Nobody cared more about statues than the Greeks and the Romans. In fact, the only reason we know what many of the Stoics looked like is because they were preserved in marble by sculptors many thousands of years ago. It wasn’t just philosophers who knew the value of statues. Leaders put up statues in nearly every important place within the realms that they ruled so that we might look upon and be inspired by the deeds and the principles of the great men and women they honored.
In 175 AD, Marcus Aurelius was honored with the creation of a bronze statue depicting him atop a horse addressing his troops, perhaps following some great victory on the battlefield. It was placed in the heart of Rome on the Capitoline Hill. Bronze equestrian statues like this one were commonly created to laud the most notable Romans, yet this is the only statue of a pre-Christian emperor to survive to the modern era. While dozens of other statues were being melted down to make coins or destroyed by revolutionaries, this statue remained on display, through the centuries. In fact, it was Michelangelo who, at the height of his powers as an artist, designed a new base for it in the Piazza del Campidoglio, where it stands to this day.
And we are all the better for it. Because each generation needs guidance. We need to be called to honor the greatness of our past, or in the case of some monuments, reminded of the failures and mistakes that humanity has made. We need to see—in tangible form—the principles that we as a people hold dear, that we aspire to mirror in our own lives
In 1863, the English writer Matthew Arnold wrote about why the endurance of the symbols of Marcus Aurelius are so important, and what a grand tradition it remains.
Long after his death, his bust was to be seen in the houses of private men through the wide Roman empire. It may be the vulgar part of human nature which busies itself with the semblance and doings of living sovereigns, it is its nobler part which busies itself with those of the dead; these busts of Marcus Aurelius, in the homes of Gaul, Britain and Italy, bear witness, not to the intimates' frivolous curiosity about princes and palaces, but to their reverential memory of the passage of a great man upon the earth.
A nation—an era—is judged by the monuments it erects just as a home is judged by the mementos and family artifacts hung on its walls and displayed on its shelves. So that’s the question for the world and for you as an individual today: What statues are you putting up? Who are you honoring? Whose presence is inspiring you to follow in their example? What is calling you to be the person you know you can be?
We’ve just released our newest Daily Stoic creation to help you keep in mind the example of Marcus Aurelius: a limited edition bust, modeled after the that inspired The Obstacle is the Way. This hand-sculpted bust is individually hand-numbered with a beautiful verdigris finish. It’s mounted on a black marble base and comes wrapped in a green velour pouch along with a signed certificate of authenticity. We’ve only had the sculptor produce a limited quantity from his original clay model, so if you’re interested, the time is now to check it out at DailyStoic.com/Statue, where we’ve included a great video showing how the bust was made. We also conducted an interview with the bust’s sculptor, E. S. Schubert. Not only is Schubert an amazing sculptor who has crafted statues for cities and stadiums, he is also a passionate student of Stoicism.