Zeno of Citium
Zeno of Citium was a Greek philosopher from Citium . Zeno was the founder of the Stoic
STOIC was a variant of Forth.It started out at the MIT and Harvard Biomedical Engineering Centre in Boston, and was written in the mid 1970s by Jonathan Sachs...

 school of philosophy, which he taught in Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 from about 300 BC. Based on the moral ideas of the Cynics, Stoicism laid great emphasis on goodness and peace of mind
Calmness is the mental state of being free from agitation, excitement, or disturbance. Calmness can most easily occur for the average person during a state of relaxation, but it can also be found during much more alert and aware states. Some people find that focusing the mind on something external,...

 gained from living a life of virtue
Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality subjectively deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being....

 in accordance with nature
Nature, in the broadest sense, is equivalent to the natural world, physical world, or material world. "Nature" refers to the phenomena of the physical world, and also to life in general...

. It proved very successful, and flourished as the dominant philosophy from the Hellenistic period
Hellenistic period
The Hellenistic period or Hellenistic era describes the time which followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. It was so named by the historian J. G. Droysen. During this time, Greek cultural influence and power was at its zenith in Europe and Asia...

 through to the Roman era.


Zeno was born c. 334 BC, in Citium in Cyprus
Cyprus , officially the Republic of Cyprus , is a Eurasian island country, member of the European Union, in the Eastern Mediterranean, east of Greece, south of Turkey, west of Syria and north of Egypt. It is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.The earliest known human activity on the...

. Most of the details known about his life come from the anecdotes preserved by Diogenes Laërtius
Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.-Life:Nothing is definitively known about his life...

 in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers
Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers
Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is a biography of the Greek philosophers by Diogenes Laërtius, written in Greek, perhaps in the first half of the third century AD.-Overview:...

. Diogenes relates a legend that Zeno was a merchant and that after surviving a shipwreck, Zeno wandered into a bookshop in Athens and was attracted to some writings about Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

. He asked the librarian how to find such a man. In response, the librarian pointed to Crates of Thebes
Crates of Thebes
Crates of Thebes, was a Cynic philosopher. Crates gave away his money to live a life of poverty on the streets of Athens. He married Hipparchia of Maroneia who lived in the same manner that he did. Respected by the people of Athens, he is remembered for being the teacher of Zeno of Citium, the...

, the most famous Cynic living at that time in Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....


Zeno is described as a haggard, tanned person, living a spare, ascetic life. This coincides with the influences of Cynic teaching, and was, at least in part, continued in his Stoic philosophy. In one incident during his tutelage with Crates, he was made to carry a pot of lentil
The lentil is an edible pulse. It is a bushy annual plant of the legume family, grown for its lens-shaped seeds...

 soup around the city. After Zeno began carrying the pot, Crates smashed it with his staff, splattering the lentil soup all over his surprised student. When Zeno began to run off in embarrassment, Crates chided, "Why run away, my little Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

n? Nothing terrible has befallen you!"

Apart from Crates, Zeno studied under the philosophers of the Megarian school, including Stilpo
Stilpo was a Greek philosopher of the Megarian school. He was a contemporary of Theophrastus, Diodorus Cronus, and Crates of Thebes. None of his writings survive, he was interested in logic and dialectic, and he argued that the universal is fundamentally separated from the individual and concrete...

, and the dialectic
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues...

ians Diodorus Cronus
Diodorus Cronus
Diodorus Cronus was a Greek philosopher and dialectician connected to the Megarian school. He was most notable for logic innovations, including his master argument fomulated in response to Aristotle's discussion of future contingents.-Life:...

, and Philo
Philo the Dialectician
Philo the Dialectician was a dialectic philosopher of the Megarian school. He is often called Philo of Megara although the city of his birth is unknown...

. He is also said to have studied Platonist philosophy under the direction of Xenocrates
Xenocrates of Chalcedon was a Greek philosopher, mathematician, and leader of the Platonic Academy from 339/8 to 314/3 BC. His teachings followed those of Plato, which he attempted to define more closely, often with mathematical elements...

, and Polemo
Polemon (scholarch)
Polemon of Athens was an eminent Platonist philosopher and Plato's third successor as scholarch or head of the Academy from 314/313 to 270/269 BC...


Zeno began teaching in the colonnade
Stoa in Ancient Greek architecture; covered walkways or porticos, commonly for public usage. Early stoae were open at the entrance with columns, usually of the Doric order, lining the side of the building; they created a safe, enveloping, protective atmosphere.Later examples were built as two...

 in the Agora of Athens
Ancient Agora of Athens
The Ancient Agora of Athens is the best-known example of an ancient Greek agora, located to the northwest of the Acropolis and is bounded on the south by the hill of the Areopagus and on the west by the hill known as the Colonus Agoraeus.-History:The agora in Athens had private housing, until it...

 known as the Stoa Poikile
Stoa Poikile
The Stoa Poikile or Painted Porch, originally called the Porch of Peisianax , was erected during the 5th century BC and was located on the north side of the Ancient Agora of Athens. The Stoa was the location from which Zeno of Citium taught Stoicism...

 in 301 BC. His disciples were initially called Zenonians, but eventually they came to be known as Stoics, a name previously applied to poets who congregated in the Stoa Poikile.

Among the admirers of Zeno was king Antigonus II Gonatas
Antigonus II Gonatas
Antigonus II Gonatas was a powerful ruler who firmly established the Antigonid dynasty in Macedonia and acquired fame for his victory over the Gauls who had invaded the Balkans.-Birth and family:...

 of Macedon
Macedonia or Macedon was an ancient kingdom, centered in the northeastern part of the Greek peninsula, bordered by Epirus to the west, Paeonia to the north, the region of Thrace to the east and Thessaly to the south....

ia, who, whenever he came to Athens, would visit Zeno. Zeno is said to have declined an invitation to visit Antigonus in Macedonia, although their supposed correspondence preserved by Laërtius is undoubtably the invention of a later rhetorician. Zeno instead sent his friend and disciple Persaeus
Persaeus , of Citium, son of Demetrius, was a Stoic philosopher, and a friend and favourite student of Zeno of Citium.He lived in the same house as Zeno...

, who had lived with Zeno in his house. Among Zeno's other pupils there were Aristo of Chios, Sphaerus
Sphaerus of Borysthenes or the Bosphorus, was a Stoic philosopher.He studied first under Zeno of Citium, and afterwards under Cleanthes. He taught in Sparta, where he acted as advisor to Cleomenes III. He moved to Alexandria at some point, where he lived in the court of Ptolemy IV Philopator...

, and Cleanthes
Cleanthes , of Assos, was a Greek Stoic philosopher and the successor to Zeno as the second head of the Stoic school in Athens. Originally a boxer, he came to Athens where he took up philosophy, listening to Zeno's lectures. He supported himself by working as water-carrier at night. After the...

 who succeeded Zeno as the head (scholarch
A scholarch is the head of a school. The term was especially used for the heads of schools of philosophy in ancient Athens, such as the Platonic Academy, whose first scholarch was Plato himself...

) of the Stoic school in Athens.

Zeno is said to have declined Athenian citizenship when it was offered to him, fearing that he would appear unfaithful to his native land Phoenicia
Phoenicia , was an ancient civilization in Canaan which covered most of the western, coastal part of the Fertile Crescent. Several major Phoenician cities were built on the coastline of the Mediterranean. It was an enterprising maritime trading culture that spread across the Mediterranean from 1550...

, where he was highly esteemed. We are also told that Zeno was of an earnest, if not gloomy disposition; that he preferred the company of the few to the many; that he was fond of burying himself in investigations; and that he had a dislike to verbose and elaborate speeches. Diogenes Laërtius has preserved many clever and witty remarks by Zeno, the veracity of which cannot be ascertained.

Zeno died around 262 BC. Laërtius reports about his death:
As he was leaving the school he tripped and fell, breaking his toe. Striking the ground with his fist, he quoted the line from the Niobe
Niobe was a daughter of Tantalus and of either Dione, the most frequently cited, or of Eurythemista or Euryanassa, and she was the sister of Pelops and Broteas, all of whom figure in Greek mythology....

"I come, I come, why dost thou call for me?"
and died on the spot through holding his breath.

During his lifetime, Zeno received appreciation for his philosophical and pedagogical teachings. Amongst other things, Zeno was honored with the golden crown, and a tomb was built in honor of his moral influence on the youth of his era.

The crater Zeno
Zeno (crater)
Zeno is a lunar impact crater located near the northwestern limb of the Moon. It lies to the east-southeast of the crater Mercurius. Farther to the east of Zeno, along the limb, is the well-formed crater Boss....

 on the Moon
The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite,There are a number of near-Earth asteroids including 3753 Cruithne that are co-orbital with Earth: their orbits bring them close to Earth for periods of time but then alter in the long term . These are quasi-satellites and not true moons. For more...

 is named in his honor.


Following the ideas of the Academics
Platonic Academy
The Academy was founded by Plato in ca. 387 BC in Athens. Aristotle studied there for twenty years before founding his own school, the Lyceum. The Academy persisted throughout the Hellenistic period as a skeptical school, until coming to an end after the death of Philo of Larissa in 83 BC...

, Zeno divided philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 into three parts: Logic
In philosophy, Logic is the formal systematic study of the principles of valid inference and correct reasoning. Logic is used in most intellectual activities, but is studied primarily in the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, semantics, and computer science...

 (a very wide subject including rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

, grammar
In linguistics, grammar is the set of structural rules that govern the composition of clauses, phrases, and words in any given natural language. The term refers also to the study of such rules, and this field includes morphology, syntax, and phonology, often complemented by phonetics, semantics,...

, and the theories of perception
Perception is the process of attaining awareness or understanding of the environment by organizing and interpreting sensory information. All perception involves signals in the nervous system, which in turn result from physical stimulation of the sense organs...

 and thought
"Thought" generally refers to any mental or intellectual activity involving an individual's subjective consciousness. It can refer either to the act of thinking or the resulting ideas or arrangements of ideas. Similar concepts include cognition, sentience, consciousness, and imagination...

); Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 (not just science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

, but the divine
Divinity and divine are broadly applied but loosely defined terms, used variously within different faiths and belief systems — and even by different individuals within a given faith — to refer to some transcendent or transcendental power or deity, or its attributes or manifestations in...

 nature of the universe as well); and Ethics
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

, the end goal of which was to achieve happiness through the right way of living according to Nature. Because Zeno's ideas were built upon by Chrysippus
Chrysippus of Soli was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was a native of Soli, Cilicia, but moved to Athens as a young man, where he became a pupil of Cleanthes in the Stoic school. When Cleanthes died, around 230 BC, Chrysippus became the third head of the school...

 and other Stoics, it can be difficult to determine, in some areas, precisely what he thought, but his general views can be outlined:


In his treatment of Logic, Zeno was influenced by Stilpo
Stilpo was a Greek philosopher of the Megarian school. He was a contemporary of Theophrastus, Diodorus Cronus, and Crates of Thebes. None of his writings survive, he was interested in logic and dialectic, and he argued that the universal is fundamentally separated from the individual and concrete...

 and the other Megarians
Megarian school of philosophy
The Megarian school of philosophy , which flourished in the 4th century BC, was founded by Euclid of Megara, one of the pupils of Socrates. Its ethical teachings were derived from Socrates, recognizing a single good, which was apparently combined with the Eleatic doctrine of Unity...

. Zeno urged the need to lay down a basis for Logic because the wise person must know how to avoid deception. Cicero
Marcus Tullius Cicero , was a Roman philosopher, statesman, lawyer, political theorist, and Roman constitutionalist. He came from a wealthy municipal family of the equestrian order, and is widely considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists.He introduced the Romans to the chief...

 accused Zeno of being inferior to his philosophical predecessors in his treatment of Logic, and it seems true that a more exact treatment of the subject was laid down by his successors, including Chrysippus
Chrysippus of Soli was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was a native of Soli, Cilicia, but moved to Athens as a young man, where he became a pupil of Cleanthes in the Stoic school. When Cleanthes died, around 230 BC, Chrysippus became the third head of the school...

. Zeno divided true conceptions into the comprehensible and the incomprehensible, permitting for free-will the power of assent (sunkatathesis) in distinguishing between sense impressions. Zeno said that there were four stages in the process leading to true knowledge
Knowledge is a familiarity with someone or something unknown, which can include information, facts, descriptions, or skills acquired through experience or education. It can refer to the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject...

, which he illustrated with the example of the flat, extended hand, and the gradual closing of the fist:
Zeno stretched out his fingers, and showed the palm of his hand, - "Perception," - he said, - "is a thing like this."-
Then, when he had closed his fingers a little, - "Assent is like this." - Afterwards, when he had completely closed his hand, and showed his fist, that, he said, was Comprehension. From which simile he also gave that state a new name, calling it katalepsis
Katalepsis in Stoic philosophy, meant comprehension. It is a term that originally refers to the Stoic philosophers and was to them, a landmark ideological premise regarding one's state of mind as it relates to grasping fundamental philosophical concepts....

. But when he brought his left hand against his right, and with it took a firm and tight hold of his fist: - "Knowledge" - he said, was of that character; and that was what none but a wise person possessed.


The Universe
The Universe is commonly defined as the totality of everything that exists, including all matter and energy, the planets, stars, galaxies, and the contents of intergalactic space. Definitions and usage vary and similar terms include the cosmos, the world and nature...

, in Zeno's view, is God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

: a divine reasoning entity, where all the parts belong to the whole. Into this pantheistic system he incorporated the physics of Heraclitus
Heraclitus of Ephesus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of the Greek city Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor. He was of distinguished parentage. Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom...

; the Universe contains a divine artisan-fire, which foresees everything, and extending throughout the Universe, must produce everything:
Zeno, then, defines nature by saying that it is artistically working fire, which advances by fixed methods to creation. For he maintains that it is the main function of art to create and produce, and that what the hand accomplishes in the productions of the arts we employ, is accomplished much more artistically by nature, that is, as I said, by artistically working fire, which is the master of the other arts.

This divine fire, or aether, is the basis for all activity in the Universe, operating on otherwise passive matter, which neither increases nor diminishes itself. The primary substance in the Universe comes from fire, passes through the stage of air, and then becomes water: the thicker portion becoming earth, and the thinner portion becoming air again, and then rarefying back into fire. Individual souls are part of the same fire as the world-soul of the Universe. Following Heraclitus, Zeno adopted the view that the Universe underwent regular cycles of formation and destruction.

The Nature of the Universe is such that it accomplishes what is right and prevents the opposite, and is identified with unconditional Fate
Destiny or fate refers to a predetermined course of events. It may be conceived as a predetermined future, whether in general or of an individual...

, while allowing it the free-will attributed to it.


Like the Cynics, Zeno recognised a single, sole and simple good, which is the only goal to strive for. "Happiness is a good flow of life," said Zeno, and this can only be achieved through the use of right Reason coinciding with the Universal Reason (Logos
' is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word," "speech," "account," "reason," it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus ' is an important term in...

), which governs everything. A bad feeling (pathos) "is a disturbance of the mind repugnant to Reason, and against Nature." This consistency of soul, out of which morally good actions spring, is Virtue
Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality subjectively deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being....

, true good can only consist in Virtue.

Zeno deviated from the Cynics in saying that things that are morally indifferent could nevertheless have value. Things have a relative value in proportion to how they aid the natural instinct for self-preservation. That which is to be preferred is a "fitting action" (kathêkon
Kathekon is a Greek concept, forged by the founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium. It may be translated as "appropriate behaviour", "befitting actions," or "convenient action for nature", or also "proper function." Kathekon has been translated in Latin by Cicero as officium, and by Seneca as...

), a designation Zeno first introduced. Self-preservation, and the things that contribute towards it, has only a conditional value; it does not aid happiness, which depends only on moral actions.

Just as Virtue can only exist within the dominion of Reason, so Vice
Evil is the violation of, or intent to violate, some moral code. Evil is usually seen as the dualistic opposite of good. Definitions of evil vary along with analysis of its root motive causes, however general actions commonly considered evil include: conscious and deliberate wrongdoing,...

 can only exist with the rejection of Reason. Virtue is absolutely opposed to Vice, the two cannot exist in the same thing together, and cannot be increased or decreased; no one moral action is more virtuous than another. All actions are either good or bad, since impulses and desires rest upon free consent, and hence even passive mental states or emotions that are not guided by reason are immoral, and produce immoral actions. Zeno distinguished four negative emotions: desire, fear, pleasure and pain (epithumia, phobos, hêdonê, lupê), and he was probably responsible for distinguishing the three corresponding positive emotions: will, caution, and joy (boulêsis, eulabeia, chara), with no corresponding rational equivalent for pain. All errors must be rooted out, not merely set aside, and replaced with right Reason.


None of Zeno's writings have survived except as fragmentary quotations preserved by later writers. The titles of many of Zeno's writings are known; they are known to have been these:
  • Ethical writings:
    • Πολιτεία - Republic
    • ἠθικά - Ethics
    • περὶ τοῦ κατὰ φύσιν βίου - On Life according to Nature
    • περὶ ὁρμῆς ἧ περὶ ἁνθρώρου φύσεως - On Impulse, or on the Nature of Humans
    • περὶ παθῶν - On Passions
    • περὶ τοῦ καθήκοντος - On Duty
    • περὶ νόμου - On Law
    • περὶ Έλληνικῆς παιδείας - On Greek Education
    • ἐρωτικὴ τέχνη - The Art of Love
  • Physical writings:
    • περὶ τοῦ ὅλου - On the Universe
    • περὶ οὐσίας - On Being
    • περὶ σημείων - On Signs
    • περὶ ὄψεως - On Sight
    • περὶ τοῦ λόγου - On the Logos
  • Logical writings:
    • διατριϐαί - Discourses
    • περὶ λεξεως - On Verbal Style
    • λύσεις, ἔλεγχοι - Solutions and Refutations
  • Other works:
    • περὶ ποιητικῆς ἀκροάσεως - On Poetical Readings
    • προϐλημάτων Όμηρικῶη πέντε - Homeric Problems
    • καθολικά - General Things
    • Άπομνημονεύματα Κράτητος - Reminiscences of Crates
    • Πυθαγορικά - Pythagorean Doctrines

The most famous of these works was Zeno's Republic
The Republic (Zeno)
The Republic of Zeno was a work written by Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoic philosophy at the beginning of the 3rd century BCE. Although it has not survived, it was his most famous work, and various quotes and paraphrases were preserved by later writers...

, a work written in conscious imitation of (or opposition to) Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

. Although it has not survived, more is known about it than any of his other works. It outlined Zeno's vision of the ideal Stoic society built on egalitarian principles.

Further reading

  • A History of Ancient Philosophy: The systems of the Hellenistic Age by Giovanni Reale, (translated by John R. Catan Zeno, the foundation of the Stoa, and the different fases of the Stoicism)
  • Pearson, A., Fragments of Zeno and Cleanthes, (1891). Greek/Latin fragments with English commentary.
  • Long, A., Sedley, D., (1987), The Hellenistic Philosophers, Volume 1. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-27556-3
  • Schofield, M., (1991), The Stoic Idea of the City. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-39740-8
  • Hunt, H., (1976), A physical interpretation of the universe: The doctrines of Zeno the Stoic. Melbourne University Press. ISBN 0-522-84100-7
  • Scaltsas T, and Mason A. S. (eds.), The philosophy of Zeno. Larnaca: The Municipality of Larnaca, 2002. ISBN 9-963-60323-8

External links

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