Odysseus and the Stoics– How to Be a Stoic

We have just recently analyzed From Bad guy to Hero: Odysseus in Ancient Idea, by Silvia Montiglio (the book likewise has a chapter on Plato’s view of the Greek hero, which I am avoiding for the purposes of this blog site).

The Stoics were apparently enthusiastic about Odysseus, starting with the founder, Zeno, who in truth composed five books of Homeric Issues. Ulysses, as the Romans called him, embodied a major tenet of Stoicism: the commitment to cheerfully send to one’s Fate– while at the exact same time likewise unequivocally showing that this “submission” does not correspond to quietism. Simply think of all the brave efforts that Odysseus makes on behalf of his buddies and in pursuit of the supreme objective to get back house. That is why Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Dio Chrysostom all commented favorably on the legend of Odysseus.One distinction between the Cynic and Stoic treatments is the episode where the hero gowns like a beggar in order to start his vengeance against the suitors, when back in Ithaca. While the Cynics did like the image of the king-beggar, it did not really fit well with their total philosophy, since Odysseus didn’t select a minimalist presence, he merely wore the clothes of a beggar in an instrumental fashion. This was not an issue for the Stoics, nevertheless, who taught that one needs to adapt to the situations, particularly in order to follow the will of the universes (which in the episode is personified by the goddess Athena, who assists Odysseus).

In fact, says Montiglio, “‘The beggar’ is … one of the many roles Odysseus teaches us to play as directed by destiny. The Stoics exhort us to be like excellent actors, to translate as well as we can the part(s) assigned to us by fate.” She right away adds: “The Stoic imperative of detachment from externals does not require that we should be uncommitted to our functions: on the contrary, we need to play them as seriously as possible but always keeping in mind that we are using masks, and that each mask may be altered.” Odysseus is an excellent role model for the Stoic since he is dedicated to play well his functions while at the same time not confusing any particular role with who he more basically is: “Odysseus is and is not the character he plays: he is, as a committed entertainer of life’s script; he is not, due to the fact that his ‘moral purpose’ extends beyond each function and safeguards him, so to speak, from them.”

When Dio (who was a Stoic with strong Cynic leanings) composes, referring to Odysseus: “prudence is the most safe wall, for it does not drop or stop working; one must establish walls in one’s impregnable reason,” Montiglio reminds us that this sort of talk is very much like what we find in Marcus Aurelius and his well-known concept of an inner citadel: “The mind that is complimentary from enthusiasms is a castle, for man has nothing more safe to which he can fly for haven and repel every attack.” (Meditations, VIII.48)

Likewise, when Montiglio states that “Odysseus in rags is a professional athlete of life, training himself to withstand so-called misfortunes (which hardship is a major one) and to decline enjoyments,” one is reminded again of Marcus: “The art of life is more like the wrestler’s art than the dancer’s, in regard of this, that it ought to stand prepared and firm to fulfill onsets that are abrupt and unexpected.” (Meditations, VII.61) That is why in antiquity Ulysses ended up being the epitome of the dictum that virtue is schooled in bad luck, a theme that likewise recurs in Seneca: “No wall can be set up versus Fortune which she can not take by storm; let us strengthen our inner defences. If the inner part be safe, male can be attacked, but never ever recorded.” (Letters to Lucilius, LXXIV. On Virtue as a Haven from Wordly Distractions, 19)

Maximus of Tire wrote of Odysseus: “he turned down an immortality that came at the expense of inactivity, and the loss of all opportunity to exercise his virtue in action,” which dovetails nicely with the Stoic idea that difficulty is to be endured for the sake of virtue, not popularity, the latter being a favored indifferent.Another factor Odysseus was a favorite of the Roman Stoics in particular is that Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, Favorinus, and Dio Chysostom had all been persecuted and banished, similar to the Greek hero had been persecuted by Poseidon and banished to a variety of places, consisting of Circe’s and Calypso’s islands.”For Musonius,”composes Montiglio,”Odysseus embodies the reality that people can profit from exile:’Alone, naked, and shipwrecked’when he landed at Phaeacia, he’gathered enormous wealth.'” At the exact same time, Epictetus utilizes Odysseus to highlight his concept that we are not indicated to stay in one place for our entire presence:” Which human beings, in addition to being noble-minded by nature and capable of feeling contempt for all that lies outside the sphere of choice, also have this further quality, of not being rooted down or attached to the earth, however having the ability to move from one location to another, in some cases under the pressure of particular requirements, sometimes simply so regarding delight in the phenomenon. It was something of this kind that took place to Odysseus, ‘Cities of lots of males he saw, and discovered their ways. ‘” (Discourses III.24.12-13). Epictetus– one of the most Cynic-like of the Stoics– however, has an issue with Odysseus ‘strong yearning for his home and his

partner, which are only preferred indifferents, after all. Here Seneca, as typical, discovers as more friendly. Writes Montiglio: “Seneca reinterprets Odysseus ‘love for fatherland and family as the call of task, which Stoically includes service to fatherland and family. “Another fascinating aspect of the myth of Ulysses, as far as the Stoics were concerned, was his relationship with understanding. Was he curious for interest’s sake(which would not sit well with the almost oriented Stoics ), or was his curiosity an element of his practical virtue? Both Zeno and Epictetus slam what they saw as Odysseus ‘extreme interest, and so did Dio.And Seneca writes:” We have no time at all to hear lectures on whether Odysseus was tossed about in between Italy and Sicily or beyond the known world(for so long a roaming could not have actually occurred in such a limited area); we ourselves are tossed about by storms every day, and our badness thrusts us into all the ills Odysseus came across.”(Letter LXXXVIII.7 )Nevertheless, even for Epictetus, says Montiglio,”Odysseus … turns out to be the paradigmatic pursuer of wisdom because he did not pass by the Sirens with his ears plugged, but both

paid attention to their song and cruised forth: that is, he was able to apply the right dose of dialectics to his philosophical goal. “Lastly, and rather remarkably, the Cynics(and after that later the Stoics)had actually analyzed Odysseus’wife, Penelope, who was smart and virtuous, as the personification of Approach itself. Which

describes why Bio the Skeptic stated:”it is great to circumnavigate numerous cities, but rewarding to reside in the very best one.” ‘ Stoic suggestions: I’m upset at my loved ones Stoic suggestions: my profession isn’t really going anywhere, and I’m embarrassed of failure’Classifications: History & Biographies,


Stoic function designs