cover image Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Donald J. Robertson and Zé Nuno Fraga. St. Martin’s, $32.50 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-27095-5

Psychotherapist Robertson (How to Think Like a Roman Emperor) overpacks this graphic history of Marcus Aurelius (121–180 CE). Marcus, renamed Verissimus (the most truthful) for his willingness to contradict a volatile Emperor Hadrian, grows up with a series of philosophical tutors. Disjointed scenes show Marcus grappling with stoicism to reign in his temper during his early adulthood as he is adopted by Hadrian, then as he marries and fathers multiple children. Pell-mell personal biography gives way to a swirl of battle scenes, political maneuvering, and a deadly plague that follows Marcus’s ascension to emperor, but with scant framing details. Ruthlessly cruel general Avidius Cassius, whose own military career is told in scenes that interrupt the main flow, sparks a civil war, hoping to take advantage of a moment of Marcus in seeming physical decline. Robertson blends philosophical instruction with crises in Marcus’s leadership (though some episodes, such as the cult of Glykon or the discovery of a dinosaur fossil, veer tangentially). Fraga’s art is painterly but wrought with melodramatic expressions and gruesome tableaus, while showing an impressive ability to create images for the sometimes heady philosophical scenes. There’s an ambitious attempt here at marrying biography, war history, and philosophical treatise, but somehow none get quite enough space to develop fully. Those new to Roman history are likely to get lost. (June)