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Is Stoicism Greek Daoism?

As Martin Bernal points out in his books BlackAthena (Rutgers University Press - Vol. I (1987); Vol. II(1991)), the culture of ancient Greece was substantially influencedby African Egypt up to the time of theeruption of the volcano Santorini (Thera)near Crete around 1626 BC. The eruptionof Santorini (Thera) probably caused the end of the Minoancivilization on the island of Crete, and severely disrupted Greekcivilization. Greece remained relatively insular until Alexander theGreat (born in 356 BC in Pella, Macedonia) extended Greek influencefrom the immediate vicinity of Greece to:

At the Beas River, Alexander's army threatened mutiny, forcing himto turn back. Although the Greek empire broke up shortly afterAlexander's death in 323 BC, Greece had been opened to substantialcontact with the outside world at least as far as Egypt, CentralAsia, India, and the border of Tibet.

After Alexander reconnected Greece with much of theOutside World, Greek science and philosophy flourished.

For example, with respect to science, Eratosthenes (276 BC- 194 BC) measured the circumference of the Earth by measuring theangle of the sun near Aswan and at Alexandria, about 500 miles to thenorth. Since the angle was about 7 degrees, the circumference of theEarth should be about 25,000 miles, which is roughly correct.According to Needham (Science and Civilization in China, volume III,page 225), "... the Chinese and the Greeks were engaged in suchobservations at about the same time ...".

For example, with respect to philosophy, around 305 BC, aPhoenician merchant carrying Tyrian purple dye to Pireaus wasshipwrecked in Greece. The shipwrecked merchant, Zeno of Citium,became a philosopher and began to teach in the Stoa Poikile (PaintedColonnade), so his philosophy was called Stocism. Although very fewof Zeno's original writings are known today, some principles ofStocism have been passed down through secondary sources:

Stoicism is basically Pantheistic. According to the Philosophicalweb page article on Zenoof Citium : "... What is referred to in Stoic writings as "Zeus"in one place, may be referred to as "Nature" elsewhere. ... there isstill little distinction between creator and created, or betweenphysical and spiritual. The Stoic worldview is thus closer to that ofDaoism, Vedanta or some varieties of Sufismthan to orthodox Christianity or Islam. ...".

The two ungenerated and indestructible first principles (archai)of the Stoic Universe are similar to those of the DaoistUniverse:

Qi - the matterwhich is acted upon by

Li - the eternal reasonor intelligent designing fire which gives structure to Qi.

 

Stoicism was widely popular during the Roman Empire, appealing toall levels of Roman society. Two of the most important secondarysources of Stoicism, and some of their sayings, are:

Epictetus (c. 55-135 AD) - a Roman formerSlave:

... Zeus [says] "... this body is not thine own, but onlyclay cunningly compounded. Yet ... we have given thee a certainportion of ourself, this faculty of choice and refusal ... in a word,the faculty which makes use of external impressions; if thou care forthis and place all that thou hast therein, thou shalt never bethwarted ..." (Discourses I, 1)

It is a mark of an ungifted man to spend a great deal of time inwhat concerns his body; ... these things are to be done in passing;and let your whole attention be devoted to the mind. (Enchiridion41)

... we must do what nature demands ... (Discourses I, 26)

Some things are under our control, while others are not under ourcontrol. ... if you think only what is your own to be your own, andwhat is not your own to be, as it really is, not your own, then ...you ... will do absolutely nothing against your will , ... no onewill harm you, for neither is there any harm that can touch you. ...(Enchiridion 1)

When you have recourse to divination ... if it is one of thethings which are not under our control ... approach [thediviner] ... having first made up your mind that every issue isindifferent and nothing to you, but that, whatever it may be, it willbe possible for you to turn it to good use, and that no one willprevent this. ... (Enchiridion 32)

Keep before your eyes day by day death ... and then you will neverhave any abject thought, nor will you yearn for anything beyondmeasure. (Enchiridion 21)

Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) - a RomanEmperor:

The Mind of the universe is social. At all events, it has createdthe lower forms to serve the higher, and then linked together thehigher in a mutual dependence on each other. ... each and all aregiven their just due ... (Meditations V 30)

Always think of the universe as one living organism, with a singlesubstance, and a single soul; and observe how all things aresubmitted to the single perceptivity of this one whole, all are movedby its single impulse, and all play their part in the causation ofevery event that happens. Remark the intricacy of the skein, thecomplexity of the web. (Meditations VII 9)

Live with the Gods. To live with the gods is to show them at alltimes a soul contented with their awards, and wholly fulfilling thewill of that inward divinity, that particle of himself, which Zeushas given to every man for ruler and guide - the mind and the reason.(Meditations V 27)

All parts of the Whole ... must suffer a change of form ... ifdissolution is not simply a mere dispersion of the elements of whichI am compounded, it must be a change of the grosser particles intoearth-form, and the spritual into air-form, so that they can all bereabsorbed into the universal Reason ... (Meditations X 7)

It is possible to live on earth as you mean to live hereafter. Butif men will not let you, then quit the house of life; though not withany feeling of ill-usage. "The hut smokes; I move out." ...(Meditations V 29)

 

What about Stocism after the Fall of the RomanEmpire?

One of the legacies of the Roman Empire was the form ofChristianity found in the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, RussianOrthodox, and various Protestant denominations.

Did Roman Stoicism influence those forms of Christianity?

According to the EncyclopaediaBritannica, Stoicism, Platonism, and the philosphy of Aristotlewere all reflected in the writings of the early Christian fathers.According to TheStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Stocism: "... Thetradition of theories of natural law in ethics seems to stem directlyfrom Stoicism. (Compare Cicero, de Legibus I, 18 with later writerslike Aquinas in Summa Theologica II, 2, q. 94.) Christian theologianswere certainly receptive to some of the elements of Stoicism. ...Augustine ... chose to follow the Stoics rather than the Platonists(his usual allies among the philosophers) on the question of animals'membership in the moral community (City of God 1.20). ...".

Does Stoicism have any influence in Today's World?

The parts of Earth that followed the cultural patterns of theRoman Empire, including the British Empire of the 19th Century andthe United States of America Empire of the 20th Century, consideredGreek and Roman philosophies to be their Cultural Foundation.Consequently, political, military, and cultural leaders of Britishand USA Empires were taught Greek and Roman philosophy.

When USA ViceAdmiral James Bond Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, herelied on the Stoic philosophy of Epictetus as a source of strength(see his 1984 book In Love and War).

When Tom Wolfe wrote his1998 novel A Man InFull, two of his main characters were an escapee from aCalifornia prison and an Atlanta real estate developer, each of whomfound in Stocism the strength to survive in the contemporary USA(compare Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius of the Roman Empire).

What about the Rest of the Earth?

Although Stoicism may not have had much direct influence in theOutside World beyond Roman/Greek/Russian/Protestant Christianity andRoman/British/USA Empires, you should recall that Stoicism itself mayhave been brought to the Greeks by Zeno from the Outside World.

If Stoicism is regarded as a derivative of such ancient OutsideWorld philosophies as Chinese Daoism, IndianVedic Hinduism, and AfricanIFA, and if Judaic Kabbalais regarded as the Natural Law that is the objective of Stoicism, andif Islamic Sufism is regarded as an Islamic derivative of thoseancient Outside World philosophies, then the common principles of allthose philosophies might be regarded as a Cultural Foundation for allhumanity.

 

 


Some materials on Stoicism,

and related matters, from which much of the above was taken,are:

 


Note: Zeno of Citium is NOT the Zeno who formulated themathematical Zeno's Paradox.


 

 

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