“My voyage turned prosperous when I suffered a shipwreck. It was well done of thee Fortune, thus to drive me to philosophy.” Zeno of Citium
Philosophy, as practiced by ancient greeks and romans, was meant to be a way of life. Zeno of Citium was the phoenician son of a merchant that arrived in Athens after almost losing his life in a shipwreck. Recovering from a great material loss, he learned about Socrates’ life, impressed and inspired he begun to study philosophy under the Cinic philosopher Crates. Later he studied in the Platonic Academy and other schools, but not fully satisfied, he developed his own philosophy.
Around 308 BCE, Zeno began giving public lectures in Athens under the painted colonnade next to the Agora. The colonnade was known as the Stoa Poikile in Greek, which gave the name Stoicism to his teachings.
His philosophy could be described as a synthesis of three major branches of Greek philosophy; Heraclian Physics, Megarian Logic, and Socratic Ethics.
The Stoics believed that everything in the universe, including mankind, was linked by a divine force (Logos), which they also called Reason. Zeno considered that by living in conformity with nature, mankind would live in conformity with the Logos, and this was the only way to attain happiness.
Most of what we know about the Stoics comes from the writings of the politicians Seneca and Cicero, the freed slave Epictetus and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Stoicism was a major influence in successive centuries for Neoplatonist, Christians and Jewish philosophers. Almost forgotten throughout the middle ages, it helped to ignite the Renaissance, for example in the humanistic philosophy of Erasmus. Its influence is very evident in the philosophies of Descartes, Spinoza, Kant and Hegel, been central therefore in the development of western philosophy. In more recent years Michel Focoult and Pierre Hadot advocated for reviving Stoic philosophy as a way of life, through the called “spiritual exercises”.
The scope of Stoic philosophy is too large to be encompassed in this blog, nevertheless I will try to explain it through my understanding after three years of reading and practice.