The Teachings of Zeno of Citium

The teachings of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, summarised and paraphrased by Henry Sedgwick.

Zeno Gem
Gem depicting Zeno of Citium, from British Museum.

Although Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, wrote many books, none of them survive today. However, there are many references to his views and some apparent quotes from his writings scattered throughout ancient secondary sources.

In his Life of Marcus Aurelius (1921), the American author Henry Dwight Sedgwick, attempted to summarise them as follows:

Ye shall not make any graven images,
Neither shall ye build temples to the Gods,
For nothing builded is worthy of the Gods;
The handiwork of artisans and carpenters
Is of little worth, neither is it sacred.

Ye shall not beautify the city,
Save with the righteousness of them that live therein.
Neither shall ye have courts of law.
Love is the god of amity and freedom,
Love is divine, he helpeth to keep the city safe,
He it is that prepareth concord.

Ye shall not live divided into cities and into townships,
Nor be kept asunder by contrary laws;
But ye shall hold all men as fellow citizens and fellow townsmen.
Ye shall have one law and one custom,
Like a flock, herded under one crook, that feedeth together.

The nature of the universe is twofold,
There is that which worketh and that which is wrought upon.
And that which is wrought upon
Is substance that hath neither shape nor form;
And that which worketh upon it
Is the word, and the word is God.
And God is everlasting
And permeateth all substance,
And thereby createth each several thing;
And from this substance proceed all created things.
And the universal whole is substance,
And that into which substance is divided is matter,
And the universal whole becometh neither greater nor less,
But each several thing becometh greater or less;
For the several parts do not remain the same always,
But they part asunder, and again they come together.

God is body, most pure,
And the beginning of all things,
And his providence pervadeth all that is.
God is ether, God is air,
God is spirit of ethereal fire;
He is diffused throughout creation
As honey through the honeycomb;
God goeth to and fro throughout all that is,
God is mind, God is soul, God is nature:
It is God that holdeth the universe together.

The artificer and disposer of the universe
Is the word, and the word is reason;
He is fate.
He is the determining cause of all things, He is Zeus.
In all things is the divine;
The law of nature is divine.
The world and the heavens are the substance of God,
And the divine power worketh in the stars,
And in the years, in the months and in the seasons.

Zeus, Hera and Vesta,
And all the gods and goddesses
Are not Gods, but names
Given to things that lack life and speech;
For Zeus is the sky, Hera the air,
Poseidon the sea, and Hephaestus fire.

Lo, the fountain of life is character.
And from it, in their order, flow forth our actions.
Behold, happiness is the smooth flow of life.
The fulfillment of a man’s life
Is to live in accord with nature;
So to live is to live in righteousness,
For nature leadeth to righteousness,
And the end of life is to live in accord with virtue.

Follow the Gods.
Man is born solely for righteousness,
For righteousness draweth to itself the souls of men
With no lure, no offerings from without,
But of its own splendor.
Virtue of itself is sufficient for happiness;
Righteousness is the sole and only good,
And nothing is evil save that which is vile and base.

Of things that are, some there are
Which are good and some which are evil,
And some which are neither good nor evil.
And the good are these: Wisdom, Sobriety, Justice and Fortitude.
And the evil are these: Folly, Intemperance, Injustice and Cowardice.
And things that are neither good nor evil are indifferent.
And things indifferent are these:
Life and death, good repute and ill repute,
Pain and pleasure, riches and poverty,
Sickness and health, and such like.

And of men there are two sorts,
The upright man and the wicked man;
And the upright man all his life
Will do the things that are right,
But the ways of the wicked are evil.

The wise man is blessed, the wise man is rich;
Only the wise, however needy they be, are rich;
Only the wise, however ill-favored, are beautiful;
For the lineaments of the soul
Are more beautiful than those of the body.
All good men are friends one to another.

Zeno of Citium, copyright the Trustees of the British Museum. Reproduced with permission.
Zeno of Citium, copyright the Trustees of the British Museum. Reproduced with permission.

(Cleomedes has provided his own edited version of these passages from Sedgwick on the Stoicism Subreddit.)

Sedgwick goes on to provide the following, additional maxims attributed to Zeno from the surviving fragments, etc.

The wise man will do all things well,
He will season his porridge wisely.

Give not thine ear unto that which is pleasant;
And take from the flatterer his freedom of speech.

Though ye are able to get sweets from your labors,
Yet ye take them from cookshops.

Sedgwick continues:

His sayings in conversation had the same individuality and vigor: “Better to trip with the feet than the tongue.” “There is nothing we need so much as time.” And he often quoted the remark of a music teacher to a young flute-player who was blowing a great blast on his flute, “Greatness does not make a thing excellent, but excellence makes a thing great.” And when some spendthrifts were excusing themselves, saying that they spent out of a large property, he answered, “So you agree with the cook who put too much salt in his dish, and said he had a great quantity left.” He defined, in accord with Aristotle, a friend as “a second self,” and asserted that a voice should be “the flower of beauty.”

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