It is tomorrow that marks the anniversary of the death of one of humanity’s greatest specimens. On March 17th, 180, in what is now modern day Vienna, Emperor Marcus Aurelius breathed his last breath and died. We don’t know exactly what his last words were. Cassius Dio claims that Marcus spoke his last sentence to his guard, saying to him, “Go to the rising sun, for I am setting.” Given the incredible legacy of the man, these words ring somewhat insufficiently.
Instead, we should remember Marcus’s last writing as his last words. Because this simple paragraph which concludes his famous Meditations reads as if the man wrote it as he faced the very real and immediate end of his existence, and therefore stands as inspiration and solace to all of us still living today.
“You’ve lived as a citizen in a great city. Five years or a hundred—what’s the difference? The laws make no distinction.
And to be sent away from it, not by a tyrant or a dishonest judge, but by Nature, who first invited you in—why is that so terrible?
Like the impresario ringing down the curtain on an actor:
“But I’ve only gotten through three acts . . . !”
Yes. This will be a drama in three acts, the length fixed by the power that directed your creation, and now directs your dissolution. Neither was yours to determine.
So make your exit with grace—the same grace shown to you.”
P.S. This was originally sent on March 16th, 2018. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.
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