Stoic History

Mainly based on info from “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” – William B. Irvine

The First Stoics

  • Zeno – (333-261 BC) = the first Stoic

  • started as a Cynic
    • “same” as today’s homeless
    • Antisthenes
      • pay attention to your enemies, for they are the first to discover your mistakes
    • the Cynics were renowned for their wit and wisdom
    • Diogenes (pupil of Antithenes) – the most famous Cynic
      • Bad man obey their lusts as servants obey their masters.
      • because they cannot control their desires, they can never find contentment
    • lived on the streets of Athens.. same as Sokrates
    • constantly pushing their philosophy on other people
  • found to be more interested in theory than the cynics.. hence .. a combination & lifestyle & theory
    • as Socrates had done
  • Zeno’s school of philosophy enjoyed immediate success
    • his followers became known as Zenonians first… but.. because he gave lectures in Stoa Poikile.. it turned into…. STOICS
    • one reason for it’s success.. The Stoics favored a lifestyle that, although simple, allowed creatures comforts
  • Zeno’s philosophy had ethical, physical, and logical components
  • Stoics believe that man’s distingushing feature is his rationality
  • Ethics was the most important component of Zeno’s Stoicism
    • not “modern” ethics.. rather eudaemonistic ethics
    • it is concerned with having a “good spirit”
    • living a good, happy life
    • moral wisdom
    • …to flourish
  • ..we differ from other animals in one important respect: We have the ability to reason…. in other words.. we were designed to be reasonable.
    • designed to do certain things, that we have certain duties
    • most significantly.. we have duties to our fellow men
      • we should honor our parents
      • be agreeable to our friends
      • and be concerned with the interests of our countrymen
  • If we lived in perfect accordance with nature – if, that is, we were perfect in our practice of Stoicism – we would be what the Stoics refer to as a wise man or sage
    • a stoic sage is, in short, “godlike”
      • such “godlikeness” is exceedingly rare
    • they talk about sages primarly so they will have a model to guide them to aim at…
    • the sage, in other words, is to Stoicism as Buddha is to Buddhism
      • Most buddhists can never hope to become as enlightened as Buddha, but nevertheless, reflecting on Buddha’s perfection can help them gain a degree og enlightenment
  • Cleanthes(331-232 BC) – pupil of Zeno
    • became the leader when Zeno died
    • when he got old.. started losing students to other schools
  • Chrysippus(c. 282-206 BC) – pupil of Cleanthes
    • became leader after Cleanthes
    • the school regained it’s former prominence
  • Panaetius of Rhodes
    • known as an “exporter” of the philosophy
    • took Soicism with him to Rome in 140 BC
    • founder of Roman Stoicism
    • the Roman’s showed less interest in logic & physics.. by the time Marcus Aurelius, the last great Roman Stoic, logic and physics had essentially benn abandoned
  • Roman Stoics main goal – attaining of tranquility
  • Stoic tranquility was a psychological state marked by the absence of negative emotions, such as grief, anger, and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions, such as joy.
  • The Roman Stoics had less confidence than the Greeks in the power of pure reason to motivate people
  • By highlighting tranquility in their philosophy, the stoics not only made it more attractive toancient Romans but made it, I think, more attractive to modern individuals as well

Roman Stoicism

  • 4 Most important:
    • Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus & Marcus Aurelius
    • Seneca– the best writer
      • essays & letters to Lucilius
    • Musonius
      • pragmatism
      • detailed advice on eating, what to wear, how to behave, etc…Sexlife
    • Epictetus
      • analythics
      • why practicing Stoicism can bring us tranquility
    • Marcus Aurelius
      • “Marcus’s Meditations” (kind of a diary) – access to the thought’s of a practicing Stoic
  • Seneca (born between 4 & 1 BC)
    • from Spain
    • much available writings
    • his writings are quite wonderful
      • his essays & letters are full of insight into the human condition
    • typically talks about the things that make people unhappy
      • grief, anger, old age, social anxiety,…
    • successful playwright, very rich (invester).. and Senator
      • principal advisor to Emperor Nero
    • banishment – Corsica, confiscation of all property by Emperor Claudius
    • Returned after 8 years – Nero’s teacher… and Nero’s advisor when Nero became Emperor
    • .. in 65 Nero ordered Seneca’a dead
  • Gaius Musonius Rufus (born ca 30AD)
    • the least well-known of the 4 great Roman Stoics
    • started a school of philosophy
    • did not write down much (as Socrates)
    • pupil called Lucius took notes
    • enemy of Nero
      • Nero had him banished
      • in 65AD he was sent to the island of Gyara  – according to Seneca .. one of the worst places to be exiled
    • returned to Rome after Nero’s death
      • again banished
    • Died ca 100AD
    • “We should study philosophy.. how otherwise could we hope to live well ?”
  • Epictetus (born into slavery ca 55AD)
    • pupil of Musomius & “white collar” slave
    • gained freedom after Nero’s death
    • Philosphy school in Nicopolis -popular
    • primary concern of any philosophy should be the art of living
    • much mention of religion / God / Zeus.. but he probably means “Nature”
    • If we should have a good life.. we must consider our nature and the purpose for which God created us and live accordingly… live in accordance with nature (ZENO)
  • Marcus Aurelius (born in 121)
    • “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingatitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil”
    • the most powerful man in the world – Emperor of Rome
    • in “Meditations” he reflects on life and his response to it
    • far more interested in Stoic ethics (philosophy og life), than physics & logic
    • Hadrian adopted Antoninus (Marcus’s uncle).. and when Antoninus becam emperor.. Marcus was a virtual co-emperor
    • when he got power, he appointed Lucius Verus as joint emperor
    • as Emperors go, Marcus was exceptionally good
    • “the last of the Five good Emperors” (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian , Antoninus… and Marcus)
      • 96 – 180
      • the period in history of the world during which the condition of the human race was most happy & prosperous
    • Marcus didn’t feel compelled to prove that tranquility was worth pursuing, he thought its value was obvious
      • did not lecture his fellow Romans on the benefits of practicing Stoicism
    • ulcer, unfaithful wife, born at least 14 kids.. only 6 survived, many wars, rebellion, etc…. IN GREAT NEED OF STOICISM
    • sick and died in 180 – 17 March
    • “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing”


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