“The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.”
Reading the Stoic quotes you could be tempted to think it all sounds too inhuman, too sterile. But what I remember then is that Aurelius lived his creed and selflessly struggled to hold back the forces of entropy that were inexorably waiting for his death to pummel the seemingly invulnerable Roman Empire with the first of an endless series of blows that would eventually grind it dust. A lesser man, like his son Commodus would abandon the grinding drudgery of defending the imperial frontier and devote himself to decadent pleasure while the world dissolved.
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
“Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.”
The emperor Marcus Aurelius is for me one of the most compelling character in history, The philosopher/warrior/emperor single-handedly holding the exhausted empire together by stoic will until his old body gives out. And after him the deluge.
Hat tip to Vox Day as he links to and quotes a very interesting article about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire by one of its modern descendants, an Italian chemist named Ugo Bardi. Vox is referencing in his title the science fiction story “A Canticle for Leibowitz” where a future world forms monasteries to preserve knowledge through a new fictional Dark Age as the analogy of us recognizing the coming Dark Ages after ours. Which also hearkens to Rod Dreher’s book “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation,” where he compares the present societal decay with the post Roman age that sparked the monastic age. Bardi in his article goes into the extant texts of Romans from the beginning of the Roman crisis under Marcus Aurelius all the way to end of the Empire in the Fifth Century to argue that the Romans never figured out either what was happening to them or that the Empire could end.
I’ve been fascinated by the spectacle of the Roman Empire since I was a schoolboy hearing about Rome from my Catholic grammar school nuns. Thinking that we are in an analogous situation is equally fascinating and depressing. But maybe there is still time to avert such a collapse. Vox thinks it’s probably too late for the US. I try to be more optimistic. If you find the current societal situation at all analogous to that other example of civilizational collapse then you might be interested in looking at both posts.