Marcus Aurelius, apart from me being his namesake, is surely the philosopher who’s most influenced the direction of my life. John Vervaeke, in his amazing series on Awakening from the Meaning Crisis, highlights a epigram that I’d not previously noticed while reading Meditations. The way he translates it is:
It is possible to be happy, even in a palace.Marcus Aurelius Book V.16
In those 9 words Aurelius captures so much. He’s saying that being surrounded by power or possessions doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re living a good or happy life. In fact, it may even be harder to live well when your life, by all external appearances, is ideal. Importantly though, he affirms that where ever you are, even when you have “everything,” you can live well.
It’s a simple saying, but it really highlights why Marcus Aurelius was the best of the Stoics. Vervaeke also cleverly contrasts this with the Buddha who famously left his palace to seek enlightenment.
Just for fun, here are several other translations of the same text:
Where a man can live, there he can also live well. If he must live in a palace, then he can also live well in a palace.
-George Long translation, Dover Thrift Edition
Anywhere you can lead your life, you can lead a good one. Lives are led at court… then good ones can be.
-Gregory Hays translation, Modern Library Edition
Wherever there is life, there, too, the good life is possible; there is life in the royal halls, and so even in the royal halls it is possible to live rightly.
–Needleman & Piazza, The Essential Marcus Aurelius
Wherever a man lives, he may live well; by consequence, a life of virtue and that of a courtier are not inconsistent.
-Jeremy Collier, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius