The Influence of Socrates on Stoicism

This diagram shows the main sources of influence on Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, in terms of existing philosophical traditions, most of which are traced back to Socrates.

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Influence of Socrates on Zeno and Stoicism
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18 replies on “The Influence of Socrates on Stoicism”

What about the Sophists? Some argue (Hegel, for instance,) that Socrates was a Sophist. Antisthenes switched from following Gorgias the Sophist to following Socrates the Sophist. The Megarian line needs clearing up. Stilpo was also a Cynic; some say a disciple of Diogenes.

Thanks. I’ve not come across any references saying that Zeno studied with any Sophists, that I can think of. Do you know any? Stilpo had links with the Cynics. Did he actually become a Cynic? Do you have a reference for that as well? Cheers!

No I think Sophists had ceased to exist by the time of Zeno but it is perhaps important to mention them alongside Socrates the only real difference between him and the rest of them being that he asked for no payment. Yes, re. the problem of Stilpo, check pp. 403-04 of The Cynics, Bracht Branham and Goulet-Caze. Also, check out Zeller’s Plato and the Older Academy vis a vis Xenocrates and Polemo for what is known of their views, which seem very similar to the Stoics’, and Polemo especially might almost be regarded as a Cynic Platonist. Good luck untangling this web!

Yeah, if you don’t have the Bracht Branham book I can copy out the relevant passage for you. The Zeller Plato is probably available on the archive.org site.

Y’welcome. I think also it’s important to bear in mind what A. A. Long says in the opening words to his essay, The Socratic Tradition: Diogenes, Crates, and Hellenistic Ethics, viz.: Of all the routes by which Socrates’ philosophy was transmitted to the Hellenistic world, that followed by the Cynics was the most startling and, in certain respects, the most influential. The Cynic Crates was the first teacher at Athens of Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism. Crates is described in the biographical tradition as “a man like the Socrates of Xenophon’s Memorabilia“. The early Stoics can be assumed to have readily propagated such stories, determined as they were to connect their founder with Socrates. Hence they publicized the philosophical succession, Socrates, Antisthenes, Diogenes, Crates, Zeno.

Yes. However, did they specifically emphasise that lineage in any surviving texts? As the diagram shows, they could have said Socrates was connected to Zeno via the Academy or even via the Megarians. Obviously the Stoics have a special affinity for the Cynics, though. On the other hand, it’s said that Crates was actually a student of Stilpo, if I remember rightly. The information is very sparse, though, and from sources that aren’t 100% reliable, unfortunately. We’re told Zeno wrote a book on Pythagoreanism, for example, but we know virtually nothing else about their influence on him as far as I’m aware. I think what’s perhaps most revealing is simply to take a close look at what Xenophon actually says about Socrates in his Memorabilia. He basically admits that Socrates made a mistake: in not training his students enough in self-discipline before proceeding to other branches of philosophy. It’s tempting to view Zeno as responding to that by providing a Socratic approach that places far greater emphasis on psychological training and self-control, probably drawing on the Cynics to a large extent. I was going to say the striking thing is the absence of any reference to Aristotle, and I notice one scholar mentions this, but then again I think Plutarch claims Zeno wrote critically and in detail about Aristotle. So it’s difficult to construct an accurate picture.

It is as you say difficult, nigh-on impossible, to construct an accurate picture.
See, Dudley, A History of Cynicism, writes, They [the Stoics] probably regarded Cynicism as representing in its purest form the ethical tradition of Socrates, and would be particularly anxious to show that they themselves were the direct inheritors of that tradition. Hence was constructed the ‘succession’ Socrates—Antisthenes—Diogenes—Crates—Zeno: and hence Epictetus can use Socrates, Antisthenes, and Diogenes as good divinity for Stoic moral beliefs. The Stoics would be aided and abetted by another body of interested persons, the Alexandrian writers of Successions of the Philosophers.
See, Hicks, Diog. Laert. (Loeb Library), Introd. p. xxiv. With the second century B.C. we come to a new development. Hermippus and his imitators had taken their subjects indiscriminately. The next step was to select one class—poets, historians, or orators. Sotion of Alexandria confined himself to philosophers, and between 200 and 170 B.C. produced his great work entitled Diadochai. For this purpose he used an abridgement of the Physical Opinions of Theophrastus. Sotion’s work was probably in thirteen books [. . .] he would seem to have given the same prominence as Laertius gives to the line of succession from Socrates to the Cynics and Stoics.
See, Arrian, Epict., i. xvii. 11-12, Who says this? Only Chrysippus and Zeno and Cleanthes? Well, does not Antisthenes say it? And who is it that wrote, “The beginning of education is the examination of terms”? Does not Socrates, too, say the same thing? also iii. xxii. 63-64, as Diogenes became the friend of Antisthenes, and Crates of Diogenes.

Hmmm… that sounds a speculative, perhaps. The Stoics do appear to have had a special relationship with the Cynics. That “succession” isn’t actually stated by the Stoics, though, is it? Also, Epictetus refers to or cites a range of philosophers, including Pythagoras, Xenophon, and Plato. It’s not clear that the Cynic connection is more important then these influences. Seneca doesn’t refer much to the Cynics, by comparison and Marcus perhaps refers more often to Plato and Heraclitus.

Is it merely coincidental that similar stories relating to questions asked of the Oracle at Delphi are recounted by Diogenes Laertius in the lives of Socrates, Diogenes, and Zeno? Chaerephon enquired concerning Socrates, (btw Aristotle says it was Socrates himself,) “Is there any one wiser than Socrates?” to which the reply was, “No one”. This perplexed Socrates so much that he had to figure out what it meant and at last he came up with the idea that he alone amongst men knew that he knew nothing. Diogenes visited Delphi too and asked the oracle “What shall I do to gain the greatest reputation?” The oracle answered “Adulterate the coinage”. Like Socrates before him Diogenes had to figure out what this meant. And then Zeno in his turn asked the oracle what he should to attain the best life, to which the oracle’s response was “Study the ancient authors”. Now men went to the oracle in droves; it was an amazing place (it’s still there, in ruins though.) One was not permitted to ask frivolous questions, you had to be serious and in earnest. And the oracle was renowned for giving ambiguous replies to questions. And none of that is at issue. It’s the fact that Diogenes Laertius doesn’t tell oracular stories relating to every single one of his philosophers’ lives. So why these three in particular?
Dudley, btw, argues that Antisthenes and Diogenes couldn’t possibly have met or known each other. Where then does Epictetus get his story of their meeting from?
Sayre argues that Antisthenes wasn’t a Cynic at all; see Antisthenes the Socratic in Sayre, The Greek Cynics.

Well, yes, I think most people would say that could very well just be coincidence, wouldn’t they? Do you think there’s a reason to place more importance on it? Anyway, it’s definitely not evidence that the Stoics saw proving a direct lineage from Socrates to Zeno to be more important than his other influences. I’m familiar with the stories about the oracle. And that Antisthenes is seen as a kind of precursor to the Cynics rather than being directly connected to them – that’s actually what it says in the diagram.

Is it what most people say (or think) that counts here? Or is it rather what acknowledged scholars, experts, and authorities, in the relevant field – I’ve already mentioned a handful of names, there are many, many, more – say or think that matters?
I’m beginning to think the only ‘evidence’ you would accept is seeing some declaration explicitly to this effect, “Our Stoic lineage is thus and so: Socrates, Antisthenes, Diogenes, Crates, Zeno,” somewhere in the writings of Arrian, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Musonius Rufus, or some other Stoic.
But that would surely be a very un-Stoic thing for a Stoic to write or say; tantamount to boasting.
I put it to you that it is rather historians and commentators, librarians and compilers, scribes and so on, down through the ages that construct and piece together ideas, fragments, structures of one sort or another, categories, models, and the like into schemata or stemmata.
One obvious case springs to mind, that of Raphael’s painting, the School of Athens.
If Antisthenes is to be regarded as a kind-of precursor to the Cynics, as well as a contemporary of Socrates, it follows that Socrates was also a kind-of precursor to the Cynics.

Hmm… You only seem to have quoted one scholar to support that view (?) and it’s not clear they’re saying that’s the only or main influence on Stoicism. So I’m open-minded but these comments don’t really support that conclusion so I’ll look for some sort of textual evidence. Or am I missing something? Why do you think it’s proven rather than conjecture? I’m not sure I really get what you’re driving at here either. You make the point that Socrates is a kind of precursor to the Cynics but why? That’s already what I’d said, it’s not something I was disputing. Again, maybe I’ve missed something, so my apologies if that’s the case, but I don’t really understand the point you’re making.

I think I said earlier on that I give you full marks for trying to sort this mess out but that for my money you have an impossible task ahead of you if you seek to produce a stemmata that gives a true picture (one that might stand up in a court of law as valid evidence.)
Moving on… Wikipedia makes mention of the tradition and its purpose and provides a number of names:
Sotion is mentioned and since he was a teacher of Seneca one might conceivably find Seneca if anyone is your best bet for some snippet touching upon this literary tradition.

Two citations and remarks from me that you may find useful.

“The line of Cynics runs from Antisthenes through Diogenes of Sinope, Crates, Bion of Borysthenes, Teles, and spreads out into a body of genuine ascetics and cunning imposters, who wore the folded cloak and imitated the surly manners of their leaders . . .” [More, Hellenistic Philosophies, pp.71-2.]

More doesn’t do justice to the enormity and diversity of the Cynic movement in antiquity but nevertheless his line is sufficient to make the point that the Cynics didn’t consist of only three men, i.e., Antisthenes, Diogenes, and Crates, to be slotted in between Socrates and Zeno, ‘proving’ the Stoics to be rightful heirs to a somehow vacant Socratic throne. On the contrary More’s line suggests to me that the authors of successions joined up the dots perhaps partly after their own or others’ almost arbitrary influence and fashion—either that or else they pandered to some sort-of popular hand-me-down opinion, consensus, historical or stylistic tradition, without critically questioning whether there was any substance to it or not.

“The affiliation of Zeno’s doctrine may be gathered by reading together two passages from antiquity; one from the historian of Laerte, who says that Antisthenes laid the foundation of the city by anticipating the apathy of Diogenes, the continence of Crates, and the endurance of Zeno; the other from a late Stoic who declares that by the counsel of God Socrates took for his province the examination of souls, and Diogenes the art of rebuking in royal fashion, whereas Zeno made philosophy didactic and dogmatic.” (Diog. Laert. 6. 15; Epictetus, Discourses 3, xxi, 19.) [Ibid. pp. 72-3.]

What More says here is surely worth consideration. My argument is that Laertius’ remarks are too finished when history was never that cut and dried. The connections between the various philosophers and the philosophical schools of antiquity is not as simple (or simplistic) as Laertius would have us believe. The more you investigate the more problems and contradictions you come across.

I’ve already provided a couple of citations from Epictetus. Here is yet another. Historical successions or lineages like these perhaps allow later Stoics to see themselves within some sort-of meaningful context. Whilst an artist inevitably practises his art in relation to the times in which he lives—he cannot do otherwise—he also learns (consciously and unconsciously) to situate his own practise within a broader historical context thereby giving it a certain authenticity, authority, or power. But anyway I think I’ve said enough now!

Well, yes, I was already assuming that, to be honest. The picture is complex. The Stoics don’t actually say much about the line of succession, though, so it’s not really clear to me that they thought it was as important as you’re implying – although it’s possible you’re right. Our main source is Diogenes Laertius, a late commentator. The picture he paints is more that Zeno went around training in the main available schools of Athenian philosophy, and particularly reading about the life of Socrates. So you could say he’s portraying Zeno as someone who’s tried to situate himself as integrating the main philosophical traditions, partly by claiming that he was returning to a more authentically Socratic approach. I think it does sound, in that account, as if he leant more toward the Cynics. Then again, later Stoics seem more drawn to Platonism and Aristotelianism.

Again, I refer you to Epictetus or, rather, to Arrian, the pupil that recorded / compiled Epictetus’ words / sayings. He is spoken of as “the second Xenophon” and, from what I can gather, he even called himself “the younger Xenophon” (he called the actual Xenophon “the elder”.) Arrian clearly imitated / copied Xenophon in his writing. Thus Xenophon wrote the Memorabilia of Socrates; Arrian wrote the Memorabilia (which is how he himself refers to what are now called the “Diatribes” or “Discourses”) of Epictetus. They (Xenophon and Arrian) both wrote military histories and they both wrote on coursing, etc.. These are not mere coincidences but the sort-of evidence that would stand up in Court; the sort-of evidence you requested. One has merely to compare the extant writings of Xenophon, who heard Socrates, with those of Arrian, who heard Epictetus. It is evident then that the terms “Socratic” and “Stoic” have become almost interchangeable, almost synonymous. And of course the other names on our list, Antisthenes, Diogenes, Crates, and Zeno, are made much mention of in Arrian’s Memorabilia of Epictetus. This is no mere accident. What is especially noticeable is the space Arrian gives to Diogenes—extolling this “heavenly dog” to the skies. Furthermore, just as there was said to have been a meeting between Diogenes and Alexander—you know the stories no doubt—there was said also to have been a meeting between Epictetus and Hadrian which incidentally spawned a sub-literature all of its own.
Yes, Zeno was influenced by Plato (and Diogenes); each wrote his own utopian “Republic” but there were no doubt differences. The sources do point to how Diogenes “took the piss” out of Plato. I find it interesting that this aristocrat should “discover” a poverty-stricken “street philosopher” with a brilliant mind, Socrates. (Recall that Arrian too, was well-to-do, while Epictetus was a former slave.) I think (check it out though) that Chrysippus also wrote a “Republic” but that was much later. However, from what I can understand of what I have read, he was more interested in logic and was thus heavily indebted to Aristotle. After Zeno and Cleanthes died the school they founded died too. Chrysippus picked up the pieces and created the philosophical system now known as “Stoicism”.
So between the early Greek Cynic / Stoics and the late Roman Cynic / Stoics there is the curious Middle Stoic period during which Stoicism was transplanted from Athens to Rome. It took the Romans some time to accept this alien Greek philosophy. Cicero, writing under the influence of the Platonistic Stoics Panaetius and Posidonius, doesn’t seem to have appreciated Diogenes’ “methods of instruction”, such as his masturbating in public, his defecating in public, etc.. He (Cicero) remarks on the subject of the Cynics and their lack of decorum in “the Offices” which is supposed to have been mostly Panaetian in origin. Nevertheless, by the time of Seneca, Epictetus, Dio Chrysostom, Lucian, Horace, Juvenal, Persius, etc., the situation in philosophy had reverted back to what it was in the Greek world and the Stoics and Cynics were once more barely to be distinguished from one another.
Enough for now!

Taking a break from Kantian studies apropos Schopenhauer’s “World as Will and Representation”, and deciding that laughter and mirth is invariably the best tonic between heavyweight philosophical bouts, I dipped into one of my favourite antique authors, Lucian, and came across the following which may well be of interest to you, and which certainly has some bearing on the topic we are discussing.

It was a few lines in his “The Parasite” (which is a kind-of parody of a Platonic dialogue but which might also be interpreted as a satire on the Stoic sage, for both parasite and sage are impossible ideals.)

Tychiades speaks: “. . . I doubt much whether you can name any [philosophers who have been addicted to sponging].” Simon, the parasitic, replies (N.B.): “You must be little read in the writers who have recorded the lives of these personages . . .” (Unfortunately Lucian doesn’t provide us with any of the names of these writers / biographers.

Simon goes on to provide a list of names and details beginning with the Socratic Aeschines, followed by Aristippus, then Plato, Aristoxenus (a pupil of Aristotle), Euripides, Anaxarchus, and finally, Aristotle. That looks like a sort-of succession to me. Not exactly the one you find in Diogenes Laertius though.

Further on towards the end of “The Parasite” Simon has this to say: “In the first place, nobody can say that a philosopher ever lost his life in battle. Either they have never entered the service, or if they have, they took the first opportunity to desert. Antisthenes, Diogenes, Crates, Zeno, Plato, Aeschines, Aristotle, and the whole rout of them, never in their lives saw an army drawn up in battle-array; and the only one of them [Socrates], that had the heart to be present at the affairs of Amphipolis, deserted from the fort of Parnethe into the palaestra of Taureas; thinking it much pleasanter and more polite to sit with spruce young sparks, and entertain them with his gossiping conversation . . .” etc..

What’s interesting about that, (if we ignore the way Lucian’s character Simon goes to town in defaming Socrates,) is that the order Antisthenes to Zeno is maintained. Again this order plus a few further names is to be found in Diogenes Laertius. The stories surrounding the other philosophers mentioned are worth looking into too. For me these two snippets raise all sorts of questions but I have no time to follow up on them.

A couple of final thoughts: Anaxarchus is famous for biting off his own tongue and spitting it into the face of the tyrant Nicocreon prior to being pounded to death in a mortar. He is supposed to have said to Nicocreon “Pound the body of Anaxarchus, for thou dost not pound his soul.” Epictetus may well have been influenced by the idea behind this story, i.e., the idea that is central to his teaching, viz., that of what truly belongs to a person, what not, and so on, for he alludes to the story at 3. 24. 71-72. He was no doubt also influenced by this same idea in the story of the return of Stilpo’s plundered property; Stilpo denied that he had lost anything which really belonged to him, etc..

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