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Stoicism

The two principal philosophical schools of the HeUenistic Age were the Stoics and Epicureans (cf Acts 17:18). Both were primarily interested in ethics but developed comprehensive explanations of reality that were influential beyond their own circles of adherents

Early Stoa

Zeno (335.263 B.C.).

Stoicism was founded by Zeno of C'tium (Cyprus), perhaps a Phoeniclan by race, who came to Athens about 313 B.c. The story was told that he read Xenophon's Memorabilia of Socrates and asked where he could find a man like hirn. He was directcd to the Cynic Crates, and followed him.42 Whatever the truth of the anecdote, Zenos early outlook was very much influenced by Cynicism. Stoicisin was ambiguous about its Cynic origins. Panaetius was embarrassed by them and denied that Zeno studied under the Cynics. But other Stoics did not forget their Cynic origin, and Epictetus spoke of himself as a Cynic.

Zeno began teaching in the Stoa Poikili (the Painted Porch, which served as a public hall) in Athens; hence the name of the school (as with sorne other philosophical schools) was derived from the place of teaching. Zeno started the sclentific study of Greek grammar and vocabulary. He de.veloped a complete phflosophical system of three branches.logic and theory of knowledge, physics and theology, and ethics. His main concern was securing humanity from fear and disturbance. According to Zeno, the goal of life is virtue; everything else is indifferent. Since no one can deprive the wise person of virtue, that person is always in possession of the only true good and is therefore happy.

Cleanthes (331.232 B.C.).

Zeno was succeeded as head of the Stoic school by Cleanthes of Assos from 263 to 232. He was the offly true Greck among the early leaders of the school. Cleanthes looked at Zenos description of the world as altogether material in a much more rellglous way. He developed the comparison of the universe to a human being. As the human body has a leading part, a greater concentration of soul, in the chest (where the voice comes from), so there is a leading part of the universe in the realm of the fixed stars. This greater concentration of spirit cou.ld be worshiped, as Cleanthes did in his "Hymn to Zeus," which had enough influence on an.tiquity that it has been preserved. The hymn emphasized "God's universal law," providence, and the individua.I's need to praise the universal law. The Stoa at this time came under heavy attack from the Academy. Cleanthes was a good man, but he could not handle the logical problems. Zeno had sald of him that he was a slow leamer but when he got something it stuck.

Chrysippus (C. 280.207 B.C.) .

Chrysippus of Soll (Cilicia) succeeded to the headship of the Stoa in 232, and saw a rebirth of Stoicism. He was interested in psychology and logic. His efforts to show that Homer and Hesiod were really Stoics gave an impetus to allegorizing. Chrysippus be.came the Stoic par excellence to the ancient world. Zeno and Cleanthes were absorbed into him and their ideas given a new foundation. Through him Stolcisin assumed a more acadernic and technical character. It was largely in the form given by Chrysippus that Stoicism was transmitted in the anclent world. Hence, we must take the first three leaders of the Stoic school together in examining the system. None of their writings has survived intact, so we are dependent on quotations and fragments. Chrysippus had the reputation in antiquity of being the best logician and having the worst style among the philosophers. lf the latter is true, there may be some consolation for the loss of source material in the seven hundred works attributed to him but not preserved.

Aratus Of Soli (c. 315.24.0 B.C.).

Although not the head of the Stoic school, Aratus deserves special mention because he was quoted in the New Testament. After coming to Athens, Aratus was a pupil of Zeno in the latter's old age. When Antigonus Gonatas invited Zeno to come to the Macedonian court, the old man instead sent two of his pupils, Persacus, a regular phi.losopher, and his friend Aratus, a poet. While at Pefla, Aratus put into verse a textbook of astronomy, Phaenomena. Simple astronomy took the place of our calendars for everyone in that time outside of urban and court life. (The preoccupation with astronomy in anclent authors was a simple matter of knowing the days and seasons, which was essential for agriculture and sailing.) Aratus' poem became a textbook in the schools; it was easier to remember the astrononücal information in verse form. Everyone read Homer and Aratus. When the Romans translated something from Greek into Latin, Aratus was one of the first (Varro, Cicero, and Germanicus translated his work). Aratus gave a Stoic coloring to his poem, and so he was important in the spread of Stoic ideas. When Paul (Acts 17:28) wanted to quote some.thing rellgious from the Greck poets, the opening lines of Aratus' Phaeno.mena came to mind. The statement "We are also his offspring" is similar to a statement in Cleanthes' "Hynin to Zeus," but Cleanthes uses the second person in direct address to Zeus whereas Aratus' statement is third person, as is PauPs quotation. Everyone would know Aratus' poem, and this partic.ular idea was a Stoic commonplace, so this quotation does not of itself necessarily indicate any extensive knowledge of Greek fiterature. Aratus more than the founders of Stoicism made its ideas a part of the common Greek tradition.


Sources utilized in these pages may include:
  • Everett Ferguson's: Backgrounds of Early Christianity
  • Walker's: History of Christianity (out of print)

    (These links will take you to book detail pages at Amazon.com)

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