"Stoic Philosophy is like an egg. The outer part, the shell is logic. The white albumen is ethics. The inner crocus is physics."

Hellenistic Era

alexandros-mosaiko.jpg The Hellenistic Era begins with the death of Alexander the Great and ends with the victory of the Octavian vs Marcus Antonius in Actium (323 b.C. – 31 b.C.). The period is characterized by the expansion of Hellenism all over the known world. Sudden changes, movements, new transportation system, new public system, new language, new religion were the things that frightened and shook the peace and calmness of the citizens. Also, new wars were starting, campaigns, new cites were built, new kind of buildings, new priorities were set etc. The value of the city was falling and the citizen was feeling alone in the world and helpless. A new religion appears with a mix of Egyptian, Anatolian and Hellenic Gods and Goddesses, theology, practices and temples.

MacedonEmpire.jpg "Hellas expanded is the world." -Victor Hugo
Image taken from Wikipedia with the conquest of Alexander the Great.

The Aristotelic and the Platonic Philosophy were too difficult for the simple citizen who couldn’t follow their teachings or see them apply in daily life. The problems were solved by three main schools of Philosophy. Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics. The schools were spreading and developing to the Hellenic empire and later to the Roman empire. They were simpler than Academia or Lyceum, the teachings could be applied in daily life and they provided solutions, comfort and calmness to a world which was changing rapidly.

stoics.jpg Poseidonios, Chrysippos, Zenon
The image was created from wikipedia's photos

Stoicism

The Stoics were born with Zenon, at a period were Plato’s Academia had Polemon as the Headmaster. Zenon had been a student of Cynism and later of Platonism. He managed to smoothen the teachings of Cynism and used them as a base. He added a lot of Platonism and his ideas to form a new current. He saw Philosophy in three parts: logic, physics and ethics. This division had taken by Xenocrates, who was a headmaster of Academia and a mathematician. An oracle advised Zenon that if he wanted to be wise, he should spend time with the dead. Zenon understood that he had to study old philosophers, something that we see today as unwanted by modern people, pagans and new age priests. stoa.jpg Monument of the famous heroes, part of the Ancient Agora of Athens were Zenon, Kleanthes, Chrysippos spend their time.

Philosophy was a criterion of achieving a happy life, which has nothing to do with collection material goods, being rich or controlling others. The target was to control yourself, your mind, your desires, your emotions. By reducing the desires of the body, you have a cleansed soul and then you can communicate with the divine. Stoic Epictetus called Philosophy the art of living and Seneca, the art of acting. Stoics put great emphasis on applying the teachings and they used to mock theoretical philosophers.

The Stoic Philosophy is divided into three stages. The earlier Stoa with Zenon, Kleanthes and Chryssipos, who set the basis. The middle with Panaetius and Poseidonius, the scientists. The later Stoa with Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero and many others. Different views were acceptable in the three stages but the ground should be the same, in other words, Zenon was the beginning to their teachings.

Logic

Let’s see the Xenocrate’s division of Philosophy. Logic is referring to gnosis/knowledge and grammar. It was divided in dialectics (knowledge and right use of the voice) and rhetoric (use of the right expression to persuade the audience. Dialectics subdivided too to semainon and semanomenon. The first one is referring to the right use of the communication mean and the second from how we take an impression and through different stages, we form science. In rhetoric, the use of emotion in the voice is perfectly normal and the Stoics used that art under logic. Poetry is also a part of rhetoric and even music.

Physics

Physics is the knowledge of the physical and metaphysical world. The knowledge of animals, plants, spirits, gods. As we see, the Stoic physics is nowadays science and theology. The Stoic wise studied and worshipped nature as God’s perfect creation. The one God is Zeus who has the ability to permeates all things. Stoics believe that nature is not only matter, but there is another ingredient, energy, the famous active energetic principle of Stoicism. The energetic principle is God who gives form to matter. Stoics see matter and energy as interconnected. The view of God is another part of Physics. They see three principles of the world.

  • Zeus/God
  • Physis/Nature
  • Eimarmene/destiny

God has created the world by His image. (Seems christianic?) He is the ultimate perfect, good, happy, logical being. (Oh, too christianic?) According to Chryssipos from the earlier Stoa, Eimarmene is the logic of the world, something that you have to accept if we want to listen to the later Stoa. Stoics attribute to gods the forces of nature as they call the One God polyonymos (=with many names). The see the different parts of his logic as different gods and goddesses and they motivate humans to be like all the other gods and goddesses. There is no difference between monotheism, henotheism and polytheism, as long as you apply Philosophy, show respect to gods and religion. (Read on piety)The teachings on the soul was also a part of physical Philosophy but as they are difficult we will leave them for the future, as also their opinions on divination.

Read Epictetu's teachings on priests.

Ethics

The third part of their Philosophy is ethics. They supported that with ethics, human can live in accordance with his inner daemon, (see the influences on neoplatonism) which is a part of God. As they saw nature God’s perfect creature, they set rules in accordance with nature. They had a very positive theory, like Plato, that we have good part inside of us and that outer influences makes us lose this communication.

A perfect logical being, can only reflect nature. The role of Philosopher’s model usually played Socrates or Diogenes or Zenon. The purpose of Philosophy is to achieve blissfulness. But this can be accomplished if you know the agathon/good and if you make the right choices. Agathon is the ethical good. Besides actions, the motives should also be ethical. Also, there are no excuses concerning any type of difficult situation. There is no excuse for taking the wrong decision. Another characteristic that has to be practiced is apathy, not feeling the wrong measure of emotions, good or bad from passions, either good passions or bad passions. Stoic Philosopher Hekaton divided four main passions:

  • Sadness
  • Fear
  • Wish
  • Pleasure

How the Stoic wise achieves apathy? He filters everything and he doesn’t let anything make him feel the results of passions. For example the Stoics were teaching that the political power is nothing to the power you have to yourself. You can be someone else’s slave, but only when you allow the results of slavery to pass through you. The human state of emotions should be stable in an earthquake or at a time of glory. Any kind of passion is not leading to agathon or any virtues. Emotions like anger, worry or terror are not welcomed in his inner world. They had exercises for apathy which were practiced in and out of the school. They also used exercises to restrain bodily desires. For example, they slept on the floor or they drank water for a day, eating nothing and saying about this practice to no one. (Reminds you Jesus form the Bible?) They put themselves on a constant diet for better control of the body by the mind.

Stoics considered a duty to be good friends, to fulfill their duties to their country, to make a family, to work and be efficient in what they do. The Stoic Kleanthes was working in the night and in the morning he was studying in the school. Nobody knew how he did it. The Athenians even sued him to found out how he did it.

The last thing of ethics we are going to examine is the virtues. In any ancient system, living with the virtues leads to happiness. And the platonic ones influenced later systems. In Stoicism there are four primal virtues: bravery, justice, fronisis (apply wisdom) and sofrosyne (self-control). The six secondary are: large-heartedness, temperance, science, fortitude, acumen and good will. As we saw, apathy played a great role in the system. The Stoics recognized three good passions or eupatheies, which should be practiced. They are interconnected. The logical happiness, which is inner happiness, brings creative will and this brings the third good passion, godliness, to choose the right thing to do. The practice of those three good passions restrict their opposites. Happiness has pleasure as its opposite. Creativity has wish. Godliness has fear. Though those teachings require thought within the limits of the Stoic Philosophy, they can be perceived by modern people.

Influences

Stoic Philosophy is in the Christianity as well as Neoplatonic and Cynic. Stoicism influenced another current, Neoplatonism, which we (the writers of the blog) consider to be of great importance for the devotees of Hekate. Stoicism left a gap unfulfilled. It had no answers to the mysteries, though the practice of divination was considered normal and legitimate for the Stoics. Neoplatonism came to fill this gap and it further incorporated Aristotelian and Pythagorean and theurgy to its practices.