You’ve probably heard of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher. He’s the author of The Meditations, one of the most popular self-improvement classics of all time. Even if you’ve not read that book, maybe you saw Richard Harris playing him in the first act of the Russell Crowe movie Gladiator (2000).
Did you know that Marcus was also called Verissimus, though? This name means “most true” in Latin and it seems to have caught on, in part, because it naturally fitted his reputation as a philosopher, and a lover of wisdom.
Check out this video of me reading from my viral (!) article on Marcus Aurelius and the pandemic, published in The Guardian newspaper. You can read the article online, and feel free to share the link. Please follow our new @verissimusgraphicnovel Instagram account, if you want to see more content like this. Thanks!
Join me for a free Facebook Live Event on practising Stoic exercises. Everyone is welcome. We’re launching a new, free-of-charge, email course on Stoic psychological exercises, which you can also sign-up for here.
Stoicism is experiencing a renaissance in popularity. This arguably started because it provided the philosophical inspiration for the pioneers of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) in the 1950s and 1960s. By the 1980s, CBT had become the leading evidence-based form of modern psychotherapy. However, around the start of the 21st century more and more self-help books influenced by Stoic philosophy began to hit the shelves.
My background is in both academic philosophy and CBT. I was among the first wave of authors to begin writing popular books on Stoicism. I focused on self-help techniques that combined ancient Stoic philosophy with modern research-based psychology. The Stoicism of ancient Greece and Rome contained a system of psychological therapy but there was also much more to it. It’s grounded in a philosophical worldview and a set of core ethical principles — what we call today a “virtue ethic”. However, even in the ancient world, people were often drawn to Stoicism initially because it held out the promise of relieving their emotional suffering and helping them to build greater mental resilience.
Although Stoicism is more popular now than ever, many people are still unsure how they’re supposed to practice the philosophy in daily life. “How exactly,” they ask, “does it promise to relieve our suffering?” I recently created a short email course to explain six of the most important psychological practices derived from ancient Stoicism. In this article, I’ll summarize and describe them for you…
How Marcus Aurelius was Initiated into the Cult of Demeter
For I made a vow, when the war began to blaze highest, that I too would be initiated… —Marcus Aurelius, quoted in Cassius Dio
The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180 AD) is best-known today as the author of The Meditations, a collection of personal reflections on ethics and self-improvement inspired by Stoic philosophy. While researching my recent book How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, I visited several locations associated with key events in his life. One was Carnuntum, in Austria, the legionary fortress where he stationed himself while fighting the Marcomannic War, and where part of The Meditations was written. Another was the Greek town of Elefsina, just outside Athens, which was known in antiquity as Eleusis, the home of the famous Eleusinian mystery religion, based upon the myth and rites of the goddess Demeter. Marcus became a patron of Eleusis and was initiated there toward the end of his life.
Persons like ourselves would do well to say: “If you are studying philosophy, it is well.” For this is just what “being well” means. Without philosophy the mind is sickly.
Online courses are all too often 5–10 minute diluted versions of the thing you want to know about, especially the free ones. In most cases, the info is not only watered-down but basic knowledge you already possessed. However, watching Brian Johnson’s FREE Stoicism 101 Master Class had me feeling as if I’d gotten away with theft! So-much-solid-content! (See the end of this article, incidentally, for more information about the Optimize Coach program — including a special offer.)
Warrior of the Mind
Brian Johnson is CEO and founder of Optimize, a massive community built around his love of wisdom. He’s also the author of Philosopher’s Notes, a fun and inspiring collection of his personal reflections on sages through the ages. This inspiration feeds into his master classes and coaching program. It seems his courses are meant to help you become a high-functioning optimist equipped with the wisdom to accomplish anything you set out to do.