Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 3)

Origin Story

“Well-being is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing.” – Zeno

The ideas of Stoicism originated in Greece and were then built upon by Romans.

N.S.Gill: “The Stoics are one of five major philosophical schools in classical Greece and Rome: Platonist, Aristotelian, Stoic, Epicurean, and Skeptic. The philosophers who followed Aristotle (384–322 BCE) were also known as the Peripatetics, named for their habit of walking around the colonnades of the Athenian Lyceum. The Stoic philosophers, on the other hand, were named for the Athenian Stoa Poikile or “painted porch,” the roofed colonnade in Athens where the founder of the Stoic philosophy, Zeno of Citium (344–262 BC), held his classes.”

Brad Inwood’s book, “Stoicism: A Very Short Introduction” offers a timeline for the history of Stoicism. Much of what we know now comes from the works that survived – of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor, Epictetus, a slave, and Seneca, a Roman author, politician and philosopher. They all built on the earlier works of the Greeks, which unfortunately, have not survived.

Ryan Holiday in “Lives of the Stoics”: “Across the first five hundred years of Stoic history, its members form an astonishing spectrum of stations in life, ranging from Marcus Aurelius, the all-powerful emperor, to Epictetus, a lowly slave who was crippled in captivity but whose writings and life were an example that inspired many, including Marcus. Some of their names you may already be familiar with, and others (Aristo, Diogenes of Babylon, Porcia, Antipater, Panaetius, Posidonius, Arius, and Musonius Rufus) likely not. But each is worth knowing about, whether they were merchants or generals, writers or athletes, parents or professors, daughters or diplomats. Each has something important to teach us. Each walked the path of virtue in a way that we must learn from.”

New World Encyclopedia offers more details: “The Stoic school was founded by Zeno of Citium (334-262 B.C.E.) in Athens, Greece, around 308 B.C.E. After studying under Crates the Cynic and several other Athenian philosophers, Zeno developed his own system of thought and began teaching in the Agora of Athens at the stoa poikile (Painted Colonnade), from which the school takes its name. Upon his death in 262 B.C.E., he was succeeded by his disciple Cleanthes (331-232 B.C.E.), and then by Chrysippus (c. 280-c. 206 B.C.E.). Chrysippus was a prolific writer, and is credited with organizing and developing the teachings of Stoicism into the form in which it continued for the next four centuries. Except for a short “Hymn to Zeus” by Cleanthes, only fragments of the written works of the early Stoics are preserved. In the first century C.E., Flavius Arrian (c. 86–160 C.E.) composed two books, Discourses and Handbook, based on the teachings of the Greek Stoic Epictetus (55 -135 C.E.). These works clearly explain the Stoic system of ethics and lay out a detailed course of exercises in self-examination and self-discipline to be followed by anyone striving to become a Stoic. The power of Stoic thought is evident in the writings of Cicero (106-43 B.C.E.) and of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 C.E.), who both applied Stoic theory to political life … The early Stoics provided a unified account of the world, consisting of formal logic, corporealistic physics and naturalistic ethics. Later Stoics focused on ethics, and progression towards living in harmony with the universe, over which one has no direct control.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.