Stoicism

Stoicism was a philosophy of life created by a guy called Zeno. It's called stoicism because Zeno liked to hang out at the stoas in the agora of Athens. The stoas were long, covered buildings to provide shade from the sun. When you look at any picture of the Athenian Agora, pretty much every building you see is a stoa. Stoas were, in fact, what we would call porches.

Hence stoicism in English literally means porch-ism. Or maybe verandah-ism. Which is an odd term for a philosophy which emphasized emotional & mental control, and self-discipline. Our modern word stoic comes direct from stoicism.

Zeno really hit the big time with stoicism. If he were alive today, he'd be on the lecture circuit flogging his bestseller self-help manual. Or perhaps not, because stoicism didn't encourage that sort of thing. As it was, before long, anyone with pretensions of grandeur had to claim to be a stoic, even if they patently were not.

It just so happens that Zeno's favourite hang out was the Stoa Poikile - the Painted Stoa - which by sheer coincidence happens to be the background of my book cover.


Stoicism did not appear until 160 years after The Pericles Commission. Which is just as well because Nicolaos would have made a terrible stoic.

Since I am not insane, I'm not about to teach anyone philosophy. Like Nicolaos, I would make a terrible stoic. As my wife will tell you, I have turned hypochondria into an art form, which means instant disqualification from the stoic ranks. In any case, this video will do a much better job than I could:



Probably the most famous, and certainly the most powerful, stoic ever was the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius is best known today for his rather unfortunate death in the movie Gladiator, at the hands of his whacko son Commodus (which may or may not be true). But his real claim to fame, other than being an amazingly good emperor, is having written The Meditations, which was a compendium of stoic philosophy.

Irene Hahn's Roman History Book Chat will be talking about The Meditations at its next online meeting this week. It meets using Google's chat system from 9:30 to 11:00 p.m. US EDT (UTC/GMT -04). If you'd like to talk about stoicism, join us! Just email Irene at the time.



16 comments:

Merry Monteleone said...

Interesting video, Gary. I'm guessing true stoics didn't have a lot of problems with high blood pressure :-)

The philosophy itself, though, has always bothered me. On the surface it seems very zen and calming, but then giving up emotions such as frustration and anger don't seem a good enough payment to also go without excitement, euphoria, sublime happiness... plus, I think the only way someone can be truly stoic is to be sociopathic.

Gary Corby said...

I can't imagine any fiction author wanting to be a stoic. The whole point is to express feelings, not hide them!

The same applies to anyone working in the arts, for that matter.

I can see stoicism working for, say, soldiers though.

Stephanie Thornton said...

Yeah, I think stoicism and writers would be a bad mix. I actually didn't know the root of the word- that's really interesting.

When I tell my students about stoicism they definitely don't see its virtues. But it would be hard to embrace that type of philosophy when you're pumped so full of hormones that you can barely sit still.

Gary Corby said...

I guess the teenagers pay more attention in the classes on hedonism?

Barrie said...

Porchism?! I love it!!!

Gary Corby said...

Hi Barrie!

It sounds like a whole lot more fun when you call it porchism, doesn't it?

I have this mental image of everyone in rocking chairs, under the porch, watching the sunset.

Carrie said...

I'm totally porchy whenever I can be. I have to snicker now every time a writer overuses that word. XD

Gary Corby said...

Hi Carrie!

Yep. Being stoic involves kicking back in the shade and talking a lot. Probably with a cup of wine.

Amalia T. said...

for a second, I read Marcus Aurelius and saw Marc Antony, and I was thinking "There is NO WAY Marc Antony was a stoic." Then I reread it and realized that I was just seeing things.

I've always wished that I could go back in time and meet Marcus Aurelius. It seems like a Stoic would make a very fair-minded politician or judge.

Gary Corby said...

No, Marc Antony as a stoic rather boggles the mind. Have you read the Heroes in Hell shared world fantasy series? Marc Antony always appears in it looking tanned and fit and wearing tennis shorts, T-shirt and sneakers.

Donna Hole said...

Way cool.

I can see myself on a porch swing sipping wine and philosophising about my day. Long as I don't have to spell it. But it'd take a LOT of wine because i get pretty passionate about the state of the world. (I work in social services.)

..........dhole

Amalia T. said...

I'm going to go look up that series right now on that basis alone.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Donna, I think we may have seriously diverged from stoicism at this point, but it sounds like more fun...

Gary Corby said...

Amalia, Heroes from Hell is a shared world series in which all the characters find themselves battling for control of, well, Hell.

The main protagonists are all famous people, mostly conquerors from history. Julius Caesar gets pride of place. Napoleon has chosen to retire and hangs out with Wellington. I presume because if Napoleon were active, he would simply wipe out all the other characters. (Caesar at one point says Napoleon is the only man he fears).

Cleopatra has an issue living in the same house with all her former husbands. Niccolo Machiavelli finds himself an unwilling advisor to The Administration. Ada Lovelace is a hotshot computer hacker. Marylin Monroe gets a job as exec assistant to the Father of Lies. And so on.

It's a brilliant idea, but sadly there's a certain amount of inconsistency, so that some bits are great and others so-so.

It put me in mind though that I'd love to write a book one day in which all the great military commanders of history have to battle it out on even terms.

Elizabeth said...

If you write that book, I will be first in line to buy it.

Gary Corby said...

Hi Elizabeth. OK, well that's a print run of 1 and counting...

I'll put it on the to-do list. It would be rather fun to write.