Aquila:Epicurism / Stoicism - The Basics (Nova Roma)

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This article is from the Nova Roma publication "Aquila".

I would guess that I cannot delay my entry into the element of Roman Philosophy any further. However, I do intend to keep the subject as basic as my abiity provides. One of the problems that I have had with Philosophy is that those who are experts in the subject tend to give me too much and too fast. In my view Philosophy is something to be savored unhurriedly and looked at from all directions to see if the elements of the philosoph can or do fit my particular personality. Philosophy, very much like religion, is, in my view, and individual and private set of beliefs. Therefore I present the below elements as a basic review, and as a possible platform for those who inhabit this list to comment on.

1. Epicurean - 1. Pertaining to Epicurius, or to his philosophy, which taught that pleasure is the end of all morality and that genuine pleasure is derived from a life of prudence, honor, and justice.

2. Stoic - 1. A member of the school of philosophy founded by Zeno about 308 B.C. The Stoics taught that the wise man should be free of passion, unsubdued by joy or grief, willingly submissive to natural law.

3. Epicurus, an Athenian living around 300 B.C. believed that the gods existed in mortal bliss but did not interfere with mortals to reqard or punish. He believed that the soul was mortal and good could be attained and evil endured, and there was nothing to fear from the gods and nothing to feel in death.

4. Stoicism - Stoics were pantheists and determinists. Stoicism was a belief that a person's part in the divine plan was determined so that he or she only had freedom in the way that part was played, not a choice of what part to play. Consequently the Stoics advocated acceptance of whatever life had to offer, good or bad.

5. Traditionally Epicurus divided his system into three parts:

  • Logic (which was called (Canonic);
  • Physics;
  • Ethics.

The Canonic and Physics were subordinated to Ethics.

-Canonic - Formal logic was dismissed as useless, the canon of truth being found in sensations of both pain and pleasure.

-Physics - Essentially this interest was the ability to free man from the fear of the hereafter and the Gods. Only atoms and the void exist, and the soul's atoms are scattered at death, so there is no hereafter. The gods live in the void and have nothing to do with the world or human concerns.

-Ethics - Herein lies the heart of the Epicurean belief. Morality is an activity which produces pleasure, but while maintaining that pleasure is the only good and pain is the only evil, momentary pleasure is not sought, but rather those pleasures which endure throughout life. Therefore the Epicure shuld forgo pleasure leading to greater pain, and endure pain leading to greater pleasure. Mental sensation outwieghs physical sensation because in the mental area the sensations are remembered for a longer period of time. The sage should then seek after serenity of spirit, find happiness within himself by attaining the maximum of enjoyment and the minimum of distress. The ideal concept is to be acquired by tranquility, freedom from fear and withdrawal from politics. Lastly pleasure is found as having as few needs and desires as possible; simplicity, moderation and self-control, independence of external circumstances and the cultivation of friendships are the prime means to happiness.

6. Stoics held that there were two classes of men; The wise (virtuous) and the unwise (wicked). Two organzing principles were recognized: The independence of the wise man, and his responsibility to do good to other men. The Stoic wise man was independent of the society in which he lived, and his virtue was sufficient for his happiness. Therefore, his happiness could not be impaired by the loss of family, reputation or any other external benefit. The wise man can become more virtuous by exercising his virtue in relations with other men. This exercise demanded responsibility reflected by the wise man earning a living, supporting his family and taking part in public life. Simplicity and frugality also played an important part in Stoic ethics.

Early in Roman history the Romans did not accept the philosophy of the Greeks. In 173 and 161 B.C. these Greek philosophers were banned from Rome. However, by the end of the second century Romans had begun to modify thier opinions of these philosophers and the ideas put forth by the Greek teachers were begining to find favor. The philosophies of Epicurianism and Stoicism became popular in Roma. The Roman people seemed to be more interested in the religious and ethical aspects of the philosophies than the more mundane and detailed speculation and advanced theories.

The well-known proponent of Stoicism was Seneca the Younger and the official Roman policy favored, in a general way, this particular set of beliefs.

So, herein lies the basic ideas of the two title philosophies.

Epicurianism did not change significantly through the ages, but Stoicism, had three major periods known as the Old Stoa, Middle Stoa, and New Stoa, the basics of which changed somewhat through the centuries. The New Stoa agreed in many elements with Christianity and influenced that belief system extensively.


1. "Webster New Collegiate Dictionary" G.C. Meriam and Company, Springfield. MA, 1956.

2. Ibid.

3. Adkins and Adkins, "Handbook To Life In Ancient Rome" Oxford University Press, New York, 1994, Pge 355.

4. Ibid.

5. "Encyclopedia Amricana,"Americana Corp., New York, 1962, Pges 417-418;

6. Ibid., Pages 665-668.

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