DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A112-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

1. School history, sources

The name ‘Stoic’ originates from the Stoa Poikile or ‘Painted Colonnade’ at Athens, where at least the school’s first generation used to meet. At first called ‘Zenonians’, they came in time to be known as the ‘Stoa people’, or ‘Stoics’. The founder Zeno of Citium and his successor as school head, Cleanthes, forged the system in large measure. But it was the third head, Chrysippus, at the end of the third century bc, who developed it into a truly global philosophical creed.

Stoicism was in many ways a technically updated version of Socrates’ century-old philosophy. Its debt to earlier thinkers like Heraclitus and Plato is also manifest. How far it took account of Aristotle’s work, on the other hand, is disputed. Contemporary negative influences included Epicureanism, to which it was diametrically opposed on most issues, and the sceptical critiques of Stoic positions launched from the New Academy.

Chrysippus is the main voice of Early Stoicism. His successors Diogenes of Babylon and Antipater made their own contributions and modifications, but are seen as continuing the same tradition. In the late second and early first century bc, there was some softening of positions and a renewed interest in the writings of Plato. This has led many scholars to classify Panaetius and Posidonius as leading a separate phase, known as ‘Middle Stoicism’. Finally, ‘Roman’ Stoicism designates that of the early Roman Empire, whose main spokesmen for us are the Latin essayist Seneca and the Greek writers Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. The great bulk of their interests lies in moral philosophy.

We possess little evidence about the school’s institutional base, in Athens or elsewhere, and it is not even clear whether it ever occupied its own premises. Its cohesion was, at any rate, primarily doctrinal. There was extensive agreement between individual Stoics, alongside a good deal of in-school quarrelling over specific issues. The most publicized dispute occurred in the first generation, between Zeno and the independent-minded Ariston of Chios. After his death, Zeno was revered by most Stoics, who would not openly criticize him. Rather, their philosophical disagreements often took the outward form of disputes as to what Zeno had really meant.

No early Stoic text survives, apart from Cleanthes’ short Hymn to Zeus. But modern scholarship has managed to reconstruct most of the system in considerable detail from secondary sources, which incorporate numerous verbatim quotations. Book VII of Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Philosophers is a major source, as is the doxographer Arius Didymus. Cicero’s philosophical treatises contain first-rate presentations of various parts of the system. And invaluable evidence is available even from entrenched critics of the Stoics, such as the Platonist Plutarch, the Pyrrhonist Sceptic Sextus Empiricus and the doctor Galen.

Citing this article:
Sedley, David. School history, sources. Stoicism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A112-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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