When we think of Stoicism, we frequently believe of Seneca the Younger, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. While this makes sense given that we rely primarily on their existing writings as pieces of the Philosophical school. But do you know who Zeno of Citium is and what was his role in stoicism?
Zeno of Citium published his version of The Republic in reaction to Plato’s. The book has not survived but depicts a stoic utopia founded on ascetical values.
Who is Zeno of Citium?
Zeno was born in the town of Citium, a Greek colony in Cyprus, around 333 BCE, the son of a trader. Citium had a sizable Phoenician community, and there is evidence that Zeno was of Phoenician descent. Most of his knowledge comes from Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers.
Zeno grew on to become a merchant, and at the age of thirty, he was shipwrecked while shipping purple dye from Phoenicia to Peiraeus.
In Athens, he was drawn to the works of some philosophers in a bookstore. Zeno became a student of Crates and later studied under several other philosophers, including Stilpon of Megara.
Zeno began to deliver his lectures while strolling up and down the Stoa Poikile after years of study under other philosophers. He did this to bring peace to the Stoa, where fourteen hundred people had been slaughtered during a previous political instability. Followers came here to hear his teachings and were called Stoics.
Zeno disliked crowds and preferred to walk with only two or three buddies. He avoided making eye contact with his audience.
Zeno was famed for his abilities of abstinence and austere lifestyle; he was very frugal, ate uncooked food, and wore little clothing. The residents of Athens admired him for living according to his own beliefs and establishing an example of temperance and virtue for the city’s young men. When asked about it, he liked to drink wine at dinner parties and said it was better to slip with the feet than the mouth.
Zeno died about the year 246 BCE. There were conflicting claims regarding his age when he died; some thought he was 98, while his student Perseus said he was 72. (Source: New World Encyclopedia)
What Else Did Zeno Work On?
Zeno is best remembered as the founder of the Stoic school of Hellenistic philosophy, which was prominent among Greeks and Romans for about 400 years. While studying under various Cynics, notably Crates and Stilpon of Megara, he developed his theories.
His written works, like those of many other early Greek philosophers, have been destroyed, and his system of thought must be cobbled together from bits quoted in the writings of succeeding thinkers.
His most famous work was the Republic, which imagined an anarchist utopia controlled solely by reason and without the need for money, courts of law, or temples.
Diogenes mentions 22 more writings by Zeno on topics such as the essence of man, the passions, sight, ethics, obligation, law, and the Pythagorean theorem.
Zeno was the first to differentiate three kinds of reasoning: logic, natural philosophy or physics, and ethics, with ethics being the most important. According to Diogenes, Zeno was the first to employ the term obligation. He believed that happiness was found in conquering passions and emotions and according to divine will, which rules the universe. (Source: New World Encyclopedia)