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Stoic Leaders

Early Stoics

Zeno of Citium

Origin: Kition, Cyprus

334 BC – D. 262 BC

Areas of interest: Ethics, Physics, Logic

Influenced: Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Posidonius, PanaetiusLucius Annaeus Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius

Philosophical era: ancient philosophy

Influenced by: Socrates, Plato, Heraclitus, Crates of Thebes

Zeno was the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy, which he taught in Athens from about 300 BC. Based on the moral ideas of the Cynics, Stoicism laid great emphasis on goodness and peace of mind gained from living a life of virtue in accordance with nature. It proved very popular, flourishing as one of the primary schools of philosophy from the Hellenistic period through to the Roman era. It also enjoyed revivals in the Renaissance as Neostoicism and in the current era as Modern Stoicism.

Zeno consulted an Oracle about what he should do to live the most fulfilling life. The oracle’s response: “To live the most fulfilling life you should have a conversation with the dead.” It must have struck him there in that bookstore, possibly the same one his father had shopped in years before, as he listened to the words of Socrates read aloud and brought to life, that he was doing precisely what the oracle had advised.

Because isn’t that what books are? A way to gain wisdom from those no longer with us?

As the bookseller read from the second book of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, Zeno was hearing Socrates’ teachings. These were taught in those very streets just a few generations before. The passage that struck him most was “The Choice of Heracles,” itself a story of a hero at a crossroads. In this myth, Heracles is forced to choose between two maidens, one representing virtue and the other vice-one a life of virtuous effort and work, the other of laziness. “You must,” Zeno would have heard the character Virtue say, “accustom your body to be the servant of your mind, and train it with toil and sweat.”

Cleanthes of Assos

Origin: Assos (Behram), Turkey

330 BC – D. 230 BC

Books: Hymn to Zeus

Schools of thought: Stoicism

Main interests: Physics, Ethics

Wasn’t just a Greek Stoic philosopher, but a boxer who was the successor to Zeno of Citium as the second head (scholarch) of the Stoic school in Athens.

Cleanthes was originally a boxer who came to Athens where he learned philosophy by listening to Zeno’s lectures. According to Chrysippus, Cleanthes supported himself by working as a water carrier at night and also paid Zeno. After the death of Zeno, c. 262 BC, Cleanthes became the head of the Stoa, a post he held for the next 32 years.

We can say that Cleanthes successfully preserved and helped to develop Zeno’s doctrines, and he originated revolutionary ideas in Stoic physics, which developed Stoicism in accordance with the principles of materialism and pantheism –“the belief that reality, the universe, and the cosmos are identical with divinity and a supreme supernatural being or entity, pointing to the universe as being an immanent creator.”

A fragment of Cleanthes’ writings that survived and has come down to us is a Hymn to Zeus, which was kept by Chrysippus, his dear pupil. He became one of the most prominent Stoic thinkers to carry on stoicism.

Chrysippus of Soli

Origin: Soli, Cilicia

279 BC – c. 206 BC

Books: On Passions, On the Soul, Essential Stoic Philosophy: Lessons from the Peaks of Stoic Thought

Influenced by: Cleanthes, Zeno of Citium, Plato, Aristotle, Diodorus Cronus, Philo the Dialectician

Schools of thought: Stoicism

Philosophical era: ancient philosophy

Chrysippus had a long and successful career of resisting the attacks of the Academy and hoped not simply to defend Stoicism against the assaults of the Epicureans, the Cynics, Platonians, and others of the past, but also against all possible attacks in the future. His Stoic way of thinking helped him to take the doctrines of Zeno and Cleanthes in a very positive way. He crystallized them into what became the definitive Stoic philosophy. He didn’t stop there; he also elaborated on the physical doctrines of the Stoics and their theory of wisdom, and he transformed much of their formal logic and ethics into a practical ideal. In short, Chrysippus made the Stoic system what it was, and what it is today, and it is also said that “without Chrysippus, there would have been no Stoa”.

Chrysippus was a stoic of the first order.

Middle Stoics


Born: 15 October 70 BC, Cisalpine Gaul

Died: 21 September 19 BC, Brindisi, Italy

Influenced by: Homer, Lucretius, Callimachus, Ennius, Philodemus, Epicurious, Chrysippus, Cleanthes, Zeno of Citium

Books: The Eclogues (or Bucolics), the Georgics, and the epic Aeneid

Virgil’s writings were such an inspiration and motivation for Shakespeare.

Publius VergiliusMaro Virgil, better known as Vergil, Roman poet, best known for his national epic, the Aeneid (from c. 30 BCE; unfinished at his death).

Virgil was regarded by the Romans as their greatest poet, an estimation that subsequent generations have upheld. His fame rests chiefly upon the Aeneid, which tells the story of Rome’s legendary founder and proclaims the Roman mission to civilize the world under divine guidance. His reputation as a poet endures not only for the music and diction of his verse but for his skill at constructing intricate works on a grand scale. In addition, he embodied in his poetry aspects of experience and behavior of permanent significance.

There is very little discussion about Virgil, but Virgil eventually transitioned from Epicureanism to Stoicism. And so, he is a middle stoic.

Epicurean – Be happy with pleasure

Stoicism – Be happy by doing your duty; you will suffer along the way, but you will be happy. -Virgil used to say.


Born: 4 BC, Córdoba, Spain

Died: 65 AD, Rome, Italy

Influenced by: Epicurus, Zeno of Citium, Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Virgil, Ovid, Euripides, Publilius Syrus, Posidonius

Philosophical era: ancient philosophy

Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, also known as Seneca, held many public roles such as a Roman Stoic philosopher, a statesman, a dramatist, and, in one word, a satirist, from the post-Augustan age of Latin literature. Very impressive!

Seneca was born in Córdoba Spain, and raised in Rome, where he was trained in rhetoric and philosophy, and came from a wealthy family.

Seneca was also known for many things from Rome’s foremost playwright to the wisest broker to Nero’s tutor and adviser. Seneca’s personal letters survived and served as some of the most sought-after sources of Stoic philosophy.

Both Seneca and Jesus the Nazarene were born in the same year, and there is no historical evidence indicating that they ever met.

Late Stoics


Born: 50 AD. Hierapolis PamukkaleDenizli, Turkey

Died: 135 AD, Nicopolis, Greece

Philosophical era: ancient philosophy

Influenced by: Musonius Rufus, Chrysippus, Cleanthes, Hippocrates, Socrates, Zeno of Citium, Diogenes, Gaius

Influenced: Arrian, Marcus Aurelius, James Stockdale, Albert Ellis, Junius Rusticus, Han Ryner

Areas of interest: Ethics

Epictetus was a Greek Stoic philosopher born into slavery and living in Rome until his banishment. He was exiled to Nicopolis in northwestern Greece for the rest of his life.

Although he lived as a slave until he was freed, he became a legend, as we know from Epictetus’ life. Epictetus was also the mentor to other great minds of ancient Rome such as Marcus Aurelius and founded his own school. His student, Arrian, meticulously recorded his teachings in the book Discourses and Enchiridion. Enchiridion, meaning “ready to use,” is often translated as a handbook. It is meant to be used like a sword ready to be drawn at the slightest sign of danger or threat. The manual was a way to deal with life’s challenges.

Marcus Aurelius:

Born: April 26, 121 Rome, Italy

Died: March 17, 180 Sirmium, today is central Serbia

Title / Office: Emperor (161-180), Roman Empire consul (161), Roman Empire consul (145), Roman Empire consul (140), Roman Empire.

Notable Works: “Meditations”

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus 26 April 121 – 17 March 180 was a Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher.

Famously referred to as the last righteous emperor, Marcus Aurelius was also the most powerful man on earth at that time. He reflected every evening on the events of the day and wrote down his thoughts and observations in his diary. This would be on to be published as ‘Meditations.’ It would become one of the most influential, profound, and significant sources of Stoic Philosophy today.

Meditations, the writings of “the philosopher” – as contemporary biographers called Marcus – are a significant source of the modern understanding of ancient Stoic philosophy. They have been praised by fellow writers, philosophers, monarchs, and politicians centuries after his death and used today by Tim Ferris, Ryan Holiday, and many others.

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