Why did Marcus Aurelius write his Meditations? It wasn’t for an audience. It wasn’t simply to practice his Greek or his rhetorical abilities—he was already good at all those things. The book lacks an author’s note and he never seemed to have told anyone about his intentions, so we can’t know for sure.
But there are two clues that, when put together, provide an answer as good as any. Have you noticed how much of Meditations is about other people? The opening, “Debts and Lessons,” makes up nearly ten percent of the book. Almost every other page has at least one quote or one story or one mention of a story about somebody else.
So when we come across this passage in Book 6, it all suddenly makes sense:
“When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that one’s modesty, another’s generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us, when we’re practically showered with them. It’s good to keep this in mind.”
Marcus was writing to encourage himself! He was thinking of the qualities of the people around him. He was showering himself in their virtues so that he might be improved by the association. And as far as we can tell, it worked. Because he was a good man, despite facing incredible temptations and pressures.