The Ancient Library

Scanned text contains errors.



of composition and oratory under Herodes Atticus and Cornelius Fronto, and by his close and unre­mitting application laid the foundation of the bad health by which he was so much oppressed in after life. While yet Caesar he was addressed by Justin Martyr (Apolog. i. init.) as Verissimus " the phi­losopher," an epithet by which he has been com­monly distinguished from that period down to the present day, although no such title was ever pub­licly or formally conferred. Even after his elevation to the purple, he felt neither reluctance nor shame in resorting to the school of Sextus of Chaeroneia, the descendant of Plutarch, and in listening to the extemporaneous declamations of Hermogenes. From his earliest youth he lived upon terms of the most affectionate familiarity with his instructors, as we may gather from his correspondence with Fronto [fronto] ; the most worthy were, through his influence, promoted to the highest dignities ; after their death he placed their images in the chapel of his lares, and was wont to strew flowers and offer sacrifices on their graves. Nor was his liberality confined to his own preceptors, for learned men in every quarter of the world enjoyed substantial proofs of his bounty. Philosophy was the great object of his zeal, but the other branches of a polite education were by no means neglected ; music, poetry, and painting, were cultivated in'turn, and the severer sciences of mathematics and law en­gaged no small portion of his attention. In juris­prudence especially, he laboured throughout life with great activity, and his Constitutions are be­lieved to have filled many volumes. These are now all lost, but they are constantly quoted with great respect by later writers. (See Westenberg, Dis-sertationes ad Constitutiones M. Aurelii Imperatoris., Lug. Bat. 1736.)

With the exception of a few letters contained in the recently discovered remains of Fronto, the only production of Marcus which has been pre­served is a volume composed in Greek, and entitled Mapitov 'AvTcoi'ivou tou avroKpdropos t&v ets eavrov fii€\ia itf. It is a sort of common-place book, in which were registered from time to time the thoughts and feelings of the author upon moral and religious topics, together with striking maxims extracted from the works of those who had been most eminent for wisdom and virtue. There is no attempt at order or arrangement, but the contents are valuable, in so far as they illustrate the system of self-examination enjoined by the discipline of the Stoics, and present a genuine picture of the doubts and difficulties and struggles of a speculative and reflecting mind.

The education and pursuits of M. Aurelius exer­cised the happiest influence upon a temper and disposition naturally calm and benevolent. He succeeded in acquiring the boasted composure and self-command of the disciples of the Porch, without imbibing the harshness which they were wont to exhibit. He was firm without being obstinate ; he steadfastly maintained his own principles without manifesting any overweening contempt for the opi­nions of those who differed from himself; his jus­tice was tempered with gentleness and mercy; his gravity was devoid of gloom. In public life, he sought to demonstrate practically the truth of the Platonic maxim, ever on his lips, that those states only could be truly happy which were governed by philosophers, or in which the kings and rulers were guided by the tenets of pure philosophy. In gene-


ral policy, both at home and abroad, he steadily followed in the path of his predecessor, whose counsels he had shared for more than twenty years. The same praise, therefore, which belongs to the elder may fairly be imparted to the younger Anto-nine; and this is perhaps the most emphatic pane­gyric we could pronounce. No monarch was ever more widely or more deeply beloved. The people believed, that he had been sent down by the gods, for a time, to bless mankind, and had now returned to the heaven from which he descended. So uni­versal was this conviction among persons of every age and calling, that his apotheosis was not, as in other cases, viewed in the light of a mere empty form. Every one, whose means permitted, procured a statue of the emperor. More than a century after his decease, these images were to be found in many mansions among the household gods, and persons were wont to declare, that he had appeared to them in dreams and visions, and revealed events which afterwards came to pass.

The great, perhaps the only, indelible stain upon his memory is the severity with which he treated the Christians ; and his conduct in this respect was the more remarkable, because it was not only com­pletely at variance with his own general principles, but was also in direct opposition to the wise and liberal policy pursued by Hadrian and Pius. The numerous apologies published during his reign would alone serve to point out that the church was surrounded by difficulties and dangers; but the charge of positive persecution is fully established

by the martyrdom of Justin at Rome, of the vene­rable Poly carp, with many others, at Smyrna (167) in the early part of his reign, and by the horri­ble atrocities perpetrated at Vienne and Lyons se­veral years afterwards. (177.) It would be but a poor defence to allege, that these excesses were committed without the knowledge of a prince who on all other occasions watched with such care over the rights of his subjects in the most remote pro­vinces. But, in so far as the proceedings in Gaul are concerned, we have clear evidence that they received his direct sanction; for when the Roman governor applied for instructions, an answer was returned, that all who confessed themselves to be Christians should suffer death. It is probable that his better feelings were in this instance overpow­ered by the violence of evil counsellors; for had he followed the dictates of his own nature, he would have been contented to moralise upon and lament over what he viewed as ignorant and obstinate ad­herence to a vain superstition. (See Med. xi. 3.) But this calm contempt by no means satisfied the active hate of the crowd of real and pretended Stoics, whom his patronage had attracted. Many of these were bigots of the worst class, and che­rished sentiments of the most malignant animosity towards the professors of the new religion. Accus­tomed to regard all other sects with self-satisfied disdain, they could ill brook the freedom with which their follies and fallacies were now attacked and exposed; they regarded with jealous rage a code of morals and a spotless purity of life far su­perior to aught they had ever practised, or taught, or imagined; and least of all could they forgive the complete overthrow of their own exclusive pre­tensions to mental fortitude and calm endurance of bodily suffering.

Although no other serious charge has been pre­ferred against M. Aurelius, for the rumour that he

About | First



page #  
Search this site
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of