“After discovering the Stoics, I joked to myself that I don’t need to read Heidgger and Freud and books on Buddhism anymore; I can just read Seneca and that’s it.”
With Marcus Aurelius: The Stoic Emperor (Yale University Press), author & therapist Donald J. Robertson brings us the life and philosophy of the last of the Five Good Emperors. We talk about how knowing the life and travails of Marcus Aurelius helps one understand how to lead a Stoic life, how the Roman Empire’s Antonine Plague compares with our life in Pandemia, and how this book brought him new understanding of the intricacies of Ancient Roman life and Marcus Aurelius’ big decisions. We also get into the role of Stoicism in his own life and how that philosophy’s been debased into the unhealthy “lower-case stoicism”, the literal toxicity of being a tough guy, how Stoicism and its nuanced view of emotions inspired modern Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, why the psychotherapy field is resistant to acknowledging that contribution, and why Freudians really disapprove (think symptom substitution). We discuss the importance of building emotional resilience and understanding one’s value judgements, Robert Burns’ role as a gateway drug to Stoicism, the alternate history in which Socrates was part of Christian tradition, Donald’s Eureka! moment and how he accidentally became a writer, how Wilko Johnson can help me live a fuller mortal life, and a lot more. Give it a listen! And go read Marcus Aurelius: The Stoic Emperor!
“What the Stoics are really interested in are our value judgements, from moment to moment.”
“One of the big challenges of writing biography is to get beyond the abstract, copying words from ancient texts, and really trying to imagine yourself in the situation: the sounds, smells, experiences.”
“I couldn’t find anyone to advise my Ph.D. thesis, so I decided I’d just write a book about it. And that was how I became a writer: out of frustration.”
“I know there are people who’ve written books on ‘stoicism’ who’ve never actually read the Stoics.”
About our Guest
Donald J. Robertson, a cognitive-behavior psychotherapist and writer, is a founding member of the organization Modern Stoicism and the president and founder of the Plato’s Academy Centre nonprofit. He is the author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, Verissimus, a graphic biography of Marcus Aurelius, and Stoicism and the Art of Happiness. He lives in Canada and Greece.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded remotely via Zencastr. I used a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photo of Donald by someone else. It’s on my instagram.