Marcus Aurelius: How To Have Character

A man’s character is what defines him and what carries him through life. It is character that drives your choices and helps you deal with difficulties. The Stoics believed that virtue was the end-goal of anyone’s conduct and one of the few things that you truly had control over in this world.

A man can rise or fall just due to the virtues or faults of his character and it is often this that leaves a legacy. Marcus Aurelius is one of these men, who even after almost two thousand years is remembered for the strengths of his character and shown as a role model for conduct in times of difficulties.

Cassius Dio, Roman Senator and historian, who lived through the times of Marcus Aurelius, as well as those of his son, Commodus, had this to say about Marcus:

“He didn’t have the luck which he deserved, but was confronted throughout his reign by a multitude of disasters. That is why I admire him more than any other, for it was amidst these extraordinary and unparalleled difficulties that he was able to survive, and to save the Empire.”

Marcus Aurelius was not perfect, and he himself acknowledged it, but instead of falling prey to temptations, he struggled every day to reach perfection and lead the life of a philosopher. With the word “philosopher” we don’t mean someone who delivers hard to understand discourses on the meaning of life, but instead a man who tries to overcome his faults and live life according to reason, always striving to improve himself.

In order to do that, he kept a personal journal, where he noted down his thoughts and daily lessons. This journal was meant to be private, but did not remain so, and instead has been passed down to us as the “Meditations”. It is full of wisdom, which can be applied to your own life.

What types of things can you learn from the way Marcus conducted himself in daily life and which traits should you adopt? The first Book of the “Meditations” describes well the things that he learned from others.

Marcus Aurelius, just like anyone, was a man who learned from others. It was the people around him who shaped him.

You too were most likely shaped by those closest to you. I was lucky to have a good family, and wrote an article on what I learned from my grandfathers.

This is the first thing that you can take away: be thankful for what you have.

“To the gods I am indebted for having good grandfathers, good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good associates, good kinsmen and friends, nearly everything good.”

Marcus was always thanking his good fortunes. Many people are not so lucky, but even in the worst of times, they can find things to be thankful for.

More than 250 years after the times of Marcus Aurelius, when the Roman Empire in the West had fallen, Boethius, one of the last true Romans of Antiquity, was sitting in jail having an imaginary discussion with himself. He was condemned to die, but realized that even in such a dire situation, he can find positive things. One of these was that his family was OK.

Once you adopt this wider perspective on your situation, going about adopting other positive traits will be made much easier.

So which were the traits that Marcus Aurelius adopted?

Good morals and not raising your temper:

“From my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper.”

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The Wisdom Of Marcus Aurelius: How To Gather The Strength To Survive In Adversity

In one of his most famous works “The Republic”, Plato presents the notion of philosopher kings. These are wise rulers who live a simple life and rule for the benefits of their own communities.

One of two things needs to happen in order for philosopher kings to rule:

“Philosophers must become kings, or those now called kings must genuinely and adequately philosophize.”

Unfortunately, most people in power are far from wise and often become less wise the longer they are in power.

However, in history, one man stands out as the archetype of a philosopher king. One man truly reflects the image of a wise ruler. That man is Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was the last of the so-called Five Good Emperors: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. The other four Emperors who preceded him are remembered as the most able administrators and generals that the Empire had ever known and are remembered for ruling wisely and justly.

Marcus Aurelius ruled at a time when the Roman Empire was at the peak of its power, although during his time, you could see the first chinks in the imperial armor begin to develop.

Germanic tribes were starting to stir up trouble north of the border and Marcus Aurelius spent a large portion of his life on campaign across the Limes Romanus.

On one bleak day in his camp located on a river which is now called Hron in today’s Slovakia, he started to keep a personal journal in order to reflect on things and to keep himself rooted. This journal later became what we know as the “Meditations”, a series of thoughts and wise sayings collected into 12 books (or chapters).

These were supposed to be only personal lessons and reflections and were not meant to be shared with the outside world, but soon thereafter ended up being published anyways and distributed far and wide.

Their influence was immense, since many of these sayings and thoughts had very practical applications for anyone, irrespective of their social standing or situation in life.

The power of this work stems from the fact that Marcus Aurelius was a man with tremendous responsibilities and power, yet he managed to keep sane and humble amid all the surrounding chaos.

Most people will never get to be in the same position as him, but can find themselves in very similar situations. “Meditations” give solutions to common everyday problems, and can help you gain a wider perspective on things.

They are based on Stoic teachings, but incorporate a wide variety of other influences as well. One source of inspiration for Marcus Aurelius was Epictetus, who we have already visited in a previous article. The fact that an Emperor drew on the wisdom of a former slave just further demonstrates the fact that these teachings can be taken by anyone and applied in any walk of life.

There are some very powerful lessons to be learned and used:

1) Human nature is the way it is. You need to learn to live with it.

One passage that immediately struck me when reading it, was this:

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.”

Another translation of the same passage reads:

“Begin the morning by saying to yourself: I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil.”

It is amazing how this passage (irrespective of the way it is translated) reflects one of the most common problems that people face in their lives even today.

There will always be people who will try to bring you down. You might be the nicest, most unselfish, most helpful person ever, but there will still be people who will hate you or try to cause you harm.

“No man can rob us of our free will.”

There are bad people everywhere. This is a fact of life. You should remind yourself of this, but don’t let it bother you.

This is due to the basics of human nature. People are inherently selfish and this is due to inner drives.

Humans, just like any living being, are driven to survive and this means having access to resources in order to be able to do that. This implies behaviors which maximize their own chances.

One of these primal behaviors is status seeking, since being higher in status means having better access to key resources.

These people who are trying to trip you up might see you as a threat to their own ambitions and power.

This survival drive is also probably the reason why status-seeking cognitive biases (as I describe them in my Cognitive Biases Framework) developed and continue to be part of how people behave.

Even if people know they are behaving badly, they often try to rationalize what they do.

“With what are you discontented? Is it with the badness of men? Recall to your mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily.”

In Book 4, Marcus explores this further. He notes the social nature of people (as well as other animals), and that many of the things that people do are deeply ingrained in the psyche.

I explored this in a bit more detail in the article on my cognitive biases framework, where I have created the categories of ego-based biases, as well as social-animal based biases.

One first principle on which I based my framework is that humans are primarily social animals and the brain developed some internal patterns in order to promote this.

Cognitive biases evolved to be because in many ways they boosted an individual’s chances of survival, and hence are usually involuntary. As Marcus noted, oftentimes men do wrong due to internal processes in their brains and are not really conscious of doing wrong. This is exactly how cognitive biases work.

Another factor that drives a person’s behavior is the internal principles that they have.

In Book 4, Marcus gives this advice:

“Examine men’s ruling principles, even those of the wise, what kind of things they avoid, and what kind they pursue.”

In Book 9, he gives similar advice:

“Penetrate inwards into men’s leading principles, and you will see what judges you are afraid of, and what kind of judges they are of themselves.”

This is very helpful and useful when dealing with other people. Look at people’s principles and you will see what type of a person they are.

When you develop the skill of being able to judge a person’s driving principles, you will be in a better position to be aware of people who are potential threats to you and also to be able to develop a strategy of what to do when they try to bring you down.

In one respect man is the nearest thing to me, so far as I must do good to men and endure them. But so far as some men make themselves obstacles to my proper acts, man becomes to me one of the things which are indifferent, no less than the sun or wind or a wild beast.

Now it is true that these may impede my action, but they are no impediments to my affects and disposition, which have the power of acting conditionally and changing: for the mind converts and changes every hindrance to its activity into an aid; and so that which is a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act; and that which is an obstacle on the road helps us on this road.

This passage illustrates Marcus’ thinking on what to do about people who try to bring you down. The first thing was not to give a fuck. Of course, Marcus put it much more eloquently, but essentially, this is what it boils down to.

This is also a good strategy for overcoming obstacles of any kind. You can always spin negative things into something positive. For example you can look at failures as learning opportunities, and this way failures will no longer be obstacles on your road, but instead help you to get to wherever you want to go.

The second part of that above quote is very interesting in terms of what to do when an obstacle comes your way. The translation of this passage by Pierre Hadot in his book “The Inner Citadel” makes this much more clear:

“People can perfectly well prevent me from carrying out such and such an action. Thanks, however, to action “with a reserve clause” and to “turning obstacles upside down,” there can be no obstacle to my intention, nor to my disposition. For my thought can “turn upside down” everything that presents an obstacle to my action, and transform the obstacle into an object toward which my impulse to act ought preferably to tend. That which impeded action thus becomes profitable to action, and that which blocked the road allows me to advance along the road.”

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Diogenes Of Oinoanda: The Ancient Secret To Happiness Discovered On A Philosopher’s Stone – Find Out What It Is

If you walk around the upper valley of the River Xanthus in what is now southern Turkey, you might come across a large hilltop which is littered with ancient ruins. The area seems deserted and there are few signs to point to the fact that millennia ago, this site was home to a large city.

Unlike many of the commercial centers of the Mediterranean, the ancient city of Oinoanda was not situated on the crossroads of any major trade routes. Its economy relied on growing wine and olives, and tight relationships with its surrounding areas. This did not make it a fabulously wealthy city, but did ensure a certain level of prosperity.

Unfortunately, not much is known about the history of the city, but archaeologists have uncovered one very interesting find.

They discovered the remains of a wall which was originally over 80 meters long and covered with old Epicurean writings. It had been erected by Diogenes of Oinoanda in order to:

To help those who come after us.

Epicurean teachings had helped him a lot in his own life and he wanted to give back to his wider community. Another part of the inscription describes the purpose:

The majority of people suffer from a common disease, as in a plague, with their false notions about things, and their number is increasing. I wished to use this stoa to advertise publicly the medicines that bring salvation.

Unfortunately only a part of the inscription remains and even that is broken up into pieces of various sizes, but those parts that have been uncovered so far give us a glimpse into life in those ancient days.

However, more importantly, the writings also preserve ancient wisdom, much of which is still pertinent even today. This wisdom dealt with the eternal question of almost every person: How should you live your life? It gave advice on how to lead a good life and how to achieve something that almost everyone strives for: happiness.

The rise and influence of Epicureanism

In the times of the late Roman Republic and the early Empire, Epicureanism (together with Stoicism) was one of the most important philosophical schools that many Romans adhered to.

Cicero, while arguing against the Epicureans, still corresponded with and counted among his friends many Epicureans, including Atticus, a wealthy Roman who retired to Athens. Many famous Roman poets such as Horace or Lucretius were Epicureans, and even the great Gaius Julius Caesar was a fan.

While Epicureanism was pretty popular in Ancient Rome, it had actually started in Ancient Greece and its founder was Epicurus.

Epicurus was born on the island of Samos in 341 BC, but spent most of his life living in Athens, his father being a citizen of that city. There he founded his own school of philosophy, called the Garden, where he taught until his death in 270 BC.

Once he died, his school was taken over by one of his disciples, Hermarchus, and continued to grow. Its influence grew far and wide and by late Roman Republic times, it was one of the major philosophical schools in the Mediterranean region.

However, it began to decline in the 3rd century AD and died out completely when Christianity took over the Roman Empire. Many of the Christian writers penned extensive treatises against Epicureanism, in the process grossly misinterpreting its message. Epicureanism became a synonym of hedonism, when in fact it preached something totally different.

Epicurean ideals weren’t revived until the Renaissance, and later the Age of Enlightenment. Many famous figures of that era were influenced by them, and their thoughts in turn shaped the way society looks today.

If you are an American, you have “the pursuit of happiness” enshrined in your founding documents as an inalienable right. Have you ever wondered why that is?

The reason is that Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of Epicurus and Epicureanism. In one of his letters he wrote:

I too am an Epicurean.

Since he was one of the principal drafters of the American Declaration of Independence, some of these ancient ideas found their way into it. That pursuit of happiness comes from this.

Thomas Jefferson was greatly influenced by the works of Epicurus and they formed a foundation for his worldview and the way he lived. In fact, Epicurus had such a huge impact on his life that he sometimes called him his Master.

While the traditional teachings of Epicurus taught to “live unknown”, that is to try to steer away from politics, public life and all the chaos associated with them, Thomas Jefferson (just like many other famous people influenced by this philosophy) put his own distinct spin on Epicureanism and combined it with a life in the public spotlight.

Many hardcore Epicureans preach dettachment from society and tending your own little garden somewhere in the corner as the epitomy of life. However, you can get the benefits of these teachings even without withdrawing from public life completely.

How to do this? Thomas Jefferson is a good example. He was an Epicurean at heart, yet he still managed to become one of the principal figures of the American Revolution and the 3rd US President.

So Epicureanism has many paths which you can take. You can either take the road of Epicurus himself and some of his followers and withdraw from the hustle and bustle of society to tend your own Garden, or take the example of people influenced by Epicureanism like Thomas Jefferson, and tend your own Garden, while still trying to influence the society you live in.

The main tenets of Epicureanism
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Epictetus – The Wisdom Of A Stoic Master: The Secrets To Living A Good Life Revealed

One of the most important questions we ask ourselves is about the way we should live our lives. What is really important and how should we act?

Luckily, there is guidance available and some of the most profound thoughts on this were formed already two thousand years ago.

These words of wisdom were uttered by a man named Epictetus, who went on to influence the lives of some of the most powerful men of his era, all the way up to Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Yet this man was born a slave and supposedly had one of his legs maimed by a former cruel master, so that he always walked with a limp. This did not detter him from living a good life and achieving happiness.

Epictetus was not a theoretical philosopher living in his own world, but instead tried to make his philosophy down-to-earth and practical. This advice can be taken and applied in the real world as a guide for your day-to-day life.

His powerful words served as inspiration for many people undergoing hard times. Picture this: a man sitting in a prison with no knowledge whether he will ever get out.

The man could feel no hope, but instead his thoughts are turned inwards and draw inspiration from Epictetus.

There is a great similarity to the tale of Boethius and his reflections on life that I already wrote about. However the year is 1967 and the man is James Stockdale, an American pilot captured by the Vietnamese and put in a prisoner of war camp.

Stockdale credited the works of Epictetus for showing him the way on how to survive this ordeal. If these words could guide a man in such desperate times, just imagine what they could do for you.

We know the philosophy of Epictetus primarily through the works of his pupil, Arrian. Arrian noted down the teachings of Epictetus in two surviving works: “The Discourses” and “Enchiridion”, which is the Greek word for handbook.

It is the “Enchiridion” which is the most easily accessible work, as it is short and contains many practical lessons for your own life. It doesn’t take long to read, but can really change the way you view life in a very fundamental way.

All people search for happiness, but they usually go about it in the wrong way. They don’t realize that happiness can only come from within, from things that you have control over.

What are the things that you have control over? Your thoughts and your actions.

The main idea of the Stoics was that you should live a simple life, where you don’t concern yourself with things that you cannot control, and instead focus on the things that you can.

The world is what it is, random things will happen, and they might block your progress. Learn to accept it.

Living a simple life, where you act in a disciplined way, and where you act in accordance with your moral principles (virtue), will lead you to happiness.

For it is within you, that both your destruction and deliverance lie.” Epictetus

Below are some of the main lessons from the “Enchiridion”:
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The Consolation Of Philosophy: How A Man About To Die Found Happiness

It is a time of decay. Rome, once the mighty capital of an Empire spanning three continents, is a rotting, crumbling shadow of its former self.

The old institutions of the city, like the formerly powerful Senate, are still there, but entering the last few decades of their existence.

The ruler of Rome is no longer a Roman, but instead a barbarian King named Theodoric.

Theodoric was the King of the Ostrogoths, a Germanic tribe which had been previously settled in Pannonia on the banks of the Danube River. Always in search of land, they had then moved downriver into the Balkans.

From their settlements deep in Lower Moesia, the Ostrogoths had been pillaging the Eastern Roman Empire, even threatening the capital of Constantinople itself.

In order to protect his lands, the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno urged Theodoric to instead turn his wrath towards Italy.

There the ruler was Odoacer, the Germanic chieftain and King who had overthrown the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus. Thus he had ended the Empire in the West for all eternity.

Theodoric sent all his forces into battle and defeated Odoacer, founding an Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy. Rome became just another city in his kingdom.

It is 523 AD, and a man is sitting in a darkly-lit cell, awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit. He was falsely accused and brought down by dishonest men who coveted his position.

The man, in his mid-40s, takes up a pen and starts writing. One question bothers him: How is it that in a supposedly just world, good men suffer bad things, while evil men often triumph?

Boethius, or in his full name Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, was born into an ancient Roman noble family. Among his ancestors he could count Roman emperors, consuls and senators. He was a senator himself, who rose to become a consul, and later a high-ranking official in the court of Theodoric.

Boethius had jumped to the aid of a friend who was falsely accused of treason against Theodoric and for that had been in turn accused of treason himself. His enemies brought out false witnesses against him and he was thrown in jail.

Being a man of learning, Boethius used the time during which he was locked up for productive purposes. As a scholar of ancient philosophy, he used his knowledge to draft a manuscript which in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance would become one of the most influential works of Late Antiquity. It is called “The Consolation of Philosophy”.

It was a dark time in the man’s life, knowing that his days were numbered and he was about to die. This was made even more difficult by the fact that this situation was not of his doing. He had tried to be a good and honest man, but shady and dishonest men brought him down.

An honest man was about to be executed based on false accusations, while crooked men were enjoying riches and privilege. This state of affairs caused him to lose sleep. How could this be in a world supposedly ruled by a just God?

This is the question that many people have asked themselves throughout history and continue asking themselves now. Why do good people get punished and bad people rewarded?
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Live Your Legend: One Moment You Are Here, The Other You Are Gone

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Your place in this world is not eternal. Your clock is ticking away and it has been ticking ever since you were born.

You never know when this clock will stop ticking, when the countdown will reach zero. Have you been living life the way you wanted to live it? When your moment in this world is up, will you leave a legacy?

I originally did not want to write a post like this. One recent event however shocked me, and made me reflect on life.

About two weeks ago, I had returned from Tanzania. It was one of the greatest adventures of my life. Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro was something that stretched my limits and shattered the mental boundaries that I previously had. I had also visited the Serengeti, which made me see the grandeur of nature and experience the wild in its raw, naked form.

A few days after having returned, I was back in my ways and my usual routine of work and home. Browsing the net, I stumbled across a blog called “Live Your Legend” run by Scott Dinsmore.

Scott had created a blog many years ago, but it didn’t take off right away. For close to four years, he saw almost no outside traffic and got zero revenue from it. However one day, that all changed and his blog really exploded. Suddenly, Scott could live the life he always wanted, travelling the world and challenging himself.

This energized him and he channelled this energy into trying to inspire people to live their life according to their dreams, to live their passion.

I returned to his blog a few days later and found his latest post. It was about him traveling to Tanzania to go climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and see the Serengeti.

It got me excited. It was exactly the same trip I had just returned from. My memories of it were still really fresh and had left a lingering positive feeling in my head. I wrote a long comment on that post and left. I thougth nothing of it.

I decided to check back on Scott’s blog again two days ago. I was hoping to see a new post detailing all of his adventures in Tanzania. My trip had mesmerized me and I am sure it would do the same thing to other people.

What I felt was utter shock when I read the comments people were leaving: “RIP”. Unfortunately, the post that Scott left about his plans to go to Kilimanjaro was to be his last ever. He died in an accident trying to ascend the mountain.

I am still feeling the same shock right now. I never knew the guy and only discovered his blog very recently. Yet there was a sense of connection that I felt. He was the same age as I am. And his death happened at the same place that I had been at just a few days ago.

What made it more personal is that I had made a comment on his post just a few days before this tragedy. All sorts of thoughts started rushing into my mind.

It made me reflect on how fleeting life really is. You are here one day, and the next you are gone. One moment you are full of life and a second later it is all over.
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The Ten Thousand: A Story Of Courage And Determination

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They had been marching for days, and their bodies were tired and hungry. Thousands of miles from home, in a country unfamiliar to them, betrayed by their friends, their commanders murdered, a sense of hopelessness began to descend upon them. Their thoughts were increasingly being haunted by doubt. Were they going to see their families and their home country ever again?

It was dark and it was cold. Many of the men did not have a fire to warm themselves up with. Several of them did not even make it to camp, instead sleeping wherever they could. Deep sleep was out of the question, for the enemy was near and could strike at any time.

However they were not done for. This bleak moment was also the start of an amazing journey that went down in history, their tale a lesson in the strength of character that has been retold countless times ever since. These were the famous Ten Thousand and their story was made immortal in the “Anabasis”.

These men originated from many of the city states and regions of Ancient Greece. They were from Athens and Sparta, Megara, Arcadia, Crete, Thessaly, even Syracuse in Sicily. What brought them together was their skill in warfare and the need to earn a paycheck.

They were mercenaries, but also bound by honor: to their homeland, to their employer and to each other. They were recruited by Cyrus the Younger, a Persian prince who wanted to overthrow his brother Artaxerxes II and become the King of Persia, thus rule over the biggest empire in the world at that time.

When they had gathered together for the first time, they were not disclosed the true purpose of their journey. They were marched deep into Syria and only there were they told their true mission. Only then did they realize that they were to aid Cyrus to overthrow his brother.

They understood this challenge and accepted it. The Greeks continued on and marched into Mesopotamia in order to confront the armies of Artaxerxes. Finally, they met his forces at the Battle of Cunaxa.

The battle did not last long. The Ten Thousand crushed the troops of Artaxerxes while suffering minimal loses themselves, but the victory came to nothing.

Cyrus the Younger was killed in battle as he tried to charge against his brother’s position. Undefeated in battle, but losing their employer, the Greek mercenaries did not know what to do. They offered to make their Persian ally, Ariaeus, the new King, but he refused.

They tried to negotiate with Tissapharnes, the leading satrap of Artaxerxes, but he told them that they needed to lay down their arms. This they refused.

Tissapharnes was a cunning fellow and he managed to win Ariaeus over to his side. The Greeks had no Persian allies left. They were still a force to be reckoned with and the Persians knew that they needed to negotiate.

Deep into the negotiations, the Greek commanders were invited to a feast thrown by Tissapharnes. Trusting that their host would be bound by honor and the sacred rights of the guest, they accepted.

A delegation consisting of most of the leading commanders and their guards came over to the camp of Tissapharnes late in the evening, thinking that they were going to discuss a deal between the two sides. Instead, the leading generals were taken prisoner and later beheaded, while the remainder of the delegation was slaughtered on the spot.

This left the rest of the Ten Thousand without commanders.
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Sharpen Your Wit: Tips On Humor From The Ancient Romans

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Humor is a powerful thing. The person who wields it can change the moods of the people around him just by using a simple word or phrase. Humor can serve as a tremendous weapon, one that can circumvent the outer defenses of others and capture hearts and minds.

It has the ability to speak to people’s inner emotions and provoke a physical reaction. This reaction is called laughter. The Ancients recognized the power that humor has and used it to their advantage.

Catulus, a Roman prosecutor was once challenged by one of his opponents:

Why are you barking, catule?

Because I see a thief!” retorted Catulus.

This exchange became the stuff of legend. It was recounted at gatherings of the Roman elite and the story, even though retold a thousand times over and over again, could always amuse. Roman philosophers, orators and historians would keep on writing about this story for hundreds of years after it had happened.

How does it strike you today? Did you laugh at that joke? Probably not. Did you find the exchange witty? Maybe or maybe not. Some of you might have let out a chuckle, but most of you probably read it in dead silence, not understanding the context. Yet the Ancient Romans found the above story extremely funny!

You either get a joke or you don’t. However since we are going to be discussing humor and what makes things funny, I will try to decompose the jokes in order to further the analysis. The best way to kill a joke is to explain its meaning, but that is precisely what we will have to do in order to arrive at a set of greater principles. 🙂

These principles can then guide you to become funnier yourself and also to be able to use humor in different contexts. For this, we can use the wisdom of the Ancient Romans to guide us in turn.

Those of you who let out a chuckle, might have visualized an image of a dog barking due to the use of the word “bark” and that of a thief due to Catulus replying “because I see a thief“. Even in our days, dogs guard houses against thieves and this is a common association that we have. You let out a chuckle because you probably had a previous association of dogs and thieves and something funny that happened whether due to you owning a dog or maybe seeing something on TV.

Oftentimes humor works on associations. A joke can reawaken a funny memory that people have stored deep in their brains. So people who in their past might have heard a joke about dogs or had experienced a funny event involving puppies put this event into their long-term memory.

Upon hearing the word “barking”, this memory was accessed and associated with the current joke, prompting laughter. This is the associative part of humor. If you can relate a joke to someone else’s experiences, that makes the joke funnier for the other person.

However there is further context for the story that you are missing. The name “Catulus” actually means the word “puppy” in Latin and the word “catule” that was used by the guy taking a swipe at Catulus can be translated as “puppy dog”. The opponent basically used a clever play on words that was meant to belittle Catulus in front of the audience, using his name as the basis.

It backfired, as Catulus, with his quick wit used that jibe and threw it back at him with the reply that he sees a thief. We have to remember that this was done in the context of a trial and Catulus was the prosecutor trying to land a guy suspected of stealing in jail.

In fact, he used that attempt at aggressive humor by his opponent to strengthen his case by coming up with a witty reply. Now can you see why some Romans, especially from the elites, could have found it funny?

Humor and finding something funny is very subjective. Humor can be:

1) situational
A certain joke might be funny in one situation, while not funny in another one. You would not be telling the same joke at a wedding and a funeral for example.

2) personal
Jokes can vary and whether they are funny can heavily depend on the person. One person might find the joke hilarious, while another will not. This can depend on the person’s background, their history, their personal opinions and many other personal factors.

3) cultural
Jokes can also be very cultural. You need to understand the cultural context in them in order to find the humor. A lot of jokes depend on the subtleties of the language they are said in, or might be a reference to some particular book, regional stereotype or incident that you might not always be aware of, if you are not from that particular country or region.

The exchange between Catulus and his opponent is funny because it happened in the context of a trial. So in that situation it left the entire court room laughing. It might not have had the same effect if it had happened while the guys were having a picnic.

There was also a strong personal factor. The incident was discussed by friends of Catulus and fellow lawyers and orators. For them, this was a prime example of wit. The guy on trial probably did not find it that funny. 🙂

The joke has a big cultural element as well, as the primary tactic of the opponent was to use a play on words based on the fact that the word “catulus” means puppy in Latin. This is a very language specific thing. For someone who speaks English or any other language, this association between the name and a puppy dog are not clear.

After this brief introduction into the world of Roman humor and witticism, we will try to dig deeper into what makes things funny and how to be funny. We will use some tips and advice from the Romans themselves in order to do that.

Catulus himself can serve as an inspiration for you. Because of his quick wit and humor skills, he was able to fend off an opponent’s attempt at humor and ridicule and actually strengthen his own case. At the end of this article, you too will have the tools necessary to do what Catulus did in whatever situation you may find yourself.

While the Ancient Romans lived two thousand years ago, their works keep on having a profound effect on our world even today. There are amazing parallels between their world and our world. They were an inquisitive and eloquent people and had the amazing ability to grasp at problems and come up with solutions. Many of their ideas are still as pertinent and applicable today as they were millennia ago.

Actually the Ancient Romans also had a wicked (sometimes very perverted) sense of humor! 🙂 🙂

Just take a look at some of the graffiti that was found in the ruins of Ancient Pompeii:

Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!

Restitutus says: “Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy privates”.

Satura was here on September 3rd.

I screwed the barmaid.

The one who buggers a fire burns his penis.

Palmyra. The thirst quencher.”

Lesbianus, you defecate and you write, ‘Hello, everyone!’

Secundus likes to screw boys.

Theophilus, don’t perform oral sex on girls against the city wall like a dog.

written three times:
Secundus defecated here
Secundus defecated here
Secundus defecated here

Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here. The women did not know of his presence. Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.

LOL 🙂

Those silly Romans! 🙂
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The Original PUA: Learn To Pick Up Chicks The Way The Ancient Romans Did

486px-Roman_mosaic-_Love_Scene_-_Centocelle_-_Rome_-_KHM_-_Vienna

Way before Mystery, Style and Tyler Durden, even millenia before Don Juan and Casanova, there was Ovid and his “Ars Amatoria”, which could be translated into English as “The Art of Love”. This was the premier textbook of Ancient Rome on how to pick up women.

It’s jam packed with such golden nuggets of wisdom as: “take care that your breath is sweet, and don’t go about reeking like a billy-goat” and “Don’t judge a woman by candle-light, it’s deceptive.

The manual consists of 3 books, the first dealing with how to pick up a chick, the second deals with how to keep a chick, while the third one reverses the tables a bit and gives tips to women on how to seduce guys. Even though the third book is meant as a guide for chicks, it can also give guys a pretty good idea on the different tricks that women use to play with guys.

The 3 book manual proved so popular that Ovid even wrote a sequel to it, titled “Remedia Amoris” or in English translation “The Cure for Love”. The sequel gives strategies and advice on how to fall out of love and avoid being hurt by a broken heart, which can be applied in different types of situations, whether in a divorce or in trying to forget a oneitis.

It turns out that Roman guys were quite horny and Roman women were huge promiscuous teases, so the books addressed a huge hole on the market and proved to be a bestseller. Guys have been hungry for the latest, greatest tools in the arsenal since time immemorial and handwritten copies of “Ars Amatoria” were being snapped up faster than hot cakes.

Finally, guys who didn’t have the muscles and fame of Hercules, the sex appeal of a gladiator, or the riches and power of the Roman Emperors could get their share of the fun. The manual was meant for the average guy on the street and the tips were practical and to the point. 🙂

On a more serious note, the books also caused quite a controversy in Roman circles. While they were popular, they also precipitated a bit of an outrage in the more conservative parts of society. Emperor Augustus was in the midst of a campaign to try to uphold the morals of Roman society and a few years before the publishing of the “Ars Amatoria”, he had promulgated a set of laws meant to strengthen families, outlaw polygamy and punish adultery.

While written in a fun, light-hearted way, Ovid’s books also had an underlying political message and were also meant as a protest against this official uptightedness in the matters of love and family.

This slight poking fun of society can exemplify the internal character of Ovid himself. He came from the upper segments of Roman society and was originally destined for the path of a public official, but instead rebelled a bit and became a poet. He was also quite the ladies man and was married and divorced three times by the time he was thirty.

Written in a poetic style (elegiac couplets), the “Ars Amatoria” (completed by 2 AD) was just one of his works. Ovid was a prolific writer and poet, with the most famous work being called “Metamorphoses”. This is a huge book also written in poetic style and describes the most important stories of Greek and Roman mythology, spanning a long timeline from the creation of the Earth by the Gods to the times of Gaius Julius Caesar.

In 8 AD, Ovid was exiled to Tomis, a city on the Black Sea, which is now the modern city of Constanta in Romania. This was done on the direct orders of Emperor Augustus. According to Ovid, it was due to “a poem and a mistake”. It has been speculated that this poem could have been the “Ars Amatoria”, however the most likely explanation was that he was involved in some political intrigue against the Emperor and that was the main reason why he was exiled.

So let’s examine the timeless wisdom ( 🙂 ) of Ovid (the ultimate Roman PUA) in the matters of picking up chicks. Maybe you too can learn something. 🙂

Ovid compared the art of seducing a woman as being akin to war and listed the different steps that need to be taken: “You, who for the first time are taking up arms beneath the standard of Venus, find out, in the first place, the woman you are fain to love. Your next task will be to bend her to your will; your third to safeguard that your love shall endure. This is my plan, my syllabus. This is the course my chariot will pursue; such is the goal that it will endeavour to attain.

Here are the different phases of seducing a woman (taken from various parts of the manual):
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