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Marcus Aurelius Stoicism Verissimus Video

Facebook Live on Marcus Aurelius

Watch the video of my live session on Marcus Aurelius, showcasing some of the artwork and behind the scenes secrets of our graphic novel, Verissimus.

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Marcus Aurelius Stoicism Stoicism Verissimus

Stoicism and Anger

Ten Practical Tips from Marcus Aurelius

Artwork from Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius (2022), copyright Donald J. Robertson

What does Stoic philosophy tell us about how to control our tempers? When we began working on our graphic novel, Verissimus, the illustrator, Zé Nuno Fraga, and I decided to show how colourful and action-packed Marcus Aurelius’ life really was. We also liked the idea, however, of leaving our readers with a good amount of practical advice from Stoicism, which they could take away and use to help themselves and others.

I chose to focus on Stoic advice about anger — the royal road to self-improvement.

I chose to focus on Stoic advice about anger — the royal road to self-improvement. We know that this was a problem for Marcus because he tells us in the Meditations that he struggled, at first, to master his own temper. Later in life, Marcus had a reputation for remaining completely level-headed, even in the face of extreme provocation. So it appears that he succeeded in using Stoicism to master his natural quick temper. He did this by employing Stoic psychological practices, over and over again, on a daily basis. I can see parallels between many of these strategies and those employed in modern cognitive therapy. So I think that, with practice, they may help the rest of us cope with our feelings of anger too.

It was one of the men who provoked Marcus’ temper the most, ironically, who also taught him how to restore calm and rebuild friendships after an argument — his Stoic mentor, Junius Rusticus. We therefore speculated, in our illustrations, that it could have been Rusticus who taught Marcus the ten anger-management strategies he describes using in the Meditations (11.18). Marcus, curiously, refers to these as ten “gifts” from the god Apollo, and his nine Muses. Apollo, Lord of the Muses, was the god of the arts, including the arts of medicine and, in a sense, also philosophy. It’s perhaps fitting, therefore, that Marcus would call these therapeutic strategies, or self-help tips, gifts from the god of healing.

Draft for Verissimus: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius (2022), copyright Donald J. Robertson.

Marcus describes things he should tell himself whenever he noticed he was growing annoyed with someone. I would call these cognitive (thinking) strategies for anger-management. In this article, I’ll discuss each of his ten strategies in turn, adding a few comments, here and there, from my perspective as a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapist.

Read the rest of this article on Medium…

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Books Children Comic Comics Stoicism Stoicism

Stoicism for Kids

How can we teach our kids some Stoic philosophy?

Stoicism has exploded in popularity over the past couple of decades. One of the questions I’m now asked most frequently, by teachers and parents, is whether there are any good resources available to help kids learn about Stoic philosophy. The answer is YES, although you may need helping finding them.

Basic Lessons

There are many aspects of Stoicism that you could discuss with children but it makes sense to start by focusing on some basic principles. You can demonstrate Stoic philosophy in action quite easily by using what psychologists call the “thinking aloud” technique. This is a form of “cognitive modelling” which lets you show your children how you, the parent, might use simple Stoic ideas to guide your own decisions. For example:

  • Some things are up to us and others are not, which you can demonstrate simply by asking of some challenging event “What aspects are up to me?” or “What can and can’t I control about this situation?”
  • It’s not things that upset us but rather our opinions about them, which you can model by asking “How might other people view this situation differently?” or “What would be a better way of looking at this whole thing?”


The Stoics taught that it’s better to lead by example than through books and lectures, although there’s a place for both. Kids can’t read your mind, though, so the “thinking aloud” technique can be a useful way to provide a window on your thought processes. That lets you model a healthy way of tackling a problem, which you’d like your kids to gradually learn. This should be done as naturally as possible, of course, so demonstrating a little bit at a time, over a long period, perhaps works best if you’re a parent or teacher.

Read the rest of this article on Medium…

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Stoicism

Lady Stoics #4: Chrysippus’ Mysterious Old Woman

Old Greek WomanDiogenes Laertius several times mentions a mysterious unnamed old woman associated with Chrysippus, the third head of the Stoic school.

Of Chrysippus the old woman who sat beside him used to say, according to Diocles, that he wrote 500 lines a day.

The Greek could also mean that the old woman attended to or looked after him.  The next sentence reads:

Hecato says that he [Chrysippus] came to the study of philosophy, because the property which he had inherited from his father had been confiscated to the king’s treasury.

Are we perhaps meant to conclude from the juxtaposition of these two sentences that the old woman had the financial means to look after Chrysippus who was left penniless?

She seems also to have observed his output as a writer, and perhaps read his books.  The remark attributed to her here seems to refer to Chrysippus’ writing in the past tense, though.  Indeed we’re actually told she outlived him, although Chrysippus reputedly made it to seventy three.  How much older than him could she have been then?  It’s implied by several authors that Chrysippus liked wine and here that he may have died from alcohol consumption:

Chrysippus turned giddy after gulping down a draught of Bacchus; he spared not the Porch nor his country nor his own life, but fared straight to the house of Hades.  Another account is that his death was caused by a violent fit of laughter; for after an ass had eaten up his figs, he cried out to the old woman, “Now give the ass a drink of pure wine to wash down the figs.” And thereupon he laughed so heartily that he died.

We also seem to be told that he addressed some of his  philosophical writings to an old woman and sought her opinion on them, as though she were his patron.

He [Chrysippus] appears to have been a very arrogant man. At any rate, of all his many writings he dedicated none to any of the kings. And he was satisfied with one old woman’s judgement, says Demetrius […].

This last remark seems to follow on from the previous sentence, implying that Chrysippus was arrogant because addressed his writings to (presumably) the same the old woman, whereas other authors would often court the approval of powerful rulers.

It’s therefore curious that although many of Chrysippus’ works listed by Diogenes Laertius are explicitly dedicated to someone by name, none of them seem to bear a female name.  However, perhaps there’s another clue to her identity.  He immediately follows the passage above by mentioning Chrysippus’ sister:

When [King] Ptolemy [IV Philopator of Egypt] wrote to Cleanthes requesting him to come himself or else to send someone to his court, Sphaerus undertook the journey, while Chrysippus declined to go.  On the other hand, he sent for his sister’s sons, Aristocreon and Philocrates, and educated them.

This first remark portrays Chrysippus as being arrogant, back when he was a promising student of Cleanthes, for refusing to become an ambassador for Stoicism to the court of King Ptolemy.  His fellow Stoic, Sphaerus of Borysthenes, had to go instead.  We’re perhaps meant to connect this with the passage above about his arrogant disregard for the patronage of kings and preferring the judgement of the “old woman”.

Could the “old woman” in question, therefore, have been Chrysippus’ sister?  We’re told that her sons became students of Chrysippus.  We hear nothing more about Philocrates but Aristocreon clearly became a dedicated and enthusiastic follower of Stoicism.  Indeed, we know that Chrysippus dedicated dozens of books to his sister’s son:

  • Introduction to the Mentiens [the Liar] Argument, addressed to Aristocreon, one book.
  • Of the Mentiens Argument, addressed to Aristocreon, six books.
  • To those who solve the Mentiens by dissecting it, addressed to Aristocreon, two books.
  • On the Solution of the Mentiens, addressed to Aristocreon, three books.
  • Solutions of the Hypothetical Arguments of Hedylus, addressed to Aristocreon and Apollas, one book.
  • Of the Sceptic who denies, addressed to Aristocreon, two books.
  • Of Dialectic, addressed to Aristocreon, four books.
  • Of Art and the Inartistic, addressed to Aristocreon, four books.
  • Of the Good or Morally Beautiful and Pleasure, addressed to Aristocreon, ten books.

And for all we know he may have dedicated other books to Aristocreon that aren’t mentioned here.  There was clearly a very close intellectual bond between Chrysippus and his nephew so it would make sense if Diogenes Laertius had intended to imply that the young man’s mother, Chrysippus’ sister, was the “old woman” who attended to Chrysippus and to whom his works were dedicated, rather than to a king.  Indeed, it’s quite possible the works named above could have been written in honour both of Aristocreon and his mother.

The philosopher Plutarch elsewhere mentions in passing that Aristocreon later erected a bronze statue of Chrysippus, upon which he had engraved the verse:

Of uncle Chrysippus Aristocreon this likeness erected;
The knots the Academy tied, the cleaver, Chrysippus, dissected.

These words obviously celebrate Chrysippus’ success as a critic of Plato’s Academy and perhaps relate to the arguments contained in some of the books dedicated to Aristocreon, such as his surprisingly extensive writings on the solution to what’s called in the translation above the “Mentiens Argument”, better known today as the Liar Paradox.  When a person says “I lie”, the puzzle is whether he actually lies or not in doing so.  If he lies, he speaks truth; if he speaks truth, he lies.  Epictetus mentions several times in the Discourses that his students are familiar with Chrysippus’ (now lost) answer to this paradox.

So, cautiously, I’m tempted to speculate as follows…  It’s possible Chrysippus’ sister lived in his house and attended to him.  Chrysippus was born in the city of Soli in Cilicia, so his sister probably also came from Soli.  They probably had the status of foreign residents (metics) in Athens.

Perhaps she attended his lectures.  Philosophical discussions in ancient Athens were often held in the gymnasia, which women were strictly prohibited from entering.  However, the Stoic school was located in the Stoa Poikile, a public building on the edge of the agora or city-centre, to which women were potentially admitted during the Hellenistic period.

We’re told Chrysippus became a philosopher after his family fortune was seized by a king.  However, Chrysippus’ sister may have married into wealth in which case she could have acted as a patron, explaining his controversial preference for the old woman over the patronage of kings such as Ptolemy IV.  Chrysippus clearly dedicated many of his works, perhaps those criticizing the Academy and Skeptics, to her son Aristocreon, a dedicated student of Stoicism.  If his sister was the “old woman” then presumably he also sought her approval for the teachings expressed in them.  Although most of those works appear to be about logic, one of them is also about art and another about ethics, particularly the role of pleasure, which we can assume contained a critique of hedonism dedicated to his nephew.

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Marcus Aurelius Stoicism

Lady Stoics #3: Annia Cornificia Faustina Minor

Annia Cornificia Faustina MinorWe don’t know much about female Stoics, except perhaps some of the daughters of famous Stoics who appear also to have been influenced by Stoics.  For example, Porcia Catonis, the daughter of Cato of Utica, is portrayed in a manner that suggests she may have been a Stoic, as is Fannia, the daughter of Thrasea, the leader of the Stoic Opposition.

One of the daughters of Marcus Aurelius, Annia Cornificia Faustina Minor (160-212 AD), may perhaps also have learned something of Stoicism from her famous father.  At least, Cornificia appears to have been more committed to honouring her father’s memory and following his moral example than her younger brother Commodus was, though.

When she was in her fifties the tyrannical emperor Caracalla had her executed, by forced suicide, as part of a purge.

[Caracalla], when about to kill Cornificia, bade her choose the manner of her death, as if he were thereby showing her especial honour. She first uttered many laments, and then, inspired by the memory of her father, Marcus, her grandfather, Antoninus, and her brother, Commodus, she ended by saying: “Poor, unhappy soul of mine, imprisoned in a vile body, fare forth, be freed, show them that you are Marcus’ daughter, whether they will or no.” Then she laid aside all the adornments in which she was arrayed, having composed herself in seemly fashion, severed her veins and died.

Other than that we don’t know much about her.  However, if she actually said “show them that you are Marcus’ daughter” as she faced death then it suggests she may perhaps have been inspired by his Stoicism.

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Marcus Aurelius Stoicism

Revised: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor

The new revised version of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor, my online course about the life and Stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius, will be starting on Sunday 18th February.

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Stoicism

Free Download of New Stoic Therapy Toolkit (PDF)

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I’m very pleased to announce that after months in preparation my new Stoic Therapy Toolkit has been published.  This is a five-page summary of core Stoic psychological practices.  People have been asking me for something like this since I started writing about Stoicism and teaching workshops on it about twenty years ago.

If you’re completely new to Stoicism, it’s a good place to start. However, we can’t compress the whole philosophy into a few pages, it’s just a summary, so you will need to read the Stoics to gain a more complete understanding of their concepts and techniques.

Very useful summary, I will carry it in my work bag! – Camelia Vasilov

Excellent! Thank you for your tireless work in making this valuable philosophy so accessible in our busy world. – Deborah L Gariepy

This printable PDF document will give you a good overview of Stoicism, and a reminder of daily practices. Many people contributed to the wording and Rocio de Torres, our graphic designer, has given it a new look.  So we’re confident you’ll appreciate the end result and find it valuable as a guide to living like a Stoic.  I’d love to know what you think.  People have already started leaving feedback online.

Thanks, looks beautiful. Can’t spare a tip but bought one of your books. 🙂 – Vince

Thank you! Clear, concise, practical and actionable. No matter how busy or preoccupied one is (or has to be) during the day, store this kit in your memory, incorporate these quick contemplations, and the tools will adapt to any occasion! – Gaelle1947

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Goal of Virtue
  3. Daily Routine
  4. Four Stoic Meditations
  5. Therapy of the Passions

You can download your free copy today from my e-learning site by clicking the button below or following this link:

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Stoicism

Free Mini-Course on Stoicism

Donald! This is a wonderful and wonderfully compact introduction to Stoic philosophy… Thank you for making this available to people free of charge. I will be recommending this to friends of mine who are curious to see what this is all about. – Ronald William Brady

If you’re interested in learning more about Stoicism, check out my my free Crash Course in Stoicism.  I specifically designed it for newcomers to the subject.  It will  teach you everything you need to know to get started learning about Stoic philosophy, in less then ten minutes.  I’ve tried to answer the most common questions people ask.  Update: Over, 2,800 people have already enrolled on this course so far. Just click the button below…

Enlightening, lucid, to the point and life affirming. – Lorne Stormont Darling

Rocio Epictetus Wallpaper

You’ll also find my current blog posts here and an archive of the old ones.

Warm regards,

Donald Robertson Signature

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Stoicism

What’s the difference between stoicism and Stoicism?

In my experience as moderator of a large discussion forum on the topic of Stoic philosophy, some of the most common misconceptions are due simply to people confusing stoicism (lower case s) with Stoicism (upper case S).  When I’ve posted the question “What’s the difference between stoicism and Stoicism?” the most common response is some variation of: One is capitalized and the other isn’t. 

This isn’t a trivial distinction, though, because the two words have come to mean quite different things.  As Socrates pointed out, we have to agree on the correct definition of key terms to have a rational conversation about most subjects.  Likewise, when people conflate stoicism with Stoicism, from what I’ve seen over the years, they inevitably end up confusing themselves and other people.

For example, like most dictionaries, the Oxford English Dictionary distinguishes between two separate definitions:

1 The endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint.

2 An ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge; the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.

Definition 1 is actually lower-case stoicism.  It’s the modern-day concept of a personality trait or coping style, which people typically equate with having a “stiff upper lip” or the advice to “suck it up”, and so on.  When used in this way it’s never written capitalized.

Definition 2 is upper-case Stoicism, an entire school of Greek philosophy that subsequently flourished throughout the Roman empire, and lasted for about five centuries.  It’s this form of Stoicism, Stoic philosophy, that we’re talking about when we talk about Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, and the use of Stoicism for modern-day personal development, etc.  When used in this way, it’s virtually never written without capitalization – except by people who are confusing the two concepts.  As Frank McLynn puts it in his biography of Marcus Aurelius: “ancient Stoicism was not modern stoicism (with a small ‘s’)” and again “It will be appreciated immediately that the modern word ‘stoical’ is very different in connotation from the Stoicism of the ancients.”

NB: I’ve noticed several people remark that stoic is an adjective and Stoic a noun.  That’s incorrect.  According to the OED and most other English dictionaries both words can serve either as an adjective or noun.

Of course, the notion of a stoic personality trait is historically derived from the impression people have of ancient Stoic philosophy.  However, it’s only very loosely related and in some important ways actually runs quite contrary to what Stoicism teaches, as we’ll see.  They’re definitely not the same thing, nor is stoicism necessarily a part of Stoicism.  Failing to distinguish between them has therefore caused a lot of confusion about Stoic philosophy to spread on the Internet.

This mix up between stoicism and Stoicism isn’t unusual.  Many Greek philosophical terms have been caricatured over the centuries and so we normally distinguish between the modern term and original meaning by capitalizing the latter, because it’s a proper noun.  For example,

  • epicurean is not the same as Epicurean
    The former usually implies a gourmand or someone who enjoys fine eating whereas the latter is a whole school of philosophy named after its founder Epicurus, who actually recommended fairly austere habits of eating and drinking
  • a cynic is not the same as a Cynic
    The former usually implies someone who is distrustful of others and assumes the worst of them whereas the latter is a school of Greek philosophy that teaches us, among other things, to be indifferent to the opinions and actions of other people
  • a skeptic is not the same as a Skeptic
    The former often denotes someone who doubts the truth of accepted opinions whereas the latter was an ancient philosophical movement that advised its followers to suspend judgement one way or the other
  • an academic is not the same as an Academic
    The former usually means someone who is engaged in scholarly pursuits whereas the latter denotes the school of philosophy founded at Athens by Plato
  • A sophist is different from a Sophist
    The former means someone who reasons fallaciously or manipulatively whereas the latter was a professional teacher of rhetoric and philosophy.
  • And so on…

Some of these words have come to mean a vague trait that can at times be used in ways that relate accurately to at least some aspect the philosophy from which they’re derived.  For instance, the ancient Academics were typically known for being quite academic, in the modern sense, or scholarly, but there’s much more to the philosophy than that.  Likewise, often the Sophists were accused by philosophers of specious reasoning or what we now call sophistry but a few were held in high regard such as Prodicus, a good friend of Socrates.  Some of these other terms, particularly epicurean are very misleading caricatures of what the philosophy actually taught, and often be used in ways that have the potential to become very misleading if we’re trying to talk about the philosophy.  So it’s actually extremely important to capitalize and distinguish between the common noun, epicureanism, and the proper noun Epicureanism.  But people also have to understand the distinction.

When it comes to mixing up the words Stoicism and stoicism, there are several problems.  Firstly, people often just equate it with mental toughness and so it’s not unusual for them to argue that people they revere as tough or self-disciplined are Stoic role models.  The UFC fighter Conor McGregor is a typical example people choose but there are many similar conversations on the Internet.  Now, it’s fair to say he may be someone tough and self-disciplined but he’s obviously very far removed from figures like Socrates and Marcus Aurelius, who were held up as examples of Stoicism in the ancient world.  He’s probably a better embodiment of stoicism than Stoicism.  He arguably doesn’t embody the Stoic virtues of wisdom and justice, or natural affection toward others and ethical cosmopolitanism, in quite the way that Marcus Aurelius does.  But there are nevertheless a surprising number of people on the Internet who confuse the two things in this way: tough guys as Stoics – something the ancient Stoics would have been completely puzzled by as they viewed competitive sports as vanity and a distraction from the lifelong pursuit of moral excellence and philosophical wisdom.  (The Stoics believed in moderate exercise, engaged in for the health of the body and the development of character, but it shouldn’t normally be our main pursuit in life and the competitive aspect would appear petty and absurd to them.)

The word stoic also implies to many people some kind of suppression or concealment of unpleasant feelings: the stiff upper-lip notion.  Boys don’t cry, etc.  That’s particularly problematic, though, because it’s well-known from large volumes of modern research in the field of psychotherapy that the suppression of negative feelings can be quite harmful.  I don’t have space here to elaborate in great detail on the reasons for that, unfortunately, but it’s taken for granted by most modern evidence-based psychotherapists that emotional suppression is typically unhealthy.  To touch on just one small aspect: the more strongly people judge unpleasant thoughts and feelings to be bad, harmful, or undesirable the more attention they will automatically allocate to them.

In extreme cases, people can end up torturing themselves with doomed attempts to suppress distressing automatic thoughts, as in some forms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  Likewise, people who suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder typically view symptoms of their nerves or anxiety as embarrassing and humiliating and strongly desire to conceal shaking hands or suppress their negative thoughts and anxious feelings while speaking to others.  However, that usually backfires by increasing their self-consciousness, making their behaviour feel more stilted and awkward, and amplifying their anxious feelings.  By contrast, as the Stoics knew, people who don’t care if they look or feel anxious, and accept their own nervous sensations with indifference, are likely to fare much better.

People often think that being stoic means trying to suppress natural feelings of sadness, anger, or anxiety, and to hide the fact they’re feeling tearful or shaking, etc.   That typically means they’re judging these things as “bad” or harmful in some sense – judging the feelings negatively.  The ancient Stoics, by contrast, make a clear distinction between automatic feelings (proto-passions, propatheiai) and full-blown unhealthy passions, which are under voluntary control.  The Stoics advise us to accept our initial automatic feelings with total indifference, as being natural and inevitable, and to be indifferent toward other people seeing evidence of them.  The clearest illustration of this comes from a famous anecdote in Aulus Gellius where he describes a Stoic’s anxiety during a dangerous storm at sea.  Stoics do cry, and shake, and grow pale.  They don’t view this negatively or care much about it.  What they do care about is what happens next: how they voluntarily respond to these feelings.

When people talk about being stoic they often mean trying to suppress automatic emotional reactions, therefore, which they view as negative.  A Stoic philosopher would view the same feelings with detached indifference, though, as neither good nor bad – he would accept them as natural and inevitable, and beyond his direct control.  The word stoic is often just used as a synonym for unemotional and that’s definitely not what Stoicism teaches –the ancient Stoics repeatedly emphasized that their ideal was not to be like statues or men with hearts of stone.  Rather than trying to suppress feelings or sensations, which would entail judging an indifferent to be bad or harmful, the Stoics tried to modify the underlying value judgement.  That approach happens to be more in accord with the way modern cognitive therapists approach emotional change and it’s very different from what people mean by “keeping a stiff upper lip”.

Another observation that seems to help is this…  When people conflate stoicism and Stoicism they’re typically ignoring the entire social dimension of Stoic Ethics.  When they say that someone is a stoic they don’t usually have in mind that they believe justice, fairness, and kindness are cardinal virtues in life, that we should cultivate the bond of natural affection that exists between us and other human beings, and treat them as equals, as part of a brotherhood of man, viewing all people as our fellow-citizens in a single cosmic city.  (The word cosmopolitan is another whose meaning has been corrupted over the centuries – it means a citizen of the whole cosmos who treats others as her fellow-citizens.)  I’ve found that framing the question like this often serves to highlight the difference: “What’s the difference between being stoic about the welfare of others and being Stoic about the welfare of others?”

There’s also the matter of healthy emotions in Stoicism.  For many people stoicism seems to have some connotation of being unemotional or at least it sounds a little odd to their ears to say that stoics could be particularly cheerful and affectionate.  However, the Stoic philosophers had a whole system of classification for healthy emotions: their goal was not simply to be emotionally empty but rather to experience healthy feelings of joy, cheerfulness, affection, and so on, which naturally supervene upon virtue.  I notice that when people conflate stoicism and Stoicism they find this baffling and sometimes even joke about how Stoics having feelings is a sort of contradiction in terms, something inconceivable to them.  However, healthy emotions play a central role in Stoicism and, for instance, Marcus Aurelius refers very frequently to feelings of joy or cheerfulness and affection toward others.

People sometimes continue to equate stoicism and Stoicism even after reading popular Stoic texts like The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.  That’s actually quite puzzling and can only come from a very superficial reading.  Marcus actually talks about the social virtues on virtually every page of The Meditations, it’s his main preoccupation, unsurprisingly, as emperor of Rome.  Nevertheless, people sometimes still manage to come away with the total misconception that being a Stoic meant being tough-minded and totally uncaring about others.  I find that when that’s pointed out and they go back and take a second look at the text, though, the depth of their misunderstanding usually becomes very apparent to them.  It should be clear as crystal that Marcus believes that to be a Stoic we must aim to live in harmony with others.   To turn our back on them or rage against them is viewed by him as a cancerous form of alienation, completely at odds with Stoic Ethics.   The Stoic wise man is kind to others and wants to help them.  We know Marcus wanted his reign to be remembered above all as exemplifying the virtue of Beneficence toward others. People seldom have that aspiration in mind when they talk about being Stoic, and confuse it with being stoic, though.

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Stoicism

Thrasea and the Stoic Opposition

Thrasea[Draft – I haven’t finished this but I’m publishing it to help provide inspiration for a Wikipedia draft article on the Stoic Opposition.]

Thrasea, or Publius Clodius Thrasea Paetus, was a Stoic Roman Senator, executed by the Emperor Nero in 66 AD.  We know a reasonable amount about the circle of Stoics associated with him because they formed an important political faction opposing the tyrannical rule of emperors they considered tyrannical and autocratic, particularly Nero and later Domitian.  For convenience, scholars today refer to them as the Stoic Opposition of the 1st century AD but they also appear to have been inspired by earlier Stoics and other philosophers of the Roman Republic who shared similar political ideals, particularly Cato of Utica and his nephew and son-in-law Brutus, one of the assassins of Julius Caesar.

Thrasea and his circle are also of interest because of their importance to the late Roman Stoics whose philosophical writings survive.

Rubellius Plautus

Gaius Rubellius Plautus (33 – 62 AD) was a wealthy Roman nobleman and a rival contender for the imperial throne during the reign of Nero, as grandson of the Emperor Tiberius and therefore part of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.  As early as 55 AD, Nero’s mother Agrippina was accused of plotting to replace him as emperor with Plautus.  His critics claimed that he had become a follower of Stoicism and he was associated with the Stoic opposition to Nero.  Indeed, Musonius Rufus accompanied him into exile when he was banished by Nero in 60 AD.  In 62 AD, in response to rumours that Plautus’ was plotting a rebellion in the eastern empire, Nero had him beheaded.  Later, in 66 AD, Nero had Plautus’ widow, children, and father-in-law executed as well.

Thrasea – TBD

Thrasea, or Publius Clodius Thrasea Paetus, came from a wealthy and highly-regarded family.  Thrasea was hated and feared by the Emperor Nero.  Thrasea was related by marriage to the Stoic poet Persius, who was a member of Seneca’s circle.  We don’t know very much about his initial rise to prominence under Nero but he distinguished himself enough to succeed Seneca, in 56 AD, in the temporary post of suffect consul.  He earned a reputation for someone prepared to oppose the emperor and to defend the freedom of the senate.  By 58 AD, he was openly opposing Nero’s tyrannical behaviour, and the collusion of the senate.  Nero had his own mother brutally murdered.  Seneca wrote a speech justifying this, which was been read in the senate.  All senators were required to respond and pressured into congratulating Nero on this heinous crime.  However, Thrasea refused, walking out of the senate in protest, ‘since he could not say what he would, and would not say what he could’, according to Cassius Dio.  For the next four years, until 62 AD, Seneca continued to act as Nero’s advisor, while Thrasea began to build the Stoic opposition to his regime.  From roughly 63 AD onward, Thrasea refused to attend senate meetings, which was widely seen as a political protest against Nero’s regime.

Thrasea clearly admired Cato of Utica as another Stoic who defended the freedom of the Senate and Republican values.  He wrote a famous Life of Cato, which though lost was one of the main sources for Plutarch’s surviving Life of Cato.

When Nero had Thrasea executed the others, including Helvidius and Agrippinus received lesser penalties.

…the infamous Nero, a little before he put Thrasea to death, whom he hated and feared intensely, nevertheless when someone accused him of a bad and unjust decision in court, said: “I wish Thrasea were as good a friend to me as he is a most excellent judge.” (Plutarch, Precepts of Statecraft)

Helvidius

Helvidius Priscus, was the son-in-law of Thrasea, and another highly-regarded member of the Stoic opposition.  He was married to Thrasea’s daughter Fannia, who is also portrayed as a Stoic.  He lived through the reign of Nero, and was eventually executed by the Emperor Vespasian.  Helvidius greatly admired Brutus, one of the assassins of Julius Caesar.  Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius both mention holding him in high regard.

Fannia

Fannia was the daughter of Thrasea, and wife of Helvidius Priscus.  She also seems to have been an important member of the Stoic opposition faction.

Paconius Agrippinus

Paconius Agrippinus, was another Roman senator and Stoic philosopher, accused alongside Thrasea and sent into exile.  He was held in very high regard by Epictetus.

Arulenus Rusticus

Arulenus Rusticus, c. 35 – 95 AD, another senator and Stoic follower of Thrasea.   He was executed by the emperor Domitian for writing a public speech praising Thrasea.  He was the ancestor of Junius Rusticus, the main Stoic tutor of Marcus Aurelius, creating a direct link between Marcus and the circle of Thrasea.

In 66 AD, the young Arulenus Rusticus offered to use his tribunal veto to save the life of Thrasea, who was being tried before the Senate on a completely trumped up charge, so that Nero could have him executed.  Thrasea refused, saying that this would merely place the life of the tribune in danger without saving him.  The implication was that Arulenus was courageously offering to risk his own life, in open defiance of Nero, to buy Thrasea a temporary reprieve.

Herennius Senecio

Herennius Senecio, who died in 93 AD, was another member of the Stoic opposition to Domitian, who wrote a book praising Helvidius Priscus.

Barea Soranus

He was accused by Celer of, among other things, being a friend and sympathizer of Plautus, and inciting rebellion against Nero in Asia.

Celer

Publius Egnatius Celer was a Stoic teacher, who taught and then was paid off to make false accusations against Barea Soranus.  He was later accused by Musonius Rufus.  He was perceived as someone who assumed the role of a philosopher, but was vicious at heart.

Place was then given to the witnesses, and the appearance among them of Publius Egnatius [Celer] provoked as much indignation as the cruelty of the prosecution had excited pity. A client of [Barea] Soranus, and now hired to ruin his friend, he professed the dignified character of a Stoic, and had trained himself in demeanour and language to exhibit an ideal of virtue. In his heart, however, treacherous and cunning, he concealed greed and sensuality. As soon as money had brought these vices to light, he became an example, warning us to beware just as much of those who under the guise of virtuous tastes are false and deceitful in friendship, as of men wholly entangled in falsehoods and stained with every infamy. (Tac. Ann. 16.32)

Epictetus is believed to be referring to Celer, as a hypocrite, when he warns his students not to say one thing in their Stoic school and do another outside it, in the courts or the senate:

Thus a friend is overpowered by the testimony of a philosopher: thus a philosopher becomes a parasite; thus he lets himself for hire for money: thus in the senate a man does not say what he thinks; in private (in the school) he proclaims his opinions. (Discourses, 4.1)

Musonius Rufus

The Roman knight, Gaius Musonius Rufus, was said to the most important philosopher at Rome during his lifetime.  He was a contemporary of Thrasea, with links to his circle.  He is best known today as the teacher of Epictetus, and the texts of several of his lectures, and some isolated sayings attributed to him, survive.

Musonius was sent into exile by Nero along with Rubellius Plautus in 60 AD.  He returned to Rome two years later but was exiled a second time by Nero in 65 AD as part of his purge following the Pisonian Conspiracy.  He was again able to return to Rome in 68 AD under the Emperor Galba.  The Emperor Vespasian banished philosophers from Rome in 71 AD but this time Musonius was allowed to remain, as he was held in such exceptionally high regard.  However, in 75 AD he was eventually exiled by Vespasian, returning after his death in 79 AD.  The date of his death is unknown, although it must have been at some point between this and 101 AD.

Epictetus

Epictetus refers to Helvidius, when discussing “How a man on every occasion can maintain his proper character” by acting in accord with reason, and viewing pain and pleasure as indifferent.

Priscus Helvidius also saw this, and acted conformably. For when [the Emperor] Vespasian sent and commanded him not to go into the senate, he replied, “It is in your power not to allow me to be a member of the senate, but so long as I am, I must go in.” Well, go in then, says the emperor, but say nothing. Do not ask my opinion, and I will be silent. But I must ask your opinion. And I must say what I think right. But if you do, I shall put you to death. When then did I tell you that I am immortal? You will do your part, and I will do mine: it is your part to kill; it is mine to die, but not in fear: yours to banish me; mine to depart without sorrow.

What good then did Priscus do, who was only a single person? And what good does the purple do for the toga? Why, what else than this, that it is conspicuous in the toga as purple, and is displayed also as a fine example to all other things? But in such circumstances another would have replied to Caesar who forbade him to enter the senate, I thank you for sparing me. But such a man Vespasian would not even have forbidden to enter the senate, for he knew that he would either sit there like an earthen vessel, or, if he spoke, he would say what Caesar wished, and add even more.  (Discourses, 1.2)

Epictetus also praises Paconius Agrippinus for showing a typical Stoic attitude toward justice.

When Agrippinus was governor, he used to try to persuade the persons whom he sentenced that it was proper for them to be sentenced.  “For,” he would say, “it is not as an enemy or as a brigand that I record my vote against them, but as curator and guardian; just as also the physician encourages the man upon whom he is operating, and persuades him to submit to the operation.” (Epictetus, fr. 22)

Epictetus also describes Agrippinus’ use of what sounds like a standard Stoic consolation technique, except that it’s applied to his own problems.

For this reason it is right to praise Agrippinus, because, although he was a man of the very highest worth, he never praised himself, but used to blush even if someone else praised him.  His character was such, said Epictetus, that when any hardship befell him he would compose a eulogy upon it; on fever, if he had a fever; on disrepute; on exile, if he went into exile.  And once, he said, when Agrippinus was preparing to take lunch, a man brought him word that Nero ordered him into exile; “Very well,” said he, “we shall take our lunch in Aricia.” (Epictetus, fr. 21)

The town of Aricia was apparently the first stop outside of Rome, for those travelling south and east.  Epictetus likewise concludes the first of his Discourses, ‘On what is under our control and what is not’, with the following anecdote:

Wherefore, what was it that Agrippinus used to remark?  “I am not standing in my own way.”  Word was brought him,

“Your case is being tried in the Senate.”

“Good luck betide! But it is the fifth hour now” (he was in the habit of taking his exercise and then a cold bath at that hour); “let us be off and take our exercise.”

After he had finished his exercise someone came and told him,

“You have been condemned.”

“To exile,” says he, “or to death?”

“To exile.”

“What about my property?”

“It has not been confiscated.”

“Well then, let us go to Aricia and take our lunch there.”

This is what it means to have rehearsed the lessons one ought to rehearse, to have set desire and aversion free from every hindrance and made them proof against chance.  I must die.  If forthwith, I die; and if a little later, I will take lunch now, since the hour for lunch has come, and afterwards I will die at the appointed time.  How?  As becomes the man who is giving back that which was another’s. (Discourses, 1.1.28-30)

Epictetus also tells a story about Agrippinus giving advice to another Roman politician, who was undecided about whether to contribute to a festival in honour of Nero, by performing some part in a tragedy.  (Possibly Gessius Florus, the notoriously unpopular procurator of Judea.)

Wherefore, when Florus was debating whether he should enter Nero’s festival, so as to make some personal contribution to it Agrippinus said to him, “Enter.”  And when Florus asked, “Why do you not enter yourself?” he replied, “I? why, I do not even raise the question.”  For when a man once stoops to the consideration of such questions, I mean to estimating the value of externals, and calculates them one by one, he comes very close to those who have forgotten their proper character.

Come, what is this you ask me?  “Is death or life preferable?”  I answer, life.  “Pain or pleasure?”  I answer, pleasure.  “But unless I take a part in the tragedy I shall be beheaded.”  Go, then, and take a part, but I will not take a part.  “Why not?”  Because you regard yourself as but a single thread of all that go to make up the garment.  What follows, then?  This, that you ought to take thought how you may resemble all other men, precisely as even the single thread wants to have no point of superiority in comparison with the other threads.  But I want to be the red, that small and brilliant portion which causes the rest to appear comely and beautiful. Why, then, do you say to me, “Be like the majority of people?”  And if I do that, how shall I any longer be the red?  (Discourses, 1.2.12-13)

Epictetus’ Handbook concludes with the saying attributed to Socrates: “Anytus and Meletus can kill me but they cannot harm me.”  However, according to Cassius Dio, Thrasea was well known for paraphrasing this as: “Nero can kill me but he cannot harm me.”  Knowing this, young Stoics reading the Handbook perhaps took its final sentence as a subtle nod to Thrasea.

Junius Rusticus – TBD

Junius Rusticus was a Stoic philosopher who became the main tutor of the young Marcus Aurelius.  He was a direct descendant of Arulenus Rusticus, a prominent member of the Stoic Opposition.

Marcus Aurelius

Marcus appears to be familiar with and an admirer of Thrasea and his circle.  He must have read Epictetus’ comments about them in The Discourses, but he had presumably also heard stories about them in person from his main Stoic teacher, Junius Rusticus.  However, in The Meditations, he says of the Aristotelian philosopher Severus, from whom he learned love of truth and justice,

…that through him I came to know Thrasea, Helvidius, Cato, Dio, Brutus, and to conceive the idea of a balanced constitution, and of government founded on equity and freedom of speech, and of a monarchy which values above all things the freedom of the subject. (Meditations, 1.14)

He appears to be referring to Thrasea and his associate Helvidius, opponents of Nero, alongside the great Stoic hero of the civil war, Cato of Utica, and his Stoic-influenced nephew Brutus, who was one of the assassins of Julius Caesar.  The Dio he had in mind was possibly Dio Chrysostom, a contemporary of Epictetus who also studied under Musonius Rufus and combined Stoicism, Cynicism, Platonism and an interest in rhetoric.

Elsewhere, by contrast, Nero is mentioned as a tyrant.

Marcus’ Latin tutor, Fronto, despised Seneca and several time writes of him in a dismissive or sarcastic way in their correspondence, e.g.,

There are certainly some acute and weighty sayings in his books but little pieces of silver are sometimes found in sewers; and is that a reason for us to undertake the cleaning of the sewers?

We don’t know if or how Marcus responded to these criticisms but it doesn’t appear that they openly argued over this, so he may either have agreed or said nothing.