Early Stoicism, from Zeno to Arius Didymus

41xOl014V1LI’ve started going carefully through the excellent Cambridge Companion to the Stoics edited by Brad Inwood. The first chapter deals with the early to middle Stoa, and it’s a nice introduction to the historical and philosophical background of Stoicism. Here are some tidbits to wet your appetite:

“Polemo, the head of the Platonic Academy, and the Megaric philosopher Stilpo, both of them known above all for their ethical stances, were among Zeno’s other teachers, and both will have helped him develop his own distinctive ethical orientation.

There is, in fact, evidence that the Stoics themselves were happy to be classed generically as ‘Socratics’. And with good reason: their ethical system, characterised by its intellectualist identification of goodness with wisdom and the consequent elimination of non-moral ‘goods’ as indifferent , was thoroughly Socratic in inspiration.

Consider, for instance, the controversy between (once again) Cleanthes and Chrysippus about whether Zeno’s definitions of each virtue as wisdom regarding a certain area of conduct made all the virtues identical with one and the same state of mind, wisdom – as Cleanthes held – or left each – in line with Chrysippus’ doctrine – as a distinct branch of wisdom.

In 155, the current heads of the Stoa (i.e., Diogenes of Babylon), the Academy, and the Peripatos were chosen as ambassadors to represent Athens in negotiations at Rome, pleading for remission of a fine imposed on the city for the sack of Oropus. The occasion was of especial historical importance because of the packed lectures that the philosophers gave while in Rome, causing shock waves among the Roman establishment, but doing more than any other single event to ignite at Rome a fascination with philosophy which was to remain undiminished for the remainder of antiquity and to have special importance for the future fortunes of Stoicism.

A vital watershed in philosophical history are the years 88– 86 B.C., when first a Peripatetic philosopher, Athenion, and then an Epicurean, Aristion, briefly gained absolute power at Athens, both siding with Mithridates against the Romans. Ironically, given the role played by philosophers , these were also the events – a product of the protracted Mithridatic War (89– 84) – that finally destroyed Athens’ standing as the centre of the philosophical world. It was during Athenion’s brief reign as tyrant that Athens suffered a crippling siege by Sulla’s army, at the end of which the city was sacked.”

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