Stoicism was an important school of philosophy* in ancient Greece and Rome. It was founded in the late 300s B.C. by Zeno. Because Zeno taught in the Stoa Poikile (Painted Porch) in Athens, he and his followers were called Stoics. Stoicism emphasized that virtue was necessary for happiness. Stoics also attempted to detach themselves from both pleasure and pain.
Zeno arrived in Athens around 313 B.C. and attended lectures at the Academy, the school founded by Plato. He studied the teachings of other philosophers before forming his own school. After Zeno’s death, Stoic thought began to diverge from Zeno’s teachings as several of his students stressed various aspects of the philosophy. Stoicism was saved by Chrysip- pus, the third head of the school, who wrote many works that further developed and extended the Stoic philosophy. It was the doctrines of Chrysippus that became the standard form of Stoicism.
* philosophy study of ideas, including science
Stoicism combined elements of logic*, physics, and ethics*. It was based on the concept that the universe was controlled by reason, which was strongly associated with the divine. Therefore, everything that happened in the universe was the result of divine reason, or fate. Accepting one’s fate was considered virtuous, and virtue led to happiness and a wholesome state of mind. Stoicism rejected extremes of behavior, emphasizing instead moderation, wisdom, courage, and justice in one’s dealings with others. In this way, Stoicism promoted the concept of a common humanity, in which people bonded together through acts that benefited everyone.
Like many other ancient philosophers, the Stoics broke down matter into the four elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Fire was the element most closely related with divine reason. Early Stoics believed that fire would eventually destroy the universe, but a new universe would arise from that destruction. They believed that this cycle of destruction and rebirth occurred many times. Because the Stoics believed that every person contained a spark of divine fire, they saw no difference between Greeks and foreigners or between freemen and slaves.
The philosopher Panaetius popularized Stoicism in Rome during the early 100s B.C. While there, he taught a kind of practical Stoicism that maintained that those who aspired only to be virtuous were approaching wisdom. His view appealed to statesmen, soldiers, and noblemen.
The most important Stoic of the early Roman Empire was Seneca the Younger. Seneca, an adviser to the emperor Nero, wrote many dialogues* advocating Stoicism. Other Stoic philosophers publicly opposed the one-man rule of the emperors on moral grounds. Outraged emperors, especially Vespasian and Domitian, banished these philosophers from Rome. Epictetus, who was exiled by Domitian, was the most famous teacher of Stoicism in the Roman Empire. Although Epictetus wrote nothing himself, one of his students took down his lectures and published them as the Discourses and the Encheiridion (Manual). Epictetus taught that to ensure a peaceful and happy life, a person should wish for things to be as they are because that is the only way to be certain that the wish will become reality.
Marcus Aurelius, who was Roman emperor in the late A.D. 100s, read Epictetus and based his own personal philosophy on his teachings. Aurelius wrote a work of Stoic philosophy called the Meditations. Although Stoicism began to disappear in the A.D. 200s, it influenced many other philosophers, including some of the early Christian teachers. The term stoic today refers to someone who appears not to be affected by passion or feeling, especially in response to pain or distress. (See also Epicurus; Philosophy, Greek and Hellenistic; Philosophy, Roman; Skepticism.)
* logic principles of reasoning
* ethics branch of philosophy that deals with moral conduct, duty, and judgment
* dialogue text presenting an exchange of ideas between people