Some of my favorite books on Stoicism, the classics, modern stuff, and a bit of relevant background history.
The Cambridge Companion to the Stoics, edited by Brad Inwood. This unique volume offers an odyssey through the ideas of the Stoics in three particular ways: first, through the historical trajectory of the school itself and its influence; second, through the recovery of the history of Stoic thought; third, through the ongoing confrontation with Stoicism, showing how it refines philosophical traditions, challenges the imagination, and ultimately defines the kind of life one chooses to lead.
Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life, by Anthony Long. The philosophy of Epictetus, a freed slave in the Roman Empire, has been profoundly influential on Western thought: it offers not only stimulating ideas but practical guidance in living ones life. A.A. Long, a leading scholar of later ancient philosophy, gives the definitive presentation of the thought of Epictetus for a broad readership. Longs fresh and vivid translations of a selection of the best of Epictetus discourses show that his ideas are as valuable and striking today as they were amost two thousand years ago. The translations are organized thematically within the framework of an authoritative introduction and commentary, which offer a way into this world for those new to it, and illuminating interpretations for those who already know it. This is a book for anyone interested in what we can learn from ancient philosophy about how to live our lives.
The Stoic Sage: The Early Stoics on Wisdom, Sagehood and Socrates, by René Brouwer. After Plato and Aristotle, the Stoics, from the 3rd century BCE onwards, developed the third great classical conception of wisdom. This book offers a reconstruction of this pivotal notion in Stoicism, starting out from the two extant Stoic definitions, ‘knowledge of human and divine matters’ and ‘fitting expertise’. It focuses not only on the question of what they understood by wisdom, but also on how wisdom can be achieved, how difficult it is to become a sage, and how this difficulty can be explained.
A New Stoicism, by Lawrence C. Becker. What would Stoic ethics be like today if stoicism had survived as a systematic approach to ethical theory, if it had coped successfully with the challenges of modern philosophy and experimental science? A New Stoicism proposes an answer to that question, offered from within the Stoic tradition but without the metaphysical and psychological assumptions that modern philosophy and science have abandoned. Lawrence Becker argues that a secular version of the Stoic ethical project, based on contemporary cosmology and developmental psychology, provides the basis for a sophisticated form of ethical naturalism, in which virtually all the hard doctrines of the ancient Stoics can be clearly restated and defended
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine. One of the great fears many of us face is that despite all our effort and striving, we will discover at the end that we have wasted our life. In A Guide to the Good Life, William B. Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives.
Stoicism and the Art of Happiness – Ancient Tips For Modern Challenges, by Donald Robertson. This new guide to finding a happier way of life draws on the ancient wisdom of the stoics to reveal lasting truths and proven strategies for enhanced wellbeing. By learning what stoicism is, you can revolutionise your life, learning how to – properly – ‘seize the day’, how to cope in the face of adversity, and how to come to terms with whatever situation you’re in.
Stoicism Today, edited by Patrick Ussher. From Stoic ethics to emotions, from Stoic mayors and mindfulness to practical philosophy, parenting, psychotherapy and prisons, from Star Trek and Socrates to Stoic lawyers, literature and living in general, this book brings together a wide-ranging collection of reflections on living the Stoic life today. You’ll read advice on coping with adversity, reflections on happiness and the good life and powerful personal testimonies of putting Stoicism into practise. But you’ll also read about the links between Stoicism and psychotherapy, Stoicism and mindfulness meditation and the unexpected places Stoicism can pop up in modern culture.
Virtue Ethics, by Richard Taylor. In this fresh evaluation of Western ethics, noted philosopher Richard Taylor argues that philosophy must return to the classical notion of virtue as the basis of ethics. To ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, ethics was chiefly the study of how individuals attain personal excellence, or “virtue,” defined as intellectual sophistication, wisdom, strength of character, and creativity. Taylor points out that the ancients rightly understood the ultimate concern of ethics to be the search for happiness, a concept that seems to have eluded contemporary society despite unprecedented prosperity and convenience.
Courage in the Democratic Polis: Ideology and Critique in Classical Athens, by Ryan K. Balot. In this careful and compelling study, Ryan K. Balot brings together political theory, classical history, and ancient philosophy in order to reinterpret courage as a specifically democratic virtue. Ranging from Thucydides and Aristophanes to the Greek tragedians and Plato, Balot shows that the ancient Athenians constructed a novel vision of courage that linked this virtue to fundamental democratic ideals such as freedom, equality, and practical rationality.
The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics, by Martha C. Nussbaum. The Epicureans, Skeptics, and Stoics practiced philosophy not as a detached intellectual discipline, but as a worldly art of grappling with issues of daily and urgent human significance: the fear of death, love and sexuality, anger and aggression. Like medicine, philosophy to them was a rigorous science aimed both at understanding and at producing the flourishing of human life. In this engaging book, Martha Nussbaum examines texts of philosophers committed to a therapeutic paradigm — including Epicurus, Lucretius, Sextus Empiricus, Chrysippus, and Seneca — and recovers a valuable source for our moral and political thought today.
Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius. One measure, perhaps, of a book’s worth, is its intergenerational pliancy: do new readers acquire it and interpret it afresh down through the ages? The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, translated and introduced by Gregory Hays, by that standard, is very worthwhile, indeed. Hays suggests that its most recent incarnation — as a self-help book — is not only valid, but may be close to the author’s intent. The book, which Hays calls, fondly, a “haphazard set of notes,” is indicative of the role of philosophy among the ancients in that it is “expected to provide a ‘design for living.'” And it does, both aphoristically (“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.”) and rhetorically (“What is it in ourselves that we should prize?”). Hays’s introduction, which sketches the life of Marcus Aurelius (emperor of Rome A.D. 161-180) as well as the basic tenets of stoicism, is accessible and jaunty.
Discourses and Selected Writings, by Epictetus. Epictetus, a Greek Stoic and freed slave, ran a thriving philosophy school in Nicropolis in the early second century CE. His animated discussions were celebrated for their rhetorical wizardry and were written down by Arrian, his most famous pupil. Together with the Enchiridion, a manual of his main ideas, and the fragments collected in this book, The Discourses argue that happiness lies in learning to perceive exactly what is in our power to change and what is not, and in embracing our fate to live in harmony with god and nature. In this personal, practical guide to the ethics of stoicism and moral self-improvement, Epictetus tackles questions of freedom and imprisonment, illness and fear, family, friendship and love, and leaves an intriguing document of daily life in the classical world.
Letters on Ethics: To Lucilius, translated by M. Graver and A.A. Long. The Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca recorded his moral philosophy and reflections on life as a highly original kind of correspondence. Letters on Ethics includes vivid descriptions of town and country life in Nero’s Italy, discussions of poetry and oratory, and philosophical training for Seneca’s friend Lucilius. This volume, the first complete English translation in nearly a century, makes the Letters more accessible than ever before. Seneca uses the informal format of the letter to present the central ideas of Stoicism, for centuries the most influential philosophical system in the Mediterranean world. His lively and at times humorous expositions have made the Letters his most popular work and an enduring classic.
Delphi Complete Works of Seneca the Younger. The leading Stoic philosopher of the Silver Age of Latin literature, as well as tutor to the infamous Nero, Seneca was also an accomplished dramatist, whose ground-breaking tragedies changed the course of theatre writing. The Ancient Classics series provides readers with the wisdom of the Classical world, with both English translations and the original Latin texts. For the first time in publishing history, readers can enjoy the complete works of Seneca the Younger in a single volume, with beautiful illustrations, informative introductions and the usual Delphi bonus material.
Musonius Rufus: Lectures and Sayings. Musonius Rufus (c. AD 30–100) was one of the four great Roman Stoic philosophers, the other three being Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Musonius’ pupil Epictetus. During his life, Musonius’ Stoicism was put to the test, most notably during an exile to Gyaros, a barren island in the Aegean Sea. Because Stoicism was, for Musonius, not merely a philosophy but a prescription for daily living, he has been called “the Roman Socrates.”
Ethical Fragments of Hierocles, Preserved by Stobaeus. The collection, in the classic translation by Thomas Taylor, includes the little that has survived to us written by Hierocles, including his thoughts on: How we ought to conduct ourselves towards the gods, How we ought to conduct ourselves towards our country, After what manner we ought to conduct ourselves towards our parents, On fraternal love, On wedlock, How we ought to conduct ourselves towards our kindred, On economics.
Delphi Complete Works of Cicero. Cicero’s Rome’s greatest orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero was a renowned philosopher and political theorist whose influence upon the history of European literature has been immense. For the first time in digital publishing history, readers can now enjoy Cicero’s complete works in English and Latin on their eReaders, with beautiful illustrations, informative introductions and the usual Delphi bonus material. Especially of relevance to Stoicism are the philosophical treatises, and in particular De Finibus Bonorum et Malorum (About the Ends of Goods and Evils).
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, by Diogenes Laertius. Diogenes Laertius’ compendium on the lives and doctrines of Greek and Italian philosophers ranges over three centuries, from Thales to Epicurus, carefully compiled from hundreds of sources and enriched with numerous quotations. This comprehensive eBook presents Diogenes’ complete extant works, with beautiful illustrations, informative introductions and the usual Delphi bonus material. Translation by R.D. Dicks.
Euthydemus, by Plato. Neglected for ages by Plato scholars, the Euthydemus has in recent years attracted renewed attention. The dialogue, in which Socrates converses with two sophists whose techniques of verbal manipulation utterly disengage language from any grounding in stable meaning or reality, is in many ways a dialogue for our times. This dialogue and the arguments therein were a profound influence on the Stoic concepts of the nature and centrality in life of virtue.
Marcus Aurelius: A Life, by Frank McLynn. Marcus Aurelius (121–180 AD) is one of the great figures of antiquity whose life and words still speak to us today. His Meditations remains one of the most widely read books from the classical world, and his life represents the fulfillment of Plato’s famous dictum that mankind will prosper only when philosophers are rulers. Based on all available original sources, Marcus Aurelius is the definitive biography to date of this monumental historical figure.
Dying Every Day: Seneca at the Court of Nero, by James Romm. James Romm seamlessly weaves together the life and written words, the moral struggles, political intrigue, and bloody vengeance that enmeshed Seneca the Younger in the twisted imperial family and the perverse, paranoid regime of Emperor Nero, despot and madman. Romm writes that Seneca watched over Nero as teacher, moral guide, and surrogate father, and, at seventeen, when Nero abruptly ascended to become emperor of Rome, Seneca, a man never avid for political power became, with Nero, the ruler of the Roman Empire.
Rome’s Last Citizen: The Life and Legacy of Cato, Mortal Enemy of Caesar, by Rob Goodman. Marcus Porcius Cato: aristocrat who walked barefoot and slept on the ground with his troops, political heavyweight who cultivated the image of a Stoic philosopher, a hardnosed defender of tradition who presented himself as a man out of the sacred Roman past ― and the last man standing when Rome’s Republic fell to tyranny. His blood feud with Caesar began in the chamber of the Senate, played out on the battlefields of a world war, and ended when he took his own life rather than live under a dictator.
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard. A sweeping, revisionist history of the Roman Empire from one of our foremost classicists. Ancient Rome was an imposing city even by modern standards, a sprawling imperial metropolis of more than a million inhabitants, a “mixture of luxury and filth, liberty and exploitation, civic pride and murderous civil war” that served as the seat of power for an empire that spanned from Spain to Syria. Yet how did all this emerge from what was once an insignificant village in central Italy? In S.P.Q.R., world-renowned classicist Mary Beard narrates the unprecedented rise of a civilization that even two thousand years later still shapes many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, responsibility, political violence, empire, luxury, and beauty.
Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, by Simon Baker. This is the story of the greatest empire the world has ever known. Simon Baker charts the rise and fall of the world’s first superpower, focusing on six momentous turning points that shaped Roman history. Welcome to Rome as you’ve never seen it before – awesome and splendid, gritty and squalid. From the conquest of the Mediterranean beginning in the third century BC to the destruction of the Roman Empire at the hands of barbarian invaders some seven centuries later, we discover the most critical episodes in Roman history: the spectacular collapse of the ‘free’ republic, the birth of the age of the ‘Caesars’, the violent suppression of the strongest rebellion against Roman power, and the bloody civil war that launched Christianity as a world religion.
Greek Buddha: Pyrrho’s Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia, by Christopher I. Beckwith. Pyrrho of Elis went with Alexander the Great to Central Asia and India during the Greek invasion and conquest of the Persian Empire in 334–324 BC. There he met with early Buddhist masters. Greek Buddha shows how their Early Buddhism shaped the philosophy of Pyrrho, the famous founder of Pyrrhonian scepticism in ancient Greece. Beckwith identifies eight distinct philosophical schools in ancient northwestern India and Central Asia, including Early Zoroastrianism, Early Brahmanism, and several forms of Early Buddhism. He then shows the influence that Pyrrho’s brand of scepticism had on the evolution of Western thought, first in Antiquity, and later, during the Enlightenment, on the great philosopher and self-proclaimed Pyrrhonian, David Hume.