The Influence of Socrates on Stoicism

Please add your comments below. You’ll probably need to click on the image to enlarge its size for readability…  You can also read more about this diagram on the page below:

Influence of Socrates on Zeno and Stoicism
Click on image to enlarge size…

Free Email Course

Meditations email modal

Sign up today for our free email course on The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. You'll receive weekly emails with my commentary on this classic Stoic text.

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit
london, uk

Join the conversation


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

    1. 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 site.

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

%d bloggers like this: