A Simple Introduction to Stoicism
Some 2300 years ago, a merchant by the name Zeno found himself shipwrecked and stranded in Athens.
With not much else to do, he walked into a book store and picked up a book that happened to be about Socrates.
Fascinated by what he was reading, Zeno set out to find and learn from the finest philosophers the city had to offer.
Over the next couple of years, he studied under a wide array of philosophy teachers before eventually founding his own school.
The Birth of Stoicism
Zeno started teaching by standing on a porch in the central market in Athens and talking to anyone who happened to pass by. Soon, he had a following of men hanging around and discussing philosophy with him.
The Greek word for porch is stoa, and the men who met there to talk philosophy became known as Stoics; the men of the porch.
Over time, the ideas they were discussing became increasingly popular and over a thousand books came to be written about stoicism.
We’ve lost almost all of those books to antiquity, but we still have the works from three fascinating Stoics who are widely influential to this day: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.
The Main Characters
Seneca lived right around the year 0 CE, and he was a successful and wealthy statesman and playwright. He is known for the personal letters he wrote in his lifetime, such as Letters from a Stoic1 and On the Shortness of Life2.
Epictetus was born a couple of decades after Seneca, and he was a crippled slave who eventually became a free man and one of the leading philosophers in Rome. None of his texts remain but one of his students wrote down his ideas in two books called The Discourses3 and The Enchiridion4.
Marcus Aurelius lived shortly after Epictetus, and he studied, applied, and developed stoic ideas in his role as emperor of the Roman Empire. We know his wisdom primarily through his Meditations5; a private journal that was never intended for publication.
What is Stoicism?
These days, people use the word “stoic” to describe someone who doesn’t feel any emotion at all. But even though the word originates from Stoicism, that was not at all what the Stoic philosophers were trying to accomplish.
What they wanted to do was minimize negative feelings to make as much room as possible for positive ones. They wanted to replace frustration, discontent, and anger with calm, fulfillment, and happiness.
To do that, the Stoics developed a variety of mental techniques to deal with the challenges of life. And many of these techniques have inspired modern therapies like, for instance, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
So even though the philosophy itself is very old, modern research shows that the ideas are highly relevant to this day. In the articles below, I’ll show you how to use Stoic techniques to feel better, perform better, and live a better life.
- Letters From a Stoic by Seneca
- On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
- The Discourses by Epictetus
- The Enchiridion by Epictetus
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius