& Marcus Aurelius
did not leap forward from the Middle Ages out of nowhere. Most
of its ideals already had strong historical roots in Western culture.
One powerful example came from the Greek philosophy
of Stoicism, which influenced not only Greece, from
which it sprang, but the Roman Empire as well. It spoke of the highest
virtue being justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude. Much
of this austere philosophy was adopted by early Christianity in
its development of monasticism. Indeed, their word for retreat was
monasterium, from which monastery came.
To illustrate the similarities between Stoicism
and chivalry, and that particular distillation of chivalry that
we call the 12 Trusts, the words of the last of the great
Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, serve us well. We turn to
his private journal of thoughts entitled Meditations,
which is still published today for those who want to examine his
thoughts more closely.
Marcus Aurelius, despite his lineage, education,
wealth, power and privilege, was a simple man of simple tastes,
and not given to excesses. He took his responsibilities as emperor
seriously, and ruled fairly and wise. Kind and loyal to his friends,
forgiving to his enemies, generous to those in need, he was a model
of Socrates' benevolent monarch, or philosopher king.
He was deeply thoughtful as well, pondering the
ways of Nature and trying to live his life accordingly.
In Book One of the Meditations, he acknowledged
the people who influenced him, including teachers, relatives, friends
and statesmen. With each person he speaks of, he specifies what
he learned, giving us sharp insight into the values that were important
to him as a man.
For sake of brevity, I provide a list of some
of these values, transcribed from his own words. I have highlighted
many of the concepts related to the 12 Trusts and Chivalry-Now
as a whole. Remember, these are the words of the most powerful
man in Europe at his time, the very opposite of emperors like Caligula
- Good morals
and the governing of my temper.
and a manly character.
- Piety, beneficence,
and abstinence, not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts
in my way of living,
far removed from the habits of the rich.
- To have good
teachers at home, and to know that on such things a man should
be a partisan.
- The endurance
of labor, and to want little, and to work with my own hands.
- Not to
meddle with other people's affairs, and not to be ready to listen
- Not to busy
myself about trifling things, and not to give credit to superstition.
- To endure
freedom of speech, and to become intimate with philosophy.
requires improvement and discipline.
- Not to be
led astray by sophistry
- Not to
show myself off as a man who practices much discipline, or performs
benevolent acts in order to make a display.
- With respect
to those who have offended me by words, or done me wrong, to
be easily disposed to be pacified and reconciled.
- Read carefully,
and not to be satisfied with a superficial understanding of a
book; nor hastily give my assent to those who talk overmuch.
- Freedom of
will and undeviating steadiness of purpose; and to look to
nothing else, not even for a moment, except to reason.
- The same
man can be most resolute and yielding, and not peevish.
philosophical principles as the smallest of merits.
- Receive from
friends what are esteemed favors, without being either humbled
by them or letting them pass unnoticed.
- A benevolent
and the example of a family governed in a fatherly manner.
- The idea
of living conformably to nature; and gravity without affectation,
and to look carefully after the interests of friends.
- To tolerate
ignorant persons, and those who form opinions without consideration.
- Express approbation
without noisy display, and possess much knowledge without ostentation.
from fault-finding, and
not in a reproachful way to chide those who speak poorly.
that envy, and duplicity, and hypocrisy are in a tyrant, and that
generally those among us who are called Patricians are rather
deficient in paternal affection.
- 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.
- Love kin,
love truth, and love justice.
- The same
law should be applied to all, respecting equal rights and equal
freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which
respects most of all the freedom of the governed.
and undeviating steadiness in regard to philosophy.
- A disposition
to do good, to give to others readily, to cherish good hopes,
and believe that I am loved by my friends.
Not to be led aside by anything.
in all circumstances, as well as in illness.
- A just mixture
in the moral character of sweetness and dignity, and to do what
was set before me without complaining.
- Do acts
of beneficence, and be ready to forgive.
- Be free
from all falsehood.
- Be humorous
in an agreeable way.
of temper, unchangeable resolution, and no vainglory in things
which men call honors.
- Love of labor
- A readiness
to listen to those who had anything to propose for the common
- Giving to
every man according to his desserts.
yourself no more than any other citizen.
- Take careful
inquiry in all matters of deliberation.
- Not to be
extravagant in affection.
- Be satisfied
on all occasions, and cheerful.
- Be wary
of popular applause and all flattery
- Take reasonable
care of health.
- Do not be
harsh, nor implacable, nor violent
to good family and teachers and associates.
- Live according
- Never do
anything which that you might repent.
as one can plainly see by his own words, was a defender of freedom,
especially free thought. He clearly saw the relationship between
freedom and the kind of personal responsibility that comes from
is easy to find references in the 12 Trusts that would fit well
with this philosophy. So too Enlightenment thinking, and existentialism
- all expressions of Western thought. The tenets for our own democracy
are embedded here, in recognition of equal rights and common citizenship.
striking of all was his recognition of humility as a proper approach
to truth, which the words clearly illustrate. He also recognizes
the dangers that come from wealth.
can learn much from Marcus Aurelius that can be directly applied
to Chivalry-Now today, and to our own individual quests. Indeed,
we gain deeper appreciation for our cultural history from his remarks.
Many of our ancestors were highly intelligent, sensitive to the
world around them, and desirous of improving the lives of everyone.
his Meditations is therefore highly recommended.
(For those interested,
Marcus Aurelius was portrayed in early part of the movie Gladiator.)