George Long (essay date 1881)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “M. Aurelius Antoninus” and “The Philosophy of Antoninus” in The Thoughts of the Emperor M. Aurelius Antoninus, George Bell & Sons, 1881, pp, 1-67.

[In the following excerpt, Long discusses Aurelius's personal history, the status of Christians in his time, and his philosophical ideas.]

M. Antoninus was born at Rome a.d. 121, on the 26th of April. His father Annius Verus died while he was praetor. His mother was Domitia Calvilla also named Lucilla. The Emperor T. Antoninus Pius married Annia Galeria Faustina, the sister of Annius Verus, and was consequently the uncle of M. Antoninus. When Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius and declared him his successor...

(The entire section is 21491 words.)

Henry Dwight Sedgwick (essay date 1921)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Two Pagan Criticisms” and “The Roman Attitude toward Christianity” in Marcus Aurelius, Yale University Press, 1921, pp. 198-206, 207-18.

[In the following excerpt, Sedgwick explores two contemporary admonishments directed at Aurelius and explains the reasons why Christians were generally held in low esteem by Romans.]

In this chapter I shall refer to the criticisms that have been made upon Marcus Aurelius. But, first, as a fitting prologue to an apology, I will begin with some favorable testimonies of Dio Cassius (150-235?), Herodianus (165-255?), and such other historians of the ancient world as have spoken of him, in order to make it plain at the...

(The entire section is 6541 words.)

Henry Ebel (essay date 1963)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Matthew Arnold and Marcus Aurelius,” in Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, Vol. III, No. 1, Winter, 1963, pp. 555-66.

[In the following essay, Ebel critiques an essay on Aurelius written by Matthew Arnold, finding it ambiguous, full of shifts and twists, but clearly revealing Arnold's sense of affinity with Aurelius.]

In 1863 Matthew Arnold had, in his own later words, “been thinking much of Marcus Aurelius and his times.”1 One result of his thinking was an essay entitled “Marcus Aurelius”—a review of George Long's rendering of the Meditations. A careful examination of this essay indicates how deeply involved Arnold in...

(The entire section is 4782 words.)

Brand Blanshard (essay date 1984)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Marcus Aurelius” in Four Reasonable Men, Wesleyan University Press, 1984, pp. 3-53.

[In the following excerpt, Blanshard analyzes Aurelius's Stoic philosophy and discusses problems with its ways of dealing with emotion, pain, death, and pleasure.]


No one would now deny that reasonable living requires the control of emotion by thought. Unfortunately the Stoics tried not merely to control feeling but to annihilate it. Anger, fear, grief, pity were for them not the allies but the enemies of reason, and it was better to get rid of them altogether than to try to tame and harness them. That so extreme an...

(The entire section is 8684 words.)

Erich Segal (essay date 1988)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Noblest Roman of Them All,” in The Yale Review, Vol. 77, No. 2, March, 1988, pp. 287-92.

[In the following essay, Segal reviews Marcus Aurelius: A Biography, by Anthony Birley, also commenting on Aurelius's life and times.]

It was a golden age. Gibbon regarded it as the time when “the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous.”

In the second century a.d., the Roman Empire extended over nearly two million square miles. One city ruled the entire world. Egypt, Sicily, and North Africa were merely its “farms” (as a contemporary man of letters, Aelius Aristides, expressed it). Roman prosperity was enhanced by...

(The entire section is 2065 words.)

Judith Perkins (essay date 1992)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “The ‘Self’ as ‘Sufferer’,” in Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 85, No. 3, July, 1992, pp. 265-72.

[In the following essay, Perkins contends that Aurelius's obsession with suffering and death indicates that he never gained the self-mastery he sought.]

The early Roman Empire provides little evidence for the personal religious feelings of its inhabitants; only a few texts reflect what we would call individual testimony of personal religious experience. The works of second-century authors which in fact display such religious feelings often offend modern sensibilities.1 Commentators have described Aelius Aristides' Orationes sacrae,...

(The entire section is 3489 words.)

James A. Francis (essay date 1995)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “Marcus Aurelius: Rational Asceticism and Social Conservatism” in Subversive Virtue: Asceticism and Authority in the Second-Century Pagan World, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995, pp. 21-52.

[In the following excerpt, Francis contends that Aurelius's practice of asceticism was cerebral and notably unconcerned with the physical.]

In the second century, asceticism ascended to the very apex of Roman society. In contrast to the philosophy-hating tyrannies of Nero and Domitian, Marcus Aurelius ruled with the reputation of a philosopher-king1 and, to a certain extent, that of an ascetic. Although much has been written examining the precise...

(The entire section is 14789 words.)

Pierre Hadot (essay date 1998)

(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

SOURCE: “A First Glimpse of the Meditations” and “The Meditations as Spiritual Exercises” in The Inner Citadel: The “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius, translated by Michael Chase, Harvard University Press, 1998, pp. 21-53.

[In the following excerpt, Hadot discusses the history of Aurelius's manuscript, the difficulties of assigning it to a particular genre, and the qualities Aurelius assigns to his ideal man.]


In our time, now that the printing and distribution of books are banal, everyday operations, we no longer realize to what extent the survival of any work of antiquity represented an almost...

(The entire section is 13337 words.)