One of the first books I reviewed on this blog was “On the Shortness of Life” by the stoic philosopher Seneca, so why not dig a bit deeper into Stoicism.
The roots of Stoicism stretches all the way back to the ancient philosopher Zeno of Citium. Zeno started life in the town of Citium on the island of Cyprus and lived from 334 to 262 BC and sometime around the year 300 BC he moved to Athens to practice philosophy. Where Zeno founded a school of philosophy, and because he gave his lectures on a “painted porch” (Stoa Poikile / ποικίλη στοά) his students were called “Stoics”.
Zeno, and his followers was immensely influenced by Socrates. Socrates’ influence was so great that the Roman Stoic Epictetus is quoted as saying:
“And you, although you are not yet a Socrates, should live as someone who at least wants to be a Socrates.”
While Zeno is recognized as the founder of Stoicism, it was one of his followers, Chrysippus (279 – 206 BC), who would become the most influential of the Greek Stoics. Sadly, only a few fragments of his approximately 700 works has survived to present day.
Even though Stoicism had its cradle in Ancient Greece, it was not until centuries later in the Roman Empire that it reached its peak of influence. Most of our knowledge of Stoicism comes from the writings and ideas of these “Roman Stoics”, and this brings us back to Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD).
Life’s like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters. – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
This is what differentiates Stoicism from other branches of philosophy, Stoicism is a highly practical philosophy that to a much larger degree concerns itself with how to live life. The Stoics thought that happiness was acquired by attaining virtue, or excellence of character.
The problem with making our happiness dependent on things outside of our control is that when such things are lacking we will be miserable, and alternatively when we do have them we will often be so afraid of losing them that we won’t be able to enjoy them.
Things such as health, wealth, a good reputation, good food and drink, love and sexual pleasures, all these and more were things which the Stoic enjoyed if they came his way. Yet unlike practically everyone else, the Stoic was not attached to them and his happiness was not dependent on them. This meant not only that in their absence the Stoic still lived a life filled with joy and tranquility, but that when external goods did come his way he was able to enjoy them without the fear of losing them.
You will find no one willing to share out his money; but to how many does each of us divide up his life! People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy. – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
In life, time is your most precious resource, time is the only resource you can never get back if wasted, and this is the essence of stoicism, are you living life or merely passing time?
It is a small part of life we really live – Indeed, all the rest is not life but merely time. – Lucius Annaeus Seneca