Morals of an Emperor

From my grandfather I learned

Good morals, and 

The government of the temper;

From my father 

Modesty, and

Manly character;

From my mother

Piety,

Beneficence,

Abstinence, not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts, and

Simplicity of the way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich;

Further, in Book 1 of his “Mediations”  the Roma Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 -180 AD) list the virtues he learned from or observed in different people in his life. Here is the extract. 

To have good teachers, and to know that on such things a man should spend liberally;

Endurance of labour;

To want little;

To work it my own hands;

Not to meddle with other people’s affairs;

Not to be ready to listen to slander;

Not to busy myself with trifling things;

Not to give credit to what was said by miracle -workers and jugglers; about incantations and the driving away of daemons and such things;

To endure (tolerate) freedom of speech;

To have become intimate with philosophy;

To have written dialogues in my youth;

The impression that my character required improvement and discipline;

Not to be led astray to sophistic emulation, nor to writing on speculative matters, nor to delivering little hortatory orations;

Nor to showing myself off as a man who practices much discipline, or does benevolent acts in order to make a display;

To abstain from rhetoric, and poetry, and fine writing;

To write my letters with simplicity;

With respect to those who have offended me by words, or done me wrong, to be easily disposed to be pacified and reconciled, as soon as they have shown readiness to be reconciled;

To read carefully, and not be satisfied with a superficial understanding of a book,

Nor hastily to give my assent to those who talk overmuch;

Freedom of will and undeviating steadiness of purpose;

To look to nothing else, not even for a moment, except to reason;

To be always the same , in sharp pains, on the occasion of loss of a child, and in long illness;

To be not peevish in giving his instruction (*not subject to be vexed, and offended with the incapacity of his scholars and auditors in his lectures and expositions);

To receive from friends what are esteemed favours, without being either humbled by them or letting them pass unnoticed;

A benevolent disposition;

The example of a family governed in  fatherly manner;

Living conformably to nature;

A gravity without affection;

To look carefully after the interests of friends;

To tolerate ignorant personas, and those who form opinions without consideration;

The power of readily accommodating himself to all, so that the intercourse with him was more agreeable than any flattery;

The faculty  both of discovering and ordering , in an intelligent and methodical way, the principles necessary for life;

Never show anger or any other passion, but to be entirely free from passion, and also most affectionate;

To express approbation without noisy display;

To possess much knowledge without ostentation;

To refrain from fault – finding;

Not in a reproachful way to chide those who uttered any barbarous or solecistic or strange-sounding expression, but dexterously to introduce the very expression that ought to have been used, and in the way of answer or giving confirmation;

Not frequently nor without necessity to say to any one, or to write in a letter, that I have no leisure; nor continually to excuse the neglect of duties required by our relations to those with whom we live, by alleging urgent occupations;

Not to be indifferent when a friend finds fault, even if he should find fault without reason, but to try to restore him to his usual disposition;

To speak well of teachers;

To love my children truly;

To love my kin, to love truth, and to live justice;

Consistency and undeviating steadiness in my regards to philosophy;

A disposition to be good;

To give to others readily;

To cherish good hopes;

To believe that I am loved by my friends;

No concealment of his opinions in respect to those he condemned;

To be quite a plain what I wish or not wish, so there my friends have no need to conjecture;

Self-government and not to be led aside by anything;

Cheerfulness in all circumstances , as well as in illness;

Just admixture in the moral character of sweetness and dignity;

To do what was set before me without complaining;

Everybody to believe that I think as I speak , and that in all I do I never have any bad intention;

Never be in a hurry, and never put off doing a thing,

Nor be perplexed nor dejected,

Nor laugh to disguise his vexation, nor, on the other hand, be passionate or suspicious;

To be accustomed to acts of beneficence;

To be ready to forgive;

To be free from all falsehood;

No man could ever think that he was despised by him, or ever venture to think himself better man;

To be humorous in an agreeable way;

Mildness of temper;

Unchangeable resolution in the things which he had determined after due deliberation;

No vainglory in those things which men call honours;

A love of labour and perseverance;

A readiness to listen to those who had anything to propose for the common weal;

Undeviating firmness in giving to every man according to his deserts;

A knowledge derived from experience of the occasions for vigorous action and for remission (* skill and knowledge when rigour or extremity, or when remissness or moderation was in season);

Careful inquiry in all matters of deliberation, and persistency, and never stop investigation through being satisfied with appearances which first present themselves;

To keep the friends, and not to bee soon tired of them, nor yet to be extravagant in his affection;

To be satisfied on all occasions, and cheerful;

To foresee things a long way off, and to provide for the smallest without display;

To check immediately popular applause and all flattery;

Not to be superstitious with respect to the gods, nor to court men by gifts, or by trying to please them, or by flattering the populace;

To show sobriety in all things and firmness, and never any mean thoughts or action, no love of novelty;

And the things which conduce in any way to the commodity of life, and of which fortune gives an abundant supply , he used without arrogance and without excusing himself; so that when he had them, he enjoyed them without affectation, and when he had them not, he did not want them;

No one could ever say of him that he was either a sophist or a home -bred flippant slave or a pedant; but everyone acknowledged him to be a man ripe, perfect, above flattery, able to manage his won and other men’s affairs;

To honour those who are true philosophers, and not to approach those who pretended to be philosophers, nor yet easily to be led by them;

To be easy in conversation , and to be agreeable without any offensive affection;

He took reasonable care of his body’s health, not as one who was greatly attached to life, nor out of regard to personal appearance, nor yet in a careless way, but so that, through his won attention, he very seldom stood in need of the physician’s art or of medicine or external applications;

To give way without envy to those who possessed any particular faculty;

He was not fond of change nor unsteady, but he loved to stay in the same places, and to employ himself about the same things;

Not to have many secrets , but very few and very rare;

To look to what ought to be done, not to the reputation;

There was in him nothing harsh, nor implacable, nor violent, nor as one may say, anything carried to the seating point;

To examine all things severally, as if I had abundance of time, and without confusion, in an orderly way , vigorously and consistently;

From “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius, 121-180 AD

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