Book Club: The Inner Citadel, 1, Marcus Aurelius’ teachers
Time to get started on a new book about Stoic philosophy: Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel, which focuses on the Meditations by the emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius. As a hopefully useful reminder, recent entries in the Stoic Book Club series include: The Ethics of the Family in Seneca, by Liz Gloyn; Stoicism and Emotion, by Margaret Graver; The Role Ethics of Epictetus, by Brian Johnson; and Larry Becker’s A New Stoicism.
Hadot’s book is a classic, originally published in French in 1992, and translated into English by Michael Chase. It’s comprised of ten chapters, and depending on how my own reading goes, I may devote a post to each chapter. Here we begin with 1: “The emperor-philosopher.”
As Hadot points out, Marcus had a happy youth, but a tormented reign. He was born in Rome in 121 CE to a wealthy family that owned a number of brick factories and had significant political influence. He was noticed and protected by the emperor Hadrian, who instructed his chosen successor, Antoninus Pius, to adopt Marcus as well as Lucius Verus, and to groom them both for the throne. Marcus did become emperor in 161 CE, at the death of Antoninus, and he immediately appointed the far less capable Lucius as co-emperor (Lucius died in 169 CE, probably of the plague, leaving Marcus sole emperor).
Marcus had married Faustina, daughter of Antoninus, in 145 CE, and the two had thirteen children, of whom only five daughters and one son survived into adulthood. Unfortunately for the Roman people, that son was the infamous Commodus, who eventually inherited the Empire.
Trouble began the very same year of Marcus and Verus’ ascent to the throne, when the Parthians invaded the eastern provinces of Rome. It took several years and the capable leadership of generals Statius Priscus and Avidius Cassius to push back the Parthians. In 166 CE, as soon as the ceremonies for the victory had been held, the Marcomanni and the Quadi threatened the northern frontier with what today is Germany. Consequently, Marcus had to carry out military campaigns in the Danube region from 169 to 175 CE, and it was during this time that he likely wrote the Meditations.
As soon as the Marcomanni and Quadi situation was under control, Avidius Cassius rebelled and declared…