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Stoic Doctrine

Three Stoic Hymns to Zeus

From ZEUS let us begin.
Him do we mortals never leave unnamed:
full of Zeus are all the streets
and all the market-places of men
full is the sea and the havens thereof.
Always we all have need of Zeus
for we are also his offspring
and he in his kindness unto men
giveth favourable signs
and wakeneth people to work.

-- Aratus (c. 270 BCE), Phaenomena
[quoted by Paul of Tarsus at Acts 17:28]

The Cretans:
always liars
evil beasts
idle bellies --

they fashioned a tomb for thee
O holy and high one
but thou art not dead
thou livest and abidest forever
for in thee we live and move and have our being.

-- Epimenides (6th c. BCE), Hymn to Zeus
[quoted by Paul of Tarsus at Acts 17:28 and Titus 1:12]

Most glorious of the immortals
many named
almighty forever
ruler of nature
that governest all things with law.
Hail! for lawful it is that all mortals should address thee.
For we are thy offspring
taking the image only of thy voice
as many mortal things as live and move upon the earth.
Therefore I will hymn thee
and sing thy might forever.
For thee doth all this universe that circles round the earth obey
moving whithersoever thou leadest
and is gladly swayed by thee.
Such a minister hast thou in thine invincible hands --
the two-edged blazing imperishable thunderbolt.
For under its stroke all nature shuddereth
and by it thou guidest aright the universal Logos
that roams through all things
mingling itself with the greater and the lesser lights
till it have grown so great
and become supreme king over all.
Nor is aught done on the earth without thee
O Zeus
nor in the divine sphere of the heavens
nor in the sea
save the works that evil men do in their folly.
Yea, but thou knowest even to find a place for the superfluous things
and to order that which is disorderly
and things not dear to men are dear to thee.
Thus dost thou harmonize into one all good and evil things
that there should be one everlasting Logos of them all.
And this the evil among mortal men avoid and heed not
wretched ever desiring to possess the good
yet they neither see nor hear the universal law of Zeus
which obeying with all their heart
their life would be well
but they rush graceless each to his aim:
some cherish lust for fame
the nurse of evil strife
some bent on monstrous gain
some turned to folly and the sweet works of the flesh
hastening indeed to bring the very contrary of these things to pass.
But thou
O Zeus
the all-giver
dweller in the darkness of cloud
lord of thunder
save thou men from their unhappy folly
which do thou, O Father, scatter from their souls
and give them discover the wisdom
in whose assurance thou governest all things with justice
so that being honoured
they may pay thee honour
hymning thy works continually
as it beseems a mortal man
since there can be no greater glory for men or gods than this:
duly to praise forever the universal law.

-- Kleanthes (331-233 BCE), Hymn to Zeus
[quoted by Paul of Tarsus at Acts 17:28]

A Summary of Stoic Doctrine

Chrysippus the Stoic says that divine power resides in reason and in the mind and intellect of universal nature. He says that God is the universe itself, and the universal pervasiveness of its mind; also that God is the governing principle of the universe, since he is located in intellect and reason; that he is the common nature of things, universal and all-embracing; also the force of fate, the necessity of future events, and fire.

-- Cicero (106-43 BCE), On the Nature of the Gods

True law is right reason, in agreement with nature, diffused over everyone, consistent, everlasting, whose nature is to advocate duty by prescription and to deter wrongdoing by prohibition. Its prescriptions and prohibitions are heeded by good men though they have no effect on the bad. It is wrong to alter this law, nor is it permissible to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely. We cannot be absolved from this law by the Senate or by the People, nor need we look for any outside interptreter of it, or commentator. There will not be a different law at Rome and at Athens, or a different law now and in the future, but one law, everlasting and immutable, will hold good for all peoples and at all times. And there will be one master and ruler for us all in common: the god who is this law's founder, promulgator, and judge. Whoever does not obey it is fleeing from himself and treating his human nature with contempt; by this very fact he will pay the heaviest penalties, even if he escapes all conventional punishments.

-- Cicero, On the Republic

An animal's first impulse, say the Stoics, is to self-preservation, because nature from the outset endears it to itself, as Chrysippus affirms in the first book of his work On Ends: his words are, "The dearest thing to every animal is its own constitution and its consciousness thereof"; for it was not likely that nature should estrange the living thing from itself or that she should leave the creature she has made without either estrangement from or affection for its own constitution. We are forced then to conclude that nature in constituting the animal made it near and dear to itself; for so it comes to repel all that is injurious and give free access to all that is serviceable or akin to it.

As for the assertion made by some people that pleasure is the object to which the first impulse of animals is directed, it is shown by the Stoics to be false. For pleasure, if it is really felt, they declare to be a by-product, which never comes until nature by itself has sought and found the means suitable to the animal's existence or constitution; it is an aftermath comparable to the condition of animals thriving and plants in full bloom. And nature, they say, made no difference originally between plants and animals, for she regulates the life of plants too, in their case without impulse and sensation, just as also certain processes go on of a vegetative kind in us. But when in the case of animals impulse has been superadded, whereby they are enabled to go in quest of their proper aliment, for them, say the Stoics, Nature's rule is to follow the direction of impulse. But when reason by way of a more perfect leadership has been bestowed on the beings we call rational, for them life according to reason rightly becomes the natural life. For reason is superadded to shape impulse scientifically.

This is why Zeno was the first (in his treatise On the Nature of Man) to designate as the end "life in agreement with nature" (or living agreeably to nature), which is the same as a virtuous life, virtue being the goal towards which nature guides us. So too Kleanthes in his treatise On Pleasure, as also Posidonius, and Hecaton in his work On Ends. Again, living virtuously is equivalent to living in accordance with experience of the actual course of nature, as Chrysippus says in the first book of his On Ends; for our individual natures are parts of the nature of the whole universe. And this is why the end may be defined as life in accordance with nature, or, in other words, in accordance with our own human nature as well as that of the universe, a life in which we refrain from every action forbidden by the law common to all things, that is to say, the right reason which pervades all things, and is identical with this Zeus, lord and ruler of all that is. And this very thing constitutes the virtue of the happy man and the smooth current of life, when all actions promote the harmony of the spirit dwelling in the individual man with the will of him who orders the universe. Diogenes then expressly declares the end to be to act with good reason in the selection of what is natural. Archedemus says the end is to live in the performance of all befitting actions.

By the nature with which our life ought to be in accord, Chrysippus understands both universal nature and more particularly the nature of man, whereas Kleanthes takes the nature of the universe alone as that which should be followed, without adding the nature of the individual.

And virtue, he holds, is harmonious disposition, choiceworthy for its own sake and not from hope or fear or any external motive. Moreover, it is in virtue that happiness consists; for virtue is the state of mind which tends to make the whole of life harmonious. When a rational being is perverted, this is due to the deceptiveness of external pursuits or sometimes to the influence of associates. For the starting-points of nature are never perverse....

Good in general is that from which some advantage comes, and more particularly what is either identical with or not distinct from benefit. From this it follows that virtue itself and whatever partakes of virtue is called good in these three senses -- namely, as being (1) the source from which all benefit results; or (2) that in respect of which benefit results, e.g., the virtuous act; or (3) that by the agency of which benefit results, e.g., the good man who partakes in virtue.

Another particular definition of good which they give is "the natural perfection of a natural being qua rational. ..."

And they say that only the morally beautiful is good. So Hecato is his treatise On Goods, book iii., and Chrysippus in his work On the Morally Beautriful. They hold, that is that virtue and whatever partakes of virtue consists in this; which is equivalent to saying that all that is good is beautiful, or that the term "good" has equal force with the term "beautiful," which comes to the same thing. "Since a thing is good, it is beautiful; now it is beautiful, therefore it is good." They hold that all goods are equal and that all good is desirable in the highest degree and admits of no lowering or heightening of intensity. Of things that are, some, they say, are good, some are evil, and some neither good nor evil (that is, morally indifferent).

Goods comprise the virtues of prudence, justice, courage, temperance, and the rest; while the opposites of these are evil, namely folly, injustice, and the rest. Neutral (neither good nor evil, that is) are all those things which neither benefit nor harm a man: such as life, health, pleasure, beauty, strength, wealth, fair fame and noble birth, and their opposites, death disease, pain ugliness, weakness, poverty, ignominy, low birth, and the like. This Hecato affirms in his On the End, book vii., and also Apollodorus in his Ethics, and Chrysippus; for, say they, such things (as life, health, and pleasure) are not in themselves goods, but are morally indifferent, though falling under the species or subdivision "things preferred." for as the property of hot is to warm, not to cool, so the property of good is to benefit, not to injure; but wealth and health do no more benefit than injury, therefore neither wealth nor health is good. Further, they say that that is not good of which both good and bad use can be made; but of wealth and health both good and bad use can be made; therefore wealth and health are not goods. ...

Hecaton in the nineth book of his treatise On Goods, and Chrysippus in his work On Pleasure, deny that pleasure is a good either; for some pleasures are disgraceful, and nothing disgraceful is good. To benefit is to set in motion or sustain in accordance with virtue; whereas to harm is to set in motion or sustain in accordance with vice.

The term "indifferent" has two meanings: in the first it denotes the things which do not contribute either to happiness or to misery, as wealth, fame, health, strength, and the like; for it is possible to be happy without having these, although, if they are used in a certain way, such use of them tends to happiness or misery. In quite another sense those things are said to be indifferent which are without the power of stirring inclination or aversion; e.g. the fact that the number of hairs on one's head is odd or even or whether you hold out your finger straight or bent. But it was not in this sense that the things mentioned above were termed indifferent, they being quite capable of exciting inclination or aversion. Hence of these latter some are taken by preference, others are rejected, whereas indifference in the other sense affords no ground for either choosing or avoiding.

Of things indifferent, as they express it, some are "preferred." others "rejected." Such as have value, they say, are "preferred," while such as have negative, instead of positive, value are "rejected." Value they define as, first, any contribution to harmonious living, such as attaches to every good; secondly, some faculty or use which indirectly contributes to the ki8fe according to nature: which is as much as to say " any assistance brought by wealth or health towards living a natural life"; thirdly, value is the full equivalent of an appraiser, as fixed by an expert acquainted with the facts-as when it is said that wheat exchanges for so much barley with a mule thrown in.

Thus things of the preferred class are those which have positive value, e.g. amongst mental qualities, natural ability, skill, moral improvement, and the like; among bodily qualities, life, health, strength, good condition, soundness of organs, beauty, and so forth; and in the sphere of external things, wealth, fame, noble birth, and the like. To the class of things "rejected" belong, of mental qualities, lack of ability, want of skill, and the like; among bodily qualities, death, disease, weakness, being out of condition, mutilation, ugliness, and the like; in the sphere of external things, poverty, ignominy, low birth, and so forth. But again there are things belonging to neither class; such as not preferred, neither are they rejected....

The main, or most universal emotions, according to Hecaton in his treatise On the Passions, book ii., and Zeno in his treatise with the same title, constitute four great classes, grief, fear, desire or craving, pleasure. They hold the emotions to be judgments, as is stated by Chrysippus in his treatise On The Passions: avarice being a supposition that money is a good, while the case is similar with that money is a good, while the case is similar with drunkenness and profligacy and all the other emotions.

And grief or pain they hold to be an irrational mental contraction. Its species are pity, envy, jealousy, rivalry, heaviness, annoyance, distress, anguish, distraction. Pity is grief felt at undeserved suffering; envy, grief at others' prosperity; jealousy, grief at the possession by another of that which one desires for oneself; rivalry, pain at the possession by another of what one has oneself. Heaviness or vexation is grief which weighs us down, annoyance that which coops us up and straitens us for want of room, distress a pain brought on by anxious thought that lasts and increases, anguish painful grief, distraction irrational grief, rasping and hindering us from viewing the situation as a whole.

Fear is an expectation of evil. Under fear are ranged the following emotions: terror, nervous shrinking, shame, consternation, panic, mental agony. Terror is a fear which produces fright; shame is fear of disgrace; nervous shrinking is a fear that one will have to act; consternation is fear due to a presentation of some unusual occurrence; panic is fear with pressure exercised by sound; mental agony is fear felt when some issue is still in suspense.

Desire or craving is irrational appetency, and under it are ranged the following states: want, hatred, contentiousness, anger, love wrath, resentment. Want, then, is a craving when it is baulked and, as it were, cut off from its object, but kept at full stretch and attracted towards it in vain. Hatred is a growing and lasting desire or craving that it should go ill with somebody. Contentiousness is a craving or desire connected with partisanship; anger a craving or desire to punish one who is thought to have done you an undeserved injury. The passion of love is a craving from which good men are free; for it is an effort to win affection due to the visible presence of beauty. Wrath is anger which has long rankled and has become malicious, waiting for its opportunity, as is illustrated by the lines: "Even though for the one day he swallow his anger, yet doth he still keep his displeasure thereafter in his heart, till he accomplish it." Resentment is anger in an early stage. Pleasure is an irrational elation at the accruing of what seems to be choiceworthy. ...

And as there are said to be certain infirmities in the body, as for instant gout and arthritic disorders, so too there is in the soul love of fame, love of pleasure, and the like. By infirmity is meant disease accompanied by weakness; and by disease is meant a fond imagining of something that seems desirable. And as in the body there are tendencies to certain maladies such as colds and diarrhoea, so it is with the soul, there are tendencies like enviousness, pitifulness, quarrelsomeness, and the like....

Now they say that the wise man is passionless, because he is not prone to fall into such infirmity. But they add that in another sense the term apathy is applied to the bad man, when, that is, it means that he is callous and relentless. Further, the wise man is said to be free from vanity; for he is indifferent to good or evil report. However, he is not alone in this, there being another who is also free from vanity, he who is ranged among the rash, and that is the bad man. Again, they tell us that all good men are austere or harsh, because they neither have dealings with pleasure themselves nor tolerate those who have. The term harsh is applied, however, to others as well, and in much the same sense as a wine is said to be harsh when it is employed medicinally and not for drinking at all.

Again, the goods are genuinely in earnest and vigilant for their own improvement, using a manner of life which banishes evil out of sight and makes what good there is in things appear. At the same time they are free from pretence; for they have stripped off all pretence or "make-up" whether in voice or in look. Free too are they from all business cares, declining to do anything which conflicts with duty. They will take wine, but not get drunk. Nay more, they will not be liable to madness either; not but what there will at times occur to the good man strange impressions due to melancholy or delirium, ideas not determined by the principle of what is choice-worthy but contrary to nature. Nor indeed will the wise man ever feel grief; seeing that grief is irrational contraction of the soul, as Apollodorus says in his Ethics.

Again, the Stoics say that the wise man will take part in politics, if nothing hinders him-so, for instance, Chrysippus in the firs book of his work On Various Types of Life-since thus he will restrain vice and promote virtue. Also (they maintain) he will marry Zeno says in his Republic, and beget children. Moreover, they say that the wise man will never form mere opinions, that is to say, he will never give assent to anything that is false; that he will also play the Cynic, Cynicism being a short cut to virtue, as Apollodorus calls it in his Ethics; that he will even turn cannibal under stress of circumstances. They declare that he alone is free and bad men are slaves, freedom being power of independent action, whereas slavery is privation of the same: though indeed there is also a second form of slavery consisting in subordination, and a third which implies possession of the slave as well as his subordination; the correlative of such servitude being lordship; and this too is evil....

They hold that the virtues involve one another, and that the possessor of one is the possessor of all, inasmuch as they have common principles, as Chrysippus says in the first book of his work. On Virtues, Apollodorus in his Physics According to the Early School, and Hecaton in the third book of his treatise is at once able to discover and to put into practice what he ought to do. Now such rules of conduct comprise rules for choosing, enduring, staying, and distributing; so that if a man does some things by intelligent choice, some things with fortitude, some thing by way of just distribution, and some steadily, he is at once wise, courageous, just, and temperate. And each of the virtues has a particular subject with which it deals, as for instance, courage is concerned with things that must be endured, practical wisdom with acts to be done, acts from which one must abstain, and those which fall under neither head. Similarly each of the other virtues is concerned with its own proper sphere. To wisdom are subordinate good counsel and understanding; to temperance, good discipline and orderliness; to justice, equality and fair-mindedness; to courage, constancy and vigour.

It is a tenet of theirs that between virtue and vice that there is nothing intermediate, whereas according to the Peripatetics [= Aristoteleans] there is, namely, the state of moral improvement. For, say the Stoics, just as a stick must be either straight or crooked, so a man must be either just or unjust. Nor again are there degrees of justice and injustice; and the same rule applies to the other virtues. Further, while Chrysippus holds that virtue can be lost, Kleanthes maintains that it cannot. According to the former it may be lost in consequence of drunkenness or melancholy; the latter takes it to be inalienable owing to the certainty of our mental apprehension. And virtue in itself they hold to be worthy of choice for its own sake. At all events we are ashamed of bad conduct as if we knew that nothing is really good but the morally beautiful. Moreover, they hold that it is in itself sufficient to ensure well-being: thus Zeno, and Chrysippus in the first book of his treatise On Virtues, and Hecaton in the second book of his treatise On Goods: "For if magnanimity by itself alone can raise us far above everything, and if magnanimity is but a part of virtue, then too virtue as a whole will be sufficient in itself for well-being -- despising all things that seem troublesome."

-- Diogenes Laertius (3rd c. CE), Lives and Opinions of the Philosophers

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