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STOICISM is a philosophy related to the ancient Greek Stoic school, which took its name from the painted "porch" (stoa ) on the northern side of the Athenian Agora (now ruins partially excavated along Hadrianos Street), where teachers and students of the school initially met. Later, however, lessons were also held in more suitable public buildings (cf. Diogenes Laertius, 7.184).

Historical Survey

The founder of the Stoic school was Zenon (c. 335263 bce). Born in Cithium, Cyprus, he traveled for business to Athens in his thirties and came in contact with Socratic circles there. Zenon devoted himself to philosophy and worked out a comprehensive and ethically oriented world vision, entirely different in its ontological framework from those Plato and Aristotle had produced a few decades earlier. Having lived a successful life in Athens, whose municipality honored him with a statue, Zenon committed suicide. According to Stoic doctrine, suicide is a proper way to end one's life when circumstances (chronic illness, external pressure, etc.) prevent one from continuing to live as a wise person.

Cleanthes (c. 331232 bce), a student of Zenon's from Assos (not far from ancient Troy), led the school until he let himself starve to death, having reached almost one hundred years of age. Cleanthes is believed to have been interested in religion, an opinion due apparently to his famous "Hymn to Zeus" (Stoicorum veterum fragmenta [SVF] 1.537). In fact, Cleanthes occupied himself with a wide range of philosophical topics, including logic as well as psychology.

The third head of the Stoa was Chrysippus (c. 280208 bce), who came from Soli, near modern Mersin, in Cilicia (southwestern Anatolia, bordering Syria). Chrysippus was a natural scholar who wrote numerous books (only fragments are extant) by which he improved the Stoic system in all branches of philosophy. Most of what is known as Stoicism comes from him. After his death the Stoa was directed by Diogenes of Seleucia-on-the-Tigris and, later, by Antipater of Tarsus. These Stoic leaders of the first half of the second century bce left the system set up by Chrysippus unchanged, for they were occupied in rebuking critics from rival schools, such as the Epicureans, the Peripatetics (Aristotle's followers), and especially Carneades of Cyrene, the director of the Academy (Plato's former school).

The two major Stoic figures of the following period, which August Schmekel labeled the Middle Stoa, are Panaetius of Rhodes (c. 185c. 109 bce) and Posidonius of Apamea, Syria (c. 135c. 50 bce). Both were worldly philosophers who developed friendly ties with high-ranking politicians and intellectuals in Rome. Panaetius was mainly concerned with issues of a moral and social nature; in religious matters he seems to have expressed agnostic views. Posidonius, who was endowed with an encyclopedic mind, wrote books on cosmology, geography, and history, and he restyled the Stoic system. Several tenets of Posidonius's system differed from Chrysippean "orthodoxy." For example, Posidonius accepted the existence of an "irrational" part of the soul, following a rather Platonic psychological view (Fgm. 150 to 169, Edelstein-Kidd). Unlike Panaetius, Posidonius also had a genuine interest in theology and religious phenomena.

During the period of Panaetius's and Posidonius's leadership, Stoicism became one of the most followed philosophical trends of late Republican and early Imperial Rome. Representative of Roman Stoicism are Vergil's Aeneid, Seneca's moral essays, and the emperor Marcus Aurelius's Meditations. All these works exhibit a consistently Stoic inspiration, although it was developed in a personal, nonprofessional way. Little is known about the internal life of the school in later times. The Athenian Stoa apparently ceased to function as a center after the mid-first century bce, and many anonymous private teachers carried Stoic philosophy throughout the Hellenistic world. Only a few of their names have come down to us, the most famous being Epictetus of Hierapolis (Phrygia; c. 50130 bce), whose Manual was long admired as an outstanding outline of the Stoic moral attitude.

In 175 ce Marcus Aurelius establishedin Athens, the cradle of ancient Greek culturea school for the study of literature (rhetoric) and the four main philosophical trends, including Stoicism. Thus, Athens became once again the official seat of Stoicism, but no information about the names and activity of the appointed Stoic teachers has survived. This imperial school was ordered closed in 527 by the Christian emperor Justinian, after allegations that it was a haunt for pagan propaganda.

Both Jewish and Christian thinkers, including Philo, Clemens and Origen of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Augustine of Hippo, were well acquainted with Stoic philosophy and appreciated its doctrine of providence and its high ethical standards. But as a whole, Stoicism was rejected because of its alleged materialism, and Platonism seemed, for Christianity, a much better choice. Stoicism is rarely mentioned in the literature of the Middle Ages, although it should have been known through Latin sources. Additionally, it was no longer qualified as a philosophical movement or school. Only in the Renaissance did the ancient Stoa tradition find renewed appreciation. Blaise Pascal's assessment (suggested by Montaigne) of the Stoic as a person who confidently trusts in himself rather than God provoked a negative reaction from the Christian point of view. Stoic elements can be recognized in Barukh Spinoza's Ethics and in Immanuel Kant's moral theory.

Main Doctrines

The chief concern of ancient Stoic philosophy, as with other Hellenistic schools, was to lead human beings to happiness (eudaimonia ), which for the Stoics consists of moral virtue (aretē) that is, pursuing on every occasion what is kalon (good, or, originally, well-done) The wise, well-behaved person (sophos ) enjoys perfect happiness, for he is always coherent, firm, and internally appeased (SVF 3.2967; 548588). However, the sage's art of good living (eu zēn, SVF 3.16) requires a correct understanding of the nature of things and of the place of human beings in the world.

The Stoic approach is essentially a dynamic one. Reality, or nature, is a net of mutual interactions explaining the "growth" (the original meaning of phusis ), change, and decay of individual things. Every "real" entity must therefore be a body, because only a bodily being can act on other beings and be affected by them. The pure logical formulas are not bodily, as they do not exist anywhere (for instance, an utterance can be logically right, even though its content may never have taken place); they are simply something "one can say" (lekton ). Yet being "bodily" does not equal being material: in this sense Stoicism is not a materialistic theory like Epicureanism. The Stoics distinguished two aspects in reality as a whole: the active and the passive. The former is a producing principle, the "force" (dunamis ) or Godor, as Chrysippus and Posidonius put it, the "spirit" (pneuma ). The second aspect is proper matter (hulē) ; that is, the underlying material for the spirit's activity. Both aspects are intrinsically united: the spirit includes a material component of "fire," "heat," or "ether," while matter is always pervaded and shaped by spirit (SVF 2.299 to 313).

As a compound of matter and spirit, the world is represented by the Stoics as an organic, harmonic, and perfect living being (SVF 2.633641), in which each part has a mutual "solidarity" with all others (sumpatheia, SVF 2.475, 534, 546). The spiritual principle operating inside reality receives, in the Stoic system, various names according to its manifold functions. It is primarily the "reason" (logos ) through which all things of the world are brought about and linked in the most rational way (SVF 1.85, 160, 493, 2.1051). Each phenomenon takes its own place in a serial connection of causes and effects, but the particular causal chains, heterogeneous though they may appear in detail, all hang from one single principle and deploy themselves in conformity with a world plan laid down in the Logos at the beginning; thus the interlacing of all causes displayed by reason represents the all-determining "fate" (heimarmenē, SVF 2.912938; cf. Posidonius, Fgm. 377, Theiler).

Moreover, insofar as the spirit is identical with God, the Logos is the same as God's mind, and fate equals divine providence (pronoia ). The Stoics strongly stressed the rationality of the arrangement of the world and the providential disposition of all things, aimed ultimately at the wealth of humankind; a set of Stoic arguments thereon, recycled by Christian authors, provided the bulk of what was called theodicy in the seventeenth century (SVF 2.1106 to 1186). The existing world is, for the Stoics, neither infinite nor everlasting. The same spirit that produced it once and led its development will absorb it again in its original fire in due time, by means of an all-destroying conflagration (ekpurōsis ). Soon afterwards, another world will be shaped by it, similar to the preceding one, and so forth cyclically. This is because the spirit's Logos, and hence the resulting fate, cannot change (SVF 2.596632). This theory of "eternal recurrence" is a historical antecedent to Friedrich Nietzsche's ideas.

Rival schools objected that the Stoic doctrine of fate would abolish the human freedom of the will, but the Stoics denied it. As Chrysippus explained (see Cicero, On Fate 1819), fate does not have to be identified with a necessity that compels a person to do something he or she would not otherwise consent to do. Of course the environment lays down certain necessary conditions, but consent (sunkatathesis ) to action comes from the person's own nature. Fate does not fulfill its plan automatically, but coordinates the freely chosen actions of humans with the circumstances. For instance, it was fated for Oedipus to be born, but that would not have occurred if his parents had not decided to have intercourse. Their actions were spontaneous and, at the same time, "co-destined" (suneimarmenon ) in order to accomplish fate's end (Cicero, On Fate 13, cf. SVF 2.940). Augustine's late standpoint admitting compatibility between divine predestination and human free will was heavily influenced by this Stoic concept.

From an ethical point of view, a person's behavior, either right or wrong, depends on the strength of the soul's leading principle (hegemonikōn ), which is the spark of universal reason. The aim of human existence is to live in accordance with reason or nature (homologoumenōs ), that is, in a rational way. Evil doings and passions are the consequence of a degenerated rationality, not of an independent irrational faculty (SVF 3.456 to 480), an opinion from which Posidonius diverged. Even if fate has programmed everything, the human subject remains responsible for his or her actions and should be either blamed or rewarded by social authorities (in any case, the wicked are always unhappy). The Stoics did not believe in the immortality of the soul, but they allowed souls to survive for a while apart from their bodies, before melting away into the cosmic spirit (SVF 2.809 to 822).

Religion and Theology

The early Hellenistic religious mentality was by no means an otherworldly one; religion was rather a consolidated social institution, and philosophy had to take it into account. The Stoa, and all other schools, recognized this common heritage and recommended that traditional polytheistic cults be preserved, although the philosopher should approach them rationally, not with superstition. Chrysippus in particular was eager to save the supposed "rational" meaning of the ancient myths, giving them an allegorical explanation, in most cases as if they were hinting at natural or astronomical phenomenaa method similar to the one already applied to the interpretation of the Homeric poems (SVF 2.10661100; see also Cornutus, Theology ). Moreover, on behalf of the concepts of solidarity, fate, and providence, the Stoics supported the reliability of forecasts of the future both by means of divinatory techniques and through superhuman revelation in dreams and visions (SVF 2.11871216). According to Posidonius (Fgm. 106, Edelstein-Kidd), the godhead does not simply intervene occasionally when a forecast is soughtfor instance, shaping instantly the liver of every single victim in order that it may signify somethingbut the cosmic sumpatheia and the order of fate arrange things from the beginning in such a way that a determinate liver with its natural appearance will also be a sign related to a determinate incoming event.

Theology (in the Greek sense of "talking about the gods"; see Plato, Republic 379a) belongs to the part of the Stoic system named "physics" (the other two parts being "logic" and "ethics"), that is, to the doctrine of reality (phusis ). The supreme God, namely Zeus, is said in religious speech to be the all-pervading and life-giving spirit of nature. Chrysippus etymologized quite falsely the two available accusatives of the God's name, Día and Zēna, respectively, from the Greek preposition diā (throughout) and the verb zēn (to live) (SVF 2.1069). Zeus alone represents the ruling reason, which continues shaping the cyclically recurrent worlds. He is, in a sense, a unique eternal being. All other gods are perishable beings because they exist merely in the framework of a single world and will be wiped out, as will everything else, by the final conflagration (SVF, 2.1049, 1055). Of course they will reappear, exactly the same, in the subsequent cosmic cycle. These gods were thought of as earthly elements and forces, or even as stars and planets (SVF 1.510, 2.613, 1009, 1076).

Stoic theology is a puzzling philosophical construction, as its contemporaries pointed out (see the discussion in Cicero, On Gods ). Since spirit and matter are but two aspects of the same reality, the godhead can also be considered a simultaneously spiritual and material being. God is both soul and body of the universereason, mind, and fate, and also the natural substance with all its parts, phenomena, and functions (SVF 2.1041, 1077, cf. Diogenes Laertius, 7.147). It is not surprising that Posidonius (Fgm. 369, Theiler) claimed the contemplation of heavenly bodies to be the true religious act, which uncultivated people had distorted in the worship of images. Some Stoic philosophers, however, demonstrate a less abstract idea of God and a more devotional attitude. Cleanthes, for example, spoke of Zeus as a personal ruler of the universe, whose fatal law everyone had to follow willingly; Seneca's writings exhibit a deep religious feeling, which led early Christians to imagine a friendship between him and the apostle Paul.

Alleged Semitic Roots

Max Pohlenz (1959) raised the question of whether Stoicism may have undergone a Semitic influence due to the Eastern origin of most of its leaders. This assumption is groundless. In the globalized Hellenistic world, the Middle East did not mean what it does in today's geopolitical context, and local provenance made little, if any, difference. The only "Semite" in the history of the Stoa was Zenon, who belonged to the Phoenician Aramaic-speaking minority of the island of Cyprus; other Stoics came from Greek colonies or from highly Hellenized areas of Asia Minor, such as Cilicia. Diogenes and Posidonius were indeed Syrian, but their native cities had been founded by Seleucid kings and populated with Macedonian military settlers. In any case, all philosophers of this age, even if they were born near Palestine (e.g., Antiochus of Ascalone, Philodemus of Gadara), had an entirely Greek education and way of life.

It is even less likely that a "Semitic" background can be understood as a source of "Jewish" influence. The Stoic "spirit" has nothing to do with biblical rua, being rooted in the concept of warm breath as theorized by Greek medical science. Cleanthes' "Law of Zeus" is no philosophical Torah, because Stoic morality was not grounded in specific precepts or forbiddances. It is plausible that no Stoic teacher ever held a Bible in his hands. Posidonius, for instance, is assumed to have had somewhat anti-Jewish feelings (Fgm. 278, Edelstein-Kidd; 133, Theiler). One could more reasonably argue that some features of ancient Stoicism suggest Indian philosophythe immanence of God in the universe, the conflagration, the imperturbability of the sagebut there is a lack of evidence to elaborate the issue.

See Also

Cosmology; Hellenistic Religions; Logos; Monotheism; Study of Religion; Suicide; Tertullian; Zeus.


Primary Sources

Alesse, Francesca, ed. and trans. Panezio di Rodi e la tradizione stoica. Naples, 1994.

Arnim, Hans Friedrich August von. Stoicorum veterum fragmenta (SVF ). Reprint of 1905 edition. Stuttgart, 1978.

Cornutus, Lucius Annaeus. Theologiae graecae compendium. Edited by Carl Lang. Leipzig, 1881. Translated into Italian and edited by Ilaria Ramelli (Milan, 2003).

Epictetus. Handbook of Epictetus. Translated by Nicholas White. Indianapolis, 1983.

Epictetus. Discourses, Book I. Translated by Robert F. Dobbin. Oxford, 1998.

Long, A. A., and David Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers. 2 vols. Cambridge, U.K., 1987. An anthology of Stoic texts, with translations, philosophical commentary, and a full bibliography.

Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Translated by Gregory Hays. New York, 2002.

Panaetius. Panaetii Rhodii fragmenta. Edited by Modestus van Straaten. Rev. ed. Leiden, 1962.

Posidonius. The Fragments. Edited by Ludwig Edelstein and Ian G. Kidd. Cambridge, U.K., 1972. Reprinted with a commentary in three volumes by Ian G. Kidd. Cambridge, U.K., 1999.

Posidonius. Die Fragmente. 2 vols. Edited with commentary by Willy Theiler. Berlin and New York, 1982.

Seneca. Moral Epistles. Edited and translated by Anna Lydia Motto. Chico, Calif., 1985.

Seneca. Moral and Political Essays. Edited and translated by John M. Cooper and J. F. Procopé. New York and Cambridge, U.K., 1995.

Seneca. Dialogues and Letters. Edited and translated by C. D. N. Costa. New York, 1997.

General Literature

Bréhier, Emile. Chrysippe et l'ancien stoïcisme (1910). Paris, 1951.

Colish, Marcia L. The Stoic Tradition from the Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages. 2 vols. Leiden, 1985.

Duhut, Jean-Joël. Epictète et la sagesse stoïcienne. Paris, 1996.

Gould, Josiah B. The Philosophy of Chrysippus. New York, 1970.

Hadot, Pierre. The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Cambridge, Mass., 1998.

Laffranque, Marie. Posidonius d'Apamée. Paris, 1964.

Long, A. A. Problems in Stoicism. London, 1971.

Long, A. A. Stoic Studies. New York, 1996.

Pohlenz, Max. Die Stoa: Geschichte einer geistigen Bewegung (1959). 4th ed. Göttingen, Germany, 1970.

Rist, John M. Stoic Philosophy. London, 1969.

Rist, John M., ed. The Stoics. Berkeley, 1978. Includes many important essays on different topics.

Sandbach, F. H. The Stoics. 2d ed. London, 1989.

Schmekel, August. Philosophie der mittleren Stoa. Berlin, 1892.

Sharples, Robert W. Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics: An Introduction to Hellenistic Philosophy. London, 1996.

Veyne, Paul. Seneca: The Life of a Stoic. Translated by David Sullivan. New York, 2003.


Bobzien, Suzanne. Die stoische Modallogik. Würzburg, Germany, 1986.

Frede, Michael. Die stoische Logik. Göttingen, Germany, 1974.

Mates, Benson. Stoic Logic. Berkeley, 1961.

Mignucci, Mario. Il significato della logica stoica. Bologna, Italy, 1965.


Goldschmidt, Victor. Le système stoïcien et l'idée du temps. Paris, 1977.

Sambursky, Samuel. Physics of the Stoics. New York, 1959.

Determinism and Theodicy

Bobzien, Suzanne. Determinism and Freedom in Stoic Philosophy. Oxford, 1988.

Dalfen, Johannes. "Das Gebet des Kleanthes an Zeus und das Schicksal." Hermes 99 (1971): 173184.

Duhut, Jean-Joël. La conception stoïcienne de la causalité. Paris, 1989.

Magris, Aldo. L'idea di destino nel pensiero antico. 2 vols. Udine, Italy, 19841985. See pages 514607.

Theiler, Willy. "Tacitus und die antike Schicksalslehre." In Forschungen zum Neuplatonismus, pp. 46103. Berlin, 1966.


Campbell, Keith. A Stoic Philosophy of Life. Lanham, Md., 1986.

Erskine, Andrew. The Hellenistic Stoa: Political Thought and Action. London, 1990.

Nussbaum, Martha Craven. The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics. Princeton, 1994.

Radice, Roberto. Oikeiosis: Ricerche sul fondamento del pensiero stoico e sulla sua genesi. Milan, Italy, 2000.

Reesor, Margaret. The Nature of Man in Early Stoic Philosophy. London, 1989.


Dragona Monachou, Myrto. Stoic Arguments for the Existence and the Providence of the Gods. Athens, 1976.

Drozdek, Adam. "Theology of the Early Stoa." Emerita 52 (2003): 7393.

Frede, Dorothea, and André Laks, eds. Traditions of Theology : Studies in Hellenistic Theology, Its Background and Aftermath. Leiden, 2002.

Hoven, René. Stoïcisme et stoïciens face au problème de l'au-delà. Paris, 1971.

Stoicism and Early Christianity

Spanneut, Michel. Le stoïcisme des Pères de l'eglise: De Clément de Rome à Clément d'Alexandrie. Paris, 1957.

Stoicism and Gnosticism

Onuki, Takashi. Gnosis und Stoa: Eine Untersuchung zum Apokryphon des Johannes. Göttingen, Germany, 1989.

Aldo Magris (2005)

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