Marcus Aurelius read Epictetus… a lot. We know this because Meditations is proof of it. Almost every page has some direct quote or allusion to Epictetus. We also find, upon deeper inspection, references to the works of Panaetius, Chrysippus, the plays of Euripides, Zeno and countless other philosophers.
How does someone develop recall like that? How did he become so wise, not just on the page but in life? By repetition and practice. Although Marcus Aurelius never refers to Seneca, it’s clear that he had absorbed a piece of advice from that Stoic, too. “You must linger among a limited number of master-thinkers, and digest their works,” Seneca wrote, “if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.”
Over and over again, the Stoics pored over the same texts. So the ideas could take firm hold. So they could be absorbed. So it could become muscle memory, infused into their DNA.
Once? Ha! That is not enough. It’s about the reading and the re-reading. Writing, journaling, discussing, reflecting, experiencing. As Epictetus commanded: “Every day and night keep thoughts like these at hand—write them, read them aloud, talk to yourself and others about them.”
Marcus would later talk about how the philosopher is one with their weapon—like a boxer, more than a swordsman. A boxer just clenches their fist. A fencer has to pick something up. That’s what we’re trying to do as we study, we’re trying to create a practice—get the reps—that fuses us with our philosophy. That makes us one with it. That inserts it into our DNA so that we are forever changed by it.
Make that your goal this year. It’s not about skimming. It’s not about having done it once. It’s not about “getting the gist of it” as Marcus derided. It’s about making it a part of your life and your mind. It’s about lingering and digesting until it takes firm hold, never to be dislodged.
On that note, The Daily Stoic is $1.99 as an ebook right now and we have a premium leather edition of the book available as well. When we published The Daily Stoic in 2016, we had no idea it would go on to sell more than million copies and spend hundreds of cumulative weeks on the bestseller lists. If you haven’t read it yet or want to give it as a gift—this is as cheap as it will get.