History of Stocisim:
Early Stoa - Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chryssippus

This is a picture of a Stoae, a Greek name for a porch or covered walkway. Stoa Poikile in Athens was the “painted porch” from which Zeno of Citium lectured and from which Stoicism was named.


An important period in Greek history known as the Hellenistic Age began around 323 B.C. and marked a transition from a society based on citizenship to that of self-sufficiency. Three new schools of thought, inspired by the teachings of Socrates, emerged during this time; Epicureanism, Skepticism and Stoicism. Stoic philosophy was considered to be one of the most influential and stressed the importance of coping with positive and/or negative circumstances by detaching oneself from any emotion through apatheia (indifference) to reach the ultimate goal, peace of mind. Stoics adopted some of their ideas on cosmology from Heracleitus of Ephesus and concepts on metaphysics from other pre-Socratic philosophers. Stoics can be described as determinists and fatalists. In simple terms they believe that all events are determined by fate, true knowledge is acquired through perception and that human beings are to live in harmony with nature in accordance with nature.

Zeno of Citium is the founder of Stoic philosophy. Born on Cyprus in 335 B.C., he was the son of a merchant named Mnaseas and went to Athens in 313 B.C. where he received his education. He studied under Crates of Thebes (the Cynic), Xenocrates and Polemon. He was a merchant until he began the stoic school of philosophy at age 42. Originally called Zenonians, Zeno’s followers became known as Stoics in reference to the stoa poikile or “painted porch” that he lectured from. He separated the concept of stoicism into three parts; logic, physics and ethics. Unfortunately, his legacy does not include any of his written works. He was said to have lived a simple life and was well respected. He died in 264 B.C. After falling and injuring his foot he is quoted by his student Diogenes Laerius as saying “I am coming, why do you call me thus?” and then proceeded to strangle himself. Upon his death, his student Cleanthes succeeded him at the school.

Cleanthes of Assos was born around 331 B.C. in Asia Minor and was a boxer prior to coming to Athens. He worked as a night water-carrier for a gardener so that he could attend the lectures of Crates the Cynic and Zeno by day. Although he was hardworking, patient and even-tempered he was nicknamed “the ass” because he wasn’t as bright as his peers. He included poetry in his writings, but few have been preserved, the most notable is his “Hymn to Zeus” which reflects his religious nature and can be viewed at www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Heights/4617/stoic/zeus.html. He is credited with a theory that the energy of the soul in the after-life is directly related to the energy of the soul during life on earth. David Hume incorporated Cleanthes as a character in his “Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.” He suffered from an ulcer and fasted for a short time, but decided to continue because he considered himself at the half-way point to death. He died around 232 B.C. Chrysippus studied under him and succeeded him as president of the school.

Chrysippus was born in Soli, Cilicia Campestris in 280 B.C. The loss of a considerable amount of inherited property prompted him to move to Athens and study philosophy. He was interested by the teachings of Zeno with whom he studied for a short time before becoming a student of Cleanthes. He enjoyed employing his skills in debate and wrote on a daily basis many on the subject of prepositional logic. All that remains of his works are references made in the later writings of a few, including Cicero and Seneca. Although Chrysippus shared Cleanthes beliefs, he did not support the methods by which he delivered them. Chrysippus’ many works drifted away from the poetic style of Cleanthes and presented the ideas of stoicism in a more direct way. He believed that true nobility had to be earned through altruistic deeds, not inherited. Chrysippus thought intellect and the ability to reason and sympathize were important attributes. He also subscribed to the notion that human beings should develop the qualities that set us apart from the animal i.e. knowledge, courage, honesty and temperance. He believed that all events occur by fate and happen in a realistic order. Chrysippus died in 207 B.C. A true account of his death is not know, but it is said that he gave his donkey wine and died of laughter watching the animal try to eat figs.

Each of these men made an important contribution to early Stoic Philosophy and although very little of their work still exist, their ideas have survived and help us understand how many citizens adapted as Hellenistic Greece changed from a free city-state to an empire.