16. My adopted father

Compassion. Unwavering adherence to decisions, once he'd reached them. Indifference to superficial honors. Hard work. Persistence.

Listening to anyone who could contribute to the public good.

His dogged determination to treat people as they deserved.

A sense of when to push and when to back off.

Putting a stop to the pursuit of boys.

His altruism. Not expecting his friends to keep him entertained at dinner or to travel with him (unless they wanted to). And anyone who had to stay behind to take care of something always found him the same when he returned.

His searching questions at meetings. A kind of single-mindedness, almost, never content with first impressions, or breaking off the discussion prematurely.

Self-reliance, always. And laughter.

And his advance planning and his discreet attention to even minor things.

His restrictions on acclamations-and all attempts to flatter him.

His constant devotion to the empire's needs. His stewardship of the treasury. His willingness to take responsibility-and blame-for both.

His attitude to the gods: no superstitiousness. And his attitude to men: no demagoguery, no currying favor, no pandering. Always sober, always steady, and never vulgar or a prey to fads.


His respect for people who practiced philosophy-at least, those who were sincere about it. But without denigrating the others-or listening to them.


That he had so few secrets-only state secrets, in fact, and not all that many of those.


He never exhibited rudeness, lost control of himself, or turned violent. No one ever saw him sweat. Everything was to be approached logically and with due consideration, with no loose ends.

You could have said of him (as they say of Socrates) that he knew how to enjoy and abstain from things that most people find it hard to abstain from and all too easy to enjoy. Strength, perseverance, self-control in both areas: the mark of a soul in readiness-indomitable.

Marcus Aurelius, "The Meditations"

emperor marcus aurelius of rome never meant for his personal journal to be published, let alone seen by anyone after his death. luckily for all, it was. what is left behind is a window into the mind of one of the most powerful men in history; and more interesting still, the closest historic example to a would be philosopher-king.

in book 1 of his "meditations", marcus aurelius lists all the people he is thankful for and those traits admires in them. the longest reflection belongs solely to his adoptive father, the previous emperor. (much longer than he devoted to the gods themselves).

something to personally strive for.