What can Marcus Aurelius teach you about death?

Aurelius’ Meditations focus heavily on the shortness of life and his interest in death is downright morbid in parts. However, there is something interesting about Aurelius’ melancholy approach.

Aurelius views the death as something to savour. Because life is short, Aurelius argues, it is our duty to become in touch with who we really are and do only what we think is right so that we have no regrets when we die.It is interesting to note that the shortness of life; in particular its fickle existence for Aurelius, gives us a springboard from which we can define our life, and develop our own purpose.

Say, for example; that there is a man called Jeff. In one possible world, Jeff will live ad infinitum. In another possible world, Jeff will live to be 75 years old. We asked Jeff in the first possible world if he wants to have kids. This is what he said:

‘What’s the point? I might. One day. I don’t know. I have a lot of time on my hands ; after all I’m going to live forever. I can’t be bothered really. I think I might just go fishing.’

Meanwhile, Jeff in possible world number two was keener on the idea. He told us that he wanted to first buy a house, and get a job that provided a steady income with worthwhile superannuation contribution, and then focus on reproducing his genes before his time runs out. In possible world number two, Jeff does not have very much time on his hands. He is currently twenty-five years old, and is trying to fit in all the things he wants to do as soon as possible.

It is perhaps ironic to think of death, the ultimate end of all existence as a means by which our lives can gain purpose and direction. However, this is the very notion that Aurelius is advancing. It is important that we transcend and develop ourselves in accord with what we want from life. For Aurelius, this meant living a life of virtue.

Thomas Green

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