The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius
by Donald J. Robertson
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Pub Date 12 Jul 2022 | Archive Date 28 Jun 2022
In the tradition of Logicomix, Donald J. Robertson's Verissimus is a riveting graphic novel on the life and stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.
Marcus Aurelius was the last famous Stoic of antiquity but he was also to become the most powerful man in the known world – the Roman emperor. After losing his father at an early age, he threw himself into the study of philosophy. The closest thing history knew to a philosopher-king, yet constant warfare and an accursed plague almost brought his empire to its knees. “Life is warfare”, he wrote, “and a sojourn in foreign land!” One thing alone could save him: philosophy, the love of wisdom!
The remarkable story of Marcus Aurelius’ life and philosophical journey is brought to life by philosopher and psychotherapist Donald J. Robertson, in a sweeping historical epic of a graphic novel, based on a close study of the historical evidence, with the stunning full-color artwork of award-winning illustrator Zé Nuno Fraga.
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Average rating from 14 members
The art is the star in this story often told. Worth it for new readers who are looking for original takes on refashioned tales.
This was a delightful graphic novel!! I am big fan of books on Roman history and I love comics so this was the perfect graphic novel for me. A huge make or break for me in a graphic novel is always the art and I loved the art in this book! It was very mellow and soothing but also extremely detailed and beautiful! I also thought the story telling was quite good and it was a fun way to learn about Marcus Aurelius. A really accessible and enjoyable text! Loved this!!
Well, well, as if the heavens had listened to my wishes, at long last someone has done a graphic novel to the delight of all loyal servants of the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius.
I solemnly promise not to slip into "Gladiator! gushing as I review this, never fear, but I'd have to be obtuse to not see that the opening chapter is reminiscent of the film, with Marcus Aurelius up North in the war with the Germans and dying in the presence of his insufferable son, Commodus. But the film is fictional and has numerous historical blunders, whilst "Verissimus" is the true story of the last of the Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus.
I'm impressed by Mr Robertson's research and his meticulosness in laying out the Caesar's Stoic philosophy, which isn't as easy as one would think from the quotes in "Meditations," that the author uses very effectively here. Robertson knows the emperor's philosophical thought well, has stayed faithful to the sources and stuck to what's credible, taking very minor creative liberties, about which you can read in the afterword notes. These authorial notes are also much appreciated, because as I was reading I had some questions that, if left unanswered, would've looked like loose ends and omissions. For example, in the chapters covering the Antonine Plague, he preferred to not include the Christians as I'd have expected, but the authorial notes give me an idea as to the reason for it.
The Marcus Aurelius that shines in "Verissimus" is a good man, a genuinely kind soul that struggles with the flaws of his nature, and does live his philosophy in his daily life and implements his Stoic principles both for himself as a man and for his role as emperor instead of merely indulging in rhetoric and sophistry. He learns early in life the precepts of Stoicism, which in his childish mind he interprets in hilarious ways at first, such as when he tries to live like a pauper in his own home or mouthing off to emperor Hadrian, who bestows on him the nickname Verissimus, he who is most truthful, for daring to tell him to his face what nobody does. Can a good child grow to be a good emperor, though? Or will the old maxim that power corrupts be proven on him once he's Caesar? Marcus Aurelius is aware of the temptations and trappings of power, and is afraid of it, but this same self-awareness is what keeps him grounded and humble. That, and having good role models such as his grandfather Verus, his adoptive father Antoninus Pius, his tutors Rusticus and Fronto, etc.
But Marcus Aurelius is also a practical man, in spite of his military commanders and some other elites dissing him as The Philosopher, too bookish to have the firm ruling hand an empire the size of Rome demands. Bookish and Stoic he might be, but Marcus Aurelius is no out-of-touch ascetic or a saint; he does have flaws, a temper he badly wants to rein in, he makes mistakes, he trusts the wrong people, and so on. A good emperor he was, and did much for Rome, but he also faced enormous challenges such as the War of Many Nations in the north with various German tribes and Sarmatians, the war with Parthia, the Antonine Plague that wiped millions across the empire after legionnaires brought it from the East (sounds familiar?), the civil war with Cassius that was just barely averted... The novel does an excellent job representing all his many challenges in power, and his personal tragedies, too, for he lost loved relatives early and so many of his own children, until the one male heir left standing was everyone's love-to-hate emperor, Commodus.
It's a beautiful novel, in my opinion. The aesthetics of Zé's artwork might not be to everyone's liking, but I appreciated that the artist was as careful with historical accuracy as the writer. The armour, legion formations, architecture, clothing, hairdos, and so on, are well-done without being excessively detailed. I highly recommend it!
A well told history that is simultaneously detailed and accessible. For those who like lengthy historical graphic novels, a quality time is to be had.
Logic, Physics, Ethics - the Search for Virtue.........
Stoicism is popular right now, and that's all for the good. Its basic tenets are accessible, practical, and especially well suited for navigating the world as it presently stands. There are many good books that lay out the basics, starting from the "Enchiridion" and "Discourses" of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius's "Meditations", right up to recently published volumes. Heck, you could start at Wikipedia or the Encyclopedia Britannica if you want a quick fix.
This book, though, takes a novel and engaging approach. As a graphic novel it has its limitations, but also a quirky appeal. By focusing on the life of Marcus Aurelius it adds a unique angle of interest, and emphasizes the historical origins of Stoicism and the development of Aurelius as a thinker. The book touches on the high points of the Stoic approach and it, for want of a better phrase, humanizes the development and establishment of the practice.
I don't know if I'd necessarily want to start my exploration of Stoicism here, although I guess one could do worse. In any event, for anyone interested in the Stoics and Marcus Aurelius this is an engaging and interesting contribution. A nice find.
(Please note that I received a free ecopy of this book without a review requirement, or any influence regarding review content should I choose to post a review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.)
I really enjoyed this comic look at the life of Marcus Aurelius and thought the dramatization of his life and philosophy were really interesting. The art was a little distracting for me honestly; at some points realistic at some points cartoonish caricature, it brought me out of the flow of the story at several points.
My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher St. Martin's Press for an advanced copy of this historical and philosophical graphic novel.
The acceptance of sequential art in publishing has a been a boon for writers and artists who prefer to do works outside of the mainstream, or who write books that are more scholarly and difficult to find a publisher for. A book on an Emperor of Rome who was a stoic, maybe Knopf or Harcourt, if the author was known, would have once published it, but most likely it would have been a university publisher who would print just enough copies to make sure that print run was its only print run, spending more time on a library shelf than a major bookstores sales table. Now with more and more people reading graphic novels, of all sorts of genres, books like this will have a market that is much more accepting. Verissimus:The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius written by Donald J. Robertson, with art by Zé Nuno Fraga, is a biography and history of the Emperor and the philosophy that he followed.
The book begins at the end of Marcus Aurelius life with his son Commodus by his side. The book than goes back to the beginning with a young Marcus Aurelius facing a like without his father, and decisions being made about his future and education. Nicknamed Verissimus by the Emperor Hadrian which meant "truest" Aurelius had already found consulation in philosophy to deal with his father's death, a path that he would follow the rest of his life. As Emperor he tried to his wisdom to lead and decide, but wars, plague and constant intrigues made that difficult.
The book encompasses almost twenty- five years of research by Donald Robertson, so the research and work definitely shows. The characters are all interesting, I'm not sure how true to life, but they all were clear and very well defined. The art makes the book, a mix of both fantastic and realism, and bright, that keeps the story moving, and accompanies the story quite well. I'm not sure that you get a good sense of stoicism, but what I read intrigued me, and was not info- dumped. I felt that I learned as much as I was entertained.
Being a long time comic reader I remember Pirhana Press has a series of philosophical comic adventures called Epicurus the Sage by Willam Messner- Loebs. These go back quite a way, and I remember enjoying them and my father who was a theology and philosophy minor thought they were great fun, and explained the ideals and basis of a lot of the adventures. This book has the same sense, though not as funny. Like Logicomix in which it compares itself the premise is to entertain, and teach more about the world and the foundations of dealing with and thinking. It does succeed. Recommended for philosophy majors and minors, thinkers, artists and creative types who like the idea that comics can be a lot more than men in capes or ladies in capes hitting things, but can teach and be shared with others.
The combination of substantial historical & philosophical content along with appealing artistry make this ideal for classroom use or just for pleasure reading. I can see it’s appeal to many readers from multiple perspectives. A well-researched, substantiated, and executed piece.
This is an ambitious promotion of stoicism through a detailed graphic novel drawn from Roman history and exemplifying adages from Aurelius' writings. Aurelius-like epigraphs set the stage for each story. Unfortunately, I took in this very text-driven graphic novel on a 7.8" tablet screen. It definitely deserves something much larger. To me, bringing in Glykon, an ancient snake god, gives this a comic book feel. For those finding philosophical points worth pondering in such things as The Matrix and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this may be an effective way to reach the Millennials or Generation Z or something.
All that being said, the Appendix here has a helpful summary of the "ten gifts" from the Muses and Apollo Marcus Aurelius gave us as for of a Ten Commandments of stoicism.
Generally speaking, I am not especially attracted by graphic novel ; in this case it is an exception. I really liked to read that book about the Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius; I already have some knowledge about stoic philosophy but I did not know in detail his life. This book is not about Stoicism but it shows the reality of the life of the Roman Emperor using these principles : it seems to be the first time that an Emperor was showing so much good human principles; This book is pleasant and easy to read because both graphic and texts are extremely well conceived and it is a real pleasure to read it quietly thinking to this great man with the help of the evocative graphics. I strongly recommend it for a very wide audience.
I have long been a fan of Donald Robertson and loved "How to think like a Roman Emperor." Verissimus was the perfect book for me as I'm both a fan of graphic novels and a practicing Stoic. It's a really interesting story that's factually accurate and it also teaches key elements of Stoicism along the way. It expertly avoids the pitfalls of being cheesy and was just wonderfully done. Can't recommend it strongly enough, definitely worth it
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