The Stoic Philosophy
The Romans were never known for their contributions to abstract thought and did not produce a unique
philosophy. Still, they borrowed well and adapted ideas that complemented their values. For the Roman, duty and
organization were particularly important; consequently, the Stoic philosophy, which had originated in Greece in
the third century B.C.E., was especially popular among the aristocracy. According to Stoic tenets, a divine plan
ordered the universe, so whatever lot or occupation fell to one in life should be accepted and coped with
appropriately. Restraint and moderation characterized the ideal Stoic, and he advocated tolerance as an essential
component of the "brotherhood of man." To a Stoic who felt that his honor was somehow compromised, suicide
was an acceptable and dutiful way of preserving his dignity. The following selections come from the writings of
three Stoics of diverse backgrounds. Epictetus was the slave of a rich freedman; Seneca was tutor to the emperor
Nero and finally committed suicide at his command in 66 C.E.; Marcus Aurelius became emperor in 161 C.E., an
occupation he did not seek, but dutifully executed.
"HOW WILL I DIE?"
Source: '"How Will I Die?'" is from T. W. Higginson, ed.,
The Works of Epictetus
(Boston: Little Brown,
I must die: if instantly, I will die instantly; if in a short time. I will dine first; and when the hour comes, then I will
die. How? As becomes one who restores what is not his own.
Do not you know that both sickness and death must overtake us? At what employment? The husbandman at
his plough; the sailor on his voyage. At what employment would you be taken? For my own part, I would be found
engaged in nothing but in the regulation of my own Will; how to render it undisturbed, unrestrained, uncompelled,
free. 1 would be found studying this, that T may be able to say to God, "Have 1 transgressed Thy commands? Have 1
perverted the powers, the senses, the instincts, which Thou hast given me? Have I ever accused Thee, or censured Thy
dispensations? I have been sick, because it was Thy pleasure, like others; but I willingly. I have been poor, it being
Thy will; but with joy. I have not been in power, because it was not Thy will; and power I have never desired.
Hast Thou ever seen me saddened because of this? Have T not always approached Thee with a cheerful countenance;
prepared to execute Thy commands and the indications of Thy will? Is it Thy pleasure that I should depart from this
assembly? I depart. I give Thee all thanks that Thou hast thought me worthy to have a share in it with Thee; to behold
Thy works, and to join with Thee in comprehending Thy administration." Let death overtake me while I am thinking,
while 1 am writing, while I am reading such things as these.
"WHAT IS THE PRINCIPAL THING in LIFE?"