Marcus Aurelius, one of the greatest Roman emperors*, is remembered less for his military exploits than for his private reflections. His Meditations, as they became known, have been a major influence on Western thought and behaviour down the centuries – the pen is mightier than the sword.
Seeking an alternative to faith-based religion, Alan Stedall came across the book and found rational answers to questions about the meaning and purpose of life that had been troubling him. Here too were answers to his concern that, in the absence of moral beliefs based on religion, we risk creating a world where relativism, the rejection of any sense of absolute right or wrong, prevails. In such a society any moral position is considered subjective and amoral behaviour is unchallengeable.
Because the Meditations, the personal reflections of a busy man ruling and defending a huge empire, were jotted down in spare moments, they lack order and sequence. Inspired by the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius, Stedall has sought to present the contents in a more contemporary and digestible way. To achieve this, he employed the Greek philosophical technique of dialogue to create a fictional conversation between five historical figures who actually met at Aquileia on the Adriatic coast in AD 168.
The Dialogues afford Marcus and his guests the opportunity to express their views on such topics as the brevity of life and the need to seek meaning; the pursuit of purpose; the supreme good and the pursuit of a virtuous life – issues as relevant today as they were in antiquity. By a gentle process of question and answer, Marcus shows up the weakness of his guests’ arguments and reveals how a virtuous life may be lived without the threat of eternal damnation or promise of salvation to enforce compliance. Alan Stedall’s Marcus Aurelius argues that:
“…to flinch from an attempt to establish a good purpose for my life, and meaning for the universe in which I find myself, is for me no more acceptable than to lay down arms in the middle of battle. And the arms that we each possess in our battle for such understanding are reason and philosophy.”
Alan Stedall is an IT director believing in principle-centred leadership. This has involved leading teams through projects effecting major and business-critical change.
٭ In his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Edward Gibbon wrote: “If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the succession of Commodus. The vast extent of the Roman Empire was governed by absolute power, under the guidance of virtue and wisdom.” The last of those Emperors was Marcus Aurelius.