Stoic Monasteries, request for help!


Stoic communities have been an interest of mine, and I came across this reference that ‘monasteries’ were firstly a Stoic development. I chased down the following lineage of this info, but ran into a wall. If anyone is interested, please feel free to help.

Dr. Olson, in her book “Daily life in a Medieval Monastery” makes this claim:dllm

“Monasterium is the Latinized version of a Greek word (monos, alone; monachos, one who dwells alone, whence the word “monk”) that was coined by pre-Christian Stoic philosophers to denote a place set apart where the lover of wisdom could retreat from worldly distractions to study and meditate.”

But, there was no source. So I wrote her, and she referred me to her immediate source for that statement that was Maxwell Staniforth’s introduction to his translation of Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’ (Penguin Classics, translation first published 1964), p. 26, which reads:

“A notable Stoic contribution, too, to the manners of the Church, and one which has had a lasting influence, was the practice of asceticism. Christians who desired to follow counsels of perfection took the Stoic sage and his way of life as their formal exemplar. The coarse garment, the untrimmed locks and beard, were adopted as the badges of aspiration to sanctity. Just as the Stoic professor was accustomed to withdraw from society and meditate in solitude, his Christina imitators not only followed his example but appropriated his terminology. In the Stoic vocabulary one who went into retreat was an ‘anchorite’; one who practiced self-discipline was an ‘ascetic’, those who lived apart from their fellows were ‘monachi’, and the place of their retreat was a ‘monasterium’. Each of these borrowed expressions has retained its place and significance in the language of the Church to this day.”

But there the trail ends, as that is also not cited. So, any further help would be awesome. Anyone feel like doing some sleuthing?

This is from another thread in our BookFace Group:

Koine exercises


So for the last six weeks I’ve been studying Koine Greek, with a goal of being able to read the Stoic texts for myself without the help of a translator.

There are two main pronunciation schemes for Koine, the Erasmian (an academic teaching pronunciation) and the pronunciation scheme of modern Greek. My instructor uses the latter.

Until Gregory Wasson, most of the resources Koine learners have available is within the context of the Christian New Testament. However, you’ll find many of the words of the Stoic lexicon there.

If you’re interested in what Koine sounds like with a modern Greek pronunciation from a native speaker of Greek, this YouTube channel is a treasure trove.

I’ve been using it to aid in my own pronunciation and listening exercises.
You’ll hear words like ‘pneuma’ /ˈpnɛ, and other terms like it.

I’m not sure if this fellow has gotten to Romans, as Pauline Ethics are full of Stoic terms, that would be very close to our interests.  (EDIT:  he has)

Anyhoo… enjoy!

Physics => Philosophy: On Piety


I was flipping through the Discourses, and came across the opening of Discourses II.23. We often get asked how empirical observation leads to philosophical conclusion.

Epictetus lays this out in the vein of piety, which may not hold as much water for some as it does others, but still hits the mark regarding observation and conclusion, so stick with me on this:

“… Of an impious man, because he undervalues the gifts which come from God, just as if he would take away the commodity of the power of vision, or of hearing, or of seeing. Has, then, God given you eyes to no purpose? and to no purpose has he infused into them a spirit so strong and of such skillful contrivance as to reach a long way and to fashion the forms of things which are seen? What messenger is so swift and vigilant? And to no purpose has he made the interjacent atmosphere so efficacious and elastic that the vision penetrates through the atmosphere which is in a manner moved? And to no purpose has he made light, without the presence of which there would be no use in any other thing?”

Now, we moderns have a different conception, it’s actually 180 degrees the other way around, the the eye functions as it does precisely because the environment is conducive to that development, and the trait is probably tied to reproductive success.

Yet still, *that* process is one in which we could find gratitude and humility. Remembering, that the Stoic god is the god of nature and nature’s providence, not a personality in the way we’re familiar from the Abrahamic faiths.

The humility we might feel under the auspices of such a system, I think, Epictetus would recognize as piety. [Interpretative speculation.]

This is indicative of why Stoicism, even if you eventually come to some other conclusion, needs to be viewed with its own lens of its own teleology. The perspective of the ancients lacks a crucial point if it is ignored. You can pull away some tricks, but you’re missing out on the systemic integrity, and the exhaustiveness of the School otherwise.

Now, that doesn’t obligate us as individuals, it’s not a sin or a heresy to disagree, but it’s reasonable to view it as close to they way they did if we want to understand it more fully. Once we’ve covered this groundwork, we’re free to disagree and do our own philosophizing from there.

My conception of piety has changed significantly from that of a person raised in the west under an Abrahamic model, to being exposed more thoroughly to this one; and my experience and understanding is deeper because of it.

That, in and of itself, is no small thing.

Enchirdion 45 for urbanites.


“Does anyone bathe in a mighty little time? Don’t say that he does it ill, but in a mighty little time. Does anyone drink a great quantity of wine? Don’t say that he does ill, but that he drinks a great quantity. For, unless you perfectly understand the principle from which anyone acts, how should you know if he acts ill? Thus you will not run the hazard of assenting to any appearances but such as you fully comprehend.”

— Epictetus, Enchiridion 45.

“Does anyone signal for a turn in a mighty little time?  Don’t say the he does it badly, but just that he does it in a mighty little time.  Does anyone drive by weaving in and out of traffic?  Don’t say that he does it like an asshole, but that he drives by weaving in and out.  For unless you understand the principle from which anyone pilots a vehicle, how should you know if he does so badly?  Thus you will not run the hazard of assenting to any appearances but such as you fully comprehend.”

— Enchirdion 45 (with some artistic license)

Heraclitus’s Logos, and the foundation of Stoic Physics


A sometimes-neglected part of studying Stoicism, is the unitary nature of the school. Even if you discard their beliefs, knowing about them and the attempt at an exhaustive ontology is worth the investment.

Stoic Physics is indebted to the work of Heraclitus, of which we have only fragments today. Heraclitus is known for his development of the Logos from it’s more base meaning of ‘word’ or ‘reason’ to that more specialized connotation of the ‘ordering principle of the cosmos.’

If you haven’t read Heraclitus, the near-mystical quality of the fragments are well-worth the time, I think.

This PDF and others are available at the College’s Library Page if you’re interested:


A box of my favorite things, with “STOICISM” scrawled on the side



– My political beliefs
– My ideas of family
– My nationalism
– My support for a state
– My theism or atheism (sometimes anti-theism)
– My support for popular causes
– My dislike of certain “indifferent things”
– My like of other “indifferent things”


How many of us have a box of our favorite things which we’ve haphazardly scrawled “STOICISM” across the side?  Inside this box of decades’, generations’ worth of baggage, is there much room leftover for the ideas of Epictetus?

How about Marcus’s reminders to himself?

The lectures of Musonius, do those have a home in this box of my favorite things?

Maybe, this thing I’m calling Stoicism, is simply a label for a new demagoguery, that reinforces all my biases by applying a systematic slant to them.  “See!”  I can say, “there’s a good reason that I should prefer this to that, treat this as indifferent, and lobby for my favorite politician of choice!”  Fate forbid, call it a vice, it’s indifferent!

“Watch your own conduct thus and you will discover to what school you belong. You will find that most of you are Epicureans and some few Peripatetics, but with all the fibre gone from you. Where have you shown that you really hold virtue to be equal to all else, or even superior?

Show me a Stoic if you can! Where or how is he to be found? You can show me men who use the fine phrases of the Stoics, in any number, for the same men who do this can recite Epicurean phrases just as well and can repeat those of the Peripatetics just as perfectly; is it not so?

Who then is a Stoic?

Show me a man moulded to the pattern of the judgements that he utters, in the same way as we call a statue Phidian that is moulded according to the art of Phidias. Show me one who is sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy. Show him me. By the gods I would fain see a Stoic. Nay you cannot show me a finished Stoic; then show me one in the moulding, one who has set his feet on the path. Do me this kindness, do not grudge an old man like me a sight I never saw till now.”

— Epictetus, Discourses II.19

Am I studying Stoicism, am I trying to be a Stoic?  Or am I taking refuge in a label?  Am I being a Stoic, or am I just saying I’m a Stoic?  Do I really try to inculcate virtue as the sole good, or am I an undercover Epicurean?  Can I show it, in my every day life?  Can I see the skill with which I weigh impressions and assent or deny them?  Can the others in my life say, “There’s something good going on there,” ?

Not here.

“Nay you cannot show me a finished Stoic; then show me one in the moulding, one who has set his feet on the path.”

Stoic Week 2015



Today begins the third the iteration of Stoic Week.  Stoic Week has become a feature in most modern Stoics’ practice from what I’ve seen.

Stoic Week 2015 Handbook, PDF.
Online Questionnaires.
Audio Recordings and Guides.

If you’ve leafed through a few pages of Marcus and Epictetus, and then thought, “Okay, now what?”  Stoic Week can provide one interpretation for getting your burgeoning theory into practice.

I’ll be updating this post throughout the week.
There will also be an unofficial Google Hangout with some other Stoic bloggers and Podcasters on Thursday, which I’ll update as we get closer to it.

Monday (Life):

Morning:  Today, I have a few tasks at work which are not my favorite.  Despite my car accident this weekend, and the periodic pain I’m in, I intend to set to those tasks cheerfully, and work diligently, Fate permitting.  The context of the work isn’t “up to me,” but the motivation, desire, and intent surely is.

Evening:  Well,  got the diligent and focused done today, if not the cheerful.

Tuesday (Control):

Morning:  I actually find the admonition that one has “the work of a human being to be about” to be a helpful impetus.  The other creatures do their appointed works in their appointed times.  Sometimes it’s fervent and intense, other times laid back and easy.  Yet each one rises to do its appointed tasks.  I am not different than these.  Up and at ’em!

Lunch:  I was thinking yesterday about virtue as the only good in Stoicism, and all the rest being indifferent.  First things first, our happiness should be something which is “up to us.”  It would be a silly premise to require something which is not within your sphere of control to be happy, something which all philosophers of the period were in agreement with as being the goal, eudaimonia.  Virtue, as an internal intention, is 100% up to us.  The contexts, environments, other agents, results, etc. are all necessarily external to us, outside of our realm of control.  Virtue being the only good is an Axiom of Stoic thought, but when you sit down and think about the reasons for that axiom, it does fall into line.


Wednesday (Mindfulness):

Morning:  Today’s passage calls us back to Marcus’ “Inner Citadel” that retreat from the world which we carry with us everywhere.  We do not need to retire to the mountains or the seaside in search of solitude and peace.  In our own Inner Citadel, we carry that retreat with is everywhere.  In the original Koine, the word which is most commonly translated by “mindfulness” or “attention” is προσοχή (prosoche).  We have lots of Koine words that mean training, meditation, and mindfulness in the Stoic Lexicon, however the specifics have not all come down to us.  It’s a great shame that we have to recreate or borrow so much from other traditions.  What specific spiritual exercises were the students of the Stoa using to hone their πνεῦμα ψυχικόν (pneuma psychikon)?



thursday (Virtue):

Morning:  Virtue being the only good in Stoicism is an axiom.  You can’t prove it.  You either believe it (or choose to use it as rule and guide) or not.  It’s a sticky point, because it’s either there or not.  Marcus says, if you find something better, then go after it with a full heart, which is a pretty serious endorsement.   It seems he groks something there that I don’t.

Lunch:  The Handbook focuses on values, but that’s more of a CBT thing, than a traditional, Stoic thing.  Traditionally, we break down virtue into four sub-virtues:

  • Practical Wisdom (φρόνησις, phronēsis),
  • Justice (δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosynē),
  • Temperance (σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē) and
  • Courage (ἀνδρεία, andreia)

However, if you read the classical sources (and other modern works like this one), you’ll come to see that this is not  closed-class system.  This ability to divide into sub-virtues is a descriptive one only.  Virtue is a single, unitary whole.  There is no constituent part.  When we label something as wisdom, justice, self-control, or courage; we’re applying a general principle (Virtue) to a specific circumstance (sub-virtue).  While the Four Cardinal Virtues are probably a good model for identifying virtue when you see it, it shouldn’t be seen as the end-all, be-all.



Friday (Relationships):