Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

I am enjoying almost every line of Edward Gibbon’s monumental book on the fall of the Roman Empire. Widely considered the greatest work of history ever written, I was surprised to find many thoughts on Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics, both in praise and criticism. Gibbon cannot hide his admiration for the Roman virtues (so parallel to Stoic virtues) and his disdain for the vices that made that great civilization fall. He shows some bias towards Christians and Huns, but it must be hard not to, when you are writing a 6 volume and 3589 pages work on the decline of your favorite ancient civilization. 


On Marcus Aurelius’ virtues:

“The virtue of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was of a severer and more laborious kind. It was the well-earned harvest of many a learned conference, of many a patient lecture, and many a midnight lucubration. At the age of twelve years he embraced the rigid system of the Stoics, which taught him to submit his body to his mind, his passions to his reason; to consider virtue as the only good, vice as the only evil, all things external as things indifferent. His meditations, composed in the tumult of a camp, are still extant; and he even condescended to give lessons of philosophy in a more public manner than was perhaps consistent with the modesty of a sage, or the dignity of an emperor. But his life was the noblest commentary on the precepts of Zeno. He was severe to himself, indulgent to the imperfections of others, just and beneficent to all mankind. He regretted that Avidius Cassius, who excited a rebellion in Syria, had disappointed him, by a voluntary death, of the pleasure of converting an enemy into a friend; and he justified the sincerity of that sentiment, by moderating the zeal of the senate against the adherents of the traitor. War he detested, as the disgrace and calamity of human nature; but when the necessity of a just defence called upon him to take up arms, he readily exposed his person to eight winter campaigns on the frozen banks of the Danube, the severity of which was at last fatal to the weakness of his constitution. His memory was revered by a grateful posterity, and above a century after his death, many persons preserved the image of Marcus Antoninus, among those of their household gods.”

The Germans unite against Rome for the first time during Marcus Aurelius reign:

“The general conspiracy which terrified the Romans under the reign of Marcus Antoninus, comprehended almost all the nations of Germany, and even Sarmatia, from the mouth of the Rhine to that of the Danube. It is impossible for us to determine whether this hasty confederation was formed by necessity, by reason, or by passion; but we may rest assured, that the barbarians were neither allured by the indolence, nor provoked by the ambition, of the Roman monarch. This dangerous invasion required all the firmness and vigilance of Marcus. He fixed generals of ability in the several stations of attack, and assumed in person the conduct of the most important province on the Upper Danube. After a long and doubtful conflict, the spirit of the barbarians was subdued.”

On the Antonines 
“If a man were called to fix the period in the history of the world, during which the condition of the human race was most happy and prosperous, he would, without hesitation, name that which elapsed from the death of Domitian to the accession of Commodus.” Chapter 3

On Roman Virtues

“The education of Helvidius and Thrasea, of Tacitus and Pliny, was the same as that of Cato and Cicero. From Grecian philosophy they had imbibed the justest and most liberal notions of the dignity of human nature, and the origin of civil society. The history of their own country had taught them to revere a free, a virtuous, and a victorious commonwealth”

“We stand in need of such reflections to comfort us for the loss of some illustrious characters, which in our eyes might have seemed the most worthy of the heavenly present. The names of Seneca, of the elder and the younger Pliny, of Tacitus, of Plutarch, of Galen, of the slave Epictetus, and of the emperor Marcus Antoninus, adorn the age in which they flourished, and exalt the dignity of human natures. They filled with glory their respective stations, either in active or contemplative live; their excellent understandings were improved by study; philosophy had purified their minds from the prejudices of the popular superstition; and their days were spent in the pursuit of truth and the practice of virtue. Yet all these sages (it is no less an object of surprise than of concern) overlooked or rejected the perfection of the Christian system.” Chapter 15

Criticism of Marcus Aurelius

Indulgence of Marcus
“THE mildness of Marcus, which the rigid discipline of the Stoics was unable to eradicate, formed, at the same time, the most amiable, and the only defective, part of his character. His excellent understanding was often deceived by the unsuspecting goodness of his heart. Artful men, who study the passions of princes, and conceal their own, approached his person in the disguise of philosophic sanctity, and acquired riches and honours by affecting to despise them. His excessive indulgence to his brother, his wife, and his son, exceeded the bounds of private virtue, and became a public injury, by the example and consequences of their vices.”

To his wife (I must say in defense of Faustina that it must be difficult to be the wife of a philosopher-emperor who is all too busy fighting barbarian invasions and writes on his Meditaions that sex is “no more than the friction of a membrane and a spurt”)

“Faustina, the daughter of Pius and the wife of Marcus, has been as much celebrated for her gallantries as for her beauty. The grave simplicity of the philosopher was ill-calculated to engage her wanton levity, or to fix that unbounded passion for variety, which often discovered personal merit in the meanest of mankind. The Cupid of the ancients was, in general, a very sensual deity; and the amour’s of an empress, as they exact on her side the plainest advances, are seldom susceptible of much sentimental delicacy. Marcus was the only man in the empire who seemed ignorant or insensible of the irregularities of Faustina; which, according to the prejudices of every age, reflected some disgrace on the injured husband. He promoted several of her lovers to posts of honour and profit, and during a connection of thirty years, invariably gave her proofs of the most tender confidence, and of a respect which ended not with her life. In his Meditations, he thanks the gods, who had bestowed on him a wife, so faithful, so gentle, and of such a wonderful simplicity of manners.The obsequious senate, at his earnest request, declared her a goddess. She was represented in her temples, with the attributes of Juno, Venus, and Ceres; and it was decreed, that on the day of their nuptials, the youth of either sex should pay their vows before the altar of their chaste patroness.”

To his son Commodus
“The monstrous vices of the son have cast a shade on the purity of the father’s virtues. It has been objected to Marcus, that he sacrificed the happiness of millions to a fond partiality for a worthless boy, and that he chose a successor in his own family, rather than in the republic. Nothing, however, was neglected by the anxious father, and by the men of virtue and learning whom he summoned to his assistance, to expand the narrow mind of young Commodus, to correct his growing vices, and to render him worthy of the throne, for which he was designed. But the power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous. The distasteful lesson of a grave philosopher was in a moment obliterated by the whispers of a profligate favourite, and Marcus himself blasted the fruits of this laboured education, by admitting his son, at the age of fourteen or fifteen, to a full participation of the Imperial power. He lived but four years afterwards; but he lived long enough to repent a rash measure, which raised the impetuous youth above the restraint of reason and authority.”

The Scipionic circle

“I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.”  


Lovers of Greek culture

The Scipionic Circle, or the Circle of Scipio, was a group of philosophers, poets, and politicians patronized by Scipio Aemilianus. Together they would discuss Greek culture, literature, and humanism, with strong Stoic tendencies. Alongside their philhellenic disposition, the group also had a more humane Roman foreign policy.

Soldier and intellectual

Culturally, Scipio Aemilianus was both progressive and conservative. He received the name Africanus and celebrated a triumph in Rome after his destruction of Carthage (146bc). and the name Numantinus for his reduction of Spanish Numantia (133 bc). He was the patron of the Scipionic circle, a group of 15 to 27 philosophers, poets, and politicians. Besides Roman satirists and comedy writers such as Lucilius and Terence, there were Greek intellectuals, such as the scholar and historian Polybius and the Stoic philosopher Panaetius. Hence, Scipio had a philhellenic disposition (love and admiration for Greek culture).Velleius Paterculus wrote that Scipio was:

“a cultivated patron and admirer of liberal studies and of every form of learning, and kept constantly with him, at home and in the field, two men of eminent genius, Polybius and Panaetius. No one ever relieved the duties of an active life by a more refined use of his intervals of leisure than Scipio, or was more constant in his devotion to the arts either of war or peace. Ever engaged in the pursuit of arms or his studies, he was either training his body by exposing it to dangers or his mind by learning.”

Polybius mentioned going to Africa with Scipio to explore the continent Gellius wrote that Scipio “used the purest diction of any man of his time.” Cicero cited him among the orators who were “a little more emphatic than the ordinary, [but] never strained their lungsof shouted …” It seems that he had a good sense of humour and Cicero cited a number of anecdotes about his puns. He is also a central character in Book VI of Cicero’s De re publica, a passage known as the Somnium Scipionis or “Dream of Scipio.”

Panaetius of Rhodes was a Stoic philosopher. He was a pupil of Diogenes of Babylon and Antipater of Tarsus in Athens, before moving to Rome where he did much to introduce Stoic doctrines to the city. After the death of Scipio in 129 BC, he returned to the Stoic school in Athens, and was its last undisputed scholarch. He brought new vitality to Stoicism in the second century bc by shifting the focus of its ethical theory from the idealized sage to the practical problems of ordinary people. Working a century after Chrysippus had systematized Stoicism, Panaetius is often labelled the founder of ‘Middle Stoicism’ for defending new and generally more moderate positions on several issues. With Panaetius, Stoicism became much more eclectic and flesxible. His most famous work was his On Duties, the principal source used by Cicero in his own work of the same name. With Panaetius began the new eclectic shaping of Stoic theory; so that even among the Neoplatonists he passed for a Platonist. In Ethics he recognised only a two-fold division of virtue, the theoretical and the practical, answering to the dianoietic and the ethical of Aristotle; endeavoured to bring the ultimate object of life into nearer relation to natural impulses,and to show by similes the inseparability of the virtues; pointed out that the recognition of the moral, as something to be striven after for its own sake, was a leading fundamental idea in the speeches of Demosthenes; would not admit the harsh doctrine of apatheia, and, on the contrary, vindicated the claim of certain pleasurable sensations to be regarded as in accordance with nature, while he also insisted that moral definitions should be laid down in such a way that they might be applied by the man who had not yet attained to wisdom.

Polybius was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 264–146 BC in detail. The work describes the rise of the Roman Republic to the status of dominance in the ancient Mediterranean world and included his eyewitness account of the Sack of Carthage in 146 BC. Polybius is important for his analysis of the mixed constitution or the separation of powers in government, which was influential on Montesquieu’s The Spirit of the Laws and the framers of the United States Constitution.Other important themes running through The Histories are the role of Fortune in the affairs of nations, his insistence that history should be demonstratory, or apodeiktike, providing lessons for statesmen, and that historians should be “men of action” (pragmatikoi).

Polybius is considered by some to be the successor of Thucydides in terms of objectivity and critical reasoning, and the forefather of scholarly, painstaking historical research in the modern scientific sense.

Quintus Aelius Tubero was a Stoic philosopher and a pupil of Panaetius of Rhodes. He had a reputation for talent and legal knowledge. He was a tribunate in 130 BC. He also possibly became a suffect consul in 118 BC.

Cicero spoke of his character in parallel to his oratorical style: ” harsh, unpolished, and austere.” Despite this, Cicero also calls him “a man of the most rigid virtue, and strictly conformable to the doctrine he professed.” The approval of Panaetius, gave him access to the Scipionic Circle.

When Scipio Aemilianus died mysteriously in 129 BC, Tubero was responsible for the funeral arrangements. With Cynic-like aesthetics, he arragned Punic couches with goatskin covers and Samian pottery. The lack of public grandeur, allegedly, lost him the election for praetorship.

Panaetius wrote an epistle to Tubero concerning endurance of pain. A scholar of Panaetius dedicated a treatise called De Officiis to Tubero. 

Gaius Lucilius the earliest Roman satirist, of whose writings only fragments remain, was a Roman citizen of the equestrian class, born at Suessa Aurunca in Campania. Velleius Paterculus wrote that he served under Scipio Aemilianus at the siege of Numantia in 134 BC. We learn from Horace that he lived on the most intimate terms of friendship with Scipio and Laelius, (Satire ii.1), and that he celebrated the exploits and virtues of the former in his satires.

Publius Terentius Afer, better known in English as Terence , was a playwright of the Roman Republic, of North African descent. His comedies were performed for the first time around 170–160 BC. Terentius Lucanus, a Roman senator, brought Terence to Rome as a slave, educated him and later on, impressed by his abilities, freed him. Terence apparently died young, probably in Greece or on his way back to Rome. All of the six plays Terence wrote have survived.

One famous quotation by Terence reads: “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto“, or “I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.”

Publius Rutilius Rufus (158 BC – after 78 BC) was a Roman statesman, consul, orator and historian. During his consulship, he reformed the drill system and improved army discipline. Rufus studied philosophy under Panaetius (becoming a Stoic), law, public speaking and Greek.

Gaius Laelius C.f. Sapiens (born c. 188 BC), was a Roman statesman, best known for his friendship with the Roman general and statesman Scipio Aemilianus (Scipio the Younger). Laelius was called Sapiens (“wise”) because of his decision not to undertake efforts at political reform that were beginning to create serious dissension in the Roman Senate.

Lucius Furius Philus was a Roman statesmen who became consul of ancient Rome in 136 BC. He was a member of the Scipionic Circle, and particularly close to Scipio Aemilianus. In de Republica, Cicero praises the style of Furius’ speeches.

Manius Manilius was an orator and distinguished jurist who also had a long military career. In Cicero’s De oratore, Manilius was depicted as a member of the Scipionic Circle. In the work, Cicero describes Manilius as a “representative of the broad education required of the orator, and of old-fahioned generosity in helping others with his ledgal knowledge”

Spurius Mummius was a Roman soldier and writer. He wrote satirical and ethical epistles, describing his experiences in Corinth in humorous verse. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, these letters, which were still popular a hundred years later, were the first examples of a distinct class of Roman poetry, the poetic epistle.

Quintus Mucius Scaevola Augur  was a politician of the Roman Republic and an early authority on Roman law. He was first educated in law by his father (whose name he shared) and in philosophy by the stoic Panaetius of Rhodes.

Gaius Fannius Strabo  was a Roman republican politician who was elected consul in 122 BC, and was one of the principal opponents of Gaius Gracchus. Fannius’ speech was regarded as an oratorical masterpiece in Cicero’s time, and was widely read. On the advice of his father-in-law, Fannius attended the lectures of the Stoic philosopher, Panaetius, at Rhodes

Stoic Women: Simone Weil

Since writings by ancient Stoic women unfortunately did not survive, I have been looking for writings and quotes by modern women, that could have been written or inspired by ancient Stoics. Doing some research I came across French philosopher Simone Weil.  Her brilliance, ascetic lifestyle  and knowledge made her a unique philosopher, half anarchist half mystic.

Simone Weil’s lifelong philosophical inquiries came from many sources, but the ancient Greeks were the most important of all; she was a precocious student, proficient in ancient Greek by age 12. Despite her professed pacifism, she fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. She wrote extensively with both insight and breadth about political movements of which she was a part and later about spiritual mysticism. Her book The Iliad, or the Poem of Force is one of her most celebrated works- an inspired analysis of Homer’s epic that presents a nightmare vision of combat as a machine in which all humanity is lost.

Although born into a secular Jewish household and raised in “complete agnosticism”, she later became a Christian mystic. But Weil did not limit her curiosity to Christianity. She was keenly interested in other religious traditions—especially the Greek and Egyptian mysteries; Hinduism, and Mahayana Buddhism. She believed that all these and other traditions contained elements of genuine revelation. After a lifetime of battling illness and frailty, Weil died in August 1943 from cardiac failure at the age of 34.

Weil’s biographer Gabriella Fiori wrote that Weil was “a moral genius in the orbit of ethics, a genius of immense revolutionary range” and Albert Camus described her as “the only great spirit of our times”.


“If we go down into ourselves, we find that we possess exactly what we desire.”

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”

“We have to endure the discordance between imagination and fact. It is better to say, “I am suffering,” than to say, “This landscape is ugly.”

“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be obtained only by someone who is detached.”

“All sins are attempts to fill voids.”

“The sea is not less beautiful in our eyes because we know that sometimes ships are wrecked by it.”

“Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.”

“In struggling against anguish one never produces serenity; the struggle against anguish only produces new forms of anguish.”

“You could not be born at a better period than the present, when we have lost everything.”

“To be a hero or a heroine, one must give an order to oneself.”

“Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love. Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”

“We are drawn towards a thing, either because there is some good we are seeking from it, or because we cannot do without it. Sometimes the two motives coincide. Often however they do not. Each is distinct and quite independent. We eat distasteful food, if we have nothing else, because we cannot do otherwise. A moderately greedy man looks out for delicacies, but he can easily do without them. If we have no air we are suffocated, we struggle to get it, not because we expect to get some advantage from it but because we need it. We go in search of sea air without being driven by any necessity, because we like it. In time it often comes about automatically that the second motive takes the place of the first. This is one of the great misfortunes of our race. A man spokes opium in order to attain to a special condition, which he thinks superior; often, as time goes on, the opium reduces him to a miserable condition which he feels to be degrading; but he is no longer able to do without it.”

“One recognises that the partisan spirit makes people blind, makes them deaf to justice, pushes even decent men cruelly to persecute innocent targets. One recognises it, and yet nobody suggests getting rid of the organisations that generate such evils.”

“The sum of the particular intentions of God is the universe itself.”

“But a better remedy is indifference to ourselves, and being happy because the good is good, although we are far from it and may even suppose that we are destined to remain separated from it forever.”

“Contact with the sword causes the same defilement whether it be through the hilt or the point.”

Seneca on travelling

The things you’re running away from are with you all the time. Seneca

Seneca was very suspicious of those who travel  in order to escape from their problems or to achieve wisdom. In letter CIV he wrote:

“What good has travel of itself ever been able to do anyone? It has never acted as a check on pleasure or a restraining influence on desires; it has never controlled the temper of an angry man or quelled the reckless impulses of a lover; never in fact has it rid the personality of a fault. It has not granted us the gift of judgment, it has not put an end to mistaken attitudes. All it has ever done is distract us for a little while, through the novelty of our surroundings, like children fascinated by something they haven’t come across before. The instability, moreover, of a mind which is seriously unwell, is aggravated by it, the motion itself increasing the fitfulness and restlessness. This explains why people, after setting out for a place with the greatest of enthusiasm, are often more enthusiastic about getting away from it; like migrant birds, they fly on, away even quicker than they came.

Travel will give you a knowledge of other countries, it will show you mountains whose outlines are quite new to you, stretches of unfamiliar plains, valleys watered by perennial streams; it will allow you to observe the unique features of this or that river, the way in which, for example, the Nile rises in summer flood, or the Tigris vanishes from sight and at the completion of its journey through hidden subterranean regions is restored to view with its volume undiminished, or the way the Meander, theme of every poet’s early training exercises, winds about, loop after loop, and again and again is carried close to its own bed and then once more diverted into a different course before it can flow into its own stream. But travel won’t make a better or saner man of you. For this we must spend time in study and in the writings of wise men, to learn the truths that have emerged from their researches, and carry on the search ourselves for the answers that have not yet been discovered. This is the way to liberate the spirit that still needs to be rescued from its miserable state of slavery.

So long, in fact, as you remain in ignorance of what to aim at and what to avoid, what is essential and what is superfluous, what is upright or honorable conduct and what is not, it will not be travelling but drifting. All this hurrying from place to place won’t bring you any relief, for you’re travelling in the company of your own emotions, followed by your troubles all the way. If only they were really following you! They’d be farther away from you: as it is they’re not at your back, but on it! That’s why they weigh you down with just the same uncomfortable chafing wherever you are. It’s medicine, not a particular part of the world, that a person needs if he’s ill.

Suppose someone has broken his leg or dislocated a joint; he doesn’t get into a carriage or board a ship: he calls in a doctor to have the fracture set or the dislocation reduced. Well then, when a person’s spirit is wrenched or broken at so many points, do you imagine that it can be put right by a change of scenery, that that sort of trouble isn’t so serious that it can’t be cured by an outing?

Travelling doesn’t make a man a doctor or a public speaker: there isn’t a single art which
is acquired merely by being in one place rather wan another. Can wisdom, then, the greatest art of all, be picked up in the course of taking a trip? Take my word for it, the trip doesn’t exist that can set you beyond the reach of cravings, fits of temper, or fears. If it did, the human race would be off there in a body. So long as you carry the sources of your troubles about with you, those troubles will continue to harass and plague you wherever you wander on land or on sea. Does it surprise you that running away doesn’t do you any good? The things you’re running away from are with you all the time.

What you must do, then, is mend your ways and get rid of the burden you’re carrying. Keep your cravings within safe limits. Scour every trace of evil from your personality. If you want to enjoy your travel, you must make your travelling companion a healthy one. So long as you associate with a person who‟s mean and grasping you will remain a money-minded individual yourself. So long as you keep arrogant company, just so long will conceit stick to you. Cruelty you‟ll never say goodbye to while you share the same roof with a torturer. Familiarity with adulterers will only inflame your desires. If you wish to be stripped of your vices you must get right away from the examples others set of them. The miser, the swindler, the bully, the cheat, who would do you a lot of harm by simply being near you, are actually inside you.

Move to better company: live with the Catos, with Laelius, with Tubero. If you like Greek company too, attach yourself to Socrates and Zeno: the one would teach you how to the should it be forced upon you, the other how to the before it is forced upon you. Live with Chrysippus, live with Posidonius; they will give you a knowledge of man and the universe; they will tell you to be a practical philosopher: not just to entertain your listeners to a clever display of language, but to steel your spirit and brace it against whatever threatens. For the only safe harbour in this life’s tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to be bothered about what the future will bring and to stand ready and confident, squaring the breast to take without skulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us.”

The Dorian Mode

The Dorians were one of the four major ethnic groups among which the ancient Greeks considered themselves divided. The Doric order of architecture in the tradition inherited by Vitruvius included the Doric column, noted for its simplicity and strength, representative of the character of the Dorians. Their music was also known for its special character, a kind of harmony known as the Dorian Mode.

In the dialogue Laches, Plato calls the Dorian “the real Hellenic mode”, and says that it creates a feeling of sincerity. “And such an one I deem to be the true musician, attuned to a fairer harmony than that of the lyre, or any pleasant instrument of music; for truly he has in his own life a harmony of words and deeds arranged, not in the Ionian, or in the Phrygian mode, nor yet in the Lydian, but in the true Hellenic mode, which is the Dorian, and no other.”

According to Aristotle the Dorian Mode had “a special degree of moderation and firmness”. It is a mode that can be Happy but self-restrained. The modes were named after various regions, to represent the people who lived there, because Greek musical theorists were philosophers too, and associated the arts with aspects of “ethos” or character of the people, Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian became the names for the different “moods” a musical scale could produce.

Lyre ‘n’ Rhapsodypage-photo-310517.jpgAliki Markantonatou

Lyre ‘n’ Rhapsody,  is an acoustic female ensemble formed in 2013 in Athens, Greece.
The ensemble debut album “Awakening The Muse” was released in May 2013.
The music performed comprises Ancient Greek Lyrical Poetry and Greek Traditional Songs, some in Dorian mode.
The 12 strings Lyre is ideal in enhancing the Sapphic spirit, while the Daouli highlights the Lyre with it’s groovy and powerful beat. Fragments from ancient composers, such as Seikilos, are also interpreted by Lyre ‘n’ Rhapsody, in Phrygian mode.

Aliki Markantonatou plays the Archean Lyre in Dorian Mode


Michael Levy is an expert in acient greek music, in this composition he plays the kithara, in Doric Mode a large wooden lyre favoured by only the true professional musicians of ancient Greece, which reached its pinnacle of perfection during the “Golden Age” of Classical Antiquity, circa 5th century BCE.

The word ‘mode’ comes from the Latin for ‘manner, or method’ but musical modes all originated in ancient Greece, they called harmonai or tonos. The original ancient Greek Dorian Mode had the equivalent intervals as E-E on the white notes of the piano. It is similar to the modern natural minor scale. The only difference is in the sixth note, which is a major sixth above the first note, rather than a minor sixth.


The philosophical writings of Plato and Aristotle include sections that describe the effect of different harmoniai on mood and character formation. For example, Aristotle in the Politics (viii:1340a:40–1340b:5):

“But melodies themselves do contain imitations of character. This is perfectly clear, for the harmoniai have quite distinct natures from one another, so that those who hear them are differently affected and do not respond in the same way to each. To some, such as the one called Mixolydian, they respond with more grief and anxiety, to others, such as the relaxed harmoniai, with more mellowness of mind, and to one another with a special degree of moderation and firmness, Dorian being apparently the only one of the harmoniai to have this effect, while Phrygian creates ecstatic excitement. These points have been well expressed by those who have thought deeply about this kind of education; for they cull the evidence for what they say from the facts themselves. (Barker 1984–89, 1:175–76)”

PaniaguaLuis Paniagua is a Spanish composer of “new ancestral music”. 

The tradition was carried on in medieval times, the greek modes were classified by the moods they would create in the listener in the following manner:


Phrygian mode, on the other hand, is the music mode used in flamenco, which has an oriental feeling, common in modern metal and hard rock, it was said to inspire drunkenness and “bachic fury”, according to Plato, it could induce to warlike states.

Bulgaria. Thracian Mysteries

IT WAS A COOL afternoon and Luibka and me were enjoying some bulgarian red wine in a terrace restaurant. She was a knowledgeable and conversational woman, very keen on talking about the culture and history of her country. She wanted to show me her lovely medieval hometown called Triavna, so we went to spend the weekend there in the mountains. I was most amused by how she described to me the ancient inhabitants of bulgaria, the thracians, and how they had made a religion out of wine, ecstatic dances and music. She loved everything about greece, wine and history. I have the impression that, if she lived two thousand years ago she would have been a some kind of Dionysian priestess.

In ancient greece there were two religions, one was the Olympic religion, that of Zeus, Athena and Apollo, it was the official worship of the city state, mostly masculine and external. But there was also another religion, a set of cults, secret, feminine, unutterable and mysterious. They were the Mystery religions. The very word Mystery comes from the greek “closing the lips” or remain silent. Two of the most important were of Thracian origin, the Dionysian Mysteries and Orphic Mysteries. The Dionysian cult was the opposite of that of Apollo, the god of light, moderation and distant reason. Dionysus was the god of ecstatic dancing and intoxication. The worshipers were mostly women, the Bachants, that danced in groups during all night until they entered into trance. Theater, masks, lashings, snake handling and animal sacrifices were part of the rituals. Wine was Dyonisus’ blood, and he was called the liberator from all social bounds. If they were disturbed or watched by a man they may kill him and make him peaces, as part of the ritual. – You should be afraid of women-  Liubka told me. -They have wild hearts- She said as she sipped some red wine. The whole thing was extremely wild, so much that the romans forbade them.

A more introspective and ascetic religious movement was the Orphic mysteries. Orpheus was a thracian shepherd, poet and musician that, when his beloved Imilice died he descended to hell in search for her. When he met Hades, he played his lyre, so beautifully and sung with such pathos that even the king of Hell and his wife Persephone were moved. When asked, Orpheus begged them to release his beloved from Hell, Hades agreed but with one condition. Her soul will follow behind him but if he looks back she will remain in hell for ever. He started to climd towards the exit but at certain moment he amid darkness he thought he had lost her and turned to look back

The Orphics were an ascetic sect; wine, to them, was only a symbol, as, later, in the Christian sacrament. The intoxication that they sought was that of “enthusiasm,” of union with the god. They believed themselves, in this way, to acquire mystic knowledge not obtainable by ordinary means. This mystical element entered into Greek philosophy with Pythagoras, who was a reformer of Orphism as Orpheus was a reformer of the religion of Dionysus. From Pythagoras Orphic elements entered into the philosophy of Plato, and from Plato into most later philosophy that was in any degree religious.

When I told her I was interested in practicing Stoicism during my travels she could not help smiling with disapproval.



VIA NEGATIVA The Negative Way

“All philosophy lies in two words, sustain and abstain.” Epictetus

Via Negativa is an ancient philosophical and theological term that aims at finding truth by removing what something is not. If applied to a philosophy of life, it aims at removing what is bad and unnecessary in order to keep and enhance what is true and good in our life. The ancient philosophy schools that sprung after Socrates, proposed to mankind an art of living, the goal of which was to transform the whole of the individual’s life. The Art of living became central to philosophers such as Aristotle, Epicurus, Seneca or Epictetus .

Adopting an ancient philosophy of life in our modern context can be helpful and applicable with very few changes. Cutting the unnecessary in our life. Information regime.


  • Processed food and soft drinks.
  • Sugar and white bread
  • Watching TV entertainment, news, porn etc.
  • Shopping things that are not essential for life
  • Repetitive and irrational thoughts


  • Time in the internet, only the necessary
  • Time on the phone, only the necessary
  • Reading News or magazines.
  • Your wardrobe; give out a third to people in need.
  • Stuff you do not need in your house.
  • Thinking about past and future problems, that you cannot solve now.
  • Anything that is not essential for your life or your one project.
  • Reduce your projects, focus in one thing.
  • Meet, unless it comes from natural farming.
  • As a side effect radically changing your lifestyle you may have losses and gains.


  • Anxiety.
  • Stress.
  • Weight.
  • Body toxins.
  • Cancer risk
  • Waist and junk you don’t need.
  • Toxic friends.
  • Negative emotions such envy or anger.


  • A healthier body.
  • A sharper mind.
  • More time and energy for doing creative things
  • More time and energy for family and real friends
  • More time and energy for your projects in life
  • More time and energy for sports, outdoors and Nature
  • More time for reading good books
  • Reevaluating your priorities in life.
  • Getting things done.

Unlike most modern philosophers, ancient philosophers believed that human beings were endowed with soul, (it is almost impossible to read a philosophical text in ancient greek without finding the word “soul” Psuché). Some schools, like the Pythagoreans believed in the transmigration of the soul, but many others did not believe that the soul should outlive the body.


In an Hellenistic school, a student should have to learn logic, geometry, rhetoric, or compose dialogues, but along with those practices, he may have endure other kind of exercises.

The practices or “spiritual exercices” would differ from one school to another. An aspiring philosopher in the Pythagorean school, apart from learning mathematics, would have to remain silent for long periods of time, keep a strict vegetarian diet, watch the stars at daybreak; if he joined the Cynics would live an ascetic life, walking barefoot and sleeping on the ground; a simple life working in a communal garden if with the Epicureans; or to meditate on his own death if he studied with the Stoics. 

Paradoxically, for the later school, the purpose of life was Eudaimonia, meaning a happiness or a flourishing life.  That was to be achieved by living a life according to Nature, having a coherent life, and taking moral virtue as their only possession and only good.

For the reader it may be hard to see why on earth would someone want to join such school. Life is full of opportunities for pleasure and amusements. Religious people, at least, are promised that after death they will have a reward for their abstinences in this life. The stoic, on the other hand, was left only with Virtue?

The philosophers that lived under the rule of Nero and Caligula knew well how easily a life of excessive luxury, thirst for power and hedonism could destroy the human soul. That vice, greed and depravation are bottomless pits. They were aware of this flaw in our nature and they knew we needed to train against what they saw as irrational passions.

We are, according to science, pleasure seeking creatures. Our brains developed to survive in adverse situations when scarcity was the norm and are not well adapted to abundance and comfort. If the brain doesn’t find real problems it makes up new ones, more difficult to fight because they are self-made delusions.

The adequacy of Hadot’s account of the history of philosophy is not what I wish to consider in detail here.9 Rather, it is on his attractive recovery and insistence on the full force of Ancient philosophy as a way of life that I will focus.10 Modern philosophy, in discrediting theology but refusing its former status as a guide to everyday life and its challenges, has relinquished the opportunity to offer a non-specialist public any practical counsel. Philosophy today is emphatically not a way of life. As a result, the majority are left for their existential orientation to the questionable resources of commercial technoscience (proffering medical and technological panacea to life’s trials at premium rates), the hopelessly reductive maxims of self-help, or else an emerging cadre of suburban shamans promulgating new age religiosity. Although Hadot concedes that certain modern philosophers have managed to move beyond dry academicism, ultimately his conclusion rests: modern philosophy amounts only to discourse about philosophy.

One of the most important Stoics was Epictetus, born into slavery about 55 C.E. in the eastern outreaches of the Roman Empire. Sold as a child and crippled from the beatings of his master, Epictetus was eventually freed, rising from his humble roots to establish an influential school of Stoic philosophy that the emperor Marcus Aurelius would be its most prominent example.

The essence of his philosophy was apparently simple:

“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”

“Men are not disturbed by events, but by the views they take of them.”

“What, then, is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it natural”

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will. ”

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

‘When I see a man anxious, I say, What does this man want? If he did not want some thing which is not in his power, how could he be anxious?’ 

“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”

 Yes, we all have heard those before. Many wisdom traditions from east and west tell us that to be contented with what we have is the key to happiness, that a good life does not come with wealth and success, that we should live in the present moment. Others encourage us to pursue our dreams, no matter what. They sound contradictory, but both sound right in a way. Can we have our cake and keep it to? It may be the case, according to Epictetus:

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”

“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master;
he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.”

“Attach yourself to what is spiritually superior, regardless of what other people think or do. Hold to your true aspirations no matter what is going on around you.”

“No man is free who is not master of himself.”

It may sound that it is all about ascetic self-denial. But that is misleading. There are pleasures to be had in the world. If there is wine, enjoy it, remembering that excess is hardly enjoyable. Enjoy the loves in your life, without becoming slave to them. These thoughts are as effective in today’s life as they were two thousand years ago.

We keep forming false expectations about our lives, falling over and oven on the same addictions, inflicting unnecessary forms of suffering to ourselves and others, living inconsistently and worrying about things that are not in our control.

According to his philosophy one can be contented with his life, and at the same time, have aspirations. Even more effectively that one carrying too many contradictory desires, anxiety and fear of failure.

Another benefit of his approach is that, by removing distractions, unnecessary stuff, excesses and time wasting activities, we leave space for the things that really matter in our life.

“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself and in no instance bypass the discriminations of reason? You have been given the principles that you ought to endorse, and you have endorsed them. What kind of teacher, then, are you still waiting for in order to refer your self-improvement to him? You are no longer a boy, but a full-grown man. If you are careless and lazy now and keep putting things off and always deferring the day after which you will attend to yourself, you will not notice that you are making no progress, but you will live and die as someone quite ordinary.
From now on, then, resolve to live as a grown-up who is making progress, and make whatever you think best a law that you never set aside. And whenever you encounter anything that is difficult or pleasurable, or highly or lowly regarded, remember that the contest is now: you are at the Olympic Games, you cannot wait any longer, and that your progress is wrecked or preserved by a single day and a single event. That is how Socrates fulfilled himself by attending to nothing except reason in everything he encountered. And you, although you are not yet a Socrates, should live as someone who at least wants to be a Socrates.”

An athlete may want to win a tournament, because performing his sport is what makes him fulfilled. For Epictetus the athlete should not be concerned with the winning or losing, or the opinions of the public, those things that are out of his control. A contender may run faster than him, a judge may decide against him for some reason, the public may already have a favorite to support. He should not be concerned. The one thing that is in his control; is to give the best of himself. That, according to Epictetus is the only thing that matters in life. To give the best of ourselves in whatever we are doing, whether we are at rising a family, painting a painting or working at a hospital. Paradoxically, by being indifferent to opinions, contenders, referees or sheer bad luck etc, we are able to focus his energies in the one thing he is in control. Our will.

That is what they called Areté, that they linked with happiness and that was at the center of their philosophy, as a compass pointing toward a flourishing life.

It may turn out that in the near future the will be no ‘survival of the fittest’ but survival of the wisest.

MOST OF THE WORLD ‘S population nowadays live in cities. From Asia to the Americas, billions are beginning to live in a homogeneous way; they are exposed to the same advertising, consume and cherish similar products, dress alike, seem to have almost identical aspirations, and tend to suffer from similar problems and anxieties.

“To be interested in the changing seasons is . . . a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.” Santayana

“My idea of the modern Stoic Sage is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile


Negative visualization


One of the most effective and interesting meditation techniques used by ancient Stoics was the practice called praemeditatio malorum – “the premeditation of evils” – “preparing the mind in advance to cope with adversity.” The practice involves spending time imagining the possible “evils” that might befall you, the things that could go wrong with whatever you have planned. By facing these “evils” in advance, in theory, one robs them of the ability to surprise us and overwhelm our reason with the sudden intensity of their appearance to be true “evils.” We can take the time to identify them, realize that to the sage they are not evils, properly categorize them as indifferents . . . and so when one of these things does befall us, we are not overwhelmed. We are prepared. A “misfortune” presents itself to us, and rather than be shocked and overwhelmed and thinking, “Such a terrible thing has happened to me!”, instead we find ourselves calmly regarding the “misfortune,” able to say, “No, you do not fool me! You are not terrible. You are a thing indifferent, and you have no power over me.”

Living according to Nature

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods