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 through the centuries, proving that 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 Marcus’ Meditations were jotted down in spare moments during a busy life ruling and defending a huge empire, 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. 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. Virtue is its own reward.
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