What is Stoicism?
The Story of Stoicism - What it is and how it all began
In 300BC a merchant called Zeno found himself at the mercy of a terrible
storm at sea.
He was carrying precious cargo of valuable purple dye he intended to
sell. The storm wrecked his ship and he barely escaped with his life,
everything he had possessed was gone. Suddenly, Zeno went from
wealthy merchant to a penniless refugee. He travelled to Athens where
he stumbled upon a bookstore and began to read Xenohpons
Memorabilia (a collection of Socratic dialogues). So impressed by this he
asked the store owner where he could find men like this.
By coincide, the Cynic philosopher Crates was walking by and Zeno
become his student.
Here he studied under Crates until he formed his own school, which was
to become known as Stoicism. Unlike most schools of philosophy, who closed themselves behind walls, Zeno and his followers would meet at the Agora of Athens under a porch known as the Stoa Poikile (hence the name Stoicism). They wanted to be in the heart of the city, amongst the people, as theirs was a philosophy of action, not theory; for them philosophy was designed to be practiced within the noise and chaos of life.
Stoicism eventually made its way to Rome where it, because of its practical nature, flourished and was widely practiced for the next 500 years.
Most of the original Stoic literature no longer exists, the three most enduring texts are by three Romans.
Marcus Aurelius - Emperor and know as the philosopher king (Meditations)
Epictetus - Slave turned influential Stoic teacher (Enrichoden and Discourses)
Seneca - A wealthy businessman, playwright and advisor to the Emperor Nero (Letters).
What did the Stoics believe?
The Stoics believed that virtue was the only true good, and virtue alone was sufficient for happiness. They believed that our role as human beings was to Live in Accordance with Nature. This meant our own personal nature, the nature of humanity in general (living for the common good), and our place within the universe.
This was achieved by cultivating reason and rational thought, knowing what was and what was not in our control, suspending judgement and seeing events for what they were and bearing our burdens in a noble and dignified way.
They sought to perfect the human character and train the soul to live in perfect harmony, irregardless of what happened to them.
They sought to address issues such as overcoming anger, grief, desire, greed, fear, jealously, everyday problems and vices we may face.
Stoicism was an antidote to inoculate oneself with in an otherwise irrational and chaotic world.
Stoicism is known as the most practical of the philosophies. Its doctrines and ethos give you the tools to live a life of purpose and meaning, allowing you to navigate the storms of life with dignity and ease.
From its humble beginnings Stoicism has influenced some of the worlds most important thinkers, rulers, poets, scientists and explorers throughout the ages.
I would also like to highlight a criticism often made by those who encounter Stoicism, is that some of their writing can seem severe and shocking upon first reading, Such as this:
‘When giving your child or wife a kiss, repeat to yourself, ‘I am kissing a mortal.’
But we must remember two things.
1. This was an age where plagues were prevalent, healthcare almost non existent, mortality was high. We live very sheltered lives compared to that of our ancestors; death and disease were far more common place.
2. The texts we reading are from seasoned practitioners. They themselves would tell the beginner to start small. Don’t begin by imaging the loss of a loved oneut begin by imaging breaking your favourite cup or losing your phone.