Marcus Annius Verus Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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Born in Rome in 121 as Marcus Annius Verus and later named Marcus Aelius Aurelius Antoninus, Marcus Aurelius (MAHR-kuhs aw-REEL-yuhs) was one of two writers who are identified forever with the philosophy of Stoicism. The other, Epictetus, was originally a slave; Marcus Aurelius was an emperor of Rome who, educated by private tutors, studied poetry and rhetoric. About the age of twelve he became interested in Stoicism, and at twenty-five he began the study of this philosophy and the law.{$S[A]Aurelius, Marcus;Marcus Aurelius}{$S[A]Verus, Marcus Annius;Marcus Aurelius}

In 161, when he was forty, Marcus Aurelius became the emperor of Rome, devoting most of his reign to defending the empire from marauders from Europe and Asia. Extremely popular with his subjects, Marcus Aurelius was a benevolent emperor, and his treatment of slaves and orphans was generous beyond his times. His only cruelty was to the members of the new Christian religion; his objection was not to the religion as such but to the fact that it was not a state religion and therefore harmed the solidarity of Rome. After his death in 180 he was deified.

His reign marked an unsettled period in Roman history. Besides the foes outside the empire, Rome was plagued by earthquakes and pestilence. It is perhaps fortunate for history that Marcus Aurelius was one of the world’s greatest Stoics, feeling always that one should seek not happiness but serenity. His great work, the Meditations, is the record of a life led on Stoic principles. It has been praised highly for its practical morality and the absence of abstract statements with little basis in everyday experience.