Musonius Rufus (30–100 CE?)

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(30100 CE?)

Musonius Rufus belongs to a group of Roman Stoic thinkers that also includes Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. He was Epictetus's teacher. Only fragmentary accounts of his views, recorded by others, have survived (English translation in the edition by Cora Lutz).

Like other Stoics, Musonius rejects the distinction between theoretical and practical wisdom: philosophy is nothing else but to practice and put in good deeds what Stoic doctrine prescribes. All human beings have the potential to strive towards virtue. This view is anchored in a radically embedded concept of human nature: a human is a composite of soul and body and a member of the universe's community of gods and men, the so-called cosmopolis. Musonius reinforces this ontological embeddedness by emphasizing social responsibility in general, in existing communities of human beings.

Musonius is perhaps best known for his positive views on women (fragments 3 and 4): Both men and women have the same intellectual and moral capacities, and hence women should be educated in philosophy just as men are. But it is equally important that this stance has a social corollary in Musonius's highly positive assessment of marriage as a symmetrical and fully reciprocal relationship among equals that entails a union of soul as well as of body (fragments 12, 13 A and B, 14). Thus Musonius represents a Stoicism that upgrades traditional relationships such as marriage to the level of philosophically inspired friendship between men.

The importance of social responsibility is also evident in Musonius's views on suicide. As fragment 29 states, "One who by living is of use to many has not the right to choose to die unless by dying he may be of use to more" (tr. Lutz). Hence the concern for others ought to be central in one's decision-making process.

Other themes in the preserved fragments reflect on the need for a king to be a philosopher, on the duties of parenthood, on curtailing one's bodily and material wants, and on patience with and forgiveness of people who have wronged one. Rudolf Hirzel (1895, 2: 239) dubbed Musonius "the Roman Socrates."

See also Epictetus; Stoicism.


Geytenbeek, A. C. van. Musonius Rufus and Greek Diatribe. Translated by B. L. Hijmans Jr. Assen, Netherlands: van Gorcum, 1963.

Hirzel, Rudolf. Der Dialog, ein literarhistorischer Versuch. 2 vols. Leipzig: S. Hirzel, 1895.

Lutz, Cora Elizabeth. Musonius Rufus, "The Roman Socrates." New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1947.

Nussbaum, Martha C. "The Incomplete Feminism of Musonius Rufus, Platonist, Stoic, and Roman." In The Sleep of Reason. Erotic Experience and Sexual Ethics in Ancient Greece and Rome, edited by Martha C. Nussbaum and Juha Sihvola. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002. 283326.

Reydams-Schils, Gretchen J. The Roman Stoics: Self. Responsibility, and Affection. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Gretchen J. Reydams-Schils (2005)

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Musonius Rufus (30–100 CE?)

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