Book Club: The Inner Citadel, 9, Marcus Aurelius — the man himself

Philosophy as a Way of Life
8 min readJan 15, 2020

Well, it took a while, but we finally got to the end of Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. It’s a long and difficult book, but it’s a crucial entry in the modern Stoic literature, which is why I spent so much time — and really put to the test my readers’ patience, I’m afraid — with this series. In this last post I will skip the short chapter 9, on “Virtue and Joy,” and focus on selected passages of the very long chapter 10, “Marcus Aurelius in his Meditations,” where Hadot does his best to glean the character of the man behind the philosophy. However, this isn’t just a biographical chapter, as Marcus’ character, life, and philosophy are deeply intertwined. Which means we are just as likely to learn about the man from his philosophy and life as we are about the philosophy by looking at how this extraordinary man attempted to put it into practice throughout his life.

Hadot is keenly aware of the perils of attempting this kind of analysis, and devotes an entire section of chapter 10 to a discussion of the limits of what he calls psychological history. In particular, he writes:

“The mistake made by some kind of psychological history is to project back onto the past our modern-day representations.” (p. 247)

Indeed, Marcus needs to be understood and appreciated (or criticized, as the case may be) within his own historical, social, and political contexts, not ours.

After a detour on the question of whether Marcus was an opium addict (not likely), and another one on Marcus stylistic elegance (he was a very good writer), Hadot attempts to derive some chronological signposts from the Meditations, a book that comes across as rather atemporal (which is probably one of the reasons it keeps being fascinating almost two millennia after it was written). We know that between books I and II an inscription says “Written in the land of the Quadi, on the banks of the Gran,” and between books II and III we read “Written in Carnutum.” Carnutum was a Roman military base on the Danube, near Vienna, and Marcus fought against the Quadi and the Marcomanni from 170 to 173 CE. The river Gran is now called Hron, in Slovakia, and it joins the Danube in modern Hungary. Assuming these two inscriptions are original, they tell us that…

Philosophy as a Way of Life

by Massimo Pigliucci. Practical philosophy, science, pseudoscience & good reasoning. Complete index of articles at