Capitoline Hill, aka Campidoglio, is one of Rome’s seven hills. The pagan temples that once adorned it have been replaced with the Capitoline museums and the seat of Rome’s city government.
In the middle of Piazza del Campidoglio designed by Michelangelo is an equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. Leaders were often shown on horseback to indicate that they were victorious and all-conquering. Many bronze equestrian statues were eventually melted down to make coins and church bells. But the statue of Marcus survived thanks to its misidentification. For a long time it was believed to be the statue of Constantine the Great who, although an active pagan for much of his life, converted to Christianity for political reasons.
Marcus Aurelius is shown with his arm extended in an adlocutio gesture, that is, a gesture used by a general to salute his army. This gesture was later appropriated by Mussolini and his fascists as Benito’s greatest dream was that of creating a Roman Empire Revival, a plan he was unable to carry out thanks to his involvement with Hitler.
The poet Trilussa, popular in Rome during fascism, ironizes in his sonnet “Er salute romano” that the Roman salute is more hygienic than is the traditional handshake. However, despite preoccupation with coronavirus contagion, it’s not likely that that the Roman salute will be reintroduced as, in 1952, it was outlawed because of its fascist past.
Marcus Aurelius, a Taurus, was known as the philosopher emperor. A devout Stoic, he is known for Meditations, a written collection of his thoughts. Many Stoics had the habit of keeping hypomnemata, that is, personal notes taken on a day to day basis. In some ways, writing was seen as a spiritual practice as it helped one better examine personal behavior. So every evening Marcus Aurelius wrote notes to himself regarding the events of the day. He wanted to make sure that he was living his life according to his principles and personal vision of the world.
Ideals give you a direction. Without them, it’s easy to get lost.
There’s nothing I can say about Marcus Aurelius that’s better than his own words:
The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.
Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.
No one can implicate me in their ugliness.
It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinions than our own.
You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.
Remember that very little is needed to make a happy life.