Meet the Stoics

by Massimo Pigliucci
See his original piece here

Zeno of Citium (c. 334 – c. 262 BCE) originated from Citium, currently Cyprus, possibly of Phoenician descent. Zeno was the original founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, which he taught in Athens from about 300 BCE. Based on the moral ideas of the Cynics, Stoicism laid great emphasis on goodness and peace of mind, gained from living a life of Virtue in accordance with Nature. It proved very successful, and flourished as the dominant philosophy from the Hellenistic period through to the Roman era.

 

Chrysippus of Soli (c. 279 – c. 206 BCE) was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was a native of Soli, Cilicia, but moved to Athens as a young man, where he became a pupil of Cleanthes in the Stoic school. When Cleanthes died, around 230 BCE, Chrysippus became the third head of the school. A prolific writer, Chrysippus expanded the fundamental doctrines of Zeno of Citium, the founder of the school, which earned him the title of Second Founder of Stoicism.


Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis (95 BCE, Rome – April 46 BCE, Utica), commonly known as Cato the Younger (Cato Minor) to distinguish him from his great-grandfather (Cato the Elder), was a politician and statesman in the late Roman Republic, and a follower of the Stoic philosophy. A noted orator, he is remembered for his stubbornness and tenacity (especially in his lengthy conflict with Julius Caesar), as well as his immunity to bribes, his moral integrity, and his famous distaste for the ubiquitous corruption of the period.

 

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (often known simply as Seneca; c. 4 BCE – CE 65) was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and in one work humorist, of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He was a tutor and later advisor to emperor Nero. While he was forced to commit suicide for alleged complicity in the Pisonian conspiracy to assassinate Nero, he may have been innocent. His father was Seneca the Elder, his elder brother was Lucius Junius Gallio Annaeanus, called Gallio in the Bible, and his nephew was the poet Lucan.

 

Gaius Musonius Rufus was a Roman Stoic philosopher of the 1st century CE. He taught philosophy in Rome during the reign of Nero, as consequence of which he was sent into exile in 65 CE, only returning to Rome under Galba. He was allowed to stay in Rome when Vespasian banished all the other philosophers from the city in 71 CE, although he was eventually banished anyway, only returning after Vespasian’s death. A collection of extracts from his lectures still survives. He is also remembered for being the teacher of Epictetus.

 

Epictetus (CE. c. 55 – 135) was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia (present day Pamukkale, Turkey), and lived in Rome until his banishment, when he went to Nicopolis in north-western Greece for the rest of his life. His teachings were written down and published by his pupil Arrian in his Discourses. Epictetus taught that philosophy is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control; we should accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.

 

Marcus Aurelius (Latin: Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; 26 April 121 – 17 March 180 CE) was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180. He ruled with Lucius Verus as co-emperor from 161 until Verus’ death in 169. He was the last of the Five Good Emperors, and is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers. Marcus Aurelius’ Stoic tome Meditations, written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180, is still revered as a literary monument to a philosophy of service and duty, describing how to find and preserve equanimity in the midst of conflict by following nature as a source of guidance and inspiration.