apollon's muses, which he says we should take to heart. He then adds another piece of advice from the leader of the muses himself: Expecting bad people not to do bad things is crazy because it makes you want the impossible. To accept that they are doing wrong to others, but at the same time expecting them to behave properly towards us, is ruthless and stupid at the same time.

The final strategy is about the stoic determinism: The wise person who looks at the world in a rational way is never surprised by anything in life. That's another standard stoic argument. We know that there are good and bad people. Bad people tend to do bad things. So it would be irrational to expect anything else from them. "Wanting the impossible is crazy, and it is impossible for a bad person to do otherwise." Wishing that a bad person should never do wrong is just as stupid as wanting a baby to never cry and get angry. when it screams. It is easy to imagine that this is how Marcus prepared himself for Cassius’s betrayal. The Senate, on the other hand, was caught off guard and shocked, and its hasty response increased the likelihood of civil war. Mark, on the other hand, reacted calmly and confidently, as if he had expected such things to happen in life.

People often say, "I just can't believe it!" When they get upset, but they usually mean things that happen frequently in life, such as betrayal, deception, and mortification. The Stoics have realized that the surprise in this regard is not really real and unnecessarily exaggerates our emotional response. In contrast, a person more philosophical might say, “This is no surprise; things like that happen - C'est la vie."

Marcus Aurelius said to himself: "Everything that happens is as common and normal as a rose in spring and fruit in summer" - including slander and betrayal. If we are surprised because a bad person behaves badly, it is our fault for expecting the impossible. We can easily imagine the variety of nasties, at least in abstract terms, that people can do, but when they actually do, we pretend to be shocked. If someone offends you with their shameless behavior, you should immediately ask yourself the following rhetorical question: “Can it really be that? no obnoxious people in the world? «Of course not! So don't ask for the impossible and use this technique on all kinds of injustice.

Marcus Aurelius believed that one can remain friendly towards other people if one renounces the fictitious shock and the supposed surprise and takes a more philosophical attitude towards vicious behavior. He overcame his temper with the help of the ten gifts from Apollo. In the Meditations he keeps coming back to selected strategies:

It is man's own to love even those who do wrong. And that happens when you remember that those who do wrong are fellow men who unintentionally do wrong because they do not know better; and that we will both soon die, and above all that he who does wrong cannot harm you because he could not make [the character of the spirit] worse than it was before.

These are clearly tactics derived from Apollo's Ten Gifts. This also applies to the following:

What are you dissatisfied with? The evil of the people? Take to heart this conclusion that rational beings were created for one another; that forbearance is part of justice; that injustice is involuntary; and think of how many people were buried and burned to ashes before us after spending their lives in irreconcilable enmity, suspicion, hatred, and mutual struggle. Remember, I say, and at least stop complaining.

Most often, however, Mark relies on the first gift of Apollo and his muses to deal with anger and anger: he admonishes himself to regard others as fellow human beings, as brothers or sisters, and that nature wanted people to be there for one another. We should consider even our enemies as members of our extended family. It is our duty to learn to live in harmony with them so that our lives go smoothly even as they try to harm us.

Also, after listening to Apollon's ten gifts, Mark reminded himself to always have these strategies on hand when he realized he was about to have a tantrum. “Being angry is not manly; rather, it is manly to be mild and meek because it is more human. ”A remarkable sentence, for Cassius had allegedly offended him by calling him a“ philosophical old woman ”. He was trying to imply that Mark was weak. However, Mark believed that someone who is able to remain kind and gentle in the face of severe provocation is actually stronger and bolder than someone who lets their anger run free, as Cassius liked to do. While people like Cassius often mistake their passionate anger for strength, Stoics viewed it as an outspoken sign of the weakness. That brings us back to our story: How did the civil war between Cassius the hawk and Mark the dove end?



With the help of daily meditations like these, Marcus Aurelius manages to maintain his famous posture despite Cassius ’rebellion. Philosophy has taught him to calmly and calmly anticipate events such as the sudden appearance of a primordial surfer. As a stoic, the time has now come for him to act upon acceptance, and so he embarks on another war far from home. The troops now regard him as a blessed, divine ruler. The serenity with which he faces adversity - this betrayal being the greatest in a series of betrayals - makes them humble.

Rome is in a state of hysteria following the news of Cassius ’treason, made worse by the Senate’s hasty response. The people are terrified that in Mark's absence Cassius could invade Rome and plunder and pillage the whole city in revenge. One of the senior officers on the northern border, Marcus Valerius Maximinianus, has already been sent ahead to stop Cassius ’legions in Syria with a twenty thousand cavalry regiment. Mark Aurel has also sent the honored military commander Vettius Sabinianus with a command from Pannonia to Rome to protect the city if the enemy legions should advance into Italy. Cassius seems to have found himself in a strong position at first. With the Syrian legions under his command and Egypt, the bread basket of the Roman Empire, on his side, others have also begun to support his endeavor. However, he did not manage to carry the rebellion to the areas north of Syria. The legions of Cappadocia and Bithynia are both firmly committed to Marcus Aurelius, who also knows the Roman Senate behind him. This leaves Cassius in command of seven legions: three in Syria, two in Roman Judea, one in Arabia and one in Egypt. However, they only make up less than a third of the troops of the rest of the Roman Empire under Marcus Aurelius. In addition, Mark's northern legions are extremely battle-hardened and highly disciplined veterans, whereas the Cassius legions are notorious for their weakness - despite the draconian measures taken to discipline them.

Exactly three months and six days after Cassius was proclaimed ruler, Mark Aurel's army is on its way to Syria when another courier arrives with new alarming news: While Cassius was walking around his military camp, he was attacked by a centurion named Antonius, who attacked him on horseback and stabbed him in the neck with a knife while riding past. Cassius was seriously injured, but was barely able to escape death. However, a young cavalry officer had come to the aid of the centurion in this ambush. Both had chopped off the head of the emperor who had just been proclaimed and were now on their way to hand over the head of the traitor to Marcus Aurelius. Cassius ’revolt came to an abrupt end after his legions learned that Marcus Aurelius was alive and marched towards them.

Several days have now passed, and Antonius and his companion have arrived with the creepy evidence of the death of the Ur-Surper. Marcus Aurelius rejects them, however; he refuses to look at the severed head of a man who was once his friend and ally. He orders the two men to bury Cassius ’head. Although his troops are in a euphoric mood, Mark refrains from celebrating. In forgiving the insurgent legions, he inadvertently signed Cassius ’death warrant. Cassius ’men no longer had any reason to fight a superior army marching on them from the north. The only thing that stood between them and the emperor's pardon was Cassius, who refused to give in - and so he sealed his own fate.

In July 175, Marcus Aurelius was recognized as the sole ruler of the entire Roman Empire. Cassius had earned a reputation as a cruel, capricious, and untrustworthy man. In the end, he suffered the same cold treatment that he had given others for years. History proved that his authoritarian demeanor turned into a boomerang in the end. Mark, on the other hand, was known for his steadfastness and sincerity and decency, and when his legions in Cappadocia thanked him with their unwavering loyalty, he was assured of victory. Mark honored the Twelfth Legion, also known as Legio XII Fulminata ("Blitz Legion") with the title certa constans ("Certainly Consistent") and the Fifteenth, Apollon's Legion, with the title pia fidelis ("Reliable and loyal"). Cassius, on the other hand, had tried to intimidate his men and use threats to force them to risk their lives for him. So at the first sign of danger they turned against him.

After the end of the civil war in Syria, Marcus Aurelius refrained from retaliation against Cassius ’family and allies. Only a handful of men directly involved in the conspiracy were executed, and only those who were guilty of other crimes. As promised, he did not punish the legionaries under Cassius ’command, but sent them back to their garrisons. He also forgave the cities that had made common cause with Cassius. Indeed, Mark wrote a letter to members of the Senate appealing to dignitaries to show mercy to those involved in Cassius’s rebellion. He asked that no senator should be punished, that no man of noble origin should be executed, that the exiles should be allowed to return home and that those whose goods had been confiscated should be returned. Cassius ’accomplices should be protected from any kind of punishment or persecution. "If I could, I would bring the damned back from the grave too," he said. Cassius ’children were to be spared, as were his son-in-law and wife, because they were not guilty of any wrongdoing. Mark went even further, ordering that they should live, move and travel freely under his protection, and that Cassius’s riches should be fairly shared between them.Mark wanted to be able to say that only those killed during the uprising died as a direct result of that rebellion. There would be no witch hunts or retaliation under him. Commodus now accompanied him to Syria and Egypt, and Mark introduced him to the legions as his official heir to the throne before they finally made their way back to Rome.

Mark Aurel undoubtedly wanted to restore peace quickly in Rome so that he could return to the northern border, where there was still a great deal to be done. So he showed mercy to the senators who had supported Cassius. However, he had to travel to the eastern provinces first to restore order. Indeed, its popularity in the East had risen considerably; it was said that people were inspired by him to adopt aspects of Stoic philosophy.

Empress Faustina died in the spring of 176 within six months of the suppression of the uprising. Rumor has it that she committed suicide because of her association with Avidius Cassius. However, Mark, who had her deified after her death, held her reputation in high esteem. Despite all the talk about her alleged involvement in the conspiracy, she remained extremely popular with the people.

Not long after Faustina's death, Commodus was made consul, and in 177, second emperor alongside Marcus Aurelius. Shortly after his death - and contrary to the orders of his deceased father to show leniency towards Cassius ’descendants - Commodus had them all persecuted as traitors and burned alive.




Category: General | Tags: "Think like a Roman ruler. The stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.", Book excerpt, Donald Robertson