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Last Updated on January 9, 2023

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor, and one of the last rulers who genuinely cared about the well-being of his people. Influenced by Stoicism, he practiced spiritual exercises every night to stay humble, empathetic, patient, and strong in the face of adversity. His Stoic practices made him an exemplary leader and an extraordinary man worth emulating, especially in modern society.

Early Life

Marcus Aurelius was born in 121 AD to a Roman patrician family. His father died when he was young, and he was raised by his mother, who never remarried. His grandparents from both sides of the family also helped raise him. In 138 AD, he was adopted by Antoninus Pius, who became emperor following the death of Hadrian.

Like most of the children born into Roman aristocratic families, he was taught at home. Various tutors looked after him, including Herodes Atticus, who taught him the Greek language, and grammarian Marcus Cornelius Fronto, who taught him rhetoric. He learned about Stoicism from Quintus Junius Rusticus and other philosophers like Apollonius of Chalcedon.

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor

Dubbed as the last of the Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius was known to be a considerate ruler. He sided with justice and despised cruelty. Starting from 161 AD, he ruled alongside his adoptive brother Lucius Verus. It was not until 169 AD that he became the sole ruler of the Roman empire, after the death of Lucius from a plague.

Although he was emperor, he led quite a difficult life. Cassius Dio—a Roman historian—said that his reign wasn’t filled with the good fortune he deserved as he encountered several struggles throughout most of his reign. His time was plagued with death and chaos, including a strain of what was possibly smallpox. Still, Marcus Aurelius never backed down. Every night, he would write about his troubles and remind himself of the kind of actions he had to take to help him get through tough times.

Marcus Aurelius spent a lot of time campaigning around central Europe, defending the empire from continuous attacks by various Germanic tribes. He led and fought many successful battles in his lifetime, defeating the Parthian Empire, the Kingdom of Armenia, the Marcomanni, Sarmatians, and Quadi. Throughout his reign, he kept on practicing Stoic philosophy. He also created the four Chairs of Philosophy in Athens, each of which represents the primary philosophical traditions—Platonic, Aristotelian, Epicurean, and Stoic.

Marcus Aurelius, the Philosopher

One of Rome’s most exemplary leaders was also a brilliant philosopher. Julius Capitolinus, his ancient biographer, described him as a dedicated Stoic. He never once referred to himself as a Stoic philosopher in his writings, but that might be because he had no intention of describing himself to an audience in the first place. During his campaigning years, Marcus Aurelius wrote about his Stoic practices in 12 private journals which are now known as the Meditations. His writings had no titles since none of them were intended for an audience. They were made purely for personal clarity. Perhaps that’s what makes them one-of-a-kind.

Meditations details the private thoughts of this great emperor and philosopher. Here, Marcus Aurelius penned advice to himself in an exploration of morality. Writing down advice was a Stoic exercise to achieve clarity, like the way a person would recite a prayer or a hymn over and over. Meditations is essentially a compilation of short sayings. Some are as long as a sentence, while others make up an entire paragraph.

None of his entries are categorized into themes. However, throughout his writings, there are recurring ideas which one can suspect were the most important values he upheld. Marcus Aurelius constantly reminded himself of the person he aspired to become. Though others in Rome were cruel, even reveling in such deeds, Marcus Aurelius was a kind man.

Meditations

Meditations wasn’t organized in any particular order, given the repetition of themes and occasional quotes from other authors. Even so, Marcus Aurelius left actionable advice in these journals that the rest of modern society can continue to reference and practice to become better contributors to the community.

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In Meditations, he acknowledged and thanked people who made a positive impact on his life. He particularly thanked those who had inspired him to become a good Stoic. He also wrote about the standards that he had set for himself. These include humility, commitment to his choices, valuing reason, and sober decision-making. Even though Meditations was written about 2000 years ago, his Stoic teachings are still relevant today.

Here are 81 of the best Marcus Aurelius quotes that should inspire you to lead a better life:

Marcus Aurelius Quotes

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.” – Marcus Aurelius

“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” – Marcus Aurelius

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Death smiles at us all, but all a man can do is smile back.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.” – Marcus Aurelius

“He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.” – Marcus Aurelius

“If it is not right, do not do it, if it is not true, do not say it.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Be content to seem what you really are.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts; therefore, guard accordingly.” – Marcus Aurelius

“To love only what happens, what was destined. No greater harmony.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.” – Marcus Aurelius

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The best answer to anger is silence.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Loss is nothing else but change and change is nature’s delight.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The first step: Don’t be anxious. Nature controls it all.” – Marcus Aurelius

“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.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Life is neither good or evil, but only a place for good and evil.” – Marcus Aurelius

“It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people but care more about their opinion than our own.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Accept the things to which fate binds you and love the people with whom fate brings you together but do so with all your heart.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Do every act of your life as though it were the very last act of your life.” – Marcus Aurelius

“How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Do not try to be on the side of the majority but live according to your inner laws.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions, not outside.” – Marcus Aurelius

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“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see yourself running with them.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Do not act as if you had ten thousand years to throw away. Death stands at your elbow. Be good for something while you live, and it is in your power.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Objective judgement, now, at this very moment. Unselfish action, now, at this very moment. Willing acceptance, now, at this very moment of all external events. That’s all you need.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The memory of everything is very soon overwhelmed in time.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Time is a river, a violent current of events, glimpsed once and already carried past us, and another follows and is done.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The only wealth which you will keep forever is the wealth you have given away.” – Marcus Aurelius

“How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs?” – Marcus Aurelius

“A person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he values.” – Marcus Aurelius

“You’re subject to sorrow, fear, jealousy, anger and inconsistency. That’s the real reason you should admit that you are not wise.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Almost nothing material is needed for a happy life, for he who has understood existence.” – Marcus Aurelius

“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question, what fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Receive wealth or prosperity without arrogance; and be ready to let it go.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Man should fear never beginning to live.” – Marcus Aurelius

“For God’s sake, stop honoring externals, quit turning yourself into the tool of mere matter, or of people who can supply you or deny you those material things.” – Marcus Aurelius

“What we do now echoes in eternity.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Though you break your heart, men will go on as before.” – Marcus Aurelius

“As the same fire assumes different shapes when it consumes objects differing in shape, so does the oneself take the shape of every creature in whom he is present.” – Marcus Aurelius

“It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Remember that very little is needed to make a happy life.” – Marcus Aurelius

“A man when he has done a good act, does not call out for others to come and see, but he goes on to another act, as a vine goes on to produce again the grapes in season.” – Marcus Aurelius

“You are distressed by anything external; the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Pleasures, when they go beyond a certain limit, are but punishments.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Remember: Matter. How tiny your share of it. Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it. Fate. How small a role you play in it.” – Marcus Aurelius

“A man’s worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions.” – Marcus Aurelius

“To live the good life: We have the potential for it. If we can learn to be indifferent to what makes no difference.” – Marcus Aurelius

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“It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Receive without pride, let go without attachment.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Here is a rule to remember in future, when anything tempts you to feel bitter: not ‘This is misfortune,’ but ‘To bear this worthily is good fortune.’” – Marcus Aurelius

“You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Let not your mind run on what you lack as much as on what you have already.” – Marcus Aurelius

“No man can escape his destiny, the next inquiry being how he may best live the time that he has to live.” – Marcus Aurelius

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The second step: Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself that your task is to be a good human being; remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Is any man afraid of change? What can take place without change? What then is more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature? And can you take a hot bath unless the wood for the fire undergoes a change? And can you be nourished unless the food undergoes a change? And can anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Do you not see then that for yourself also to change is just the same, and equally necessary for the universal nature? – Marcus Aurelius

“When you have assumed these names; good, modest, truthful, rational, a man of equanimity, and magnanimous, take care that you do not change these names; and if you should lose them, quickly return to them.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Be content with what you are and wish not change; nor dread your last day, nor long for it.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Consider that before long you will be nobody and nowhere, nor will any of the things exist that you now see, nor any of those who are now living. For all things are formed by nature to change and be turned and to perish in order that other things in continuous succession may exist.” – Marcus Aurelius

“He who follows reason in all things is both tranquil and active at the same time, and also cheerful and collected.” – Marcus Aurelius

“In a word, if there is a god, all is well; and if chance rules, do not also be governed by it.” – Marcus Aurelius

“So, I look for the best and am prepared for the opposite.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Treat whatever happens as wholly natural; not novel or hard to deal with; but familiar and easily handled.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Tomorrow is nothing, today is too late; the good lived yesterday.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Everything that happens happens as it should, and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so.” – Marcus Aurelius

“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.” – Marcus Aurelius

“The best revenge is not to be like your enemy.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Confine yourself to the present.” – Marcus Aurelius

“Straight, not straightened.” – Marcus Aurelius