Books where the characters discuss Stoic Philosophy
We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the neverending contest in ourselves of good and evil.
Steinbeck, East of Eden
One of the most commonly asked questions about Stoicism is whether there are any novels dealing with this philosophy. The question often get quite varied responses, including many references to poker-faced or unemotional characters. There’s a big difference between Batman, let’s say, or Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name”, one the one hand, and Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius, on the other. All over the Internet, people tend to confuse “stoicism” (lowercase), the unemotional personality trait or coping style, with “Stoicism” (capitalized), the ancient Greek philosophy — two quite different things.
This can be very misleading if you’re looking not merely for cold-blooded stoic characters but for stories featuring some of the wisdom from genuine Stoic philosophy. Fortunately, there are a handful of interesting novels, in which characters explicitly discuss the ancient philosophy, or which at least help us to understand the lives of genuine Stoics. These books vary enormously in style and content and will probably appeal to different types of readers. However, they can all contribute something of value to our appreciation of ancient Stoicism.
Learn how to build emotional resilience and develop a more meaningful life, from Marcus Aurelius, with my 4 week intro to Stoic philosophy and psychology.
It’s been a couple of years since I last ran my online course, Marcus Aurelius: Life and Stoicism. I used to run it several times a year but can’t do it as frequently now because of other commitments. We just opened up enrollment, though, for the course starting 10th July – this may be the only time we run the course this year so come and join us if you’re looking for a deep dive into Marcus Aurelius’ life and philosophy.
I’ve actually been busy working on more books about Marcus! I’ve now written three (and a half!) books about him in a row. Many years of research went into these books and I’ll be drawing on them in delivering the online course.
I also contributed a chapter on Marcus Aurelius and psychotherapy to the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations edited by John Sellars.
The course has a satisfaction guarantee so there’s no risk – try it out and see what you think. The feedback from previous students has been extremely positive, though, and we’ve revised it many times based on their suggestions. So we’re confident you’ll be getting access to an impressive and very extensive collection of resources.
Nobody exemplifies Stoicism as does Marcus Aurelius. Because of the extremely difficult and unpredictable events that came into his life when he became Emperor, his embodiment of Stoic ideas burned in his blood and he saw that life is not worth it’s living unless you recognize how critical it is for wisdom to be your primary guide to lead you on your way… moment by moment inch by inch. A year ago i would not have imagined about how to think like a Roman Emperor. Nowadays it is the only game in town worth playing.
Melville Richard Alexander
Week One: Overcoming Anger and Developing Empathy
The Education of a Stoic Emperor. This section focuses on the Stoic practice called “Contemplation of the Sage” and the role of empathy in Stoicism, particularly as a remedy for feelings of anger. It uses illustrations from the life of Marcus, such as his difficulty coping with feelings of anger toward his Stoic tutor, Junius Rusticus. Includes: Videos, reading, discussion, knowledge-check quiz. Also, for students on standard or premium plan, a webinar on Stoicism, Virtue, and Empathy.
Week Two: Conquering Worry and Anxiety
Marcus’ Early Reign and the Parthian War. This section focuses on the Stoic practice called “Premeditation of Adversity” (praemeditatio malorum, sometimes called “negative visualization”) and the role of acceptance in Stoicism, toward indifferent things, such as in coping with pain. It uses illustrations from the life of Marcus, such as his worry about matters of state, coping with chronic pain and illness, and his correspondence with his Latin tutor Fronto. Includes: Videos, reading, discussion, knowledge-check quiz. Also, for students on standard or premium plan, a webinar on Stoicism, Indifference, and Acceptance.
Week Three: Managing Pain and Illness
The First Marcomannic War and The Meditations. This section focuses on the Stoic practice called “The View from Above” and the role of metaphysics in Stoicism, with reference to the famous Dream of Scipio. It uses illustrations from the life of Marcus, such as the challenges of his assuming the role of military commander during the lengthy northern campaign against a huge coalition of enemy tribes led by King Ballomar of the Marcomanni. It is widely believed that Marcus wrote The Meditations during this period, and we also consider its role as a spiritual journal in relation to other Stoic writing practices. Includes: Videos, reading, discussion, knowledge-check quiz. Also, for students on standard or premium plan, a webinar on Stoicism, Nature, and the Cosmos.
Week Four: Coming to Terms with Mortality and Loss
The Civil War, and Marcus’ Final Years and Legacy. This section focuses on the Stoic practice called “Contemplation of Death” and the concept of impermanence in Stoicism, and also on the practice of Stoic mindfulness (prosoche) and attention to the present moment. It uses illustrations from the life of Marcus, such as the Antonine Plague, the civil war against his general Avidius Cassius, and his own illness and eventual death. Includes: Videos, reading, discussion, knowledge-check quiz. Also, for students on standard or premium plan, a webinar on Stoicism, Mindfulness, and Death.
Please feel free to download and share with your friends. This unique PDF guide was written by me, Donald Robertson, with stunning artwork by our award-winning illustrator Zé Nuno Fraga and graphic designer Rocio de Torres. It provides the perfect introduction to the world of Marcus Aurelius as depicted in our new graphic novel Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, which you can preorder now from all good bookstores.
People often ask for a simple introduction to the life and philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, so we created one especially for you! This booklet draws on research conducted for several books I’ve written or edited about Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism.
How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius (St. Martins)
Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius (St. Martins)
Marcus Aurelius: Ancient Lives (Yale)
Meditations: The Philosophy Classic (Capstone)
This printable PDF document will give you a good overview of the life of Marcus Aurelius, the times in which he lived and characters who influenced him, as well as the Stoic concepts and practices that shaped his life. As well as key information on Marcus Aurelius and Stoic philosophy, it contains comic book illustrations, genealogical diagrams, study questions, important quotations, and recommended reading.
If you’re a teacher, we’re confident you’ll find this booklet useful as a classroom aid. If you’re just interested in learning more about Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism, it’s a great place to begin before starting to read the classics.
The Stoic Goal of Life
Three Stoic Practices
Who were the Stoics?
Who was Marcus Aurelius?
The Imperial Succession
Questions, Quotes, and Reading
About the Graphic Novel
If you’re completely new to Stoicism, it’s a good place to start. However, we can’t compress the whole philosophy into a few pages, it’s just a summary, so you will need to read the Stoics to gain a more complete understanding of their concepts and techniques.
Stoicism has exploded in popularity over the past couple of decades. One of the questions I’m now asked most frequently, by teachers and parents, is whether there are any good resources available to help kids learn about Stoic philosophy. The answer is YES, although you may need helping finding them.
There are many aspects of Stoicism that you could discuss with children but it makes sense to start by focusing on some basic principles. You can demonstrate Stoic philosophy in action quite easily by using what psychologists call the “thinking aloud” technique. This is a form of “cognitive modelling” which lets you show your children how you, the parent, might use simple Stoic ideas to guide your own decisions. For example:
Some things are up to us and others are not, which you can demonstrate simply by asking of some challenging event “What aspects are up to me?” or “What can and can’t I control about this situation?”
It’s not things that upset us but rather our opinions about them, which you can model by asking “How might other people view this situation differently?” or “What would be a better way of looking at this whole thing?”
The Stoics taught that it’s better to lead by example than through books and lectures, although there’s a place for both. Kids can’t read your mind, though, so the “thinking aloud” technique can be a useful way to provide a window on your thought processes. That lets you model a healthy way of tackling a problem, which you’d like your kids to gradually learn. This should be done as naturally as possible, of course, so demonstrating a little bit at a time, over a long period, perhaps works best if you’re a parent or teacher.
I’m honoured to announce that the Japanese translation of my book The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy will soon be available. Shota Fuji, the translator, and his colleagues, have worked hard to create this book, under the supervision of Dr. Kaito Towhata. Another of my books, How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, is currently available in Japanese, from CCC Media House.
Below is an interview I did with Echan Deravy, who was kind enough to translate the entire thing into Japanese.
Donald Robertson is one of my favorite writers about Stoicism.
Ryan Holiday, #1 New York Times bestselling author and founder of The Daily Stoic
Donald Robertson is a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist, who lives in Canada and Greece. He is the author of six books on philosophy and psychotherapy. His bestselling self-help book How to Think Like a Roman Emperor has been translated into eighteen languages.
Zé Nuno Fraga, who created the artwork, is an award-winning illustrator from Portugal. Kasey Pierce, who advised on the content, is an award-winning author and comic book editor.
St. Martin’s are currently running a preorder promotion that means anyone buying Verissimus may be eligible for three different prizes.
Good news! We’re delighted to announce that from Wednesday 26th until Friday 28th January, for three days, you can get 25% off when pre-ordering either the ebook or hardback edition of our new graphic novel from Barnes and Noble, in the US. NB: Make sure you enter the special offer code PREORDER25 when ordering to claim your discount!
Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius is a philosophical epic, 2-3 years in the making, a 250pp. full-colour publication with stunning artwork from our award-winning illustrator Zé Nuno Fraga. It’s like Gladiator meets The Meditations: and combines a lot of carefully researched historical action, from the life of Marcus Aurelius, with philosophical insights from Stoicism. Go to Barnes and Noble now, and claim your discount using the code above.
We hope you enjoy the book and look forward to hearing your comments.
🎁 Win a free advance review copy of Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, forthcoming graphic novel by Donald Robertson, author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, with stunning artwork by award-winning illustrator, Zé Nuno Fraga. Don’t miss out! Enter your name for the Goodreads giveaway today.
35 copies available. Giveaway ends 31st Jan 2022. US and Canada only.
“Donald Robertson is one of my favorite writers about Stoicism.” —Ryan Holiday, #1 New York Times bestselling author and founder of The Daily Stoic
“A superb graphic novel that provides stunning insights into one of the most interesting figures of antiquity, as well as into the philosophy that guided him throughout his life.” —Massimo Pigliucci, author of How to Be a Stoic
Holiday and Hanselman are well-known to many as the authors of the bestselling The Daily Stoic. Holiday is also the author of a trilogy of successful books inspired, among other things, by his interest in Stoic philosophy: The Obstacle is the Way, Ego is the Enemy, and Stillness is the Key.
Lives of the Stoics is due for publication in the US on September 29th, by Penguin Random House, and will be available in audiobook and ebook as well as hardback format. I was fortunate enough to receive an advance review copy. I’m an author myself and so I receive a lot of new books to review but I can honestly say this is the one I was most looking forward to reading.