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Who is Zeno of Citium? The Founder of Stoicism

The Life and Times of Zeno of Citium: Founder of Stoicism
The Life and Times of Zeno of Citium: Founder of Stoicism

I. Early Life and Influences (336-301 BCE)

Birth and Background: Exploring Zeno's origins in Phoenician Cyprus.

Zeno of Citium was born around 336 BCE under the watch of Mt. Olympus. He was fated to find his way to Athens where the philosophical school of Hellenistic philosophers was filled with human beings searching for all the answers to human life. However, history would offer Zeno's life and Zeno's philosophy to the world only after he faced challenges and trials. Like any real Stoic would have to, I imagine.

Zeno's hard road would start soft, in a merchant family, learning the trade and doing well in a materialistic way, but everything would turn with a shipwreck, then it would pass through the stoa poikile, and eventually wind up changing thoughts about what makes a virtuous human, and what allows them to have a good life.

Zeno's early life is from long enough ago that little is known for sure about it. He was from a mercantile family, which was not uncommon for someone from the thriving trading hub of Phoenicia (Lebanon area.) He likely spent his youth interacting with people and things from all over the ancient world.

If you want the hottest new colorways... you had to get to Phoenicia. Purple was the hottest of the hot and Phoenicia had a type of purple, available in the form of dyes and cloth, named after it. Phoenician purple brought people from all over the ancient world.

These youthful interactions opened his mind to the wide variety of different ideas and approaches to life that the world had to offer. This would have a significant impact on the ability to think of things in new and different ways which would follow the legacy of Zeno and the early Stoics.

His education, though hard to know for sure, likely embraced the diverse threads of intellectual thought flowing through Cyprus. Phoenician scholars were known far and wide for their abilities in mathematics, astronomy, and navigation, skills that probably instilled in Zeno a love for logical thinking and a fascination with the universe's intricate order.

Greek influences were everywhere on the island, bringing with them the stories and retellings of Homeric epics, Socratic dialogues, and the wisdom of Plato's Academy. This showed Zeno what deep thinking was all about and how people were using it, creating an obsession with philosophical thought. Zeno set out on a long journey of thought, but it was always driven by early access to other philosophers and the overall philosophy of Athens.

Although Athens had a huge influence on Phoenician society by bleeding its ideas through the trade lines, the Phoenicians had their values and approach to life that gave Zeno and his Stoic philosophy pragmatic and resilient qualities. The spirit of self-reliance cultivated amidst the challenges of maritime trade would later manifest in Stoicism's hyper-focus on personal responsibility and facing misfortune with unwavering equanimity.

However, simple life in Citium as a trader who only heard echoes of the great ideas of other lands was not all the universe had in store for Zeno. As a believer in fate, Zeno was in for quite a clash with that great guiding hand. Legend has it that he was destined for a showdown with the great and powerful god of the sea, Poseidon. The shipwreck was not just an actual event but a portal that led Zeno into his future as a Stoic Philosopher, and someone who would influence even the most beloved Roman Emperor. Zeno's vision and stoic idea would be born from the wreckage of the ship.

The Big Shipwreck: The Obstacle that Would Help Create Stoic Philosophy

Zeno of Citium Purple Dye Stoicism Shipwreck
Zeno lost all his wealth in a shipwreck and washed up in Athens.

We have to start by sharing the legendary tale of his shipwreck, Zeno could have died before starting anything like Stoicism, but fate had other plans. This wreck marks the moment when a profiteering merchant sat aside materialism and started on a philosophical journey that would shape all things Stoic from his time into the indefinite future. So freaking what if we don't know "for sure" if it happened, it was so long ago nobody knows much of anything for sure.

The trip through trade routes started normally. There was nothing special about taking a ship to trade with another area, Phoenicians saw voyages like this occur so often they didn't even register with the locals.

However, this time would be completely different, it included a 22-year-old Zeno of Citium who was loaded down with... what else? Phoenician purple baby! Is it extracted from the blood of sea snails by slaves? Maybe, but that is beside the point. He was a materialistic (nothing wrong with that,) young man who was off to collect his first major score and begin building his fortune. The sea had different plans for him.

The ship was dashed on the rocks. When Zeno survived the wreck he had lost everything he thought was needed for success in life, and he was far from home. Survival was only the first step, now he was a 22-year-old man in a new land with little knowledge and no plan. At the storm's end, Zeno of Citium had arrived in Athens.

This wasn't simply a physical displacement; it was a philosophical shipwreck. Lost and stuck in Athens, a busy center of intellectual discourse, Zeno found himself adrift without direction in a sea of ideas. With his previous life and career shattered, he was forced to confront his vulnerability and grapple with the fundamental questions of existence. Without knowing it, he was practicing one of the four core virtues of Stoic philosophy. He was using wisdom to determine his objective reality and what was/was not under his control.

While Zeno was struggling through the hardest times of his life, the philosophy of Stoicism began to grow. At the time, Athens was full of many choices when it came to a philosophical school, each one had a different set of tools to deal with the challenges and mysteries of life. The Cynics stood out as a favorite school of thought to Zeno, in my opinion, because it was the most different from what he was raised around, providing a counterpoint to the materialistic values of his merchant home that had led to his accidental relocation.

He also engaged with the teachings of Plato's Academy, absorbing insights into ethics, logic, and the universe's interconnectedness. Learning about ideal republics, and the form of the good, Zeno began to study philosophy as he searched for a way to belong in his new society in the Hellenistic period.

Although it was a tough time for Zeno, it was through these challenging times of hardship that he formed his philosophical path. Zeno's ideas were the very core of what would become Stoicism, with their emphasis on resilience/persistence, acceptance of fate/destiny, and finding the wisdom of inner calm despite the chaos that might be surrounding us.

None of these world-changing ideas could have come about for Zeno without the literal wreckage that had been created in his life. The shipwreck would be a metaphor for life's challenges throughout Zeno's teachings and Zeno's writings. Through Stoicism, Zeno of Citium (although far away from home,) was just searching for a way to thrive despite the calamitous series of events that fate had provided him with.

Every physical and mental trauma that Zeno went through made him realize that if we are going to live a good life despite all the suffering we go through, we would need a system of philosophy that could offer us internal fortitude and grace where others could find none. His philosophy of Stoicism was not intended for the select few, but instead for everyone to use as needed in their regular lives. Making the regular person's life a little bit better one Stoic thought/decision at a time was the original goal of Zeno's teachings. He did this by offering them an unwavering internal path that could cut through all the external chaos of life.

Finding a Teacher: Zeno's work with Hellenistic philosophy teachers Cynic Crates and Academic Polemo.

who taught zeno of citium crates and polemo stoic
Zeno Started Learning from Crates and Polemo

As we have already discussed, Zeno started his philosophical journey surviving at sea, not seated at Plato's Academy. Completely lost in the world and having no idea what to do next, he was drawn into the main activity they had going on, philosophy. He was drawn in particular to 2 Athenian men: the Cynic philosopher Crates and the Academic Polemo. These two teachers were very different, but Zeno would find his philosophy by connecting the best things from both teachers in a new way.

Crates was known around Athens as a man who embraced simplicity and hated social conventions. This was the teacher who Zeno began learning about Cynicism from. It makes sense the former Phoenician trader decided to adopt beliefs that were completely counter to the materialism that had brought him to his current state. Crates helped his new student develop his focus on virtue as well as his detachment from material desires.

It seems that pretty quickly after dipping his toes into sampling the philosophical school offerings of Athens, Zeno began trying to formulate something new... His school of thought would bring together the best the schools had to offer and strip away the things that needed improvement.

Zeno continued to indulge his curiosity beyond what the Cynics had to offer. His next inspiration came from the man who was leading Plato's Academy, Polemo. The Academy was all about Socratic dialogue and meticulous reasoning being applied to every topic. Through this, Zeno began to understand how useful logic and rigorous argumentation were in the formulation and testing of ideas. These techniques gave him the tools he needed to form his school of Stoic philosophy into a battle-tested, bulletproof set of ideas.

At that time in his life, the easiest thing for him to do would have been for him to simply join one of the schools he had enjoyed, but that was not the fate Zeno of Citium had in mind for himself. He did not want the easy way, he wanted the Stoic way.

He chose to mix the best parts of Cynicism and Academicism in an attempt to improve upon Hellenistic philosophy and create something new. From Cynicism, he took the disregard of materialism and the emphasis on virtue.

From Academicism, Zeno used the focus on reason as well as the inquiry process to polish ideas as a group through dialectic rationally. He used these things to synthesize a philosophical school that aimed to give human beings a complete guide to being virtuous and flourishing despite, or even because of, the chaos that lies out of our control in the world around us.

The Seeds of Stoicism: Unpacking the influences of Socrates, Plato, and Heraclitus on Zeno's emerging philosophy.

socrates plato heraclitus zeno influences stoicism
Socrates, Plato, and Heraclitus all influenced Zeno's Development of Stoicism

Other than his actual teachers, there were a few philosophers from whom Zeno drew ideas for his philosophy: Socrates, Plato, and Heraclitus. In the following section, we will discuss in detail how each of them added ingredients to the stew of Stoicism.

Socrates and his thoughts echo in the Stoic emphasis on living a good life. Socrates was also obsessed with the pursuit of self-knowledge. Zeno and the stoics understood the importance of introspection because it helps accept objective reality and align one's life to moral principles and virtues. Finally, the Stoics and Socrates believed that one must constantly examine themselves to understand and test their motives, judgments, and reactions.

Plato not only started the school that first drew Zeno in, but he also left behind the tools to build new ideas and make them strong in Athens, waiting for a fortuitous shipwreck to come along and change philosophy. From Plato, the Stoic philosophy got: there is a world or force beyond the one we know (logos and the realm of forms,) reliance on reason above all else, and the idea that all good ideas must stand up logically to argument. It isn't that hard to see how those 3 things mixed with the contributions made by Socrates to almost completely create Stoicism, but only almost...

We can talk about Heraclitus or we can talk about the Tao, they are very similar in one regard which influenced Stoicism greatly, they believe in a universal flow that connects and sways all things. The Stoics believed in cosmic determinism in as much as it must be accepted as something we cannot control along with all of its day-to-day good and bad.

Zeno knew he could not control the universe, but instead, the flow was moving him and everyone else. The flow of Heraclitus, the Tao or the Way of Lao Tzu, The interconnectedness of everything in a flowing river of existence, Stoic fate... it's just different words for the same thing and Zeno had become hip to it.

Recipe for Stoicism:

1 part Socratic introspection

1 part Socratic morality

1 part Platonic world beyond our knowing

1 part Platonic use of logic and rationality

1 part Everflowing river of existence controlling us through universal reason

Bake for a few years in the mind of an ambitious and intelligent young man in a town where starting a philosophical school was one of the highest things someone could do, and you get...


II. Establishing the Stoic School (301-264 BCE)

Athens: The Stoa Poikile as the birthplace of Stoicism.

zeno stoicism on the painted porch stoa poikile
The Stoa Poikile was a painted porch where Zeno shared stoicism with anyone who wanted to listen.

Once Zeno decided he was ready to present his ideas to Athenians, he needed a place to do it. Where would he go to begin the most important thing he had done since his ill-fated merchant voyage? He could have started a private academy and locked the doors to anyone who might challenge his ideas.

Plenty did just that. He also could choose something more open and with a lot less overhead start-up costs. There was a place called the Colonnade in Athens. It was built in the 5th century BCE and it was the place to be for art and thought.

The place he chose was called the painted porch, or the Stoa Poikile, which was named because it had beautiful vibrant (not sure how historians know that, but let's go with it here,) murals of Athenian history and tales of great battles. If one imagines hearing about Stoicism for the first time in a place like this, it can become easy to see how it could have caught hold of a group quickly.

Zeno began teaching in the Stoa Poikile and word spread. The Stoa wasn't just about Zeno, but it was a place where philosophy was being done in a way where all was up for debate. The ideas became warriors which were much stronger than the untrained ideas of sycophantic academies.

It was also immersed in the wider society, which is one of the things about Stoic philosophy, it doesn't happen in the realm of forms, it happens in the world, in our lives, in our towns, etc. That is the reason I think an open porch in a public area became the home for Stoicism, but I wasn't there so what do I know?

Teach Different: Zeno's Philosophy and Pedagogy

Zeno began teaching philosophy in a new way. He didn't make students or young philosophers sit and listen to him talk. Instead, the stoa poikile was alive with debate at all times. He made his students test his ideas and returned the favor from unparalleled ground.

Socratic debate was the usual form of his gatherings, in which anyone can bring up an idea and it will be discussed in a group with a bias towards asking questions that might cause the idea to waver in some way. Often ideas are evolved through this process much like a person might be through the trials of life. Sounds pretty Stoic to me.

Through these discussions, they dealt with heavy topics such as emotions, hypothetical situations, the moral decisions that might be needed, and how to handle life's ups and downs while still holding oneself to a high standard of virtue. Life's uncertainty can throw bumps in the road of our plans to be good people who live in a good flow with the universe or fate. Those are the times we need these ideas to have been rigorously tested, so they can help us stay even the most challenging course.

Needless to say, his teachings became incredibly popular and he was starting to get the recognition he deserved in the place he washed up as a 30-year-old man with a dark complexion and had to find his own way.

Stoic Virtue, Logos, and Finding Happiness

zeno stoic poker stoicism virtues courage wisdom justice temperance zeno
Zeno based Stoicism on 4 virtues: Courage, Wisdom, Justice, and Temperance

Zeno's teachings told the people that happiness was not something you should wait to shine down upon you, instead, it was something that was to be worked for. He taught that if a person could live according to virtue, live in flow with the universal reason known as logos, and live following reason instead of emotions and cravings, then they would, through hard physical and mental work, create happiness in their life.

He showed the crowds that listened to his words that Stoic virtue was the solid foundation upon which everything in life should be built. Socrates had talked about this long before, but never in so specific a way. Zeno began teaching that there were 4 main stoic virtues and that we must apply all 4 of them to everything we do to ensure we are heading in the direction we want for our life.

Wisdom, Courage, Temperance, and Justice were those virtues and together they could make sure Stoics were aware of what they controlled and didn't control (Wisdom,) not stopped by obstacles in the way of their plans (Courage,) not being led around by their desires without self-control(Temperance,) and fair(Justice.)

By starting with the foundation of Virtue, Stoic philosophy teaches that logos will be our building materials. Logos is the universal reason that Stoics believe guides the cosmos. I think it is incredibly similar to the ideas in the Tao, in which the universe is in a flow and we have the choice to rage against it or to flow with it. Both teachings land on the same result, we cannot go against the flow of the infinite. We must objectively observe reality and use our wisdom and courage to proceed realistically.

With our foundation of virtue and our building materials of Logos, we need some heavy equipment to build our lives. That equipment came for the Stoics in the form of reason. If we can be realistic about where we are and how we fit in with Logos or the Tao, the next step is to reason our way to what the most virtuous path from here is.

Accept objective reality, use all the wisdom you have at your disposal, make a plan based on your reason, and make sure it accords with your virtue. This is Zeno's philosophy on a good life. The outside forces of chaos and change will always throw challenges at our plans, but with the correct approach, we can have Stoic courage that can allow us to see obstacles as one more step that needn't be avoided or dreaded.

Living in Accord with Nature: How the Tao and Stoicism Meet in the Universal Flow

Zeno and Tao? If we look deeply at what lies behind the specific labels they chose to put on their ideas, we can find that these two men were teaching very similar things.

Zeno says it's a universal reason, Logos, all things connected, moving and flowing in natural law. The water in this river of wisdom has a current. It is our job according to both of these men, not to waste our energy swimming against that current, but to honestly assess which way it is flowing and go with it in good flow.

In the Tao, we hear echoes of that same idea of a universal flow, yin and yang, effortless and ever-changing. In the Tao, the image of the universe's chest rising and falling as it takes breaths so huge we cannot even fathom their rising and falling always comes to my mind.

No matter which one you read about, or listen to, it is all about not forcing your will upon the world around you. No matter how hard one person flaps their arms and kicks their feet, they will NEVER change the flow of a river. Do not go without effort in your life, but do not force what you know yourself to be forcing.

Go with the flow bro...

Facing Fate with Fortitude: Examining the Stoic approach to death, pleasure, and external circumstances.

zeno stoic no fear of death stoicism
Zeno did not fear death, nor did he think Stoics should fear death.

Most people spend their lives doing whatever they can to avoid thinking about death, but Zeno studied death. Zeno's vision of death was different, he thought of our lives as flickering flames that needed to be taken for what they were. Death was nothing more than a part of life for a Stoic. Like there was a time before birth, so shall there be a time after death.

For Zeno of Citium, we had no control over external circumstances, so all we could do was ready ourselves with the tools of virtue. We could never stop challenges and obstacles, but we could stay calm and know the virtuous path past each one.

If a Stoic could focus on living a life in tune with the universal reason, Logos, then death was nothing to fear. It would simply come to pass, as all other things before it.

III. Zeno's Philosophical Contributions

Logic and Dialectic: Nothing is Sacred in Zeno's Philosophy

zeno stoic poker no idea is sacred come at me bro
Zeno welcomed challenges to his ideas so they could be as strong as possible.

Zeno used logic in a more unrelenting way than anyone who had come before him according to everything I learned about him. Some philosophers would use it for some ideas, but they also had "pet ideas" that were considered beyond being challenged by logic and debate.

Zeno said, "f that!" We can challenge any idea and if the idea can't stand up, we don't keep it because it is old or traditional or everyone else believes it, we just chuck it out. Nothing is too special to need to prove itself.

Physics and Cosmology: Tick Tock of the Universal Clockwork

zeno and lao tzu the tao and stoicism philosophy
Stoicism and the Tao both believe in a universal flow.

As we know Logos is the universal reason that controls the clockwork behind everything that happens in the universe. This is basically what Zeno began teaching about how the universe worked, or physics, or cosmology, or whatever anyone called it.

To Zeno, the universe was a big clock that had already decided how it would tick and we were just riding on the gears. We have no control over the times being good or bad. We could do two things only.

First, we could realize that all energy spent trying to sway the flow of the universe is wasted. We have no control over the "predetermined" events of the universe. And second, is to remember that how we react to events is totally up to us. We could choose to be virtuous despite if the universal clock grinding us in its gears.

Politics and Social Thought: Unveiling the Stoic Philosopher's vision for a just and harmonious society.

Zeno's ideas on politics centered around how to make the best city possible through Stoic Philosophy
Zeno's ideas on politics centered around how to make the best city possible through Stoic Philosophy.

Zeno had simple thoughts about politics, or in the ways he talked about it, how to make the best city. Of course, he never strayed from believing that most of what would happen would happen because of the Logos of the universe, over which we have no control. But there were a few key things he thought were in our power to help create Zeno's republic.

First, Zeno began teaching people that it is in our power to always be kind and try to be fair. We will most likely be starting this alone, but hopefully, in time it will rub off and improve the whole city. The more people who participate in the fair and kind society, according to Zeno, the more likely everyone will be to join in.

Zeno of Citium was also a big fan of education. He thought we could use it to educate everyone in Stoic Philosophy, and Stoic virtue. If we brought Stoicism to the people, then and only then could we hold everyone in society to that golden crown of Stoic philosophers' standards. We cannot expect people to live by virtues that they don't know, or to react to challenges in a Stoic way if they've never been told it is always an option.

You are responsible for making sure you don't suck and everyone else around you has the best chance not to suck as well. Pretty simple if you ask me.

Ethics and Moral Practice: Leaning on the Virtues for Guidance

4 stoic virtues
4 stoic virtues

Ethics were very simple in Stoicism for Zeno. He just thought if you are being virtuous, living by the 4 stoic virtues of courage, justice, temperance, and wisdom, then you were being ethical. Anything more challenging than that should be taken to the Stoa for a lively debate about the morality of this or that. Logic would decide what virtue could now.

IV. The Legacy of Zeno

stoic stoicism zeno influenced philosophy philosopher
Zeno's philosophy created a flow of ideas that we still hear in modern philosophy.

The Second Wave of Stoic Philosophers: Cleanthes and Chrysippus.

Two main dudes evolved Stoic philosophy after Zeno died, Cleanthes: his right-hand man and main student at the Stoa, and Chrysippus: the successor to the Stoa. Both did so with respect and honor after Zeno died, and both moved Stoic philosophers ahead with new thoughts. The risk in Western philosophy as a whole is that the ideas become as unchanging as the bronze statue that remembers their originators.

The chronology of the leaders of the Stoic school:

  1. Zeno of Citium (c. 334–262 BCE):

  • Zeno founded the Stoic school around 300 BCE.

  • He served as its head until he died in 262 BCE.

  • 2. Cleanthes (c. 330–230 BCE):

  • Cleanthes succeeded Zeno as the head of the Stoic school around 262 BCE.

  • He led the school until he died in 230 BCE.

  • 3. Chrysippus (c. 279–206 BCE):

  • Chrysippus became the third head of the Stoic school, succeeding Cleanthes, around 230 BCE.

  • He played a crucial role in systematizing and expanding Stoic philosophy.

  • Chrysippus led the school until he died in 206 BCE.

Cleanthes was Zeno's top student. There was no coup, nothing salacious, an old man started getting old and passed his school on to the top student. A philosopher by night and a water carrier by day, Cleanthes was a perfect example of the uncomplaining Stoic. He continued to teach the majority of Zeno's teachings, but he leaned more heavily on the Cynic belief that material things didn't matter.

Chrysippus took after when Cleanthes was done, and no one could say anything to challenge the man who had the pedigree of being #3 under Zeno until Zeno died. Zeno did a lot to modernize and systemize the Stoic philosopher's original teachings. He clearly defined each major point that had been taught while Zeno lived, he laid out specific refutations for each argument against them laid down by another school, and he wrote a treatise about everything from physics to virtue.

It is quite possible that without those original two Stoicism might have died on the vine. Luckily for all of us, it lived and continued to thrive throughout history. Next came the Romans.

Roman Stoicism: the Dawn of the Common Era with Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.

The Stoic philosophers Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius brought Stoicism to the Roman era. Stoicism managed to make it up the chain to the point where Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor himself, while also being one of the finest practitioners of Stoic ideas in the history of man. A statesman, a slave, and finally a Roman Emperor took Stoicism through a time of indulgence and consumption.

  1. Seneca (c. 4 BCE – 65 CE):

  • Seneca, a Roman statesman, philosopher, and playwright, was around at the beginning of the whole Roman thing.

  • Everything he wrote emphasized Stoic principles. His works were popular and they helped Stoic ideas continue into a whole new society.

  • There is some question as to how well he lived those principles, but any model of virtue will face those types of slings and arrows.

  • 2. Epictetus (c. 50 – 135 CE):

  • Epictetus lived in the Roman Empire during the first and second centuries CE

  • Dude was born a slave and then got his freedom and used his life teaching people how not to get upset about their situations and to make sure they are being virtuous.

  • Arrian, his student, wrote down his teachings in the "Discourses" and the "Enchiridion" (Handbook), it was practical guidance for anyone to live a virtuous life.

  • 3. Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 CE):

  • Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, ruled from 161 to 180 CE.

  • His private diary and notes to himself, known as the "Meditations," have been used as examples of stoicism and stoic ideas for a long time. Many leaders have talked about reading it for guidance, even in the modern world.

  • "Meditations" is a great work of Stoicism, but when you consider this man ruled the world (his known world) and he could have been as spoiled and opulent as he wanted, but he CHOSE to be a stoic and to hold himself to the standard of virtue.

Stoic Christianity: How Stoic Ideas from BCE Influenced Christian Thought

Philosophy found its way inside the Christian church during the years before and after the downfall of the Roman Empire. The following will track how the ideas of Stoicism survived in Christianity while it waited for a Renaissance to bring it back to its former prominence.

  1. St. Paul (c. 5 – 67 CE):

  • St. Paul had a Hellenistic background which makes it very unlikely he wouldn't have heard of the Stoic philosophers.

  • Paul often taught ideas about virtue, especially temperance or self-mastery.

  • 2. St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215 CE):

  • Clement, wrote a ton of Stoic ideas in his stuff.

  • In his eyes, Stoicism was the everyday approach to how one can live according to the Christian ideal.

  • 3. St. Ambrose of Milan (c. 337 – 397 CE):

  • Ambrose was a big deal bishop, from a big deal town, but he used a lot of stoic virtue in his writings.

  • His writings on ethics are dripping with Stoicism.

  • 4. St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 CE):

  • Augustine was super smart and he used every type of philosophy that it was possible to learn about in his lifetime. Think non-atheist Bertrand Russell, lol.

  • Stoic ideas related to controlling your emotional reactions to things were a large part of Augustine's early philosophical journey.

  • 5. Boethius (c. 480 – 524 CE):

  • Boethius gave Stoicism a huge boon when he wrote "The Consolation of Philosophy," which is a crazy story about a prisoner and an angel and the moral of the story is Stoicism.

  • People f'ing loved that book. It had a huge influence on the public at the time.

This was not the free-est time for thinkers, but Stoicism was just too magnetic. At a time when anything outside the Bible was risking a charge of being heretic, these writers and thinkers took the chance and kept Stoic virtue alive.

Renaissance Revival: Unveiling the rediscovery of Stoicism during the Renaissance and its impact on humanist thinkers.

The influence of Stoic philosophy persisted and experienced a revival during the Renaissance and beyond, with various thinkers drawing upon Stoic principles. Here's a simplified chronology of some Stoic-influenced thinkers during the Renaissance and the early modern era:

  1. Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–1494):

  • An Italian Renaissance philosopher who reached way back in time and mixed Cynicism and Stoicism to create his unique philosophical blend.

  • 2. Justus Lipsius (1547–1606):

  • A Flemish humanist who wrote a very popular and influential book called On Constancy, which took a great deal of its content from Stoic thought.

  • 3. Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592):

  • A French Renaissance philosopher referenced Stoicism constantly in his essays about self-control and ethics.

  • 4. Francis Bacon (1561–1626):

  • An English philosopher, statesman, and scientist, and super famous guy who might not have been a stoic himself, but he was very aware of the Stoic ideas and they found their way in from time to time to his work.

  • 5. Hugo Grotius (1583–1645):

  • A Dutch jurist and scholar who made huge steps towards developing an international law that governed the ideas of war and peace in the world. He leaned heavily on the idea of natural laws from Stoicism well over a thousand years earlier.

  • 6. René Descartes (1596–1650):

  • This is the "I think therefore I am" guy

  • He took mad naps all the time

  • He didn't live like a stoic, but he wrote about it a lot in his ethical works.

  • 7. Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677):

  • A Dutch philosopher who spent most of his writings emphasizing rationality, self-determination, and ethical conduct just like he was standing on the Stoa all those years ago.

  • Spinoza is a baller philosopher and you should check him out if you haven't

  • 8. John Locke (1632–1704):

  • An English philosopher and key figure in the Enlightenment who wrote about relying on reason and pursuing a happy life.

Needless to say, there are countless more that could be listed during these centuries, but I think this is a pretty good list.

Modern Applications: Who Brought Stoic Ideas from the 1600s to Now?

  1. 18th Century Enlightenment Thinkers:

  • Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire and Diderot were all about dancing with Stoic ideas, focusing on reason, virtue, and the pursuit of happiness or a good life.

  • 2. 19th Century Existentialism:

  • Existentialist thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Søren Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Camus all live in the ideas of Stoicism. In their world of ideas one has the freedom to do many things, but never to not choose. To not choose is to make the choice not to choose and therefore we are forced to grab the wheel of our own life and steer. If that isn't Stoicism I don't know what is.

  • 3. Early to Mid-20th Century:

  • Philosophers like Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein were the first generation to really have easy access to the entire history of philosophy. They began using everything from the whole history of recorded thought to formulate their ideas and theories. These men often referenced the work of the Stoics through the years with great respect and reverence.

  • 4. Modern Popularization and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

  • The practical aspects of Stoic philosophy include managing emotions and knowing what you have control over. This thread runs through something very popular in our current culture called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness practices.

  • I for one am a daily meditator and I don't know if I would be able to ignore the things I cannot control without it.

  • 5. Contemporary Stoicism:

  • Me and Ryan Holiday. Take your pick, or read us both.

There is your whole history of the chronology of Stoicism that you never asked for, but always needed.

V. Conclusion: Zeno's Enduring Impact

Zeno's enduring legacy: Emphasizing the timeless insights and practical guidance offered by Stoicism through the ages.

zeno of citium stoic poker
Zeno left us a guide to living a virtuous life.

Zeno of Citium was the true OG of Stoicism. He started everything that has led up to you having that Ryan Holiday book next to your toilet right now. His focus on virtue, reason, and going with the cosmic flow, or Logos rings true today for many people of all ages in growing numbers.

Zeno was all about virtue with its wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice. He taught that virtue was a way to relax your mind by having many decisions pre-made. There is only one virtuous option in most situations and that can clear your mind of struggling about what to do. The true stoic does the virtuous thing, no other option.

Another great teaching of Zeno was that nothing was beyond question and debate. True wisdom and reason came from being tested in the fires of the Stoa. If it couldn't make it there, the Stoics wanted to know so they could throw out the weak idea and find something solid they could lean on forever.

In his life, Zeno went through some serious stuff and came out the other side a philosopher of the people. He wanted his message to go to normal people, even people as low as he was when he first washed up on the shores of Athens after his dreams had been crushed by the wrath of Poseidon.

Zeno's legacy is growing today. He is a legend of thought and I know I owe him a debt of gratitude. Thanks Zeno <3



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