The Stoic Philosophers
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The Stoic Philosophers

Diogenes Laërtius, Robert Hicks

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The Stoic Philosophers

Diogenes Laërtius, Robert Hicks

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In The Stoic Philosophers, Diogenes Laërtius details the lives and philosophical opinions of the first Greek Stoic philosophers: Zeno of Citium, Ariston of Chios, Herillus of Carthage, Dionysius the Renegade, Cleanthes of Assos, Sphaerus of Bosphorus and Chrysippus of Soli.

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Zeno of Citium

ZENO, THE SON OF MNASEAS (or Demeas), was a native of Citium in Cyprus, a Greek city which had received Phoenician settlers. Apollonius of Tyre says he was lean, fairly tall, and swarthy. A contemporary wag called him an Egyptian vine-branch, according to Chrysippus in the first book of his Proverbs. He had thick legs and was delicate. Persaeus in his Convivial Reminiscences relates that he declined most invitations to dinner. Apparently he was fond of eating green figs and of basking in the sun.
Zeno was a pupil of Crates. He attended the lectures of Stilpo and Xenocrates for ten years – so Timocrates says in his Dion – and Polemo as well. Hecato writes that Zeno consulted the oracle to know what he should do to attain the best life, and that the god's response was that he should take on the complexion of the dead. Whereupon, perceiving what this meant, he studied ancient authors. The way he met Crates sounds like the work of fate. He was shipwrecked on a voyage from Phoenicia to Peiraeus with a cargo of purple. He went up into Athens and sat down in a bookseller's shop, being then a man of thirty. As he went on reading the second book of Xenophon's Memorabilia, he was so pleased that he inquired where men like Socrates were to be found. Crates happened to pass by, so the bookseller pointed to him and said, "Follow yonder man." From that day he became Crates's pupil, showing in other respects a strong bent for philosophy. He was instructed by Crates who wrote a now lost Republic and the following works:
Of Impulse, or Human Nature.
Of Emotions.
Of Duty.
Of Law.
Of Greek Education.
Of Vision.
Of the Whole World.
Of Signs.
Pythagorean Questions.
Of Varieties of Style.
Homeric Problems, in five books.
Of the Reading of Poetry.
There are also by him:
A Handbook of Rhetoric.
Two books of Refutations.
Recollections of Crates.
CRATES AND THE DEAD philosophers Zeno read were his masters for twenty years. Hence he is reported to have said, "I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck." But others attribute this saying of his to the time when he was under Crates. A different version of the story is that he was staying at Athens when he heard his ship was wrecked and said, "It is well done of thee, Fortune, thus to drive me to philosophy." But some say that he disposed of his cargo in Athens, before he turned his attention to philosophy.
He used then to discourse, pacing up and down in the painted colonnade, his object being to keep the spot clear of a concourse of idlers. It was the spot where in the time of the Thirty 1400 Athenian citizens had been put to death. Hither, then, people came henceforth to hear Zeno, and this is why they were known as men of the Stoa, or Stoics; and the same name was given to his followers, who had formerly been known as Zenonians. So it is stated by Epicurus in his letters. According to Eratosthenes in his eighth book On the Old Comedy, the name of Stoic had formerly been applied to the poets who passed their time there, and they had made the name of Stoic still more famous.
The people of Athens held Zeno in high honour, as is proved by their depositing with him the keys of the city walls, and their honouring him with a golden crown and a bronze statue. This last mark of respect was also shown to him by citizens of his native town, who deemed his statue an ornament to their city, and the men of Citium living in Sidon were also proud to claim him for their own. Antigonus (Gonatas) also favoured him, and whenever he came to Athens would hear him lecture and often invited him to come to his court. This offer he declined but dispatched thither one of his friends, Persaeus, the son of Demetrius and a native of Citium, who flourished in the 130th Olympiad,at which time Zeno was already an old man. According to Apollonius of Tyre in his work upon Zeno, the letter of Antigonus was couched in the following terms:
"King Antigonus to Zeno the philosopher, greeting.
"While in fortune and fame I deem myself your superior, in reason and education I own myself inferior, as well as in the perfect happiness which you have attained. Wherefore I have decided to ask you to pay me a visit, being persuaded that you will not refuse the request. By all means, then, do your best to hold conference with me, understanding clearly that you will not be the instructor of myself alone but of all the Macedonians taken together. For it is obvious that whoever instructs the ruler of Macedonia and guides him in the paths of virtue will also be training his subjects to be good men. As is the ruler, such for the most part it may be expected that his subjects will become."
And Zeno's reply is as follows:
"Zeno to King Antigonus, greeting.
"I welcome your love of learning in so far as you cleave to that true education which tends to advantage and not to that popular counterfeit of it which serves only to corrupt morals. But if anyone has yearned for philosophy, turning away from much-vaunted pleasure which renders effeminate the souls of some of the young, it is evident that not by nature only, but also by the bent of his will he is inclined to nobility of character. But if a noble nature be aided by moderate exercise and further receive ungrudging instruction, it easily comes to acquire virtue in perfection. But I am constrained by bodily weakness, due to old age, for I am eighty years old; and for that reason I am unable to join you. But I send you certain companions of my studies whose mental powers are not inferior to mine, while their bodily strength is far greater, and if you associate with these you will in no way fall short of the conditions necessary to perfect happiness."
So he sent Persaeus and Philonides the Theban; and Epicurus in his letter to his brother Aristobulus mentions them both as living with Antigonus.
The decree which the Athenians passed concerning him reads as follows:
"In the archonship of Arrhenides, in the fifth prytany of the tribe Acamantis on the twenty-first day of Maemacterion, at the twenty-third plenary assembly of the prytany, one of the presidents, Hippo, the son of Cratistoteles, of the deme Xypetaeon, and his co-presidents put the question to the vote; Thraso, the son of Thraso of the deme Anacaea, moved:
"Whereas Zeno of Citium, son of Mnaseas, has for many years been devoted to philosophy in the city and has continued to be a man of worth in all other respects, exhorting to virtue and temperance those of the youth who come to him to be taught, directing them to what is best, affording to all in his own conduct a pattern for imitation in perfect consistency with his teaching, it has seemed good to the people and may it turn out well – to bestow praise upon Zeno of Citium, the son of Mnaseas, and to crown him with a golden crown according to the law, for his goodness and temperance, and to build him a tomb in the Ceramicus at the public cost. And that for the making of the crown and the building of the tomb, the people shall now elect five commissioners from all Athenians, and the Secretary of State shall inscribe this decree on two stone pillars and it shall be lawful for him to set up one in the Academy and the other in the Lyceum. And that the magistrate presiding over the administration shall apportion the expense incurred upon the pillars, that all may know that the Athenian people honour the good both in their life and after their death. Thraso of the deme Anacaea, Philocles of Peiraeus, Phaedrus of Anaphlystus, Medon of Acharnae, Micythus of Sypalettus, and Dion of Paeania have been elected commissioners for the making of the crown and the building."
Antigonus of Carystus tells us that he never denied that he was a citizen of Citium. For when he was one of those who contributed to the restoration of the baths and his name was inscribed upon the pillar as "Zeno the philosopher," he requested that the words "of Citium" should be added.
He made a hollow lid for a flask and used to carry about money in it, in order that there might be provision at hand for the necessities of his master Crates. He used to eat little loaves and honey and to drink a little wine of good bouquet. He rarely employed men-servants; once or twice indeed he might have a young girl to wait on him in order not to seem a misogynist. He shared the same house with Persaeus, and when the latter brought in a little flute-player he lost no time in leading her straight to Persaeus. They tell us he readily adapted himself to circumstances, so much so that King Antigonus often broke in on him with a noisy party, and once took him along with other revellers to Aristocles the musician; Zeno, however, in a little while gave them the slip. He disliked, they say, to be brought too near to people, so that he would take the end seat of a couch, thus saving himself at any rate from one half of such inconvenience. Nor indeed would he walk about with more than two or three. He would occasionally ask the bystanders for coppers, in order that, for fear of being asked to give, people might desist from mobbing him, as Cleanthes says in his work On Bronze. When several persons stood about him in the Colonnade he pointed to the wooden railing at the top round the altar and said, "This was once open to all, but because it was found to be a hindrance it was railed off. If you then will take yourselves off out of the way you will be the less annoyance to us."
When Demochares, the son of Laches, greeted him and told him he had only to speak or write for anything he wanted to Antigonus, who would be sure to grant all his requests, Zeno after hearing this would have nothing more to do with him. After Zeno's death Antigonus is reported to have said, "What an audience I have lost." Hence too he employed Thraso as his agent to request the Athenians to bury Zeno in the Ceramicus. And when asked why he admired him, "Because," said he, "the many ample gifts I offered him never made him conceited nor yet appear poor-spirited."
His bent was towards inquiry, and he was an exact reasoner on all subjects. Hence the words of Timon in his Silli:
A Phoenician too I saw, a pampered old woman ensconced in gloomy pride, longing for all things; but the meshes of her subtle web have perished, and she had no more intelligence than a banjo.
He used to dispute very carefully with Philo the logician and study along with him. Hence Zeno, who was the junior, had as great an admiration for Philo as his master Diodorus. And he had about him certain ragged dirty fellows, as Timon says in these lines:
The while he got together a crowd of ignorant serfs, who surpassed all men in beggary and were the emptiest of townsfolk.
Zeno himself was sour and of a frowning countenance. To a lover of boys he remarked, "Just as schoolmasters lose their common-sense by spending all their time with boys, so it is with people like you." He used to say that the very exact expressions used by those who avoided solecisms were like the coins struck by Alexander: they were beautiful in appearance and well-rounded like the coins, but none the better on that account.
Words of the opposite kind he would compare to the Attic tetradrachms, which, though struck carelessly and inartistically, nevertheless outweighed the ornate phrases. When his pupil Ariston discoursed at length in an uninspired manner, sometimes in a headstrong and over-confident way. "Your father," said he, "must have been drunk when he begat you." Hence he would call him a chatterbox, being himself concise in speech.
There is a story of a gourmand so greedy that he left nothing for his table companions. A large fish having been served, Zeno took it up as if he were about to eat the whole. When the other looked at him, "What do you suppose," said he, "those who live with you feel every day, if you cannot put up with my gourmandise in this single instance?" A youth was putting a question with more curiosity than became his years, whereupon Zeno led him to a mirror, and bade him look in it; after which he inquired if he thought it became anyone who looked like that to ask such questions. Some one said that he did not in general agree with Antisthenes, whereupon Zeno produced that author's essay on Sophocles, and asked him if he thought it had any excellence; to which the reply was that he did not know. "Then are you not ashamed," quoth he, "to pick out and mention anything wrong said by Antisthenes, while you suppress his good things without giving them a thought?"
Some one having said that he thought the chain-arguments of the philosophers seemed brief and curt, Zeno replied, "You are quite right; indeed, the very syllables ought, if possible, to be clipped." Some one remarked to him about Polemo, that his discourse was different from the subject he announced. He replied with a frown, "Well, what value would you have set upon what was given out?" He said that when conversing we ought to be earnest and, like actors, we should have a loud voice and great strength; but we ought not to open the mouth too wide, which is what your senseless chatterbox does. "Telling periods," he said, "unlike the works of good craftsmen, should need no pause for the contemplation of their excellences; on the contrary, the hearer should be so absorbed in the discourse itself as to have no leisure even to take notes."
Once when a young man was talking a good deal, he said, "Your ears have slid down and merged in your tongue." To the fair youth, who gave it as his opinion that the wise man would not fall in love, his reply was: "Then who can be more hapless than you fair youths?" He used to say that even of philosophers the greater number were in most things unwise, while about small and casual things they were quite ignorant. And he used to cite the saying of Caphisius, who, when one of his pupils was endeavouring to blow the flute lustily, gave him a slap and told him that to play well does not depend on loudness, though playing loudly may follow upon playing well. And to a youth who was talking somewhat saucily his rejoinder was, "I would rather not tell you what I am thinking, my lad."
A Rhodian, who was handsome and rich, but not much more, insisted on joining his class; but so unwelcome was this pupil, that first of all Zeno made him sit on the benches that were dusty, that he might soil his cloak, and then he consigned him to the place where the beggars sat, that he might rub shoulders with their rags; so at last the young man went away. Nothing, he declared, was more unbecoming than arrogance, especially in the young. He used also to say that it was not the wo...

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Citation styles for The Stoic Philosophers
APA 6 Citation
Laërtius, D. The Stoic Philosophers ([edition unavailable]). Klondike Classics. Retrieved from (Original work published)
Chicago Citation
Laërtius, Diogenes. The Stoic Philosophers. [Edition unavailable]. Klondike Classics.
Harvard Citation
Laërtius, D. The Stoic Philosophers. [edition unavailable]. Klondike Classics. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Laërtius, Diogenes. The Stoic Philosophers. [edition unavailable]. Klondike Classics. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.