To mark the 1900th birthday of Marcus Aurelius, Modern Stoicism challenged its followers to write a short tribute to the great Stoic Emperor in 250 words or less. The winning entry will be announced during Modern Stoicism’s online conference celebrating his birthday, held on Sunday April 26th.
The competition drew 50 entries, many of a high standard. As requested, by no means all were “odes” – the entries included blank verse, limericks, letters and haikus.
All 14 finalists will be published here in the Stoicism Today blog in the days leading up to Marcus’s birthday on April 27th and also on Modern Stoicism’s You Tube channel.
Today we have the third installment – the entries placed from 8th place
to 6th, determined by our panel of judges.
#6 Aurelius Returns: Episode I, Not Always So by Aaron Sherman
Can’t laugh? then weep.
Can’t accept it? then weep.
Can’t endure it? …
Oh, but, you can. Look:
he tried, she tried,–but, I, I can’t.
Not always so. … Huh?
How you are, what you are, it won’t always be so, as it is now.
So where do we go from here?
Where courageous action, temperant interfacing, wise counsel, and just law live, so do I. So does every Stoic.
But, will that always be so, as it is now?–No. No, it won’t
And, that matters none. We will meet it just the same, as described,
Daily defined and issued.
#7 A Lantern in the Stern by Paul Wilson
Through doldrum, fog or sudden squall, the lantern’s glow illumines all
It casts defiant, knowing light, upon the hazards of the night
Past my vessel debris slips, the flotsam left by sunken ships
Whose foolish captains failed to learn, to heed the lantern in the stern
As their wreckage crests the waves, they sink into their liquid graves
Far below the shimmering sight, of the lantern’s guiding light
But I, still living, know my task, so in the heartening light I bask
And train my eyes to long discern, that trusty lantern in the stern
If my vessel’s sails should rend, I know how to make fast and mend
Repairs are made with ease in sight, of the lantern’s timeless light
My hold is full of heavenly treasure, earthly metrics cannot measure
This weightless cargo goes unseen, until it meets the lantern’s sheen
If creatures of the deep appear, to charge my heart with ancient fear
They’ll scatter at the surface sight, of that lantern burning bright
I’ve seen the ocean at its worst, what it can do to those accursed
And so for solace I will turn, towards that lantern in the stern
The horror of my storm-tossed hours, retreats before the lantern’s powers
My sailor’s wounds are fully healed, my place and purpose soon revealed
The lantern sets its final task, to burn away my crewman’s mask
So that I, at long last see, the captain of the ship…is me
The author added this by way of explanation
“I’ve taken the view that Marcus might not welcome a celebration of himself, but he might appreciate some recognition of the enduring value of his philosophy. That perspective informed my approach to the poem.
I don’t mention Marcus by name in it, but I do describe the presence of his wisdom in my life, as being like that of a lantern in the stern of a ship – casting a helpful light from behind to aid navigation, etc. And as Stoicism was born of a shipwreck this approach makes some sense!“
#8 A Letter to Marcus Aurelius by Lina Távora
Dear Marcus Aurelius,
Since 2020, we are living in a Pandemic. In Brazil, we are still facing an increasing number of deaths – and other evils that come along, like misinformation and neglect for the common good. So I remembered you.
You would never say, “so what?” Amid the Plague, you stayed, you sold the Crown’s treasures, and you listened to the science available to you at the time. You followed your epithets and acted accordingly. You handled it, endured it, and contributed to the common good. You lived well and died well, as a true Stoic, even though you only considered yourself as a student. Maybe it is where there lies your strength, never seeing your philosophy’s journey as finished.
Your losses were not few, but since you took the course of the Stoics, mentored by Rusticus, guided by the lessons of Epictetus, you embraced this philosophy and transformed the difficulties in apprenticeship. Maybe you always had it in you, as Antoninus saw. And you perfected it.
You believed that justice was the source of the other virtues, and your actions confirmed this statement. Whether as a ruler, whether facing the epidemic or facing your own end, your character is your greatest legacy.
This is what is expected of sages, philosophers, citizens, and a government. On your birthday, we remember by your story that we must act with empathy for the people, the pain, and the losses that surround us.