Zeno

, the founder of the Stoic sect (a branch from the Cynic, ad a far as respected morals, differing from it in words more than in reality), was a native of Cittius, a maritime town of Cyprus, and as this place was originally peopled by a colony of Phenicians, he is sometimes called a Phenician. His father, a merchant, encouraged him in the study of philosophy, and bought for him several of the writings of v the most eminent Socratic philosophers, which he read with great avidity and when he was about thirty | years of age, determined to take a voyage to Athens, which was so celebrated both as a mart of trade and of science. Whether this voyage was in part mercantile, or wholly undertaken for the sake of conversing with those philosophers whose writings Zeno had long admired, is uncertain. If it be true, as some writers relate, that he brought with him a valuable cargo of Phenician purple, which was lost by shipwreck upon the coast of Pira3us, this circumstance will account for the facility with which he at first attached himself to a sect whose leading principle was the contempt of riches. Upon his first arrival in Athens, going accidentally into the shop of a bookseller, he took up a volume of the Commentaries of Xenophon, and formed so high an idea of the author, that he asked the bookseller, where he might meet with such men. Crates, the Cynic philosopher, happening at that instant to be passing by, the bookseller pointed to him, and said, “Follow that man,” which he did, and was so well pleased with his doctrine, that he became one of his disciples. But though he highly admired the general principles and spirit of the Cynic school, he could not easily reconcile himself to their peculiar manners; nor would his inquisitive turn of mind allow him to adopt their indifference to scientific inquiry. He therefore attended upon other masters, who professed to instruct their disciples in the nature and causes of things, and when Crates, displeased at this, attempted to drag him by force out of the school of Stilpo, Zeno said to him, “You may seize my body, but Stilpo has laid hold of my mind.” After continuing to attend upon the lectures of Stilpo several years, he passed over to other schools, particularly those of Xenocrates and Diodorus Cronus. By the latter he was instructed in dialectics; and at last, after attending almost every other master, he offered himself as a disciple of Polemo, who suspected that his design was to collect materials for a new system: nor was he mistaken. The place which Zeno chose for his school was called 2/rea, or the Porch, and hence the name of Stoics. Zeno had advantages as the founder of a new sect; he excelled in that kind of subtle reasoning which was at that time popular, and while he taught a system of moral doctrine, his own morals were unexceptionable. He therefore soon became much followed, and on account of his integrity the Athenians deposited the keys of their citadel in his hands, and honoured him with a golden crown and a statue of brass. | In his person Zeno was tall and slender; his aspect was severe, and his brow contracted. His constitution was feeble; but he preserved his health by great abstemiousness. The supplies of his table consisted of figs, bread, and honey; notwithstanding which, he was frequently honoured with the company of great men. It was a singular proof of, his moderation, mixed indeed with that high spirit of independence which afterwards distinguished his sect, that when Democharis, son of Laches, offered to procure him some gratuity from* Antigonus, he was so offended, that from that time he declined all intercourse with him. In public company, to avoid every appearance of an assuming temper, he commonly took the lowest place. Indeed, so great was his modesty, that he seldom chose to mingle with a crowd, or wished for the company of more than two or three friends at once. He paid more attention to neatness and decorum in external appearance, than the Cynic philosophers. In his dress indeed he was plain, and in all his expences frugal, which arose from a contempt of external magnificence. He showed as much respect to the poor as to the rich; and conversed freely with persons of the meanest occupations. He had only one servant, or, according to Seneca, none. Yet with all these virtues, several philosophers of great ability and eloquence employed their talents against him, and Arcesilaus and Carneades, the founders of the middle and new academy, were his professed opponents. Towards the latter end of his life he found another powerful adversary in Epicurus, whose temper and doctrines were alike inimical to the severe gravity and philosophical pride of the Stoic sect. Hence mutual invectives passed between the Stoics and other sects, to which little credit is due. At least it may be fairly presumed that Zeno, whose personal character was so exemplary, never countenanced gross immorality in his doctrine.

Zeno lived to the extreme age of ninety-eight, and at last, in consequence of an accident, voluntarily put an end to his life. As he was walking out of his school he fell down, and in the fall broke one of his fingers; upon which he was so affected with a consciousness of infirmity, that, striking the earth, he said, “Why am I thus importuned? I obey thy summons;” and immediately went home and strangled himself. He died in the first year of the hundred and twenty-ninth Olympiad, or B. C. 264. The | Athenians, at the request of Antigonus, erected a monument to his memory in the Ceramicum.

From the particulars which have been related concerning Zeno, it will not be difficult to perceive what kind of influence his circumstances and character must have had upon his philosophical system. If his doctrines be diligently compared with the history of his life, it will appear that he compiled, out of various contemporary tenets, an heterogeneous system, on the credit of which he assumed to himself the title of the founder of a new sect; and, indeed, when he resolved, for the sake of establishing a school, to desert the philosophy of Pythagoras and Plato, it became necessary, either to invent opinions entirely new, or to give an air of novelty to old systems by the introduction of new terms and definitions. Of these two undertakings Zeno prudently made choice of the easier. Cicero says, concerning Zeno, that he had little reason for deserting his masters, especially those of the Platonic school, and that he was not so much an inventor of new opinions, as of new terms. In morals, the principal difference between the Cynics and Stoics was, that the former disdained the cultivation of nature, the latter affected to rise above it. 1

1

Diog. Laertius. Brucker. Fenelon’s Lives of the Philosophers,