THE STOIC TEXTS

While other Hellenistic philosophical schools have had their writings and teachings survive the test of time and history, Stoicism is estimated to only have about 1% of the original writings survive to this day.

Stoicism as we know it today is strongly derived from Late Stoa, the time period when Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus lived. Their works have helped form the foundation of what we read today and categorize as Stoicism.

The works from Early and Middle Stoa do not survive in their entirety today and are mostly fragmented writings.

MEDITATIONS – MARCUS AURELIUS 

Marcus Aurelius Meditations is known as one of the great books of all time. In Medieval Greek, the translation means “Things to One’s Self.”

Meditations is comprised of 12 books, each with different passages Marcus wrote to himself. The passages range in length from one sentence all the way to multiple pages, each providing a glimpse into the Roman Emperor’s mind during the time of the writings.

It is believed that these were written between 170 and 180 AD.

SOME FAVORITE QUOTES:

Soon you’ll be ashes or bones. A mere name at most—and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, trivial.
Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Book V.33 (Gregory Hays translation)

Shame on the soul, to falter on the road of life while the body still perseveres.
Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Book VI.29 (Maxwell Staniforth translation)

All things are interwoven with one another; a sacred bond unites them; there is scarcely one thing that is isolated from another. Everything is coordinated, everything works together in giving form to one universe. The world-order is a unity made up of multiplicity: God is one, pervading all things; all being is one, all law is one (namely, the common reason which all thinking persons possess) and all truth is one — if, as we believe, there can be but one path to perfection for beings that are alike in kind and reason.
Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Book VII.9 (Maxwell Staniforth translation)

LETTERS FROM A STOIC – SENECA

Seneca, who was not only a statesman but also a philosopher and dramatist, wrote over 124 letters to Lucilius, an official in Sicily at the time. It is believed that these letters were written toward the end of Seneca’s life and focus heavily on the internal-life of an individual. The letters discuss aspects of an every day life and deal with themes such as grief, success, and education.

A few years ago, Tim Ferriss composed a three volume series of the letters and produced them for free download. If you click here, you can find the link to the PDFs.

SOME FAVORITE QUOTES:

A good man will not waste himself upon mean and discreditable work or be busy merely for the sake of being busy.
Seneca. Letters from a Stoic. Letter 22: On the Futility of Half-Way Measures

Prove your words by your deeds.
Seneca. Letters from a Stoic. Letter 20: On Practicing What you Preach

Hope and fear, dissimilar as they are, keep step together; fear follows hope. 
Seneca. Letters from a Stoic. Letter 5: On the Philosopher’s Mean

 

DISCOURSES, ENCHIRIDION, AND OTHER WRITINGS – EPICTETUS

It is not well known whether or not any writings of Epictetus’ exist. What the world has of his work is due to a student, Arrian, transcribing Epictetus’ lectures. There were originally eight books comprising Epictetus’ teachings but sadly only four survive to this day. In addition to the Discourses of Epictetus, Arrian compiled a handbook, known as the Enchiridion, which was short wisdom of ethical Stoic advice which applies philosophy to every day life.

SOME FAVORITE QUOTES:

No man is free who is not master of himself.
Epictetus. Discourses. 

It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgments concerning them.
Epictetus. Discourses.

He who is making progress, having learned from philosophers that desire means the desire of good things, and aversion means aversion from bad things; having learned too that happiness and tranquillity are not attainable by man otherwise than by not failing to obtain what he desires, and not falling into that which he would avoid; such a man takes from himself desire altogether and defers it, but he employs his aversion only on things which are dependent on his will.
Epictetus. Discourses. 

 

LECTURES AND SAYINGS – MUSONIUS RUFUS

Musonius Rufus was Epictetus’ teacher and and like the three Stoics previously mentioned, his writings show just how wise he was. What is left of Rufus’ writings is fragmented, many are small essays on philosophy, sexism, parenting, among many others. Rufus’ writings are straight-forward, often with a single argument at play. The logic he imposes is to help an individual overcome the flaws he saw being preached at the time. An example of this was should or should not women study philosophy? (Hint, he agreed they should and that it was not restricted to men).

SOME FAVORITE QUOTES:

The only way to escape from wantonness is through self control; there is no other way.
Musonius Rufus

To wish to help and to be unwilling to harm one’s fellow men is the noblest lesson and makes those who learn it just. 
Musonius Rufus

If you accomplish something good with hard work, the labor passes quickly, but the good endures; if you do something shameful in pursuit of pleasure, the pleasure passes quickly, but the shame endures.
Musonius Rufus

The art of living a virtuous life.

%d bloggers like this: