Musonius’ Stoic


Musonius Rufus has a variety of prescriptions for the aspiring Stoic.  Some of which might be surprising to those not familiar with what he have left of his writings.

If you’ve not read Musonius before, there’s a version available here.

Musonius’ Stoic can be male or female.  One of the very forward-thinking classical Stoics, Musonius notes that men and women both should study philosophy.  In the same way that philosophy can make good men better, the same holds true for women.  While Musonius does see some differences between the sexes, both biological and cultural, our ruling faculties, our souls are of a common nature.

“Moreover, not men alone, but women too, have a natural inclination toward virtue and the capacity for acquiring it, and it is the nature of women no less than men to be pleased by good and just acts and to reject the opposite of these.”
— Lecture III

Musonius’ Stoic would dress simply, wearing enough clothes to protect the body, but not cater to some vane and vicious desire.  He argues that we could wear a cloak or simple garments like a chiton.  The modern Stoic might choose a “uniform” of sorts.  A pair of jeans, a solid colored t-shirt and simple jacket.

“…he said that one ought to use clothing and shoes in exactly the same way as armour, that is for the protection of the body and not for display.”
— Lecture XIX

Musonius argues against sandals, and says his students should go barefoot, but the modern Stoic might choose sandals over closed shoes for the reason of not covering the body more than necessary.

“…going barefoot gives the feet great freedom and grace when they are used to it.”
— Lecture XIX

Musonius Stoic would have a simple hair style, maybe a cheap buzz-cut for men, as the purpose of such grooming is to remove excess, not to style and primp.

“He used to say that a man should cut the hair from the head for the same reason that we prune a vine, that is merely to remove what is useless.”
— Lecture XXI

If the Musonius’ Stoic is male, then he should be bearded so far as he is able to grow one.

“… neither should the beard be cut from the chin (for it is not superfluous), but it too has been provided for us by nature as a kind of cover or protection. Moreover, the beard is nature’s symbol of the male just as is the crest of the cock and the mane of the lion; so one ought to remove the growth of hair that becomes burdensome, but nothing of the beard; for the beard is no burden so long as the body is healthy and not afflicted with any disease…”
— Lecture XXI

If one passed Musonius’ Stoic while he or she was taking meal, we would find that person eating what we would call a mostly raw or at least vegetarian diet, eating fresh local foods in season, eschewing meat-products.

“As one should prefer inexpensive food to expensive and what is abundant to what is scarce, so one should prefer what is natural for men to what is not. Now food from plants of the earth is natural to us, grains and those which though not cereals can nourish man well, and also food (other than flesh) from animals which are domesticated. Of these foods the most useful are those which can be used at once without fire, since they are also most easily available; for example fruits in season, some of the green vegetables, milk, cheese, and honey. Also those which require fire for their preparation, whether grains or vegetables, are not unsuitable, and are all natural food for man.”
— Lecture XVIIIA

If Musonius’ Stoic invited us over for the evening, we would find the living arrangements to be simple, understated, and utilitarian.

“Since we make houses too for a shelter, I argue that they ought to be made to satisfy bare necessity, to keep out the cold and extreme heat and to be a protection from the sun and the winds for those who need it.”
— Lecture XIX
‘Whatever is difficult to obtain or not convenient to use or not easy to protect is to be judged inferior; but what we acquire with no difficulty and use with satisfaction and find easy to keep is superior. For this reason earthenware and iron and similar vessels are much better than those of silver or gold, because their acquisition is less trouble since they are cheaper, their usefulness is greater…’
— Lecture XX

We would also probably find Musonius’ Stoic to be in the presence of a spouse or partner, as he would say we are fitted by nature one for the other.  The family, he argues, is the support for all of society, and the philosopher, too, has a duty here.

“Again when someone said that marriage and living with a wife seemed to him a handicap to the pursuit of philosophy, Musonius said that it was no handicap to Pythagoras, nor to Socrates, nor to Crates, each of whom lived with a wife, and one could not mention better philosophers than these.”
— Lecture XIV

Likely, Musonius’ Stoic would also have a garden, or in some way produce some of their own food.

“…it would not be unreasonable to consider it even better for a strong person, namely earning a living from the soil, whether one owns his own land or not.”
— Lecture XI

The picture Musonius paints of the Stoic student is an interesting one.  The Stoic lives an almost Spartan, utilitarian life.  He or she focuses on family, community, and living simply.  Musonius sets a pretty strict prescription for how we aspiring Stoics should live.

Most of us cannot wrap a simple cloak about ourselves while go about our daily occupation, but can we simplify?  Yes, very likely.  Can we cut back on eating out, eat more local, fresh, and in-season foods?  Can we take the time to prepare meals for ourselves and our families which are healthy, and nourishing to the body?  Probably.

We may not measure up to Musonius’ descriptions, but we can definitely make progress closer to it.

One thought on “Musonius’ Stoic

  1. I am surprised at the content of Lecture XVIIIA when compared to modern dietary practices. More specifically, the instructions to avoid meat, but not cooked starches/grains. There is plenty of evidence that confirms archaic man was able to develop during the Mid-Paleo into H.s. Sapiens thanks, in large part, to the increased availability and absorption of nutrients found in cooked, starchy tubers (Yes, Paleo dieters are terrifyingly wrong). Meat had very little to do with it, and remains to this day incredibly unhealthy. To see this wisdom as far back as Musonius’ time should be encouraging to anyone who may be skeptical of a whole-foods, plant based diet, and/or where it would fit in with a Stoic lifestyle.

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