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Cleanthes was the second head of the Stoic school, taking over from Zeno. He was known as a man of consistency. He lived a modest life and rejected luxuries.
Before coming to philosophy, Cleanthes was a boxer. During his Journey into philosophy, he supported himself as a water carrier by night. Even when Zeno died and Cleanthes took over the school, he continued carrying water. This job was considered menial at the time and below his station as head of the Stoic school. To Cleanthes, there was virtue in completing work to the best of your ability. It didn't matter what the work was, only your attitude towards it and how well you completed it.
Cleanthes believed that the good life was one of consistency. It was about living virtuously and accepting our fate.
It's when we fight what nature has in store for us that we're harmed twice. As the Buddha said, first, we are hurt by the event. Then, we are hurt by our refusal to accept what has happened.
A poem by Cleanthes:
Lead me, Zeus, and you too, Destiny,
To wherever your decrees have assigned me.
I follow readily, but if I choose not,
Wretched though I am, I must follow still.
Fate guides the willing, but drags the unwilling.
Cleanthes died at the age of 99 from an ulcer. It's said the ulcer compelled him to try fasting to treat it. Cleanthes then continued his abstinence, saying that, as he was already halfway on the road to death, he would not trouble to retrace his steps.
Chryssipus was the pupil of Cleanthes and the glue that held Stoicism together. He was considered one of the brightest minds of his time. Chryssipus is responsible for consolidating and elaborating the teachings of Zeno and Cleanthes into the Stoic system that would survive for over two thousand years.
The historian Diogenes said, without Chryssipus, there would be no Stoicism.
Chryssipus began life as a long-distance runner and moved to Athens, where he began his Stoic journey under Cleanthes. He was a prolific writer who always examined and argued for both sides to give a comprehensive account. He is said to have written 500 lines a day and composed 705 works over his lifetime. Sadly, only fragments of his writing have survived.
Chryssipus lived to 73. As the story goes, he saw a donkey eating some dried figs and cried out: now give the donkey a drink of pure wine to wash down those figs. He soon died from a fit of laughter.
Panaetius was the last undisputed head of the Stoic school after taking over from his teacher, Antipater of Tarsus.
Panaetius was responsible for spreading the teachings of Stoicism beyond Greek society. He began by introducing Stoicism to Rome, helped by his many connections.
Panaetius was a friend of Scipio Aemilianus, a famous roman general known for bringing an end to the third Punic war between Carthage and Rome. Panaetius travelled with Scipio and a fellow philosopher by the name of Gaius laelius. The three men formed the Scipionic circle in which they discussed philosophy.
During his time in Rome, Panaetius lectured many notable figures and was responsible for establishing Stoicism as a philosophy that thrived for centuries to come.
Panaetius wrote a series of works on duty. He believed that life is about balancing our many duties. We are parents, citizens, Romans, Greeks, humans, soldiers and labourers. Each of us plays various roles, and life is about balancing these roles while completing them to the best of our ability. As Cicero recounts Panaetius saying, it is possible for a good lawyer to defend a guilty client. The duty of providing fair representation must be balanced with the duty of justice. Life is a balancing act of the roles we play.
Finally, Panaetius reminds us that all of us are mortal. He often reminded his students that we know our loved ones will die, as does everything. So why are we so shocked when they do? As Socrates says, philosophy is about learning how to die.
Posidonius was the student of Panaetius and was considered the most learned man of his time. His curiosity led him around the known world, from Sicily to Rome and Athens to Gaul. Posidonius was a politician, astronomer, geographer, historian, mathematician, and most importantly, a philosopher.
Posidonius believed philosophy to be the dominant art and soon established his Stoic school in Rhodes. Here, the famous Roman general Pompey - who later battled Caesar - travelled to attend his lectures. Alongside his teacher Panaetius, Posidonius did most to spread the Stoic philosopher across the Roman empire.
Posidonius thought what psychology agrees with today - that we are both ration and irrational. Our logical frontal cortex battles against our primitive limbic system. Ahead of his time, Posidonius recommended habit as a safeguard against our irrational minds. Modern psychology backs this up. The power of habit is an effective mechanism to counter our irrational and impulsive brains.
Posidonius wrote extensively on duty. He warned against ambition and the chaos it can do to one's character. As Seneca would later quote, "when such men were disturbing the world, they were disturbed." Posidonius outlined what the Evangelist Mark echoed over 100 years later.
"For how is a man benefited if he should gain the whole world and lose his soul?"
Seneca the Younger was born into a wealthy family and the son of Seneca the Elder, a famous Roman writer. He was a Roman philosopher, politician and playwright.
During his early life, Seneca was exiled by Emperor Claudius on likely false claims of adultery. During this time, he wrote the Consolations. One of these was De Consolatione ad Helviam Matrem, where he wrote a letter to his mother consoling her about his exile.
He tells his mother not to cry for him because he is not upset by his exile. He describes it as nothing more than a change of place. The letter is finished with him praising her strong character and virtue, which will allow her to bear his absence.
Seneca's positive outlook is a core part of the Stoic doctrine. We should not be upset about events that are outside of our control. With this, he refuses to protest in his letter back home and instead focuses on his mother's comfort. As Epictetus would later say, "We are not disturbed by things but instead the view we take of them."
When Roman emperor Nero came to power, Seneca was chosen by his mother, Agrippina, to be his tutor and guide. Nero's rule was considered stable and successful for its first few years. In time, Seneca lost his influence over the erratic emperor. Soon, Seneca was ordered to commit suicide when Nero discovered an assasination plot against himself. Seneca likely played no role but accepted his fate and faced death as a practising Stoic.
Seneca's death inspired countless famous paintings. As the story goes, Nero's guards were sent to kill him. He requested suicide and calmly cut his veins open alongside his wife Pompeia Paulina, who decided to die alongside her husband. After being urged to live, her wounds were patched up, and she survived.
With dying taking too long, Seneca began cutting through the veins behind his knees and below his ankles. Still, without any success, he swallowed down poison. As Seneca waited to die, he dictated his last words to his servants. Still not dead, he poured himself a warm bath to speed up the bleeding. He soon suffocated.
A Stoic to the end, Seneca's will dictated simple funeral rights instead of the often ostentatious rights for someone of his station. He was 68 years old when he died.
Banished from his home three times at the whim of tyrannical Roman emperors, Musonius Rufus was a practical Stoic who positioned ethics and virtue at the heart of Stoicism.
To Musonius, philosophy is the pursuit of a virtuous life. This belief seeped into everything he did. When delivering lectures, he wasn't after the audience's praise but instead their silence. Musonius said, "When the audience is praising the philosopher, they are no longer hearing what he is saying, but instead enjoying a flute player performing."
During his time, philosophy was considered a pursuit for men only. Stepping away from this widely held belief, Musonius argued that "Men's and women's capacity to understand virtue is the same. Both should be trained in philosophy." His views on work were also ahead of the time. He taught that it's not what we do that matters but how we do it. Virtue is in the action, not the title.
Musonius's style of Stoicism is captured in his writing on hardship. He says...
"Instead of exerting oneself to win someone else's wife, to exert oneself to discipline one's desires; instead of enduring hardships for the sake of money, to train oneself to want little; instead of giving oneself trouble about getting notoriety, to give oneself trouble how not to thirst for notoriety; instead of trying to find a way to injure an envied person, to inquire how not to envy anyone; and instead of slaving, as sycophants do, to win false friends, to undergo suffering in order to possess true friends?"
"If one accomplishes some good though with toil, the toil passes, but the good remains,"
It's no wonder Epictetus became the famous Stoic he was when Musonius Rufus was his teacher. He continued lecturing, writing and spreading the philosophy of Stoicism until his death sometime in his seventies.
Epictetus was born into slavery and served Epaphroditus, a wealthy secretary to Roman emperor Nero. During his time in slavery, he was allowed to study philosophy under the renowned Musonius Rufus.
For Epictetus, philosophy wasn't reciting arguments or memorising paragraphs. It was a way of life. True philosophers don't study philosophy - they live it. Take a tennis player who knows all the rules but has never played. Is she really a tennis player? This is how Epictetus saw philosophy. It's not getting lost in books or collecting knowledge to talk about. Instead, philosophy is about learning how to lead a virtuous life.
True to his belief, Epictetus lived a modest life with few possessions. As he would say: "Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants."
Sometime after the death of Nero, Epictetus was given his freedom and soon established his own school of philosophy. Said to rival Socrates in his teachings and virtue, Epictetus attracted many great names to his school, including Roman emperor Hadrian.
Epictetus reminded his students that nothing is good or bad. We can prefer some things over others, like warm weather over the rain. But neither of them is bad. The only bad in life is that which can harm our character. And nothing can harm our character without our consent.
No one can willingly harm our character. Only we can do that. Our actions, opinions, impulses and desires are all within our control. Nothing truly bad can come of us without our permission. And as Epictetus said, if the tyrant wishes to chain your leg, it is only your leg in chains, for your will is still under your control.
In his old age, Epictetus continued to teach philosophy. After a life dedicated to pursuing philosophy, he adopted a friend's child who would otherwise have been left to die. With the help of a woman whose name is lost to history, Epictetus raised the child and eventually died at the age of 85.
As a final legacy, Albert Ellis, the father of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, was heavily influenced by the Epictetus.
"It is not events that disturb the minds of men, but the view they take of them."
This and more coming soon!
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