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Stoics and Moral Philosophy

Related Resources
Stoa Poikile
Early Stoicism
Zeno of Citium

Dateline: 08/11/98 Chrysippus

With the wide-ranging conquests of Alexander the Great, the Greek or Hellenic polis 'city-state' gave way to Hellenistic Empire. Distinctions between Greek and barbarian fell; individuals, no longer simply part of their poleis (pl. of polis), were suddenly aware of the greater whole to which they belonged. Stoicism arose as an attempt to comprehend the new cosmopolitan order. The philosophy of the Stoics lasted for 500 years, during which time it had a major impact on Christianity, the idea of natural law, and moral virtue. Some of the major early stoics were Chrysippus, Cleanthes, and Zeno.


Without Chrysippus, there wouldn't have been any Stoicism
- anonymous

He alone is the sage, the others only act as shadows.
- anonymous

Chrysippus (280-207) wasn't the founder of Stoicism. That honor goes to Zeno (c 336-264). Chrysippus wasn't even the second head of the stoa poikile. That honor goes to Cleanthes. Chrysippus was, however, the person on whom our knowledge of the early Stoics depends. Like Epicurus, he was a prolific writer, composing 705 books of which none remain except fragments preserved by others, including Cicero, Plutarch, Seneca, Aulus Gellius, and Athenaeus.

Some of Chrysippus' actions adversely affected the reputation of the Stoics. He refused to honor distinctions of rank. He would take opposite viewpoints for the sake of argument, but in the process show up the inconsistencies of Stoic beliefs. He sometimes argued illogically.

How Chrysippus died is not known. Two alternative theories are that Chrysippus died of laughter or over-proof wine.

([URL = <www.math.csusb.edu/~history/Mathematicians/Chrysippus.html>])
([URL = <http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/c/chrysipp.htm>]) IEP Chrysippus - This essay discusses the Stoic view of the world as God or "a universal effusion of his spirit."


Cleanthes (331-232), a wrestler from Lydia, had neither money nor genius, but through diligence and perseverance he served as Zeno's pupil for 19 years before succeeding him. He still had a long teaching career, since he died at 99, reportedly through intentional starvation.
([URL = <http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/c/cleanthe.htm>])) Cleanthes.


When Zeno was asked what a friend was, he replied, "Another I."
Source: ([URL = <http://www.columbia.edu/acis/bartleby/bartlett/495.html>]) Zeno. xix.

Diogenes Laertius' Lives of Eminent Philosophers provides most of our information on Zeno of Citium because, although he was the founder of the Stoic school, none of his works survives. Zeno began his career as a merchant, but shipwreck led him to Athens and the Cynic philosopher, Crates. While under Crates' tutelage, Zeno wrote his Republic.

In the Republic, his utopian, rational society would have no need for laws. But since humans live in an imperfect society, they must accept social realities. Zeno opposed slavery, believed in sexual equality, opposed modesty, lived frugally, and appears to have drunk excessively.

([URL = <http://neptune.spaceports.com/~words/zeno.html>]) Zeno.
This article and ([URL = <http://www.ozemail.com.au/~djhmoore/zeno.htm>])) Douglas Moore's "Zeno of Citium and the Cynics" compares Stoicism with Taoism. Moore also looks at Stoic hypocrisy and political involvement.
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