Stoicism is sexy. All you need to do is look at the huge rise in Stoic content that people are consuming and that’s been popularised by the likes of Ryan Holiday and other authors who’re bringing the philosophy down to earth.
It’s little wonder a philosophy that has been described as austere and confused with being emotionless has found its sex appeal. I’m all for keeping this momentum going and making Stoicism more accessible to younger generations.
Donald Robertson’s Verissimus graphic novel could be a perfect Stoic entry point for Gen Z readers and younger. Focusing on the life of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Verissimus is a sweeping epic of man putting his philosophy into action and has great relevance today.
Philosophy as a way of life
Like many people, I was first introduced to Marcus Aurelius by reading his Meditations and to get an insight into his personal thoughts was profound. With Verrisimus, Robertson and artist Ze Nuno Fraga bring the Roman Emperor back to life in stunning detail and show Marcus putting what he wrote in The Meditations into action.
Robertson weaves in many passages from The Meditations and shows how Marcus would have come to these conclusions day-to-day. Great examples include Marcus lamenting on the death of his beloved philosophy teacher Junius Rusticus and starting to journal his thoughts as a way to teach himself to be a better person.
Another example is the emperor expressing his short temper again and again and internal dialogue reflecting Stoic techniques like The View From Above to regulate his emotions.
The graphic novel is filled with many instances of theory being put into practice. It’s a story that shows the full life of a boy who was raised to understand what true virtue and good character meant from his guardians, who was appointed many teachers in his youth and who carried those lessons with him into adulthood and old age to create a Roman Empire he could be proud of.
Robertson’s Marcus Aurelius is a complicated man. Someone who strives to be good and is constantly thrown into situations that require him to make difficult choices on his road to becoming the most powerful man in the world.
The world of Verrisimus is painted with a rich tapestry of supporting characters who have their own motivations and opinions of the emperor. Marcus’ interactions with his wife Faustina, his teacher Rusticus, his brother Lucius Verus and his frenemy Avidius Cassius are all strong points of the graphic novel.
Each relationship strikes different tones and highlights different sides of the man who was nicknamed the most truthful by Emperor Hadrian.
With Faustina, Marcus is loving, uncertain, afraid and strong. Around Rusticus, the emperor is impetuous, reflective and kind-hearted. In the company of his brother, Marcus is fatherly, steadfast, compassionate and impatience. In his interactions with Cassius, Marcus is magnanimous, pragmatic, tolerant and forgiving.
Vivid art tells a wonderful story
Alongside great characterisation and writing, Verrisimus isn’t short of striking art. Fraga’s art may not be for everyone but it’s something you can’t ignore. There’s a tremendous amount of detail in every panel and the historical elements of the Ancient Roman setting are brought to life with authenticity.
Fraga’s dreamscape and mythological pieces rank among my favourite art in the graphic novel. There are several depictions of horror, mystery and heroism. A few of the most graphic scenes include a slave being devoured in a pool of lamprey eels, serpents appearing from the womb of Faustina in a premonition of the birth of Commodus and more.
Another vivid scene details the famous tale called The Choice Of Hercules, where the mythical hero comes to a crossroads and is tempted by two goddesses of virtue and vice. Fraga plays up the fantastical with bright and dark colours, conjuring emotions of hope, beauty, dread and fear depending on the situation.
Whether you’re a comic reader or not, practising Stoic or have no interest in philosophy at all, Verrisimus has something for everyone.
It’s exactly like The Meditations in having universal themes that everyone can connect to and has all the potential for inspiring a new generation of philosophy enthusiasts.