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This Is the Great Equalizer

Daily Stoic Emails

Imagine what it must have been like to be Alexander the Great, conquering most of the known world by the time you were 30 years old. Born into royalty, you surpass even the incredible accomplishments of your father, to rule an empire of some 3,000 miles. Imagine what it must have been like to be Ozymandias, king of kings, surveying his mighty works. Imagine what it must have been like to be Marcus Aurelius, the emperor of Rome, the head of an army of over a million men, with an imperial treasury of unfathomable wealth. Imagine walking into the Colosseum and knowing that everyone within it was your subject, that they worshipped you as a god, that everything you wanted could be yours with the snap of a finger.

Imagine that. Imagine having that. Ahhhhhh…

Now stop and think about where it got these men. Marcus Aurelius certainly thought about that. He thought a lot about Alexander the Great, who had lived just a couple centuries before him, who had ruled many of the same lands, who had experienced power and fame just as early as Marcus. 

“Alexander the Great and his mule driver both died and the same thing happened to both,” he wrote. Death was the great equalizer. It was el finito. The conclusion that rendered so many of the accolades and accomplishments he had piled up in life instantly worthless. Marcus Aurelius wasn’t alive to read Shelley’s poem about the statue of Ozymandias, but he would have loved it: 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Of course, you should strive to realize your potential. You should conquer and do and be great. You should just remember where, to quote another poem, all the paths of glory ultimately end up. That no amount of doing will allow you to escape death, and that in death, we are all equal, small, and powerless.

P.S. This was originally sent on February 25, 2021. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.