Zeno of Citium

views updated Jun 11 2018


(b. Citium, Cyprus, ca. 335 b.c.;d. Athens, 263 b.c.)


Cyprus was colonized by Greeks, but had many Phoenician inhabitants. Zeno’s father was a merchant called Mnaseas, perhaps a Greek version of the Phoenician Manasse or Menahem; Zeno is commonly referred to as “the Phoneician” by ancient writers. His education, however, was Greek; he studied in Athens and eventually set up his own school there. The most important of his teachers were Polemo, then head of Plato’s Academy; Stilpo the Megarian; and Crates the Cynic. He was well soaked in the Greek tradition of Philosophy; and his own style of philosophizing, although strikingly original,shows clear traces of the influence of Heraclitus,Socrates,Plato, and Aristotle.

Zeno established his own school about 300 b.c., perhaps in deliberate opposition to the school of Epicurs, which had recently been founded. He taught in the Stoa Poikile, or “Painted Colon-nade”; and the name “Stoics” supplanted “Zenonians” for his pupils. At the end of his life he was given public honors by the Athenians. The head-ship of the school passed first to Cleanthes of Assos,and the to Chrysippus of Soli: the individual contributions of the three to the school’s doctrine are hard to disentangle, in the absence of any complete writings, and this article does not attempt the task. The school survived until at least a.d. 260.

The main emphasis of Stoic teaching was moral. Zeno preached a morality that could claim to be an interpretation of the message of Socrates. The peculiarity of his doctrine is his refusal to allow that there is anything good but the virtuous state of a man’s soul,coupled with an “all or nothing” definition of virtue. Virtue is wisdom: the wise man is wholly good, and everything he does is good, whereas the rest of the world and all its doings are sunk in iniquity. The wisdom that constitutes virtue includes an understanding of natureindeed, that is its most important component, since the wise man’s goal is “to live in accordance with nature.” A particular physics, a particular interpretation of the physical universe and man’s place in it, is an essential part of Stoicism, just as the atomic world picture was an essential part of the rival Epicurean doctrine.

The Stoic world picture was the lineal descendant of Plato’s Timaeus and Aristotle’s De caelo, with some features of the Platonic-Aristotelian cosmology exaggerated or changed, perhaps in conscious opposition to Epicurus. It was a picture of the cosmos as a single material continuum. Outside the cosmos there is void space: this was a modification of Aristotelian doctrine, according to which there is nothing whatever outside the cosmos, not even void space.

The cosmos is regarded as a single whole substance. It is held together by an unexplained natural tendency of matter to contract upon its own center. Thus Aristotle’s cosmology is altered in two respects. The center toward which matter tends to move is its own center, the center of the cosmic body, where as in Aristotle’s system it is the center of the universe; second, all matter in the Stoic system, including the two light, centrifugal elements of the Aristotelian cosmology, air and fire, tends toward the center. These two elements, according to the Stoics, are less heavy than earth and water; and for that reason they tend to stay outside the central spheres composed of the heavy elements. They are also characterized as the active elements: together they make up pneunza, which permeates the whole cosmos and sets up a tension (τόνος) in it. The elements are not chemically differentiated but are defined by the tension set up by these motions. In whatever region of the cosmic body, itself nothing but an undifferentiated medium, there is a strong motion toward the center, we can say that that is an earthy region; wherever there is a strong tendency to resist the centripetal motion, we can say there is fire; and so on.

Recent interpreters of Stoic physics (J. Christensen and S. Samburksy) have pointed out its similarity to a field theory. The whole cosmos is a field wihtin which various motions occur, and within it one field can be distinguished from another according to the motions that occur there. The nature of the tension thus set up determines the properties possessed by the region in question. The Stoics lacked a language with which this idea could be expressed coherently, however, and their retention of expressions appropriate to a metaphysics of “substance” led to many paradoxes. In particular, since any region of the universe, in their theory, may contain motions of many different kinds; and since it is these motions that produce identifable characters or “bodies,” they had to say that many bodies could coexist in the same region. They were widely criticized in antiquity for this theory of “total mixture.” (κρα̑σις ςί ο̈λου)

Since the cosmos is a single continuous field, motions in one part of it may affect those in any other part: the Stoics used the term “sympathy” for this feature. Certain peculiarities of Stoicism follow from it. Astrology and divination, for example, are thus given a rationale; and they receive more emphasis than in any previous philosophical system. Moreover, the interconnection of all events in the cosmic continuum is referred to as fate. From an ideally complete description of the structure of the cosmos up to a given time,one can theoretically predict all subsequent events: all that happens is in accordance with fate. With regard to human actions, the Stoics held the position that since the individual’s state of mind enters into the conditions that determine an action, human “freedom” is preserved despite the doctrine of universal fate (their Peripatetic opponents replied that in that case, a stone that is dropped also falls “freely” ; and the distinction between “free” and “forced” is lost).

The active elements in the cosmos are also referred to collectively as “God.” By this designation the Stoics attributed many characteristics to the cosmos. It is ever-living, in the sense that it will never cease to exist, although it undergoes the cyclical transformations described below. It is rational: that is, the structure of the cosmos is patterned on principles that the human mind, being endowed with reason (λόγος)can recognize. (The divine (λόγος)that permeates and directs the Stoic cosmos is referred to in the famous opening words of St. John’s gospel.) Moreover, the structure of the cosmos, being determined by divine reason, is good. The Stoics exploited the argument from design to the full, and found evidences of divine craftsmanship everywhere in nature. Stoic ethics and physics are thus in full accord with one another: the good life for man is to be an assenting part of the cosmos, “to live in accordance with nature.”

Periodically the cosmos loses all its differentiation and is wholly consumed by and assimilated to the divine fiery pneuma After this ἐκπύρωσις, the cosmos is formed again. Since the structure is determined by the divine pneuma, which remains constant throughout the conflagration, the structure of the reborn cosmos is identical in every detail with that of the previous one; and every event is repeated in every cycle.

In logic the Stoics made important innovations (perhaps, however, these should be attributed not to Zeno but to Chrysippus). Aristotle’s logic of predication was adapted to his view of science as demonstrating the connections between the properties of substances. The basic entities of Stoic philosophy are not substances but motions or events. Its logic, correspondingly, is a logic of properties of substances. The basic entities of Stoic philosophy are not substances but motions or events. It logic, correspondingly, is a logic of propositions. The Stoics worked out five “indemonstrable” inference patterns, and tested the validity of other schemata by trying to reduce them to these five. They used ordinal numbers to stand for propositions, thus: “If the first, then the second; but the first therefore, the second.” “If the first, then the second; but not the second, therefore, not the first.” We may conjecture that there is some connection between this development of the logic of inference and the growth of experimental science in the Alexandrian schools, beginning in the third century B.C.

As a moral system, Stoicism had a wide acceptance in the Roman republic and the empire, Marcus Aurelius being the most notable follower. The physical system, however, soon became contaminated with elements of Platonism and Aristotelianism; Stoic ideas occur frequently but rather unsystematically in the work of Galen, the Neoplatonists, and the Peripatetic commentators. The unified and consistent world picture worked out by Zeno, which was in fact a remarkable achievement, lost its clear outlines and merged with the general amalgam of Aristotelianism, Neoplatonism, and Christianity that dominatedn the intellectual centers of late antiquity.


There is no complete work by Zeno or any other of the old Stoics extant. The standard collection of fragments is J.von Arnim, Stoicorum veterun fragmenta, 4 vols (Leipzig, 1905-1924). There is an ancient life of Zeno and other Stoics in Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, VII, text and trans. by R. D. Hicks in the Loeb Classical Library (London, 1953).

The fullest modern account of Stoicism is Max Pohlenz, Die Stoa, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Göttingen, 1959). Johnny Christensen, An Essay on the Unity of Stoic Philosophy (Copenhagen, 1962) gives a short, original and highly stimulating summary. S. Sambursky, Physics of the Stoics (London, 1959), translates selected texts into English and gives a comprehensive account of the cosmology, not altogether free from anachronism. The most important books on the logic are Benson, Mates, Stoic Logic (Berkeley, 1953), and Michael Frede,Die stoische Logik (Göttingen, 1974). For epistemology and ethics, also see A. A. Long, ed., Essays on Stoic Philosophy (London, 1970). There is a recent monograph on Zeno, by Andreas Graeser, Zenon von Kition (Berlin, 1975).

David J. Furley

Zeno of Citium

views updated Jun 27 2018

Zeno of Citium

The Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium (335-263 B.C.) was the founder of Stoicism. His teachings had a profound influence throughout the ancient world and in important respects helped pave the way for Christianity.

Zeno the son of Mnaseas, was born in the Cypriot town of Citium and may have been part Semitic. His education, however, was thoroughly Greek, and he went to Athens about 313 B.C., where he attended the lectures of various philosophers, including Crates the Cynic, Stilpo, Xenocrates, and Polemo. Crates was his most important early master, and his first book, the Republic, was Cynic in inspiration and viewpoint. He took what he thought was the best of his masters' teachings and developed a complete philosophical system of his own. His followers were at first called Zenonians, but the name Stoics, which derived from the Stoa Poikile where Zeno taught, proved more popular. He was greatly respected at Athens and was honored by the Athenians with a golden crown and a bronze statue. He was also on good terms with the king of Macedon, Antigonus Gonatas, and was invited to live at the court in Pella. He declined the offer, although he did send two of his followers. Diogenes Laertius, who wrote a biography of Zeno in the 3d century A.D., preserves the titles of several of his works, although all have perished. In addition to the Republic, these include Life according to Nature, On Appetite (or The Nature of Man), On Becoming, On the Doctrines of the Pythagoreans, On Problems Relating to Homer, On Art, Memorabilia, and the Ethics of Crates.

His Philosophy

Zeno's philosophical system embraced physics, logic, and ethics. Its greatest strength lay not in the elaborate but false theories set forth as explanations for the make-up of the universe, but in the almost evangelical message of its ethics. Man, in Zeno's view, had the key to true happiness within himself. He must identify with Nature (or Zeus or Providence or the Cosmos, for all were used interchangeably) and strive for self-sufficiency, which meant the rejection of all the external goods and values men traditionally cherished. In place of these, the divine reason given to every person must be cultivated toward the understanding and acceptance of God's universe. Social position was unimportant, and it was possible for the pauper or the king to strive toward the Stoic goal. The true Stoic sage was aware of the laws of Nature and followed them willingly because a beneficent Providence was guiding events. Individual suffering and misfortunes were subsumed under a larger and more important good. The ultimate goal was apathia, a state in which a person was completely indifferent to all but his own divinely given understanding of things. Virtue was defined as knowledge and vice as ignorance. The path to virtue was not easy, however. It demanded tough discipline and strict control over natural feelings and reactions such as pleasure, lust, anxiety, and fear. It also demanded a great deal of study of both theory and practical science, for only through complete awareness of the truth of the material world could the Stoic sage come to that understanding which gave him happiness.

Stoic physics and logic followed Heraclitus, Aristotle, and the two Socratic thinkers Antisthenes and Diodorus. It was an eclectic system which mixed a corporeal universe with an ultimate divine reason. God, the divine and beneficent reason behind all things, was originally one and the same with Fire, the basis of the physical universe. Through an elaborate process of separation, God willed Himself apart from corporeality and caused the chain of events which we know as the history of the universe. At some specific moment in the future, He will take corporeality back unto Himself in a mighty conflagration. This process will repeat itself infinitely and history will repeat itself exactly an endless number of times. Man's freedom in such a totally predetermined chain of causation is possible only through the independence of his mind, which bears the same relationship to his body as does God to the corporeal universe. Through reason man may come to an understanding and acceptance of the way things are and may willingly comply with Nature. Ignorance of the truth leads to vain hopes and expectations, and the ignorant man is condemned to a life of blindness. It can be readily seen from the Stoic view of a beneficent God at work in a completely preordained universe that Stoicism was among the first philosophical systems to claim that this is the best of all possible worlds.

Zeno's successors as leaders of the Stoa were Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Zeno of Tarsus, Diogenes the Babylonian, Panaetius of Rhodes, Posidonius, and Hecaton. The Stoic system, with its emphasis on fortitude and discipline, appealed to the Romans and became the most widely accepted Greek philosophy among the Roman ruling classes. Greek and Roman writers in imperial times came to identify the good Roman emperors, such as Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius, with the Stoic king, and the evil emperors, such as Caligula, Nero, and Domitian, with the depraved tyrant. Marcus Aurelius was the emperor who most obviously accepted Stoicism as a way of life, and his collection of personal memoirs bears eloquent witness to the appeal which Zeno's system had to a fine and sensitive mind.

With the demise of the city-states and the concomitant failure of the older and simpler religious views to satisfy men's new spiritual needs in a time of changing values, Zeno's philosophical teachings imparted a sense of worth and dignity to the lives of great numbers of men. The striking similarities between Stoicism and Christianity made it one of the important precursors of that religion in antiquity.

Further Reading

An excellent introduction to Zeno and the Stoic school is in Moses Hadas, ed., Essential Works of Stoicism (1961). A more critical summary of Stoic theory and teachings is in Eduard Zeller, Outlines of the History of Greek Philosophy, revised by Wilhelm Nestle and translated by L. R. Palmer (1955). Briefer treatments of Zeno are in the surveys of ancient philosophy, such as Gordon H. Clark, ed., Selections from Hellenistic Philosophy (1940), and Arthur H. Armstrong, An Introduction to Ancient Philosophy (1947; 4th ed. 1965). □

Zeno of Citium

views updated Jun 27 2018

Zeno of Citium

335 b.c.e.–263 b.c.e.


Early Years

Like many people in Citium, Zeno was most likely Phoenician, a sect of Middle Eastern people who were known for their sea trading. Zeno himself was a merchant in his younger years, traveling often to numerous ports around the Mediterranean Sea. Over the years Zeno began to gather philosophical books from Athens, Greece (both from his own travels and from his father's travels as a merchant), and by his mid-twenties he sold what cargo he had left and settled permanently in Athens.

Began Teaching at the Painted Stoa.

Zeno was influenced heavily in his early philosophical education by two very different schools of thought. He often attended lectures by Polemon, a follower of the Academics, who were considered very traditional philosophers and used Plato's teachings as their core beliefs. He also was known to follow the teachings of Crates the Cynic, a well-known teacher of Cynicism. Cynicism was the exact opposite of the Academic philosophy, rejecting all conventions of society and instead pointing towards a life focused on nature and base needs. By the time Zeno began his own lecturing around 300 b.c.e., he had begun to combine these two schools of thought into a new philosophy. Zeno, like many other philosophy teachers at the time, taught in public locations that were accessible to any person who might wander by. It was well known that Zeno's favorite place to teach was in front of the "Stoa Poikile" (Painted Stoa), a central colonnade on the north side of the agora in Athens. Zeno became so well known for lecturing on philosophy in this spot that his new brand of philosophy was soon named Stoicism. Over time Zeno began to develop a large following that included Antigonus Gonatas, the king of Macedonia who would come to Athens often just to hear Zeno teach. While Zeno was invited numerous times to become the royal philosopher in Macedonia, he declined, not wanting to leave Athens, the seat of philosophy during his lifetime.


Zeno's philosophical core beliefs grew out of the idea of corruption and rationalism. In his most famous and controversial work, the Republic, Zeno chastised society and other philosophies for needing to set up binding institutions such as government, law, and religion. In the Republic Zeno first breaks down society by all of its ills, and then reconstructs it by describing a new form of society. In this society, members rely completely on rational thinking as a way of life. In this "Utopian" view of the world, there is no need for any sort of government, economic system, nor institutions such as religion. Instead the rational thinking human would only do what is best not only for himself or herself, but for the society at large. This line of thinking allowed Zeno to promote many "radical" ideas for his time period such as equality between the sexes, homosexuality, and shared responsibility for successes and failures. While many of Zeno's followers saw the possibility of a world where only moral and ethical choices were made, many of Zeno's contemporaries saw Stoicism as the path toward moral depravity. The philosophy was rejected not only by the Academics, but also by the Cynics who felt that it did not give in completely to all of the natural ways of the world (for much of what Zeno outlined in the Republic was an orderly society where no one was offended by actions because all actions were deemed right or wrong by rationalism).

Lived a Simple Life.

While most of Zeno's time was spent teaching at the Stoa, he was well known throughout Athens as a person who was of high class and who was highly connected, an unusual status for someone who was not born an Athenian. He was also perceived as one who enjoyed simple but expensive things. It was well known that he was not a heavy drinker, often turning down invitations to symposia (traditional Greek drinking parties), but that he always drank a little wine of the best stock when taking his meals. He ate loaves of bread with only the freshest honey and could often be found lounging in the sun eating freshly picked green figs. According to the works of some of his later followers, such as Diogenes Laertius, who wrote a biography on Zeno, Zeno was the perfect example of Stoicism; he used his rational mind to enjoy only the best of those things that nature could provide. Unfortunately, Laertius's writing is one of the few records that scholars have of Zeno and his own writings. There are no known surviving copies of the Republic nor of any of Zeno's other supposed philosophical writings. Much has been taken from later Stoic writing by followers of Zeno, but it is often difficult to attribute what was originally part of Zeno's Stoicism and what was added later by other philosophers. While Zeno was a student and teacher of rational thinking, he committed suicide, something his own teachings would have looked at as irrational, at the age of 72 after injuring himself severely in a fall.


Andrew Erskine, The Hellenistic Stoa: Political Thought and Action (New York: Cornell University Press, 1990).

George E. Karamanolis, "Zeno of Citium," in Encyclopedia of Greece and the Hellenic Tradition. Ed. Graham Speake (London, England: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2000): 1750–1751.

F. H. Sandbach, The Stoics (New York: Norton, 1975).

Zeno of Citium

views updated May 23 2018

Zeno of Citium (c.334–c.262 bc) Greek philosopher and founder of the Stoics. Zeno attended lectures by various philosophers before formulating his own philosophy. Proceeding from the Cynics' concept of self-sufficiency, he stressed the unity of the universe and the brotherhood of men living in harmony with the cosmos. Zeno claimed virtue to be the only good and wealth, illness and death to be of no human concern.


Zeno of Citium

views updated Jun 11 2018

Zeno of Citium (c.335–c.263 bc), Greek philosopher, founder of Stoicism. He founded the school of Stoic philosophy, but all that remains of his treatises are fragments of quotations.