To mark the 1900th birthday of Marcus Aurelius, Modern Stoicism challenged readers 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.
All 14 finalists are being 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 penultimate installment – the entries placed from 5th place
to 2nd, determined by our panel of judges. As you will see below, there was a three-way tie for 3rd place. There is one entry – the winner – yet to appear!
Second Place – Make Yourself Good by Meredith Alexander Kunz
“Do not act as if you had ten thousand years to live.”
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4:17
Remember that this moment
Is all you have:
Each flying second
Your personal eternity
To make with it
What you can
On this earth.
Each flash of consciousness
Your own, your true possession,
The source of your power
To choose, and choose well,
In this temporary existence.
Focus on this alone and stay true.
That’s what you need to remember
To concentrate on what must be done.
God or atoms? No difference.
Each of us must make our own way.
And that inner daimon—
Inside you, inside us all,
Knows the path to virtue
And the good.
When we listen,
We find happiness.
Some days, some years even,
We will be down and out,
Dispossessed, beaten up
By the whims of the world,
Liable to gnash our teeth,
Fill our brains with worry,
Fear, desire, resentment.
But still: We hold the keys to mastery
Of all that really matters.
It’s a lesson for the ages:
“While you have life in you,
While you can,
Make yourself good.”
And if you’re veering off course into
Love of status, money, looks, things—
If you’re consumed
Of what lies ahead,
And dread of what
And recall the philosopher-king
to rule them all.
He’ll set you right.
And you’ll start the next day
Ready for the fight.
#3 Stoic Rondeau by Tony Dawson
“To endure and prevail is a great good fortune,”
wrote Aurelius one midnight by moonlight
that shadowed his imperial solitude.
He shared his men’s hardships, ate their rough food,
fought by their sides in the Germanic sun. Found
only four things he believed we take part in:
Thoughts, Emotions, Inclinations, Aversions;
everything else is at the pleasure of God.
To endure and prevail is a great good fortune?
He endured to be sure, but prevail? As soon
as Imperial aegis was won
he died. Yet his philosophy has endured
the caprice of time and may still do us good.
If we play our parts as they are given,
to endure and prevail is a great good fortune.
21 November 2020
The Ontario sky darkening outside my window, my Guan Yin lamp turned on, at an online Zen writing retreat, I read my first letter to you to a group of nine women.
Soon after, Anna, a woman I’ve never met, messages me privately.
My mother died in February—we read her Marcus Aurelius in the days before she died. He was the one she wanted.
Just as you did with your statuary of your beloved Stoic tutor, Junius Rusticus, I do with you.
Bk. 2. 2: At every hour devote yourself in a resolute spirit, as befits an Indian-Canadian and a woman to fulfill the task at hand.
Bk. 5. 1: In the morning, when you find it hard to rouse yourself from your sleep, have these thoughts ready at hand: ‘I am rising to do the work of a human being. Soon I will have a mug (with Marcus emblazoned on it) steaming with dark-roast coffee.’”
I ask my students to write their obituaries. Most find the topic unsavory, morbid, even terrifying. I exhort them with the words of Socrates: death the bogeyman. I recite your words: “Submit yourself to Clotho with good grace,” die with a “cheerful heart,” a ripe olive falling, blessing the earth and the tree that bore you.
When my time comes, someone I love will read your words to me and say that you were the one I wanted.
Love and gratitude always,
#3 If… Only Commodus Had Remembered These Things by Marcus Aurelius (channeling Rudyard Kipling) from firstname.lastname@example.org
If you remember to be strict with yourself
But tolerant with everyone else
If you remember to direct your thoughts to common good
And help your people like a leader should
If you remember not to seek revenge
But to be unlike him who did you harm
And further that there’s nothing to avenge
If the mind sounds not its own alarm
If you remember the power you hold
Not over people but your own mind
If you remember that courage is to be bold
In the face of trials and all hard times
If you remember that little is needed for a happy life,
That it’s all within your way of thinking,
And to dwell on the beauty of that life,
To watch the stars each night unblinking
If you remember it’s a privilege just to be alive
To think, to love, to hear and see
If you remember what’s good for the hive
Is forever good too for the bee
If you remember that the rest doesn’t matter,
Only that the right thing is always done
You’ll be remembered as a Good Emperor,
And-which is more-you’ll be a virtuous man, my son!