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Read our Graphic Novel: Verissimus
Take a look at these stunning illustrations from our book about Marcus Aurelius
Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius is a full-color graphic novel about the life and philosophy of the Stoic Roman emperor, published by St. Martin’s Press. The book was chosen as an Amazon editor’s pick for Best History Book, where it has earned 4.8 stars on average from reviewers. (It’s become a popular gift — check Amazon and other retailers now for special offers!) Verissimus has also been reviewed over by hundreds of readers on Goodreads. Below you can see a sample of the artwork, by award-winning Portuguese illustrator, Ze Nuno Frage, and read the whole section relating the legendary story that first inspired Stoic philosophers! Please let us know what you think in the comments. Thanks for reading!
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The Choice of Hercules
This excerpt from chapter four depicts a story within a story. The Stoic philosopher, Apollonius of Chalcedon is delivering a lecture attended by the young Caesar Marcus Aurelius. He relates the famous allegorical story, known today as the Choice of Hercules. We’re told that it was reading this story that inspired Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, to become a philosopher. It’s an example of protreptic, or an exhortation to follow a life of virtue, rather than hedonism. Zeno read the version in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, which claims to record Socrates telling the story, based on the original speech composed by his friend, the Sophist Prodicus. (NB: These graphics are best viewed on Substack via the web.)
1. When Hercules was a young man, on the verge of adulthood, he sat down in a quiet spot to ponder his life. After being lost in thought for a while, he looked up and noticed to beautiful goddesses approaching.
2. One dressed modestly, in a white robe, but she had natural beauty and most noble bearing. The other had a more alluring appearance and dressed in revealing clothing. She kept checking herself in a mirror and trying to capture the youth’s attention.
Apollonius: “As they began to draw closer, she rushed ahead of her modest companion to introduce herself first. Slyly, she told him that her name was Happiness or Eudaimonia… though it was not.”
3. Kakia: “Hercules, I notice you’re unable to decide which path to follow. Take me as your guide. I will lead you down the easiest and most pleasant road. You’ll live in luxury, never encountering hardship… no responsibilities, never called to war. You’ll spend your time deciding what food or drink to savor next, and which lovers please you the most. All this can be yours from the labor of other men. Without lifting a finger, you’ll live free from any trouble or hardship.”
4. Arete: “I too am here to counsel you, Hercules. Having studied your character from afar, I am certain that by following my path you will become a great hero. However, rather than make false promises of future pleasures, I will tell you the truth ordained by the gods… Nothing truly good and admirable can ever belong to men without effort on their part. If you want to be loved by your friends, for example, you must be kind to them. To be honored by great cities, you must help their citizens. To be admired throughout the world, you must benefit all of mankind.”
5. Arete: “If you want your land to produce abundant crops, the secret is to farm it patiently. If you hope to make money from livestock, you must take good care of them. If you would defeat enemies in battle and liberate captured allies, you must study the art of war. If you wish to be physically strong, you must train your body through hard work and sweat.”
6. Kakia: “No, Hercules! Listen to me for I will put you on the short and easy route to happiness!”
Arete: “What good or happiness can you possibly offer him, poor woman — you who refuse to work for either? You cannot even wait for pleasures. You stuff yourself with treats before you even want them, eating before you are hungry and drinking before you are thirsty.”
7. Arete: “Your devotees must continually invent more elaborate recipes and purchase more expensive wines in an effort to stimulate their ruined appetites. They provide themselves with the softest beds and blankets just to get a night’s sleep — for it’s not hard work that drives them to their beds but boredom. This is the ‘good life’ you offer your followers? You would call yourself ‘Happiness’ but are, in fact, the unhappiest of creatures?”
8. Arete: “Although an immortal, you are looked down upon by every other god and by every man possessed of wisdom. You have denied yourself the sweetest of all sounds, praise from the lips of the good, and the sweetest of sights, for you can never picture any act of yours meriting admiration. I keep the company of both gods and heroes for no noble action is done without my presence. Hercules, if you work hard in the way I have described, you will possess true happiness rather than merely its shadow.”
Apollonius: “Hercules, of course, chose the path of Arete, the goddess of Virtue. He came to realize that the other, who dared call herself Happiness or Eudaimonia, actually bore the name Kakia or Vice.”
Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius is available from all good bookstores, including Amazon and other online retailers.