April 26 was the birth date of both Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor (who was born in 121 and died in 180 AD) and Eugène Delacroix, French Romantic artist (who was born in 1798 and died in 1863)
In his 1844 painting “The Last Words of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius”, Delacroix represented the emperor as an old, sick man lying on his death bed surrounded by his friends, sad men dressed in black. The emperor is seizing the arm of his son Commodus, dressed in bright red, but the young man does not seem to pay great attention to his words.
We don’t know exactly what his last words were but, according to a contemporary observer, senator and historian Cassius Dio, they were said to the military tribune who had asked for the watchword: ‘Look to the rising sun; for I am already setting’.
His son Commodus was the first individual to be “born in the purple”, since Titus had succeeded Vespasian in 79 AD, which means that he was a member of a royal family born while his father was on the throne.
Commodus’ disastrous reign was marked by almost continuous warfare and ended the golden period of the so-called “five good emperors” (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius).
According to Dio Cassius, his accession to the throne marked the descent “from a kingdom of gold to one of rust and iron”, as he ruled only by terror and cruelty, contrary to his father’s hopes.
Marcus Aurelius’ teachings can be found in his “Meditations”, a sort of spiritual diary written as he was trying to understand himself and to make sense of the universe.
“Do not act as if you had ten thousand years to live Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”
(“Non vivere come se avessi diecimila anni da vivere. Il fato incombe su di te. Finché vivi, finché ti è possibile, sii buono.”)