Maverick Stoics: Dionysius the Renegade

Short article about Dionysius the Renegade an early follower of Zeno who broke away from the Stoic school to become a follower of the Cyrenaics.

Medieval eye surgery
Medieval eye surgery

Dionysius “the Renegade” (or “Deserter”), of Heraclea (c. 330 – c. 250 BC) was a heterodox , or maverick, Stoic and presumably initially a student of Zeno, the founder of the school.  You can read a short chapter about his life and thought in Diogenes Laertius.  Before becoming a Stoic he studied philosophy under the physicist Heraclides of Heraclea, the Megarian philosopher Alexinus of Elis, who we know was critical of Zeno of Citium, and Menedemus, founder of the Eretrian school of philosophy, who appears to have studied under Stilpo and the Megarian school.  This tells us Dionysius was an experienced and eclectic student of philosophy before becoming a follower of Zeno, although he also apparently shared with Zeno a background in the Megarian philosophical tradition. We know he also studied poetry and literature and sought to imitate the great Stoic-influenced poet Aratus.

However, we’re told Dionysius broke away from Stoicism after suffering a painful bout of ophthalmia, inflammation of the eyes.  He declared that pleasure (hedone) was the true goal (telos) of life and not an “indifferent” as Zeno claimed. His story shows that although Zeno was in a sense a highly eclectic philosopher, and Stoicism apparently tolerated some internal disagreement and debate, belief in the “indifference” of pain was considered an essential doctrine.  Once someone rejected that view it no longer made sense for them to call themselves a “Stoic”.  This was in part because the doctrine of the indifference of pain was considered so central to Stoicism.  However, it was probably also because by arguing that “pleasure” is the true goal of life Dionysius effectively drew closer to the position held by rival schools of philosophy, such as the Cyrenaics and possibly the Epicureans.  Dionysius’ story suggests that, like Epicurus, he defined “pleasure” in part as the absence of physical pain.

Indeed, we’re told that Dionysius did leave  the Stoa to join the Cyrenaic school following his change of heart.  In his chapter on the life of Zeno, Diogenes Laertius says that:

When Dionysius the Renegade asked [Zeno], “Why am I the only pupil you do not correct?” the reply was, “Because I mistrust you.”

This perhaps implies a haughty attitude on the part of Dionysius, who might be taken to be suggesting that his views were above criticism, whereas Zeno’s response takes him down a peg, by suggesting that he is actually beneath criticism.

Diogenes Laertius also includes the following brief reference to Dionysius in a list of Zeno’s most important famous students:

Dionysius, who became a renegade to the doctrine of pleasure, for owing to the severity of his ophthalmia he had no longer the nerve to call pain a thing indifferent: his native place was Heraclea.

We know little more about Dionysius.  He wrote two books on freedom from passions (apatheia), two on training exercises (askesis), and four on pleasure (hedone), among others.  However, Diogenes Laertius also wrote in his account of Heraclides, the natural philosopher, and former teacher of Dionysius:

Moreover, Dionysius, called the Renegade, or as some say Spentharus [the Spark], wrote a tragedy called Parthenopaeus, and forged the name of Sophocles to it. And Heraclides was so much deceived that he took some passages out of one of his works, and cited them as the words of Sophocles; and Dionysius, when he perceived it, gave him notice of the real truth; and as he would not believe it, and denied it, he sent him word to examine the first letters of the first verses of the book, and they formed the name of Panculus, who was a friend of Dionysius. And as Heraclides still refused to believe it, and said that it was possible that such a thing might happen by chance, Dionysius sent him back word once more, “You will find this passage too:

An aged monkey is not easily caught;
He’s caught indeed, but only after a time.”

And he added, “Heraclides knows nothing of letters, and has no shame.”

 

Now Available: Teach yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013)

Out now! Teach Yourself: Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013) by Donald Robertson.

Teach Yourself:
Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013)

Teach Yourself: Stoicism and the Art of Happinessby Donald Robertson

Now available in the UK, published by Hodder.  ISBN: 9781444187106. You can now order from the publisher, or from Amazon and all major online booksellers in paperback or ebook (inc. Kindle) format.  Will also become available in the USA and other countries around February 2014.  However, in the meantime, The Book Depository will ship overseas from the UK free of charge.

Why, then, do you wonder that good men are shaken in order that they may grow strong? No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley. It is, therefore, to the advantage even of good men, to the end that they may be unafraid, to live constantly amidst alarms and to bear with patience the happenings which are ills to him only who ill supports them. – Seneca, On Providence

This new addition to Hodder’s popular Teach Yourself series provides a detailed introduction to Stoic philosophy, with particular emphasis on applying Stoic ethics and therapy to modern living. Donald Robertson is a registered psychotherapist, specialising in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for anxiety and other evidence-based approaches, with a background in academic philosophy. He is the author of four previous books, two of which also deal with Stoicism and its relation to modern psychology and psychotherapy:

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness is the product of Donald’s experience over the past fifteen years, in his attempt to integrate the ancient wisdom of Stoic philosophy with modern evidence-based approaches to psychological therapy and stress management.

Chapters Include

  1. Preface: modern Stoicism
  2. The way of the Stoic: “Living in agreement with Nature”
  3. Stoic Ethics: The nature of the good
  4. The promise of philosophy (“therapy of the passions”)
  5. The discipline of desire (Stoic acceptance)
  6. Love, friendship, and the ideal Sage
  7. The discipline of action (Stoic philanthropy)
  8. Premeditation of adversity
  9. The discipline of judgement (Stoic mindfulness)
  10. Self-awareness and the “Stoic fork”
  11. The view from above & Stoic cosmology
  12. eBook Appendix: The contemplation of death

You can also read a free sample chapter from the book online.

Lady Stoics #1: Porcia Catonis

Short article containing a brief account of Porcia Catonis, the daughter of the Stoic hero Cato of Utica, who was herself portrayed as a female Stoic by Plutarch.

Porcia CatonisPorcia Catonis was the daughter of Cato of Utica, Cato the Younger, the great Stoic hero of the Roman republic.  We know little about her except a few anecdotes of dubious historical authenticity.  However, she appears to be portrayed as a female Stoic, dedicated to philosophy, following in the footsteps of her renowned father.

She lived in the first century BC, several generations before the Roman Stoics of the Imperial period, whose works survive today: Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius.  She was a contemporary of Cicero and the Stoic Posidonius of Rhodes.  She was the wife of Brutus, a Roman politician and philosopher also influenced by Stoicism, who was to be the leading assassin of the tyrant Julius Caesar.  Brutus’ mother was the half-sister of Cato the Younger, making him both Brutus’ uncle and later his father-in-law, via his marriage to Porcia.  Plutarch’s Life of Brutus contains the following story:

Porcia, being addicted to philosophy, a great lover of her husband, and full of an understanding courage, resolved not to inquire into Brutus’s secrets before she had made this trial of herself. She turned all her attendants out of her chamber, and taking a little knife, such as they use to cut nails with, she gave herself a deep gash in the thigh; upon which followed a great flow of blood, and soon after, violent pains and a shivering fever, occasioned by the wound.

Now when Brutus was extremely anxious and afflicted for her, she, in the height of all her pain, spoke thus to him: “I, Brutus, being the daughter of Cato, was given to you in marriage, not like a concubine, to partake only in the common intercourse of bed and board, but to bear a part in all your good and all your evil fortunes; and for your part, as regards your care for me, I find no reason to complain; but from me, what evidence of my love, what satisfaction can you receive, if I may not share with you in bearing your hidden griefs, nor to be admitted to any of your counsels that require secrecy and trust? I know very well that women seem to be of too weak a nature to be trusted with secrets; but certainly, Brutus, a virtuous birth and education, and the company of the good and honourable, are of some force to the forming our manners; and I can boast that I am the daughter of Cato, and the wife of Brutus, in which two titles though before I put less confidence, yet now I have tried myself, and find that I can bid defiance to pain.”

Which words having spoken, she showed him her wound, and related to him the trial that she had made of her constancy; at which he being astonished, lifted up his hands to heaven, and begged the assistance of the gods in his enterprise, that he might show himself a husband worthy of such a wife as Porcia. So then he comforted his wife.

According to one story, when she later heard of Brutus’ death, Porcia committed suicide by swallowing hot coals.  Although other accounts contradict this, it became a well-known story and inspired several authors, most notably Shakespeare.

Porcia was sometimes referred to as Portia in Elizabethan English literature.  Shakespeare portrays her in the play Julius Caesar and in The Merchant of Venice he wrote:

In Belmont is a lady richly left;
And she is fair, and, fairer than that word,
Of wondrous virtues: sometimes from her eyes
I did receive fair speechless messages:
Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued
To Cato’s daughter, Brutus’ Portia.

Free Sample Chapter: Teach Yourself Stoicism (2013)

Free excerpt from Teach Yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013) by Donald J. Robertson.

[office src=”https://skydrive.live.com/embed?cid=3E866A137F04965D&resid=3E866A137F04965D%2119011&authkey=AD48NYmJmHNQvcc&em=2″ width=”600″ height=”800″]

If you can’t see the embedded document above, you should be able to follow this link to download it from the cloud using Microsoft SkyDrive.

Teach Yourself Stoicism Cover 2013

New Book: Teach yourself Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013)

Teach Yourself Stoicism, a new book coming out in a few weeks’ time on Stoicism and modern living, by Donald Robertson.

Teach Yourself:

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (2013)

Teach Yourself: Stoicism and the Art of HappinessDonald J. Robertson

Due for publication by Hodder, December 2013. ISBN: 9781444187106. You can pre-order from Amazon and all major online booksellers.  Follow the book on Goodreads.

Why, then, do you wonder that good men are shaken in order that they may grow strong? No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it. For by its very tossing it tightens its grip and plants its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those that have grown in a sunny valley. It is, therefore, to the advantage even of good men, to the end that they may be unafraid, to live constantly amidst alarms and to bear with patience the happenings which are ills to him only who ill supports them. – Seneca, On Providence

This new addition to Hodder’s popular Teach Yourself series provides a detailed introduction to Stoic philosophy, with particular emphasis on applying Stoic ethics and therapy to modern living. Donald Robertson is a registered psychotherapist, specialising in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) for anxiety and other evidence-based approaches, with a background in academic philosophy. He is the author of four previous books, two of which also deal with Stoicism and its relation to modern psychology and psychotherapy:

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness is the product of Donald’s experience over the past fifteen years, in his attempt to integrate the ancient wisdom of Stoic philosophy with modern evidence-based approaches to psychological therapy and stress management.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface: modern Stoicism
  2. The way of the Stoic: “Living in agreement with Nature”
  3. Stoic Ethics: The nature of the good
  4. The promise of philosophy (“therapy of the passions”)
  5. The discipline of desire (Stoic acceptance)
  6. Love, friendship, and the ideal Sage
  7. The discipline of action (Stoic philanthropy)
  8. Premeditation of adversity
  9. The discipline of judgement (Stoic mindfulness)
  10. Self-awareness and the “Stoic fork”
  11. The view from above & Stoic cosmology
  12. eBook Appendix: The contemplation of death

Audio Recording: Stoic Mindfulness Exercise

Audio recording of Stoic mindfulness exercise.

You should be able to listen using the embedded player below:

@StoicWeek 2013 is starting soon!

Brief announcement with links for updates about the forthcoming Stoic Week 2013 event…

 

Stoic Week 2013

Stoicism and ResearchStoic Week 2013 will start on 25th November this year and run until 1st December.  This follows on from the hugely successful Stoic Week 2012, which was covered in the UK national press and attracted many participants from around the world.  Stoic Week is an event organised by a multidisciplinary team of psychologists and academics, who have developed online materials to help participants apply ancient Stoic concepts and techniques to modern living.  The pilot study conducted last year provided evidence that this could improve mood and psychological wellbeing, after a short period of practice, using the Stoic techniques in the handbook devised for the study.

You can get brief updates by following the Marcus Aurelius (@Stoicweek) account on Twitter.

Follow @Stoicweek on Twitter

You can also get updated by becoming a follower of this Facebook event page:

Follow Stoicweek on Facebook

All of the details on the event will be available from the Stoicism Today blog hosted at the University of Exeter.

Visit Stoicism Today

Also see this brief article from Jules Evans’ Philosophy for Life blog…

Live Like a Stoic Week 2013

The video below contains more information…