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The Inner Citadel

book summary

This was an interesting book to read and it's on my re-read list.

It's a book that analyses one of the core teachers of Stoicism, Marcus Aurelius and his journals, that are titled "Meditations". Marcus used journaling in order to influence and transform himself. He was aware that he hadn't attained wisdom yet and used writing in order to do so.

As he wrote the Meditations, Marcus was thus practicing Stoic spiritual exercises. He was using writing as a technique or procedure in order to influence himself, and to transform his inner discourse by meditating on the Stoic dogmas and rules of life. This was an exercise of writing day by day, ever-renewed, always taken up again and always needing to be taken up again, since the true philosopher is he who is conscious of not yet having attained wisdom."

…as in Plato’s Symposium, there are two categories of people within the state of unwisdom itself those: non-sages who are not conscious of their state —these are the foolish ones — and those non-sages who are aware of their state, and who attempt to progress toward inaccessible wisdom. Those in the latter category are philosophers.

On frankness

Whoever tries to control himself, to practice spiritual exercises, to transform himself, and to act with conscientiousness and reflection gives the impression of lacking spontaneity and of being calculating.

Frankness, says Marcus, is written on one’s face; it resonates in the voice and shines in the eyes. It is perceived immediately, as the beloved perceives love in the eyes of his lover. Good, simple, and benevolent people have their qualities in their eyes: they do not remain hidden.

Are there no risks of being frank all the time? It seems naive to think that being completely frank with everyone all the time wouldn’t lead to trouble.

The solitude of the emperor and of the philosopher

Leading a philosophical life creates disparity between your values and those of other people, since other people don’t have such affirmations, which leads to alienation.

Live as if you were on a mountain. It doesn’t matter whether one lives in one place or another, as long as one lives everywhere as within one’s own City, which is the World.

Grow on the same trunk, but don’t profess the same principles.

These two duties are hard to reconcile: on the one hand, our duty to love other human beings, with whom we form one single body, tree, or city; on the other, our duty not to let ourselves be cajoled into adopting their false values and maxims of life.

The main cause of Marcus’ lassitude, however, was his passionate love for moral good. A world in which this absolute value was not recognized seemed to him an empty world, in which life no longer had any mean­ ing. As he grew old in such an enormous empire, in the huge crowds which surrounded and acclaimed him, in the atrocious Danubian war as well as in the triumphal parades of the city of Rome, he felt himself alone. Marcus felt a void around himself, since he could not realize his ideal: to live in community with others, in search of the only thing necessary.

Marcus was in pursuit of the only good — the moral good, and that was the most important thing for him. That alienated him from others.

This is the drama of Marcus’ life. He loves mankind, and wants to love them; but he hates what they love. Only one thing counts for him: the search for virtue and the purity of moral intention. This human world­ from which this unique value is absent-provokes in Marcus an intense reprobation and lassitude; yet he gets hold of himself, and attempts to reintroduce gentleness and indulgence within himself.

And yet the philosopher’s inner retreat, which is his philosophical life in conformity with Stoicism, will provoke another solitude and rupture between the flock and its shepherd: a serious disparity between the values of both parties.

Maybe the lesson here is to ask ourselves how high ideals we have, since having ideals that are too high can lead to alienation.

Political Models

His adoptive father was a great role model for him. One of his last words were Aequanimitas or “Serenity”. That made an impact on Marcus.

He also acted to ordinary citizens as though they lived in a free society. One of his guiding principles was “don’t wait for the Plato’s republic” which means don't let yourself be carried away by vast utopian views. He wanted everyone to understand that it's better to concentrate on present political and moral action, however modest it may be.

Plato’s republic referred to a state in which all the citizens would have become philosophers, in this case, and therefore perfect.

Unless it transforms people completely, politics can never be anything other than a compromise with evil.


Author claims that “What one does matters less than the way in which one does it.” I disagree. I think what one does matters as much as the way in which one does it.

As author has noted, it's interesting to think about the reasons why "Meditations" has survived for such a long time.

A good saying is too hard for the teeth of time, and all the millennia are not enough to consume it, although it serves as food for every epoch.”

— Nietzsche

Stoicism is the origin of the modern notion of “human rights”.

Man is a sacred thing for man.

— Seneca

One must admit that there are few hesitations, fumblings, or search­ ings in these exercises which follow a canvas that Stoic philosophy and Epictetus have drawn in advance with precision. The personal effort appears rather in the repetitions, the multiple variations developed around the same theme, and the stylistic effort as well, which always seeks for a striking, effective formula. Nevertheless, we feel a highly particular emotion when we enter, as it were, into the spiritual intimacy of a soul's secrets, and are thus directly associated with the efforts of a man who, fascinated by the only thing necessary-the absolute value of moral good-is trying to do what, in the last analysis, we are all trying to do: to live in complete consciousness and lucidity; to give each of our instants its fullest intensity; and to give meaning to our entire life. Marcus is talking to himself, but we get the impression that he is talking to each one of us.

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