Zeno of Citium

Zeno of Citium

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Zeno of Citium (l. 336 – 265 BCE) was the founder of the Stoic School of philosophy in Athens which taught that the Logos (Universal Reason) was the greatest good in life and living in accordance with reason was the purpose of human life.

If one lived according to the instinct of impulse and passion, one was no more than an animal; if one lived in accordance with universal reason, one was truly a human being living a worthwhile existence. This philosophy would later be developed by the stoic philosopher Epictetus (l.c.50-130 CE) and others and would have a significant impact on the people of Rome, most notably the emperor Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180 CE). Stoicism would eventually become one of the most popular and influential philosophies in the Roman world.

Zeno was a merchant until he was exposed to the teachings of Socrates (l. 470/469 - 399 BCE), the iconic Greek philosopher through a book by one of Socrates' students, Xenophon (l. 430 - c. 354 BCE), known as the Memorabilia. This book contained conversations with Socrates, his philosophy, and Xenophon's memories of the time spent as his student. Zeno was so completely captivated by the work that he left his former profession and dedicated himself to the study of philosophy, eventually becoming a teacher himself. His school would eventually influence the development of Roman philosophy when one of its students, Diogenes of Babylon (l. 230 - c.140 BCE), brought Stoicism to Rome in 155 BCE.

Early Life

Zeno was born in the Phonecian-Greek city of Citium on Cyprus in the same year that Alexander the Great ascended to the throne of Macedonia. His father was a merchant who traveled often to Athens and Zeno, naturally, took up his father's profession. It is unclear whether Zeno studied philosophy in his youth but, around the age of 22, while stranded in Athens after a shipwreck, he picked up a copy of Xenophon's Memorabilia and was so impressed by the figure of Socrates that he abandoned his former life and made the study of philosophy his only interest.

Zeno studied under Crates of Thebes (l. 360-280 BCE) and then under Stilpo the Megarian and then became the pupil of Polemo. From each of these men he learned some different aspect and nuance of the life of a philosopher. From Stilpo, for example, it is said he learned that the greatest fault in life lay in saying `yes' too quickly to any request and one should avoid doing so in order to live a tranquil life. In this, he pre-dates Sartre's assertion that saying `no' is an assertion of one's personal identity while agreeing to another's request diminishes the individual personality. After many years of study, Zeno set up his own school and began to teach on the porches (the `stoa') of the arcade in the market place in Athens and so his school took the name of the place of learning, Stoic.

Student and Teacher

Zeno believed one should court reason and recognize that all things are impermanent and without lasting value.

It is traditionally held that Zeno said, more than once, “I made a prosperous voyage when I was shipwrecked” and by this he meant that, prior to his coming to Athens, his life had no meaning. The discipline of philosophy gave Zeno a focus he seems to have lacked as a merchant and he devoted himself to study and, more importantly, to living the values he absorbed from his teachers and the books he read.

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Professor Forrest E. Baird writes that Zeno "argued that virtue, not pleasure, was the only good and that natural law, not the random swerving of atoms, was the key principle of the universe" (505). He was praised highly by the Athenians for his temperance, his consistency in living what he taught, and his good effect on the youth of the city.

Zeno never seems to have been one to hold his tongue when he saw what he perceived as foolishness in the youths around him and many of his remarks sound similar in tone to statements Diogenes of Sinope (l. 404-323 BCE) would have made. Unlike the "mad Socrates" of the Agora (as Diogenes was known), Zeno lived a life of traditional, Athenian, respectability while refusing to compromise his principles for what society valued.

Zeno's Philosophy

It was clear to Zeno that most of the people of Athens suffered because they desired what they did not have or feared losing what they loved. The pursuit of pleasure, as espoused by the Epicurean's philosophy (which sprang from the Cyrenaic School of Aristippus, l. 435-356 BCE, another of Socrates' students) could never possibly satisfy a human being because one would always be chasing after what one desired or trying to hold on to what one had already obtained. Instead of pleasure, one should court reason and recognize that all things are impermanent and without lasting value.

Once one understood this, one would achieve a state of enlightened apathy in which one would be set free from "enslavement to one's passions" (Mautner, 607). This belief is what made the stoic school so popular to the Greeks of the time and, later, to the Romans: Zeno's teachings cleared the mind and allowed one to see beyond what one thinks one wants to recognize all that one actually needs - which is simply the self. If one is self-aware, one is also aware of others and, further, recognizes that it is in simplicity that true contentment may be found. These teachings, of course, are more well known today as the basic tenets of Buddhism but were also advocated by a number of the Pre-Socratic philosophers of Greece.

The ancient writer Diogenes Laertius (l. 180-240 CE) preserved some of Zeno's teachings in his work Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. He writes that Zeno claimed:

As for the assertion made by some people that pleasure is the object to which the first impulse of animals is directed, it is shown by the Stoics to be false. For pleasure, if it is really felt, they declare to be a by-product, which never comes until nature by itself has sought and found the means suitable to the animal's existence or constitution; it is an aftermath comparable to the condition of animals thriving and plants in full bloom. And nature, they say, made no difference originally between plants and animals, for she regulates the life of plants too, in their case without impulse and sensation, just as also certain processes go on of a vegetative kind in us. But when in the case of animals impulse has been superadded, whereby they are enabled to go in quest of their proper aliment, for them, say the stoics, Nature's rule is to follow the direction of impulse. But when reason by way of a more perfect leadership has been bestowed on the beings we call rational, for them life according to reason rightly becomes the natural life. For reason supervenes to shape impulse scientifically (Baird, 507).

In this, Zeno is simply saying that animals pursue pleasure because they are governed by instinct which drives them to impulse; but human beings, since they have been given reason, ought to be governed by rational thought and live reasonably. To pursue pleasure as the meaning of life, and think that one is living well, is to be no more than an animal or, as Shakespeare later phrases it in Hamlet:

What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more. Sure he that made us with such large discourse, looking before and after, gave us not that capability and god-like reason to fust in us unused. (Act IV.iv.33-39)

To be a true human being, one needed to behave like a true human being: rationally.

Zeno's Republic

When he studied under Crates of Thebes, Zeno wrote his Republic which is quite a different vision of the perfect soceity than the ideal city state as imagined by Plato in his work of the same name. Zeno's Republic is a utopia whose citizens claim the universe as their home and where everyone lives in accordance with natural laws and rational understanding. Men and women were completely equal in society's eyes and there was no injustice because all actions proceeded from reason.

There were no laws necessary because there was no crime and, because everyone's needs were taken care of in the same way that animals are in nature, there was no greed, nor covetousness nor hatred of any kind. Love governed all things and everyone living in this cosmopolis understood they had what they needed and wanted for nothing more.

It is thought that this vision was largely inspired by Crates' life and that of his wife Hipparchia of Marneia who lived on completely equal terms with him, wore men's clothes, and taught philosophy to men. Crates and Hipparchia lived their lives in accordance with the simplicity of reason and Zeno's vision in his Republic reflects that view. Of Zeno's work, Plutarch later wrote:

It is true indeed that the so much admired Republic of Zeno, first author of the Stoic sect, aims singly at this, that neither in cities nor in towns we should live under laws distinct one from another, but that we should look upon all people in general to be our fellow-countryfolk and citizens, observing one manner of living and one kind of order, like a flock feeding together with equal right in one common pasture. This Zeno wrote, fancying to himself, as in a dream, a certain scheme of civil order, and the image of a philosophical commonwealth.


Zeno lived and taught in Athens from the time he arrived there following his shipwreck until his death. He died, apparently from suicide, after he tripped coming out of school and broke his toe. Lying on the ground, he quoted a line from the Niobe of Timotheus, “I come of my own accord; why call me thus?” and then, interpreting the accident as a sign he should depart, strangled himself.

While this may seem a strange end to the life of a man who preached the primacy of reason, it would not have seemed so to him. When some happy period of one's life ends, it is irrational to cling to the past and wish it would return; nothing can make that time come again and longing for an impossible past only robs one of the present. Zeno was an old man when he is said to have broken his toe and, realizing that he had lived a good and meaningful life in Athens, he may have simply concluded that it was time for him to move on to something, and somewhere, else.


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Citium, Greek Kition, principal Phoenician city in Cyprus, situated on the southeast coast near modern Larnaca. The earliest remains at Citium are those of an Aegean colony of the Mycenaean Age (c. 1400–1100 bc ). The biblical name Kittim, representing Citium, was also used for Cyprus as a whole. A Phoenician dedication to the god “Baal of Lebanon,” found at Citium, suggests that the city may have belonged to Tyre and an official monument of the Assyrian king Sargon II indicates that Citium was the administrative centre of Cyprus during the Assyrian protectorate (709–c. 668 bc ). During the Greek revolts of 499, 386 and following years, and 353 bc , Citium led the side loyal to Persia. It remained an important city even after Alexander the Great conquered Persia. Citium suffered repeatedly from earthquakes, however, and in medieval times its harbour became silted and the population moved to Larnaca.

Zeno of Citium - History

Zeno of Citium was born around 332 BCE, some 10 years after the death of Aristotle. A quiet man who had no desire for dramatic lectures or elaborate festivities, he would become known as the father of Stoicism and lay the foundations for later stoics, including the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Cynics like Diogenes of Sinope were influential to Zeno and early stoic thinking.

Stoics believe that it is unwise to pursue a life filled with superficial pleasures and lavish desires. We poison ourselves by continuously desiring more and more pleasurable things. And we attempt to find these things at the expense of our own peace. The stoics teach that it is in our power to change this way of thinking. By removing these desires for superficial treasures we can become one with the world around us, a world that is crafted by reason and flows serenely through all of time.

“sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy,”- Epictetus, quoted by Bertrand Russell in The History of Western Philosophy

Marcus Aurelius was a well known stoic.

Stoicism would find favor with much of Hellenistic Greece as well as with later thinkers of the Roman empire. One very notable follower of stoicism is the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who would write extensively about the philosophy in his essay The Meditations. It is rather remarkable that Marcus Aurelius would find contentment by following the modest lessons of stoicism. After all, he was a man who could have had any of his earthly desires fulfilled, and yet he resigned himself to a life of virtue and ethical stability.

Stoicism and Buddhism are often compared for their similar teachings.

Stoicism is often compared to the eastern philosophy of Buddhism. Certainly the notion of doing away with our superficial desires and learning to live in harmony with nature are central tenets of stoicism and Buddhism. It is not unreasonable to make this comparison that stoicism and Buddhism have developed similar ideas. It would give currency to the idea that ethics is a universal concept, that all people look to achieve contentment in life.

Diogenes Laertius : Life of Zenon

The Lives of the Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius, is the most comprehensive ancient account of the lives of the early Greek philosophers. Book 7 contains the lives and doctrines of the Stoic philosophers.

This translation is by C.D.Yonge (1895). The section numbers in the Greek text are shown in red and the section numbers in the translation are shown in green . Click on the G symbols to go to the Greek text for each section.

[1] G Zenon was the son of Mnaseas, or Demeas, and a native of Citium, in Cyprus, which is a Greek city, partly occupied by a Phoenician colony.

He had his head naturally bent on one side, as Timotheus, the Athenian, tells us, in his work on Lives. And Apollonius, the Tyrian, says that he was thin, very tall, of a dark complexion in reference to which some one once called him an Egyptian clematis, as Chrysippus relates in the first volume of his Proverbs: he had fat, flabby, weak legs, on which account Persaeus, in his Convivial Reminiscences, says that he used to refuse many invitations to supper and he was very fond, as it is said, of figs both fresh and dried in the sun.

[2] G He was a pupil, as has been already stated, of Crates. After that, they say that he became a pupil of Stilpon and of Xenocrates, for ten years, as Timocrates relates in his Life of Dion. He is also said to have been a pupil of Polemon. But Hecaton, and Apollonius of Tyre, in the first book of his essay on Zenon, say that when he consulted the oracle, as to what he ought to do to live in the most excellent manner, the God answered him that he ought to become of the same complexion as the dead, on which he inferred that he ought to apply himself to the reading of the books of the ancients. Accordingly, he attached himself to Crates in the following manner. Having purchased a quantity of purple from Phoenicia, he was shipwrecked close to the Peiraeus and when he had made his way from the coast as far as Athens, he sat down by a bookseller's stall, being now about thirty years of age. And as he took up the second book of Xenophon's Memorabilia and began to read it, he was delighted with it, and asked where such men as were described in that book lived [3] G and as Crates happened very seasonably to pass at the moment, the book-seller pointed him out, and said, "Follow that man." From that time forth he became a pupil of Crates but though he was in other respects very energetic in his application to philosophy, still he was too modest for the shamelessness of the Cynics. On which account, Crates, wishing to cure him of this false shame, gave him a jar of lentil porridge to carry through the Cerameicus and when he saw that he was ashamed, and that he endeavoured to hide it, he struck the jar with his staff, and broke it and, as Zenon fled away, and the lentil porridge ran all down his legs, Crates called after him, "Why do you run away, my little Phoenician, you have done no harm?" For some time then he continued a pupil of Crates, and when he wrote his treatise entitled the Republic, some said, jokingly, that he had written it upon the tail of the dog.

  • a treatise on a Life according to Nature
  • one on Appetite, or the Nature of Man
  • one on Passions
  • one on Duty
  • one on Law
  • one on the usual Education of the Greeks
  • one on Sight
  • one on the Whole
  • one on Signs
  • one on the Doctrines of the Pythagoreans
  • one on Things in General
  • one on Styles
  • five essays on Problems relating to Homer
  • one on the Listening to Poets.
  • an essay on Art
  • and Solutions
  • and two books of Refutations
  • Reminiscences of Crates
  • Ethics.

But at last he left Crates, and became the pupil of the philosophers whom I have mentioned before, and continued with them for twenty years. So that it is related that be said, "I now find that I made a prosperous voyage when I was wrecked." But some affirm that he made this speech in reference to Crates. [5] G Others say, that while he was staying at Athens he heard of a shipwreck, and said, "Fortune does well in having driven us on philosophy." But as some relate the affair, he was not wrecked at all, but sold all his cargo at Athens, and then turned to philosophy.

And he used to walk up and down in the beautiful colonnade which is called the Peisianactian, and which is also called poikilē , from the paintings of Polygnotus, and there he delivered his discourses, wishing to make that spot tranquil for in the time of the thirty, nearly fourteen hundred of the citizens had been murdered there by them.

Accordingly, for the future, men came thither to hear him, and from this his pupils were called Stoics, and so were his successors also, who had been at first called Zenonians, as Epicurus tells us in his Epistles. And before this time, the poets who frequented this colonnade ( stoa ) had been called Stoics, as we are informed by Eratosthenes, in the eighth book of his treatise on the Old Comedy but now Zenon's pupils made the name more famous. [6] G Now the Athenians had a great respect for Zenon, so that they gave him the keys of their walls, and they also honoured him with a golden crown, and a brazen statue and this was also done by his own countrymen, who thought the statue of such a man an honour to their city. And the Citiaeans, in the district of Sidon, also claimed him as their countryman.

He was also much respected by Antigonus, who, whenever he came to Athens, used to attend his lectures, and was constantly inviting him to come to him. But he begged off himself, and sent Persaeus, one of his intimate friends, who was the son of Demetrius, and a Citiaean by birth, and who flourished about the hundred and thirtieth Olympiad [260 B.C.] , when Zenon was an old man. The letter of Antigonus to Zenon was as follows, and it is reported by Apollonius, the Tyrian, in his essay on Zenon.

[7] G King Antigonus to Zenon the philosopher, greeting.

I think that in good fortune and glory I have the advantage of you but in reason and education I am inferior to you, also in that perfect happiness which you have attained to. On which account I have thought it good to address you, and invite you to come to me, being convinced that you will not refuse what is asked of you. Endeavour, therefore, by all means to come to me, considering this fact, that you will not be the instructor of me alone, but of all the Macedonians together. For he who instructs the ruler of the Macedonians and who leads him in the path of virtue, evidently marshals all his subjects on the road to happiness. For as the ruler is, so is it natural that his subjects for the most part should be also.

And Zenon wrote him back the following answer.

I admire your desire for learning, as being a true object for the wishes of mankind, and one too that tends to their advantage. And the man who aims at the study of philosophy has a proper disregard for the popular kind of instruction which tends only to the corruption of the morals. And you, passing by the pleasure which is so much spoken of, which makes the minds of some young men effeminate, show plainly that you are inclined to noble pursuits, not merely by your nature, but also by your own deliberate choice. And a noble nature, when it has received even a slight degree of training, and which also meets with those who will teach it abundantly, proceeds without difficulty to a perfect attainment of virtue. [9] G But I now find my bodily health impaired by old age, for I am eighty years old: on which account I am unable to come to you. But I send you some of those who have studied with me, who in that learning which has reference to the soul, are in no respect inferior to me, and in their bodily vigour are greatly my superiors. And if you associate with them you will want nothing that can bear upon perfect happiness.

So he sent him Persaeus and Philonides, the Theban, both of whom are mentioned by Epicurus, in his letter to his brother Aristobulus, as being companions of Antigonus.

In the archonship of Arrhenides, in the fifth prytany of the tribe Acamantis, on the twenty-first day of the month Maimacterion, on the twenty-third day of the aforesaid prytany, in a duly convened assembly, Hippon, the son of Cratistoteles, of the deme of Xypete, being one of the presidents, and the rest of the presidents, his colleagues, put the following decree to the vote. And the decree was proposed by Thrason, of Anacaea, the son of Thrason.

Since Zenon the son of Mnaseas, the Citiaean, has passed many years in the city, in the study of philosophy, being in all other respects a good man, and also exhorting all the young men who have sought his company to the practice of virtue, and encouraging them in the practice of temperance making his own life a model to all men of the greatest excellence, since it has in every respect corresponded to the doctrines which he has taught [11] G it has been determined by the people (and may the determination be fortunate), to praise Zenon, the son of Mnaseas, the Citiaean, and to present him with a golden crown in accordance with the law, on account of his virtue and temperance, and to build him a tomb in the Cerameicus, at the public expense. And the people has appointed by its vote five men from among the citizens of Athens, who shall see to the making of the crown and the building of the tomb. And the scribe of the borough shall enrol the decree and engrave it on two pillars, and he shall be permitted to place one pillar in the Academy, and one in the Lyceium. And he who is appointed to superintend the work shall divide the expense that the pillars amount to, in such a way that every one may understand that the whole people of Athens honours good men both while they are living and after they are dead. [12] G And Thrason of Anacaea, Philocles of the Peiraeus, Phaedrus of Anaphlystus, Medon of Acharnae, Smicythus of Sypalettus, and (?) Dion of Paeania, are hereby appointed to superintend the building of the tomb.

These then are the terms of the decree.

But Antigonus of Carystus says, that Zenon himself never denied that he was a native of Citium. For that when on one occasion, there was a citizen of that town who had contributed to the building of some baths, and was having his name engraved on the pillar, as the countryman of Zenon the philosopher, he bade them add, "Of Citium."

[14] G It is also said that he avoided a crowd with great care, so that he used to sit at the end of a bench, in order at events to avoid being incommoded on one side. And he never used to walk with more than two or three companions. And he used at times to exact a piece of money from all who came to bear him, with a view of not being distressed by numbers and this story is told by Cleanthes, in his treatise on Brazen Money. And when he was surrounded by any great crowd, would point to a balustrade of wood at the end of the colonnade which surrounded an altar, and say, "That was once in the middle of this place, but it was placed apart because it was in people's way and now, if you will only withdraw from the middle here, you too will incommode me much less." And when Demochares, the son of Laches, embraced him once, and said that he would tell Antigonus, or write to him of everything which he wanted, as he always did everything for him Zenon, when he had heard him say this, avoided his company for the future. [15] G And it is said, that after the death of Zenon, Antigonus said, "What an audience I have lost." On which account he employed Thrason, their ambassador, to entreat of the Athenians to allow him to be buried in the Cerameicus. And when he was asked why he had such an admiration for him, he replied, "Because, though I gave him a great many important presents, he was never elated, and never humbled." He was a man of a very investigating spirit, and one who inquired very minutely into everything in reference to which, Timon, in his Silli, speaks thus:
I saw an aged woman of Phoenicia,
Hungry and covetous, in a proud obscurity,
Longing for everything. She had a basket
So full of holes that it retained nothing.
Likewise her mind was less than a skindapsos.

[16] G He used to study very carefully with Philon, the dialectician, and to argue with him at their mutual leisure on which account was admired by the young Zenon, no less than Diodorus his master.

And he himself was a man of a morose and bitter countenance, with a constantly frowning expression. He was very economical, and descended even to the meanness of the barbarians, under the pretence of economy. If he reproved any one, he did it with brevity and without exaggeration, and as it were, at a distance. I allude, for instance, to the way in which he spoke of a man who took exceeding pains in setting himself off, [17] G for as he was crossing a gutter with great hesitation, he said, "He is right to look down upon the mud, for he cannot see himself in it." And when some Cynic one day said that he had no oil in his lamp, and asked him for some, he refused to give him any, but bade him go away and consider which of the two was the more impudent. He was very much in love with Chremonides and once, when he and Cleanthes were both sitting by him, he got up and as Cleanthes wondered at this, he said, "I hear from skilful physicians that the best thing for some tumours is rest." Once, when two people were sitting above him at table at a banquet, and the one next him kept kicking the other with his foot, he himself kicked him with his knee and when he turned round upon him for doing so, he said, "Why then do you think that your other neighbour is to be treated in this way by you?"

[18] G On one occasion he said to a man who was very fond of young boys, that "Schoolmasters who were always associating with boys had no more intellect than the boys themselves." He used also to say that the discourses of those men who were careful to avoid solecisms, and to adhere to the strictest rules of composition, were like Alexandrian money, they were pleasing to the eye and well-formed like the coins, but were nothing the better for that but those who were not so particular he likened to the Attic tetradrachms, which were struck at random and without any great nicety, and so he said that their discourses often outweighed the more polished styles of the others. And when Ariston, his disciple, had been holding forth a good deal without much wit, but still in some points with a good deal of readiness and confidence, he said to him, "It would be impossible for you to speak thus, if your father had not been drunk when he begat you" and for the same reason he nicknamed him the chatterer, as he himself was very concise in his speeches. [19] G Once, when he was in company with an epicure who usually left nothing for his messmates, and when a large fish was set before him, he took it all as if he could eat the whole of it and when the others looked at him with astonishment, he said, "What then do you think that your companions feel every day, if you cannot bear with my gluttony for one day?" On one occasion, when a youth was asking him questions with a pertinacity unsuited to his age, he led him to a looking-glass and bade him look at himself, and then asked him whether such questions appeared suitable to the face he saw there. And when a man said before him once, that in most points he did not agree with the doctrines of Antisthenes, he quoted to him an apophthegm of Sophocles, and asked him whether he thought there was much sense in that, and when he said that he did not know, "Are you not then ashamed," said he, "to pick out and recollect anything bad which may have been said by Antisthenes, but not to regard or remember what. ever is said that is good?" [20] G A man once said, that the sayings of the philosophers appeared to him very trivial "You say true," replied Zenon, "and their syllables too ought to be short, if that is possible." When some one spoke to him of Polemon, and said that he proposed one question for discussion and then argued another, he became angry, and said, "At what value did he estimate the subject that had been proposed?" And he said that a man who was to discuss a question ought to have a loud voice and great energy, like the actors, but not to open his mouth too wide, which those who speak a great deal but only talk nonsense usually do. And he used to say that there was no need for those who argued well to leave their hearers room to look about them, as good workmen do, who want to have their work seen but that, on the contrary, those who are listening to them ought to be so attentive to all that is said as to have no leisure to take notes. [21] G Once when a young man was talking a great deal, he said, "Your ears have run down into your tongue." On one occasion a very handsome man was saying that a wise man did not appear to him likely to fall in love "Then," said he, "I cannot imagine anything that will be more miserable than you good-looking fellows." He also used often to say that most philosophers were wise in great things, but ignorant of petty subjects and chance details and he used to cite the saying of Caphisius, who, when one of his pupils was labouring hard to be able to blow very powerfully, gave him a slap, and said, that excellence did not depend upon greatness, but greatness on excellence. Once, when a young man was arguing very confidently, he said, "I should not like to say, O youth, all that occurs to me." [22] G And once, when a handsome and wealthy Rhodian, but one who had no other qualification, was pressing him to take him as a pupil, he, as he was not inclined to receive him, first of all made him sit on the dusty seats that he might dirt his cloak, then he put him down in the place of the poor that he might rub against their rags, and at last the young man went away. One of his sayings used to be, that vanity was the most unbecoming of all things, and especially so in the young. Another was, that one ought not to try and recollect the exact words and expressions of a discourse, but to fix all one's attention on the arrangement of the arguments, instead of treating it as if it were a piece of boiled meat, or some delicate eatable. He used also to say that young men ought to maintain the most scrupulous reserve in their walking, their gait, and their dress and he was constantly quoting the lines of Euripides on Capaneus, that [Suppl_861]:
His wealth was ample.
But yet no pride did mingle with his state,
Nor had he haughty thought, or arrogance
More than the poorest man.

[23] G And one of his sayings used to be, that nothing was more unfriendly to the comprehension of the accurate sciences than poetry and that there was nothing that we stood in so much need of as time. When he was asked what a friend was, he replied, "Another I." They say that he was once scourging a slave whom he had detected in theft and when he said to him, "It was fated that I should steal " he rejoined, "Yes, and that you should be beaten." He used to call beauty the flower of the voice but some report this as if he had said that the voice is the flower of beauty. On one occasion, when he saw a slave belonging to one of his friends severely bruised, he said to his friend, "I see the footsteps of your anger." He once accosted a man who was all over unguents and perfumes, "Who is this who smells like a woman ?" When Dionysius Metathemenos asked him why he was the only person whom he did not correct, he replied, "Because I have no confidence in you." A young man was talking a great deal of nonsense, and he said to him, "This is the reason why we have two ears and only one mouth, that we may hear more and speak less." [24] G Once, when he was at an entertainment and remained wholly silent, he was asked what the reason was and so he bade the person who found fault with him tell the king that there was a man in the room who knew how to hold his tongue now the people who asked him this were ambassadors who had come from Ptolemy, and who wished to know what report they were to make of him to the king. He was once asked how he felt when people abused him, and he said, "As an ambassador feels when he is sent away without an answer." Apollonius of Tyre tells us, that when Crates dragged him by the cloak away from Stilpon, he said. "O Crates, the proper way to take hold of philosophers is by the ears so now do you convince me and drag me by them but if you use force towards me, my body may be with you, but my mind with Stilpon."

[25] G He used to devote a good deal of time to Diodorus, as we learn from Hippobotus and he studied dialectics under him. And when he had made a good deal of progress he attached himself to Polemon because of his freedom from arrogance, so that it is reported that he said to him, "I am not ignorant, O Zenon, that you slip into the garden-door and steal my doctrines, and then clothe them in a Phoenician dress." When a dialectician once showed him seven species of dialectic argument in the mowing [ therizōn ] argument, he asked him how much he charged for them, and when he said "A hundred drachmas," he gave him two hundred, so exceedingly devoted was he to learning.

[26] G For he said that that man who had the capacity to give a proper hearing to what was said, and to avail himself of it, was superior to him who comprehended everything by his own intellect for that the one had only comprehension, but the one who took good advice had action also.

When he was asked why he, who was generally austere, relaxed at a dinner party, he said, "Lupins too are bitter, but when they are soaked they become sweet." And Hecaton, in the second book of his Apophthegms, says, that in entertainments of that kind, he used to indulge himself freely. And he used to say that it was better to trip with the feet, than with the tongue. And that goodness was attained by little and little, but was not itself a small thing. Some authors, however, attribute this saying to Socrates.

He was a person of great powers of abstinence and endurance and of very simple habits, living on food which required no fire to dress it, and wearing a thin cloak, [27] G so that it was said of him:
The cold of winter, and the ceaseless rain,
Come powerless against him weak is the dart
Of the fierce summer sun, or fell disease,
To bend that iron frame. He stands apart,
In nought resembling the vast common crowd
But, patient and unwearied, night and day,
Clings to his studies and philosophy.

And the comic poets, without intending it, praise him in their very attempts to turn him into ridicule. Philemon speaks thus of him in his play entitled The Philosophers :
This man adopts a new philosophy,
He teaches to be hungry nevertheless,
He gets disciples. Bread his only food,
His best desert dried figs water his drink.

But some attribute these lines to Poseidippus. And they have become almost a proverb. Accordingly it used to be said of him, "More temperate than Zenon the philosopher." Poseidippus also writes thus in his Men Transported :
So that for ten whole days he did appear
More temperate than Zenon's self.

[28] G For in reality he did surpass all men in this description of virtue, and in dignity of demeanour, and, by Zeus, in happiness. For he lived ninety-eight years, and then died, without any disease, and continuing in good health to the last. But Persaeus, in his Ethical School, states that he died at the age of seventy-two, and that he came to Athens when he was twenty-two years old. But Apollonius says that he presided over his school for forty-eight years.

And immediately he strangled himself, and so he died. [29] G But the Athenians buried him in the Cerameicus, and honoured him with the decrees which I have mentioned before, bearing witness to his virtue. And Antipater, the Sidonian, wrote an inscription for him, which runs thus
Here Citium's pride, wise Zenon, lies, who climbed
The summits of Olympus but unmoved
By wicked thoughts never strove to raise on Ossa
The pine-clad Pelion nor did he emulate
The immortal toils of Heracles but found
A new way for himself to the highest heaven,
By virtue, temperance, and modesty.

[30] G And Zenodotus, the Stoic, a disciple of Diogenes, wrote another:
You made contentment the chief rule of life,
Despising haughty wealth, O God-like Zenon.
With solemn look, and hoary brow serene,
You taught a manly doctrine and didst found
By your deep wisdom, a great novel school,
Chaste parent of unfearing liberty.
And if your country was Phoenicia,
Why need we grieve, from that land Cadmus came,
Who gave to Greece her written books of wisdom.

And Athenaeus, the Epigrammatic poet, speaks thus of all the Stoics in common
O, ye who've learnt the doctrines of the Porch,
And have committed to your books divine
The best of human learning teaching men
That the mind's virtue is the only good.
And she it is who keeps the lives of men,
And cities, safer than high gates or walls.
But those who place their happiness in pleasure,
Are led by the least worthy of the Muses.

[31] G And we also have ourselves spoken of the manner of Zenon's death, in our collection of poems in all metres, in the following terms:
Some say that Zenon, pride of Citium,
Died of old age, when weak and quite worn out
Some say that famine's cruel tooth did slay him
Some that he fell, and striking hard the ground,
Said, "See, I come, why call me thus impatiently?"

For some say that this was the way in which he died. And this is enough to say concerning his death. But Demetrius, the Magnesian, says, in his essay on People of the Same Name, that his father Mnaseas often came to Athens, as he was a merchant, and that he used to bring back many of the books of the Socratic philosophers, to Zenon, while be was still only a boy and that, from this circumstance, Zenon had already become talked of in his own country [32] G and that in consequence of this he went to Athens, where he attached himself to Crates. And it seems, he adds, that it was he who first recommended a clear enunciation of principles, as the best remedy for error. He is said, too, to have been in the habit of swearing "By Capers," as Socrates swore "By the Dog."

Some, indeed, among whom is Cassius the Sceptic, attack Zenon on many accounts, saying first of all that he denounced the general system of education in vogue at the time, as useless, which he did in the beginning of his Republic. And in the second place, that he used to call all who were not virtuous, adversaries, and enemies, and slaves, and unfriendly to one another, parents to their children, brethren to brethren. and kinsmen to kinsmen [33] G and again, that in his Republic, he speaks of the virtuous as the only citizens, and friends, and relations, and free men, so that in the doctrine of the Stoic, even parents and their children are enemies for they are not wise. Also, that he lays down the principle of the community of women both in his Republic and in a poem of two hundred verses, and teaches that neither temples nor courts of law, nor gymnasia, ought to be erected in a city moreover, that he writes thus about money, "That he does not think that men ought to coin money either for purposes of traffic, or of travelling." Besides ail this, he enjoins men and women to wear the same dress, and to leave no part of their person uncovered. [34] G And that this treatise on the Republic is his work we are assured by Chrysippus, in his Republic. He also discussed amatory subjects in the beginning of that book of his which is entitled the Art of Love. And in his Conversations he writes in a similar manner. Such are the charges made against him by Cassius, and also by Isidorus of Pergamon, the orator, who says that all the unbecoming doctrines and assertions of the Stoics were cut out of their books by Athenodorus, the Stoic, who was the curator of the library at Pergamon. And that subsequently they were replaced, as Athenodorus was detected, and placed in a situation of great danger and this is sufficient to say about those doctrines of his which were impugned.

[35] G There were eight different persons of the name of Zenon. The first was the Eleatic, whom we shall mention hereafter the second was this man of whom we are now speaking the third was a Rhodian, who wrote a history of his country in one book the fourth was a historian who wrote an account of the expedition of Pyrrhus into Italy and Sicily and also an epitome of the transactions between the Romans and Carthaginians the fifth was a disciple of Chrysippus, who wrote very few books, but who left a great number of disciples the sixth was a physician, a follower of Herophilus and a very shrewd man in intellect, but a very indifferent writer the seventh was a grammarian, who, besides other writings, has left some epigrams behind him the eighth was a Sidonian by descent, a philosopher of the Epicurean school, a deep thinker, and very clear writer.

  • one on Kingly Power
  • one entitled the Constitution of the Lacedaemonians
  • one on Marriage
  • one on Impiety
  • Thyestes
  • an Essay on Love
  • a volume of Exhortations
  • one of Conversations
  • four of Apophthegms
  • one of Reminiscences
  • seven treatises on the Laws of Plato.

[37] G The next was Ariston, of Chios, the son of Miltiades, who was the first author of the doctrine of indifference then Herillus, who called knowledge the chief good then Dionysius, who transferred this description to pleasure as, on account of the violent disease which he had in his eyes, he could not yet bring himself to call pain a thing indifferent. He was a native of Heracleia there was also Sphaerus, of the Bosporus and Cleanthes of Assus, the son of Phanias, who succeeded him in his school, and whom he used to liken to tablets of hard wax, which are written upon with difficulty, but which retain what is written upon them. And after Zenon's death, Sphaerus became a pupil of Cleanthes. And we shall speak of him in our account of Cleanthes. [38] G The following also were all disciples of Zenon, as we are told by Hippobotus, namely:- Philonides of Thebes Callippus of Corinth Poseidonius of Alexandria Athenodorus of Soli and Zenon, a Sidonian.

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Quotes about Zeno

Zeno stretched out his fingers, and showed the palm of his hand, – “Perception,” – he said, – “is a thing like this.”- Then, when he had closed his fingers a little, – “Assent is like this.” – Afterwards, when he had completely closed his hand, and showed his fist, that, he said, was Comprehension. From which simile he also gave that state a new name, calling it katalepsis (κατάληψις). But when he brought his left hand against his right, and with it took a firm and tight hold of his fist: – “Knowledge” – he said, was of that character and that was what none but a wise person possessed.
Cicero in Academica

Zeno, then, defines nature by saying that it is artistically working fire, which advances by fixed methods to creation. For he maintains that it is the main function of art to create and produce, and that what the hand accomplishes in the productions of the arts we employ, is accomplished much more artistically by nature, that is, as I said, by artistically working fire, which is the master of the other arts.
Cicero in De Natura Deorum

It is true indeed that the so much admired Republic of Zeno, first author of the Stoic sect, aims singly at this, that neither in cities nor in towns we should live under laws distinct one from another, but that we should look upon all people in general to be our fellow-country folk and citizens, observing one manner of living and one kind of order, like a flock feeding together with equal right in one common pasture.
Plutarch in On the Fortune of Alexander

Some there are, and among them Cassius the Sceptic and his disciples, who accuse Zeno at length. Their first count is that in the beginning of his Republic he pronounced the ordinary education useless: the next is that he applies to all men who are not virtuous the opprobrious epithets of foemen, enemies, slaves, and aliens to one another, parents to children, brothers to brothers, friends to friends. Again, in the Republic, making an invidious contrast, he declares the good alone to be true citizens or friends or kindred or free men and accordingly in the view of the Stoics parents and children are enemies, not being wise. Again, it is objected, in the Republic he lays down community of wives, and at line 200 prohibits the building of temples, law-courts and gymnasia in cities while as regards a currency he writes that we should not think it need be introduced either for purposes of exchange or for travelling abroad. Further, he bids men and women wear the same dress and keep no part of the body entirely covered
Diogenes Laertius in the Lives of Eminent Philosophers

Further, they say that the wise man will feel affection for the youths who by their countenance show a natural endowment for virtue. So Zeno in his Republic. … It is also their doctrine that amongst the wise there should be a community of wives with free choice of partners, as Zeno says in his Republic and Chrysippus in his treatise On the Republic, … under such circumstances we shall feel paternal affection for all the children alike, and there will be an end of the jealousies arising from adultery.
Diogenes Laertius in the Lives of Eminent Philosophers

Learn About the Stoic Philosophers

Hellenistic Greek philosophers moderated and improved earlier philosophies into the ethical philosophy of Stoicism. The realistic, but morally idealistic philosophy was particularly popular among the Romans, where it was important enough to have been called a religion.

Originally, the Stoics were the followers of Zeno of Citium who taught in Athens. Such philosophers came to be known for the location of their school, the painted porch/colonnade or stoa poikile whence, Stoic. For Stoics, virtue is all you need for happiness, although happiness is not the goal. Stoicism was a way of life. The goal of Stoicism was to avoid suffering by leading a life of apatheia (whence, apathy), which means objectivity, rather than not caring, and self control.

Recipe for Stoic Soup

In Meals and Recipes from Ancient Greece, Eugenia Ricotti describes the following recipe called “Zeno’s Lentil Soup”. It’s a modern recipe loosely based upon ancient sources, including remarks attributed to Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoic philosophy, which are found in the Deipnosophistae (or “Dinner Experts”) of Athenaeus of Naucratis.

1 lb. (450g) lentils
8 cups (2 litres) broth
1 large minced leek
1 carrot, 1 stalk of celery, and 1 small onion, all sliced
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
olive oil
12 coriander seeds
salt and pepper to taste

She says to rinse the lentils and put them in a pot with the broth to boil. Then reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Then skim the top, add the vegetables, and leave to simmer until cooked, which should be about 30 minutes. She says that if it seems too watery either add cornstarch or pass some of the lentils through a sieve. Finally, add vinegar and honey for flavour.

After pouring into serving bowls, add a good amount of olive oil — she suggests about 2 tablespoons per serving. Finish by sprinkling on the coriander seeds and adding more salt and pepper to taste.

I’ve made this recipe quite a few times myself. I use dried green lentils, which I soak overnight and boil for a few minutes. I use red wine vinegar and often add a couple of garlic cloves and perhaps a few bay leaves, possibly also a little paprika. I’d also usually garnish it with a few fresh coriander leaves and serve with bread. This is a photo of my version…

Epicurus: Enjoying the Little Things

Epicurus was a philosopher that began flexing his intellectual muscles only a few decades after the death of Aristotle. Born on the island of Samos, Epicurus would spend his life traveling across much of Greece before winding up in the philosophy headquarters of the world, Athens.

Epicurus is often wrongly accused of being a hedonist. Hedonism, as you may know, is a type of ethical philosophy that tells us that any action that is pleasurable is good. A strict hedonist would live his or her life in search of the next pleasurable thing with no regard for attaining any higher purpose for his or her life.

This may seem well and good, perhaps lounging on a couch eating grapes from a silver bowl would be a fun way to spend your weekend. However, strict hedonists often find that their way of life is unattainable and unrealistic. And you always run the risk of running out of grapes.

Bust of Epicurus, Vatican Museum, Rome. (Dudva/ CC BY SA 4.0 )

Epicureanism, the philosophy developed by Epicurus, is actually quite the opposite. It tells us that we should not continuously look for sensual pleasures, but that we should look for ways to avoid unpleasurable things such as pain and fear. Epicurus believed that by limiting anguish in our lives we could better appreciate the smaller pleasures like friendship and family. By avoiding pain and striving for tranquility, we can be fulfilled in our lives.

Epicurus believed that the main obstacle standing in our way of enjoying life was the fear of death. The people of ancient Greece lived in constant fear of death. After all, they believed if they lived without honoring the gods, they would be cast down into the pits of Hades and tortured for all eternity. Sounds pretty bad, right?

Bust of Epicurus, from the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. (K eith Schengili-Roberts/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Epicurus took the view that the entire universe is composed only of atoms and empty space, similar to the scientific thinking of today. He concluded that the human soul must therefore be made of atoms, and would logically disintegrate at the time of death along with the rest of your body.

Remember, Epicurus believed that something was bad if it brought pain or anguish. He concluded that at the time of our death we are incapable of feeling any form of pain, physically or mentally. Death is not a painful, frightening thing, it simply is the end of our mortal sensations. Therefore we should not fear death. Most importantly we should not let it distract us from finding happiness in this life.

This is a nice way of looking at things. Don't worry about death because it won't cause pain or fear. Just find your happiness and enjoy your life with friends and family.

Despite this nice sentiment, Epicurus was rather unpopular during his time. His teachings made most believe that he was an atheist. He was more or less disregarded by much of Athens for his non-traditional beliefs. However he did retain a close group of devout followers who practiced this philosophy and did the honor of preserving his work for future generations.

Epicurus said, “I have never wished to cater to the crowd for what I know they do not approve, and what they approve I do not know.” (

God is the common nature of things also the force of fate and the necessity of future events. In addition he is fire, and the aether . . also things in a natural state of flux and mobility, like water, earth, air, sun, moon and stars and he is the all-embracing whole. [Cicero, On the nature of the Gods, 1.39.]

Man himself has come to be in order to contemplate and imitate the world. But the world, since it embraces everything and there is nothing which is not included in it, is perfect from every point of view. [Cicero, On the nature of the Gods, 2.38.]


Scientific Pantheism was partly inspired by Stoicism and is honoured to consider Stoicism a predecessor. There are many areas of overlap. We share with Stoics a deep reverence for the cosmos. We share a belief in living according to nature, and an acceptance of natural death. We also believe that body and spirit are both made of the same substance.
There are of course differences. Scientific Pantheism does not believe in a cosmic mind or in providence (nor do I think that the Stoics, who were good scientists, would believe in this if they were alive today). Scientific Pantheism does not believe that the Stoic renunciation of bodily pleasures or intense emotions is the only or the best way to shield oneself against suffering. It is possible to experience these while retaining an essential core which remains intact through every upheaval.
If you are attracted by the Stoic philosophy, then do check out the Scientific Pantheism site. Our beliefs are summarized in the scientific pantheist credo.

Elements of Pantheism, An overview of pantheist history, theory and practice. Includes almanac and calendar.
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Watch the video: Zeno the Stoic by Charles BRADLAUGH Biography vesves Philosophy FULL AudioBook (August 2022).