Who was Zeno? (c.33...
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Who was Zeno? (c.333-262 BCE)

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Crates, the Good Genius, as he was known in Athens, was one of the most popular teachers and personalities of his day. Unlike his teacher, the intense and provocative Diogenes, Crates was said to live each day as if he were on holiday. He was the third in line of descent from Socrates.This is the lineage: the writings of Socrates’ oldest student and follower, Antisthenes, inspired the zealous Diogenes, who later denied his teacher's influence and claimed he learned everything he knew about philosophy from a mouse.

Diogenes preached an ascetic lifestyle, and he practiced what he preached. He himself lived in a discarded bathtub, going about the Athenian markets with a lighted lantern in broad daylight searching for an honest man. He soon found a few, and he and his followers were convinced they were the true disciples of Socrates. It was a living ethical school whose practitioners became known as Cynics, the Greek word for dogs, because they forsook all material possessions and lived in the streets in their single-minded pursuit of virtue. Crates, who took over this school of ragged nonconformists from Diogenes, was Zeno’s first teacher in philosophy. And for a time, Zeno was one of them.

Zeno never returned to the family business. He lived in Athens for the rest of his life, supporting himself by underwriting and insuring ships that came and went across the Mediterranean, an early version of Lloyds of London. He remained with Crates and the Cynics for some years, then became impatient with their limited focus and lack of decorum, and he moved on. He studied with the Megarians, in their day the greatest logicians in the world, then he studied at Plato’s Academy. Plato was dead, of course, and Polemo was head of the Academy when he was there.

About 300 BCE, Zeno finished his studies and went to the central market in Athens to discuss his philosophy with anyone who happened by. He stood on a porch known as the Stoa Poikile, the painted porch, a long colonnade facing the market. It was called the painted porch because of the murals painted along the back wall depicting real and mythological scenes from Athenian history, including the Battle at Marathon. It was here that he first began teaching a system of philosophy that was to dominate intellectual thought for more than five hundred years.

The power of Zeno's discourse attracted a daily following of young men who came to the Stoa Poikile to discuss philosophy with him. This following of students became known in Athens as the “Men of the Stoa,” or Stoics. Zeno taught a unified system of thought in three parts: natural philosophy (what we now call physics), logic, and ethics. He integrated an understanding of man’s relationship to the universe (physics) that followed from a careful and accurate method of reasoning and rhetoric (logic) to further establish principles of conduct for one’s life (ethics). 

This topic was modified 7 months ago 2 times by amorfati