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How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Donald J. Robertson

Top 10 Best Quotes

“From the moment we’re born we’re constantly dying, not only with each stage of life but also one day at a time. Our bodies are no longer the ones to which our mothers gave birth, as Marcus put it. Nobody is the same person he was yesterday. Realizing this makes it easier to let go: we can no more hold on to life than grasp the waters of a rushing stream.”

“What matters, in other words, isn’t what we feel but how we respond to those feelings.”

“To learn how to die, according to the Stoics, is to unlearn how to be a slave.”

“Socrates used to say that death is like some prankster in a scary mask, dressed as a bogeyman to frighten small children. The wise man carefully removes the mask and, looking behind it, he finds nothing worth fearing.”

“According to Stoic philosophy, when we assign intrinsic values like “good” or “bad” to external events, we’re behaving irrationally and even exhibiting a form of self-deception. When we call something a “catastrophe,” for instance, we go beyond the bare facts and start distorting events and deceiving ourselves. Moreover, the Stoics consider lying a form of impiety—when a man lies, he alienates himself from Nature.”

“The Stoic Sage, or wise man, needs nothing but uses everything well; the fool believes himself to “need” countless things, but he uses them all badly.”

“In typically blunt fashion he told them that sheep don’t vomit up grass to show the shepherds how much they’ve eaten but rather digest their food inwardly and produce good wool and milk outwardly.”

“You can start training yourself in this Stoic practice of objective representation right now by writing down a description of an upsetting or problematic event in plain language. Phrase things as accurately as possible and view them from a more philosophical perspective, with studied indifference. Once you’ve mastered this art, take it a step further by following the example of Paconius Agrippinus and look for positive opportunities. Write how you could exercise strength of character and cope wisely with the situation. Ask yourself how someone you admire might cope with the same situation or what that person might advise you to do. Treat the event like a sparring partner in the gym, giving you an opportunity to strengthen your emotional resilience and coping skills. You might want to read your script aloud and review it several times or compose several versions until you’re satisfied it’s helped you change how you feel about events.”

“Wisdom, in all these forms, mainly requires understanding the difference between good, bad, and indifferent things. Virtue is good and vice is bad, but everything else is indifferent.”

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be; just be one.”

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