16. The Eclipse of Ancient Greek Materialism: Scepticism, Stoicism
Sufferings are lessons.
Veni Creator Spiritus.
Urbi et orbi. Fiat experimentum in
(To the city and the universe, to everyone!
Let experiment be made on a worthless body.)
Stoicism – Ruling Class Ideology
In a previous chapter, we had already introduced Stoicism. We will now continue to elaborate its historical process, as an offshoot of Cynicism. Essentially, it had much in common with its canine matrix, but it also had Promethean-Heracleitean fiery roots. We will expound the praxico-theoretical existence of this philosophic school which, for centuries, had coexisted with Platonism, Aristotelianism and Epicureanism, but also with Plotinism and Neo-Platonism.
In this Chapter, we will concentrate on Early and Middle Stoicism, on its ethical and religious periods, including its eclecticism and syncretism. But, we will also illuminate Plotinism, Neo-Aristotelianism and Neo-Platonism. With this chapter, we will conclude this book of ancient Graeco-Roman idealism, and end with a brief, general, synoptic conclusion.
As far as its radical origin was concerned, Stoicism was contemporaneous with Epicureanism. In reality, it was a synthesis of Heracleitean Hylozoism and Cynicism, but in its evolutionary process it very soon lost its panvitalistic and panpsychic philosophic antecedents. This simply means that it had discarded its materialist negation, and thus degenerated into a religious-idealist affirmation within Graeco-Roman philosophy, in fact, into feudalist ideology. We can distinguish three main periods of Stoicism:
a) The Early Stoics (mainly ethical, and still materialist) - Zeno of Citium, Cleanthes of Assos, Chrysippus of Seloi or Tarsus, Ariston of Chios, Diogenes of Babylonia, Apollodorus of Athens, Aristarchus of Samos and Eratosthenes of Cyrene;
b) The Middle Stoics (mainly eclectic and syncretistic) - mainly Panaetius of Rhodes and Posidonius of Syria;
c) The Late Stoics (mainly religious) - L. Annaeus Seneca of Corduba, L. Annaeus Cornutus (or Phurnutus), Persius, C. Musinius Rufus, Epitectus and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (known as Marc Aurel).
Now, let us begin to elucidate the essence of Early Stoicism around 320 - 210 B.C. as expounded by its main proponents. It is apposite to note that Stoicism, in comparison to its contemporary schools of philosophy, that is, to Aristotelianism, Platonism and Epicureanism, was the least Greek - most of the early Stoics were Syrians, and the later ones were Romans. Furthermore, Stoicism had appealed to nearly all the ancient Graeco-Roman rulers who had succeeded Alexander the Great. Consequently, contrary to Cynicism, it was essentially a ruling class ideology.
Early Stoicism: From Heracleitean Hylozoism to Sceptic Platonism
Zeno of Citium (on Cyprus) was a Phoenician, and he lived from 332 - 262 B. C. Since 312 B. C., as pupil of the eminent Cynic, Crates, he spent his early life in Athens. Probably, because his family was engaged in commerce, it was business interests which had guided him to Greece. Originally, in his philosophic studies, Cynicism appealed to him, but later he turned to eclecticism, to such a degree that the Platonists openly accused him of plagiarism.
Notwithstanding, as we will note, Zeno was the most hylozoistic materialist Stoic in the history of this specific philosophic movement, and he certainly merits philosophic attention and praxico-theoretical critique.
In a previous chapter, we have explained the relation of the Heracleitean lógos to objective Truth and Práxis-Theory. The philosophic point of departure of Zeno’s Stoicism was precisely the Heracleitean world lógos, the anima mundi, which regulated the Pythagorean Cosmic Order and Justice. Zeno, however, transformed this fiery lógos and attributed to it the connotation of a deterministic cosmic nomos. Logically, this resulted in the resurrection of Cynic fatalism, and in the creation of a Stoic version of Cynicism.
Moreover, he made emphatic the Cynic belief in the existence of objective reality, and categorically stated that the world is real, solid and material: „I mean that this table is a solid matter“. In fact, he became more „Cynical“ then the Cynics themselves, he maintained that even Socrates’ arete and Heracleitus’ Cosmic Justice were „quite solid“. However, according to him, Anánke regulated and guided everything, hence, his cosmic determinism left nothing to Tyche, to Chance. Ontologically, he accepted the Heracleitean pýr as the principle of Everything, even of human virtue and action.
Cosmologically, he concluded that the other three elements of Greek philosophy-chemistry - air, water and earth - had eventually emerged from the archaic principle, Fire. In this respect, he adopted the Heracleitean ekpyrosis - apokatastasis (Evolution-Involution); he argued that, due to eventual cosmic conflagration, in accordance with heimarmeme, everything has to return to archaic Fire.
However, he had considered the evolutionary-involutionary process to be an eternal cycle, a repetition of the same cosmos ad infinitum; consequently, nothing really new was happening under the sun. In spite of the fragmentary information which we possess about the Heracleitean panta rhei and the evolutionary-involutionary process, logically, dialogically, we could conclude that not only was the Sun „new“ every day, but this New was continuing even when there did not exist any „sun“ or „day“ anymore, that is, it was surpassing into material transvolution.
Thus, the differentia specifica between the cosmology of Heracleitus and that of Zeno of Citium was that the former implicitly assumed a spiral genesis-palingenesis, and that the latter explicitly postulated an eternal cycling or recycling of the world and its processes.
Furthermore, in the naturalist, hylozoistic tradition, the Stoic lógos, as elucidated by Zeno, did not exist apart from the lonesome, lonely universe, it was an intrinsic material part of Material Being, it was the pneuma or nous of the Cosmos. Later Plotinism and Neo-Platonism would convert this material lógos into a Divine Supreme Being or divine emanation of Original Light. The human anima was considered to be part and parcel of this Stoic world lógos.
Concerning individual essence and existence, at birth, the individual human soul emerged as a tabula rasa - contrary to the Socratic-Platonic soul -, as a clean, unwritten tablet. In a Democritean sense, external objects imprinted conceptions into the human soul. Memory was explained as the material process of earlier conceptual imprints which were transformed into generalizations, judgements and conclusions, and which could be reproduced when necessary.
Also, for the early Stoics, Truth became a conception which „comprehends“ its object. Truth was not ideology, lies, it understood the world, world events. It feared nothing, it had nothing to hide. Moreover, in contradistinction to, not in contradiction to, Platonic-Aristotelian dualism, early Stoic philosophy propagated pantheism and natural, perceptive antagonisms such as sensuousness and suprasensuousness; anánke and teleological lógos, hýle and morphé. Of course, such philosophic, universal, dialectical contradictions, more precisely, such dialogical diagories, we have already encountered in the Aristotelian doctrine of Substance and Form.
The Middle and Late Stoics simply equated inconvenient contradictory elements, for example, Substance and Form, Essence and Appearance; for them, all these were not contradictions; in the final analysis, they were one and the same thing. Anánke simply became Fatum, and Human Praxis-Theory experienced a philosophic metastasis, it was converted into Cynic fatalism.
But, let us examine much closer what Zeno understood by Philosophy, by the Eros of and for Sophia, Wisdom. He divided the latter into Ethics, Logics and Physics, hence, he followed the Platonic-Aristotelian trinity; of course, beyond doubt, at the apex of Early Stoic Philosophy we encounter Ethics; like Epicurus, he declared eudaimonia to be the ultimate goal of human endeavour.
But, as we have alluded already, contrary to the Cynics and to the Epicureans, under Promethean-Heracleitean influence, Zeno taught that arete was material, hence, was directly related to earthly Human Práxis-Theory; however, that, according to our assessment, Labour progressively had converted the latter into feudalist, capitalist Practice-Ideology, that is another topic.
Consequently, Zeno, the father of Stoicism, surely did not teach counter-praxico-theoretical fatalism and pessimism. As noted above, Arete was related, was linked to human thought and action, directly to Práxis, was an active, healthy, sane interchange between Nature and Society. Furthermore, it follows logically, that because the human soul was part of the world lógos, hence, human endeavours had to be placed in the service of real, true humanity and the Cosmos.
However, in this sense, and on a higher dialectical spiral plane, Zeno again adopted the Cynic „Back to Nature“ philosophic principle. Within this context, the humanism of Zeno tried to encompass all ancient Mediterranean peoples, Hellenes, barbarians and slaves; thus, this humanistic element within Zenoism formed part of the quasi-materialist Negation itself within early Stoic ideology. Nonetheless, eventually the degeneration of early Stoicism produced cosmopolitanism that later favoured Roman „imperialism“, and progressively, in its late religious form, it decayed as a religious Philosophy of State, it became a mental holocaust, an abominable Inquisition, Roman Catholicism, the cruel, inhuman superstructure of obscure absolutism, the eerie spectre of obscurantist European feudalism.
Certainly, Christianity and Roman Catholicism had other historical roots, for example, in the Messianic Principle, in Jewish religious doctrines, but their philosopico-theological contents can directly be traced and seen in the superstructure of the progressive unfolding of primitive capitalism in slavocracy and feudalism, in Platonism, Stoicism and Plotinism.
Because only a few fragments of Zeno’s life work are extant, it is very difficult to reconstruct his philosophic principles. Nevertheless, from what we know about him, we could conclude that he was a staunch hylozoist. Ex quocunque capite, it becomes very evident that he had considered the lógos as Supreme Being to be a material corporeal substance, to be the Promethean-Luciferean fiery Mind of, and not over, or above the Cosmos.
Of course, we should not forget that in the final analysis, Zeno, like everybody else, postulated a single, universal principle, with all its logical implications and complications: a Universal One, Matter = Spirit, or, which is the same thing, Spirit = Matter. Not a single ruling class philosopher, across the millennia, ever even considered more than one postulate; all their archaí are universals, no matter what they called them.
And, this unilateral, uni-cameral, monolithic -- intensively productive, extensively static -- ruling class "thinking" and "thought", formed the essential conditio sine qua non for the labour process, for capital accumulation, for capitalist wealth and power, for economic exploitation, political domination, social discrimination, "shock and awe" militarization and total human alienation. Currently, across a transhistoric view, we could see that all these brought the very human species to the brink of total annihilation. If this universal, archaic problem can not be solved, be resolved, well, then homo sapiens sapiens would have to bid farewell to sapientia, to Planet Earth, to Universal Life.
Even R. Septimus Floren Tertullianus (160 - 220 A. D.) - one of the „Church Fathers“ - had to remark that Zeno had taught that the lógos runs through the material universe „as honey runs through the honey comb“. Roman Catholics should not forget that it was Tertullianus who had converted the Heracleitean-Zenoean lógos into the Christian God, into the Holy Trinity. This is another example how Gods are being produced by ruling class man, created for exploitative purposes, and not vice versa; it follows that in Early Stoicism, Destiny, Zeus, lógos and Mind all had the same connotation; furthermore, the Force which moved Matter, that is, the Anaxagorean nous, was Destiny - of which Providence and Nature were just synonyms.
Let us now proceed to the immediate successor of Zeno, Cleanthes of Assos (born around 330 B.C.). As had been the case with his predecessor, the doctrines of Cleanthes had much in common with Cynicism. Thus, it is not necessary to elaborate his teachings, which had paved the road for the consolidation of Stoicism as an independent philosophic current. Apart from the fact that Cleanthes had supported the idea that Aristarchus of Samos should be prosecuted for impiety because he had expounded heliocentrism, his Hymn to Zeus became very famous. To indicate the germinating Christian elements in his philosophy, here we will just cite his short prayer:
„Lead me, O Zeus, and thou O Destiny, lead thou me on. To whatsoever task thou sendest me. Lead thou me on. I follow fearless, or, if in mistrust I lag and will not follow, still I must.“ (See: Russell, op. cit., p. 264.)
Into the universal conflagration of Heracleitus and Zeno, he introduced Zeus, and claimed that human souls live until the next ekpyrosis, when they are absorbed totally into Zeus, into God. Even wicked souls, demons, perforce obey the Divine Nomos, they are „like a dog tied to a cart, and compelled to go wherever it goes“ (Cleanthes).
It was Chrysippus of Soloi (or Tarsus), who had lived around 280 B.C., who had given Stoicism a philosophic-scientific basis, and had converted it into a specific ruling class ideological tendency. Probably it is true what Diogenes Laertius had stated concerning his prominence: „if Chrysippus had not been born, Stoicism would not have come into existence.“ Of course, Stoicism was a historical process, and it was not dependent only on its major philosopher.
Although it seems an exaggeration, experts claim that he had written voluminously - some 705 works. He is also supposed to have been a master dialectician, who had used the Socratic dialectical method extravagantly in his writings. Unfortunately, we cannot verify the above assertions, because very little of this mammoth life work has been preserved.
Like Zeno, but more like Cleanthes, he converted the Olympic Zeus into the Supreme Fire, into the only immortal Being. In fact he turned Heracleitean philosophy „upside-down“, in other words, he gave it an idealist core. Although he agreed with Heracleitus that the „opposites are good for us“, that „good“ without „evil“ is logically impossible, for ethical reasons, he had to rely on Plato for scientific verification of his fundamental principles. All this, in spite of the fact that Aristotle had already stated that the Truth was dearer and nearer to him than Plato.
Thus, through the „idealist“ back-door, via Cleanthes, Platonism had entered Stoicism, and it generated the specific eclectic, syncretistic and religious elements which were characteristic of Middle and Late Stoicism. In reality, later it became very difficult to distinguish between Platonism, Stoicism and Scepticism.
With Chrysippus, in spite of his quantitative contribution, we are entering an epoch which was qualitatively barren of true, original and new philosophic thought. Chrysippus himself was vacillating between Heracleitus, Plato and Aristotle. However, he disagreed with Cleanthes concerning the immortality of all human souls, he claimed that only „wise“ souls could achieve such profanity. He virtually even adopted some Leucippean-Democritean doctrines, and systematically wove the atomistic, deterministic Anánke into Stoic doctrines.
In other philosophic matters, he approximated the Aristotelian „Right“, and ingeniously metamorphized Aristotelian teleology into ruling class utility, into that which was „useful“ for humanity. In this respect, he completely contradicted Epicurean ethical, praxico-theoretical principles. According to him, in application of the Democritean Anánke, Man should follow blindly his inexorable Fate, without any hope whatsoever of ever utilizing his Epicurean arbitrium liberum, of ever reaching Human Emancipation.
Scepticism - Ideology of the Ignorant and Lazy
His successors, the Middle Stoics, mainly Panaetius and Posidonius, would modify his teachings, would abandon the materialist Negation in Stoicism, that is, Heracleitean hylozoism, and would move more closer to the real Affirmation in ancient Graeco-Roman Philosophy, that is, towards Neo-Platonism and Plotinism, the Aristotelian „Right“.
However, let us first elaborate an important philosophic - or rather unphilosophic - trend within ancient Greek idealism, which had penetrated Cynicism, Stoicism, Neo-Platonism and Neo-Aristotelianism. After the death of Alexander the Great, a prominent anti-praxico-theoretical tendency, Scepticism, had been engendered, which was even more lethal than Cynicism itself. Already Horace, who hated the common folk, the faex populi, had illustrated this carpe diem philosophy very poignantly (See: Horace, Odes, I. 11, 8.).
It seemed that after the victories of Alexander the Great, and faced by the threat of Roman invasion, nothing „great“ could occur anymore in Hellas, thus, ruling class men began to enjoy the present moment, to take life easy, not to bother about tomorrow. In other words, Man adopted a modus vivendi like „the birds of the air“, because after all „Zeus“ would feed them, especially in the Hereafter.
As we have noted in a previous chapter, Scepticism had a long history in Ancient Greece. Parmenides and Plato had doubted the cognostic or even gnostic values of sense-perception; Protagoras and Gorgias had utilized scepticism to develop dogmatism, subjectivism and nihilism. However, the scientific father of dogmatic doubt, of Scepticism, was Pyrrho of Elis (365 - 275 B. C.). It was he, leaning very heavily on the „pre-Socratic“ so-called nihilist, Gorgias, who had systematized the doctrine that nobody knows anything, that nobody will ever be able to cognosce anything whatsoever, and, even if someone by accident did cognosce reality, s(he) still would not even know this. Scepticism within Stoicism "negated" the ancient ‘‘wise“ tradition of gnothi seautón to which even the God Apollo had paid reverence. It even "negated" Platonic Praxis-Theory (as elaborated before) and reduced the Middle Academy to Doric plateasms and Stoic platitudes. Very wisely, Pyrrho had written nothing. What we know about his teachings, we derive from the writings of his devoted disciple, the sillographer, Timon of Phlius (320-230 B. C.).
From Timon, we gather that the essence of Stoic Scepticism, of Pyrrhonism, was the achievement of individual ataraxy; thus, once more, Platonic meditative-contemplative divine bliss was the hen kai pan of human existence. But, Plato, as we have observed, was a wise objective idealist; and thus, even contrary to Zeno, Pyrrho had denied the existence of objective reality. As such, Pyrrho became more idealist than the fathers of idealism themselves. The logical conclusion of Scepticism was, that to lead a theorico-practical life was simply a useless and senseless goal. Hence, to a certain extent, it approximated Cynicism and even Epicureanism.
Inspired by Aristotelian logics, Timon had converted the basic Pyrrhonic sceptic principles into deductive logical arguments which necessitated self-evident general principles. Again, very wisely, he denied the possibility of ever finding such fundamental logical principles. Of significance for us to note is that this Timonean Sceptical attack practically had uprooted the totality of the idealist-religious argumentations of the Aristotelian „Right“, even those of Catholic Theosophy in the Middle Ages. The major works of Timon are lost, only two fragments survived; and the latter have a remarkable resemblance with the philosophic doctrines of David Hume. After Timon’s death, the Sceptic School of Pyrrho came to an end, but Scepticism continued to flourish in Stoicism and Neo-Platonism.
Middle Stoicism: Panaetius and Posidonius
Panaetius (180-110 B. C.) of Rhodos was a very close friend of the Roman Emperor Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus Aemilianus minor (185-129 B. C.). Also, he had practised considerable influence on Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 - 43 B. C.). It was Panaetius who had introduced Stoicism to the urbs aeterna, to Rome. We will note how Roman Catholicism was progressively taking shape, without any divine intervention or revelations; the truth was simply that absolutist feudalism needed an approriate superstucture, and Stoicism was the master-key of that what would be sold, indoctrinated and inculcated into the minds of hundreds of millions all over the world, including those in Latin America, until this very day.
We would also recall that it was during Panaetius' lifetime that the Roman invasions of Hellas set in, and these conquests had generated volatile class activities, but also severe philosophical struggles, especially between materialists and idealists. Eo ipso, practically all the idealist religious philosophical schools took up arms against materialism, against atomism, especially against its Democritean and Epicurean expressions. Later, "Catholic Philosophy" would attack all forms of natural science, of human praxis. In fact, philosophic eclecticism and syncretism reflected the combined onslaught of Neo-Platonic and Plotinian idealism against clandestine materialism.
The main representatives of Middle Stoicism, Panaetius and Posidonius, had assimilated basic Platonic, Aristotelian philosophic elements, and could therefore elevate Middle and Late Stoicism as an acceptable, superstructural weltanschauung, as a respectful religious ideology, known as Roman Catholicism, for the Roman noblesse.
As had been the case with Pyrrho, it was the devoted pupil of Panaetius, Mucius Scaevola, who revealed the religious essence of the teachings of his tutor. According to Scaevola, it is pertinent to nurture the magical, superstitious and religious beliefs of the popular masses. Here we could see the social functions of religion and ideology, of mind and thought control; in Europe, as from then onwards, till today, the global, mental holocaust -- of bamboozling and manipulating billions of serfs and wage-slaves -- was being launched. The noble masters argued that the slaves' „natural“, instinctive, intellectual efforts should not be blemished with complex, philosophic, scientific theories. In a nutshell, for the ruling classes, it was and is still socially useful when the faex populi permanently languishes in ignorance. And, of course, ideology, lies, had to acquire a religious camouflaging shell.
Concerning the gods, Panaetius differentiated three distinct types of theological doctrines:
a) the teachings of the poets (commencing with Homer);
b) the doctrines of philosophers;
c) the tenets of State religion.
Obviously, for him, the first category was completely absurd and very dangerous to social morality; it contained neither veracity nor utility. Furthermore, he argued that philosophic-physical theories did contain some grains of truth but they were basically superfluous, because they were filled with necessary hazards for the common plebs. However, State religious cults and divination everybody should practise, and everyone should recognize State religious teachings, beliefs and „truths“.
Nonetheless, contrary to both Cleanthes and Chrysippus, Panaetius denied that the human soul would survive after earthly death. As we would note just now, the Late Stoics corrected this religious, ideological flaw. In this sense, Panaetius still reflected weak, hylozoistic, materialist elements; that is, he still was approximating Epicureanism. For this very reason, as far as Zeus and any Supreme Being were concerned, he opted for Stoic pantheism and even for ancient polytheism.
Posidonius (135 - 51 B.C.) was a Syrian Greek, born in Apameia. Like Aristotle, Democritus and Theophrastus, he belonged to the few ancient Greek universal thinkers. By profession he was a historian, natural scientist and philosopher. As was the case of most Stoics of the Early and Middle periods, of his voluminous work, only a few fragments survived. As historian, he continued the invaluable research work of Polybius (201-120 B.C.), who had compiled a World History, which comprized 40 volumes. To continue the tradition, Posidonius simply added 52 volumes more.
In the realm of philosophy, more precisely of theosophy, across the following millennium and a half, in the formation of the Church-State, of its absolutist superstructure -- which was mainly composed of Roman Catholicism, also euphemistically called Catholic Philosophy -- it was Posidonius who had enabled mysticism and extreme mantike (divination) to enter the Stoic teachings of his tutor, Panaetius. Because of this Stoic transformation, it was possible to exercise remarkable influence on Cicero, and on the Late Stoics, Seneca, Marc Aurel and Epitectus.
Also, it is very important to note that during the Sceptical period of Plato’s Academy, Stoicism had abandoned many basic Platonic doctrines. It was the eclectic and syncretist philosopher Posidonius, who had saved the philosophic essence of true Platonism, by assimilating its fundamental theories into Middle Stoicism. Concerning the psyché or pneuma, by contradicting Panaetius, he again postulated that after death, the human soul continues to live. In this way, the soul, the First Death and the Second Death were again rescued for the coming religious terrorism of the Dominican Order and the Inquisition.
However, it is significant to notice precisely where this "soul" supposedly would be surviving after death: just imagine, in a very natural condition indeed, in the ancient Milesian hylozoistic aer, in the life-breath of Anaximenes and Diogenes. Thus, somewhere in the air, singing "Love Is In The Air", the soul continues to live until the next cosmic conflagration. Already coining the Roman Catholic Purgatory, because he did not believe in Hell, he had a special type of Purgatory for „wicked souls“, where „muddy“ animae were being castigated until they were purified.
And, even in this case, he still gave a natural explanation of purgatory: because of their „muddy“ weight, preventing them to float on high, such unfortunate human souls, like the toiling slaves and serfs, continued to live in the lower regions of the atmosphere, near to the earth; consequently, adopting the Socratic-Platonic principle of metempsychosis , but also considering Aristotle's category of dynamei on, he claimed that they had the possibility of further reincarnations.
Of course, the souls of the masters, of the nobility and clergy, the light and virtuous souls continued to rise in the early morning fresh air, and per aspera ad astra, they could "help the poor", could accelerate their own flight by means of caritas, could assist weaker and wicked souls in the process of purification. Also here we note the origin of Christian charity and conversion. Also, in reality, we could detect here already the divine embryonic forms of the Catholic saints.
As such Posidonius attempted to verify "philosophically" the hocus-pocus of ancient divination, astrology and horoscopy. Evidently, all these certainly suited Roman „imperialism“ and class rule, but especially the coming Inquisition and the burning stake. Hence, by reviving old Bacchic-Pythagorean, Socratic-Platonic idealist-religious beliefs, Posidonius had blazed the trail for Gnosticism, Roman Catholicism, Neo-Platonism and Plotinism. In this respect, he gave the Aristotelian „Right“ the necessary philosophic impetus to slander all materialist doctrines and to suffocate any revolutionary-emancipatory effort in embryo. At the same time, he deleted all the Luciferean-Cytherean Fire from Human Praxis-Theory, and trans-formed, "in-formed" it as divine Information, as religious Practice-Ideology.
To achieve the above, Posidonius had to attack his very mater, the scientific-naturalist matrix of Stoicism. He did not only deny the principles of Zenonism, but he fiercely attacked the elements of the Aristotelian „Left“, the theories of Theophrastus and Straton, which had lingered on in Early Stoicism.
He chose Aristarchus of Samoa, one of the most transhistoric philosophers, as the object of his religious anger. We would recall that centuries before, it was Aristarchus who had anticipated the heliocentric system, the Copernican theory, and which had completely contradicted Judean-Christian cosmological and cosmogonic views. Furthermore, as indicated before, the Stoic, Cleanthes of Assos, had appealed to the ruling authorities that Aristarchus should be persecuted for asebeia. A posteriori, Posidonius supported Cleanthes in his anti-praxico-theoretical efforts, and he emphasized that such ideas were immanently dangerous to Stoic religious doctrines, that is, to the coming Church-State.
As time passed by, especially in the century after the birth of Jesus Christ, Middle Stoicism progressively degenerated, by losing all its negating hylozoistic elements, and it was converted into reactionary idealist-religious Roman ideology, into the arch-enemy of Epicureanism. Now we could understand why the Stoics had attacked Epicurus so vehemently, and why they had converted him into an „Epicurean“ hedonistic monster. On the other hand, Middle Stoicism very accurately reflected the demoralization and decomposition of the Graeco-Roman ruling classes of that epoch, and also the emergence of absolutist feudalism.
Platonism After Plato’s Death
A General Resume
Now we will continue to synthesize Post-Platonism and Post-Aristotelianism, especially in their Plotinian and Stratonian philosophic versions. As we have noted already, Plato headed the Akademeia until his death in 347 B.C. He was succeeded by Speusippus, to the consternation of Aristotle, and, in 339 B.C., Xenocrates displaced Plato’s family heir. The latter mainly headed the ethical period of the Academy, which was terminated around 268 B.C., under the direction of Crates, when an epistemological Scepticism was already invading the Academy. The Middle Academy was completely overflooded by Cynicism and Stoicism, which suffocated orthodox Platonism.
During that period, the philosophic affairs of the Academy were mainly in the hands of Arcesilaus (315-240 B.C.) of Pitane of Aeolia, and, Carneades (born around 214 B. C.) of Cyrene. In fact to demonstrate the eclectic and syncretistic influence on the Middle Academy, it is worthy to note that Carneades was originally a staunch Stoic.
The Middle Academy terminated under the guidance of Clitomachus (Hasdrubal) of Carthago, who died around 110 B.C. Then followed the Young or Late Period of the Academy, under the supervision of Philon of Larissa (around 100 B.C.). As a result of the renaissance of orthodox Platonism, mainly because of the Stoic efforts of Posidonius, as elaborated earlier, dogmatic Platonism again became the philosophic essence of the Academy. The new leader, Antiochus of Ascalon (around 60 B.C.) vigorously participated in the eclecticism and syncretism of that transitional epoch.
In this way, a compromised Platonism entered Rome, ready to be transformed into Catholicism, and could exercise great influence on thinkers like Cicero and Marcus Terentius Varro (116 - 27 B.C.). And, as mentioned already, the Academy survived the militant victories of Roman "Imperialism" and the rise of Roman Catholicism. However, later in 529 A.D., Emperor Justinian decided to close down this shrine of pagan worship. Only centuries later, after the fall of Constantinople, the Academy was permitted to see Plotinian Original Light again.
Finally, it suffices to mention some of the eminent, religious Platonists and Neo-Platonists of the centuries after the birth of Jesus Christ. Most of them had participated in idealist dogmatism and they verged on Oriental despotism. Famous eclectic commentators were: Eudorus and Areios Didymus; furthermore, the publisher of the works of Democritus and Plato, Thrasyllus; and, others of lesser stature Porphyry, Proclus and Damascius; and, finally, Plutarch of Chaironeia. It is apposite to mention the eminent Neo-Pythagorean Platonist, Ammonius Saccas, who was teaching philosophy in Egypt, and who became the tutor of Plotinus, the real father of Neo-Platonism.
Plotinism and Neo-Platonism
Plotinus (204-270 A.D.), born in the polis Lycon, in Egypt, was the last of the great universal Greek thinkers. That we know something about his life, we have to thank his disciple Porphyry (Malchus), who wrote his biography. Until the age of thirty-nine Plotinus lived in Egypt, and studied philosophy in Alexandria under the tutelage of Ammonius Saccas. Thereafter he joined an expedition of Emperor Gordian III against the Persians. This served his interest in studying Oriental beliefs and religious teachings. When his patron was assassinated in Mesopotamia, Plotinus abandoned this project and left for Rome. He succeeded in fascinating Emperor Gallienus, by supporting his religious, ideological projects.
In this way, he won another royal patron. He convinced the emperor about the usefulness of Plato’s Politeia, and received permission to establish a Platonopolis in Campania. However, he had bad luck, because, very soon, his second benefactor was assassinated. The Roman ruling classes had feared the political influence of a new city so near to the urbs aeterna and thus the permission to erect a Platonic politeia was withdrawn.
At the age of forty-nine, Plotinus commenced writing. Later Porphyry arranged and edited his works in a collection, which became known as the Enneads. In them, we could trace the great respect which Plotinus had for Plato; realiter, he always addressed Plato as „He“.
Thus, from a vulgarized Plato, across Plotinus, towards the Late Stoics, we could trace the birth of Roman Catholicism. This collection was a severe philosophic attack against ancient Greek materialism, especially against Early Stoicism and Epicureanism. He even used some doctrines of Parmenides and Aristotle to denigrate the materialist negation in ancient Greek-Roman philosophy.
Let us now expound the philosophic core of Plotinism, the essence of Neo-Platonism, by elucidating his doctrine of Divine Emanation, of Original Light, which was fundamental for the formulation of the absolutist, feudalist, obscurantist superstructure, for the Dark Ages, for the consolidation of a Christian, Western, "Civilized" World Religion.
The One, Universal Original Light
At the base of Plotinian religious metaphysics was the Supreme One, the Original Light. This causa formalis he sometimes called God, at other times, simply the Good, in reminiscence of the Socratic-Platonic summum bonum. However, in contradistinction to Parmenides, he placed the hen (one) above the pan (all, cosmos), above all contradictions, above all Being and Thought.
De mal en pis, the hen was not unomnia (one and all), it transcended the pan, the universe, and even preceded itself as the Divine Good or Beautiful. De facto, this One, the Original Light, the Plotinian fiat lux, did not necessitate any derivatives or attributes; it was emanating and radiating the purest Platonic „visions of truth“.
This Supra-Truth was divinely free from diabolical matter, consequently it abhorred Luciferean-Heracleitean Fire, but, at least, it was „shining“, hence, universally it still had a material attribute, no matter how indeterminate. Obviously, the One, the Plotinian Holy Trinity, replaced di majorum gentium of classical Greek mythology.
After leaving the realm of Infinity and Eternity, the One emanated its own image, its seeing, its vision. This „image“ or „vision“, Plotinus called nous - but it had very little in common with the Heracleitean and Stoic lógos, even less with the Anaxagorean quintessence, the „thinking-substance“, Fiat lux. Nous was the lux by which the One saw or visioned itself.
Realiter, Nous was the Face of Plotinus’ God - it is the „face“ which Christian Man would „face“ at the Final Seat of Judgement in the Hour of Wrath, on the ultimate dies irae. And, for "wicked souls", who could not be purified, this was the end, was the "Second Death". Nevertheless, as stated before, not even Plotinism could afford to sever completely its umbilical cord to materialism, thus, as Zeno of Citium would say: This "shining face“ was still „quite solid“ and material.
This nous - the first emanation - contained in itself the Platonic intelligible World of Ideas. Next in line, in the dialectical process of Divine Emanation, was the universal spirit, the Cosmic Subject, the anima mundi. Its work was to produce animae, individual souls. As nous, the hen was "shining“ into the anima mundi, and consequently into all individual souls wherever they found themselves in the whole Cosmos. If nous did fail to reach some animae, due to diabolical material obstacles, then such souls, which were unlit, -- not baptized or converted -- did not contain any „vision of truth“. Obviously, for Plotinus, the soul of Lucretius did not qualify for any „vision“, and thus it could not herald divine „truth“.
However, it should be noted that the anima mundi or world spirit was inferior to "Divine Reason", to the lógos or nous. In this inferior status, the anima mundi had the capacity to create material things, to produce Diabolical Matter. Thus, it was not the One, not God, who had created the impure, imperfect, devilish universe, including human beings, but it was the work of the third-class world spirit, the third grade „Holy Spirit“. Obviously, this was the Devil who had created "Blackamoors", "niggers", "camel drivers", slaves and future workers.
Contrary to the Early Stoics, who had postulated that phýsis (Nature) was directly related, if not identical, with Supreme Nous (psyché), Plotinus relegated Nature (phýsis) to the lowest rank of his metaphysical hierarchy. The soul, spirituality, won the First Golden Prize. We would recall that Plato, at least, had placed to kenón, indefinite, indeterminate Matter, at the doorstep of the process, which was leading towards the Highest Good. And, even Hegel did not completely neglect this umbilical cord between mater and idea.
Hence, Plotinus had already anticipated the Gnostic, Roman Catholic views that matter and materialism, that earthly things were diabolical and evil. Thales’ hydor, Anaximenes’ aer Anaximander’s apeiron, Parmenides’ s sphairos, Democritus’ atomos and even Aristole’s dynamei on, all were transformed into the Devil Incarnate, into Satan, into an Anti-God, who was spurting Promethean Heracleitean pyr, materialist Hell Fire -- as something to be exorcised, to be burned on the stake. This is an excellent way to mask ruling class terrorism and brutality, to veil real wickedness, evil and terror.
However, we should not forget that Plotinism, the essence of Neo-Platonism, as Affirmation within ancient Graeco-Roman, religious, idealist, metaphysical Ideology, was itself a historical, natural-social process. In other words, it also contained its own dialogical Affirmation and Negation, its own antagonistic, dialectical Unity-And-Contradiction-Of-Opposites. Hence, even Plotinus, like Hegel later, had to admit that Luciferean Matter, that diabolical Substance, gave the Platonic ideas a spiritual, theological character.
Plotinus even went so far as to mention an „intelligible matter“, a kind of Substance-Satan, which cannot change into anything, that is, a Parmenidean static unomnia. It was this Luciferean concept of Matter which would continue to smoulder in Jewish-Arab, African materialist philosophy, but also in the Praxis-Theory of the heretic and rebelling „saints“ and of Roman Catholicism, in the „communist“ cloisters and the revolutionary peasant movements of the Middle Ages. In Renaissance philosophy, in the materialism of Marsilio Ficino (1433 - 1499 A.D.), the One, the Original Light, would again acquire materialist photoactive and photokinetic dimensions.
Concerning Human Praxis-Theory, evidently, Plotinus had reduced social optatives and activities to an earthly exodus, to a safari towards the Divine One, to a „Return to God“, which can still be read today inscribed on thousands of walls throughout the world, even high up in The Andes, near to the majestic Pico Bolivar. This „Vuèlvanse a Dios“ completely contradicted the Cynic-Stoic „Return to Nature“, and even the Rousseauian „noble savage" which has ushered in modern Mammon, Capitalism.
Especially today, globally, without knowing it, with the Plotinian-Neo-Platonian Original Light, many contemporary Cynic-Stoic youths are rebelling against modern, terrorist versions of this Inquisitory-McCarthian, Bacchic-Pythagorean unio mystica. All these are part and parcel of the Neo-Platonic idealist tradition which was continued by the pupils of Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus and Proclus, and which eventually entered Roman Catholicism, and reached the "Age of Information", of Infowar.
Aristotelianism after Aristotle’s Death
Theophrastus of Erebos (or Lesbos) - who had been living between 370 and 287 B.C. -, the co-founder of the Lyceum or Peripatetic School, and close friend of Aristotle, was the main exponent of Aristotelianism in the 3rd Century B.C. - especially of the Aristotelian „Left“. Like his famous teacher, Aristotle, he was one of the great ancient Greek pansophists. He specialized in natural sciences, especially in botany, zoology and mineralogy.
His book, Characters, was well-read in Antiquity, and even Renaissance writers were still fascinated by his eloquent style and vivid sketches of various types of human beings. His famous philosophic work, physikon doxai, Opinions of the Physicists, is extant, and it was reconstructed by Hermann Diels. Apart from the above, fragments of his Metaphysics and his work on Perception are also preserved. (See: G. M. Stratton, Theophrastus and the Greek Physiological Psychology Before Aristotle, New York, 1917.)
In 287 B. C., Theophrastus was succeeded by Straton of Lampsacus (whose nickname was the „Physicist“), and he led the Lyceum until 269 B.C. Both immediate successors of Aristotle had concentrated on enriching his physics and metaphysics, in other words, on continuing the materialist tradition of the Aristotelian „Left“. Their most noted followers, inter alia, were: Dicaiarchus of Messene, Aristoxenus of Tarent and Eudemos of Rhodos. Dicaiarchus was famous as a polyhistorian, and as the author of a Greek cultural history; Aristoxenus developed a music theory; and Eudemos concentrated on historic, literary and natural scientific studies.
In the 1st Century A.D., after the rediscovery of the Aristotelian library, a number of Peripatetic commentators and doxographers came into existence. Among them were: Hermippus, Sotion, Satyrus, Heracleid, Lembos, Alexander of Aphrodisias and Andronikus. In the following two centuries, Stoicism and Epicureanism practically neutralized and veiled the intellectual efforts of the Lyceum, but also of the Academy. Later, for many centuries to come, Catholic Theology and Theosophy would sublimate Aristotelianism and mercilessly plunder Platonism; Thomism just reversed this process, but it plundered the Aristotelian „Right“.
The Formative Years of the Aristotelian „Left“: Theophrastus - Straton
As we would recall, Aristotle had defined Substance as hýle, as dynamei on, as In-Possibility-Being, as Indefinite, Indeterminate Matter. We would also remember the hylozoistic, apeironic tradition of his determination of Matter. Furthermore, we have stated that hýle, passively took on morphé (form); ex parte, Form, the Entelechy, the causa formalis, was transcendental, it was separated from the Cosmos, it was an active, pure, Thinking-God.
However, strange enough, morphé as causa movens, as original, principal moving force, was substance-immanent, was the opposite of the Anaxagorean nous. Hence, Form (morphe) as causa formalis was transcendent as causa movens, it was immanent. Here we note what a master dialectician of content Aristotle had been. Obviously, this was a dialectical contradiction that immediately concerned Theophrastus and Straton.
Theophrastus took note of this obvious contradiction in Aristotelian metaphysics, but he did not develop his own philosophic views concerning this matter. His successor, Straton, was preoccupied with this dualism within the doctrine of forms. What taxed the philosophic faculties of Theophrastus was the relation between this actus purus, between divine nous, and, the inferior soul activities.
Within the Aristotelian doctrine of the anima (soul) the dilemma was that morphé was immanently inborn as nous within the animal soul, but, at the same time, as a result of its divine purity, it was essentially different from the animal soul; and, furthermore, concerning individual souls, nous originally had entered from the "outside". It was in this respect that Theophrastus departed from Aristotle and ushered in the Aristotelian „Ieft“, when he proceeded to weaken the theism in nous, and to strengthen the dialectical relation between morphé and hýle.
It was he who had denied Nous any form of Transcendence, and had thus subsumed it as self-developing, auto-dynamic activity under the general concept of kinesis, of universal evolution-involution of Cosmic Being-Becoming and Becoming-Being. Concerning Praxis-Theory, it was Theophrastus who again had given human intellectual and physical activities a historico-social, material substratum. Not only did Motion become a universal function, also Human Motion became an intrinsic process of this material totality.
As such, nous became causa materialis and its difference to the anima was just a matter of degree. In a Hegelian sense, it was just a more-developed whole, while the anima was simply a less-developed one. The third head of the Lyceum, Straton, more energetically gave Aristotelianism a „left“ turn. He eradicated the limitations between lower intellectual activities of the anima and the higher divine mental activities of nous. Applying Aristotelian dialectics he proclaimed that both activities form an indivisible intellectual unity. This simply meant that no Thinking or Thought could exist without anschauung (perception and cognition), and, logically, no weltanschauung (cosmovision, world outlook) without a welt (world, cosmos, universe).
Anschauung as Platonic contemplatio of spiritual things now progressively became converted into theoria which cognosce and comprehend true, real, concrete existing things. Real Human Being’s look began to turn away from gazing at the eternal Divine, his vision of truth was not focused on universally-immanent processes. And, similarly, due to the dialectics between Form and Substance, Human Praxis became an intrinsic process of universal-historic Becoming- Being. As mentioned before, even Straton could not transcend the universal weltanschauung, also for him a Diverse, Triverse or Polyverses did not exist.
It follows that for Straton there could not exist conceptualisation, meditation and contemplation without active praxical collaboration of Thinking and Thought. Agreeing with the Early Stoics, he called this universal, praxico-theoretical process to hegemonikón, but he transferred it from the psychological to the metaphysical sphere. Moreover, also the anima mundi could not be separated from the mundus, consequently, neither the phýsis nor the psyché and also not their relations could be thought transcendentally.
In this way, Stratonism negated the monotheism of the psyché, pneuma or the lógos, negated the divine character of the Aristotelian morphé, and, thus, he gave Aristotelianism a more definite naturalistic-pantheistic dimension. This also meant that he denied the existence of either a pure morphé or a pure hýle which implies that he also denied the existence of pure praxis and pure theoria .
By disqualifying the chorismos (division, separation) between nous and the arché, between the Principle of the Principle and the Principle itself, he resurrected an important Democritean principle: World-Immanent Anánke, which denies a divine causa efficiens. (Also see: Windelband - Heimsoeth, op. cit., pp. 152 - 153; and, Ernst Bloch, Avicenna…, op. cit., pp. 31 - 32.)
However, in contradistinction to Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius, to Atomism, Straton did not see the universal causa essendi in atomos and to kenón, also not in their quantitative determinations, but exclusively in the archaic poiotetes (qualities) and dynameis (forces) of the cremata and pragmata (things) themselves. If we take into consideration the modifications of Epicurus to Atomism, expounded in a previous chapter, -- that is, his arbitrium liberum -- we could state mutatis mutandis that the Stratonian causa essendi, as a contradiction, was indecisively oscillating between Aristotelian teleology and Leucippean-Democritean hylozoistic, mechanical determinism.
Furthermore, in a metonymical sense, Stratonism was reflecting the contradiction between the two main philosophical schools of that epoch: Epicureanism and Early Stoicism. And, finally, to complete the totality of philosophical thought in that age, it should be stressed that both schools -- Early Stoicism and Epicureanism -- in a praxico-theoretical sense, had gone much farther than Stratonism, at least, as far as Zeno’s humanism and Epicures’ freedom of choice were concerned.
Future Dynámei On: In Spe
The Aristotelian commentator, Alexander of Aphrodisias, would continue this „left“ dynamei on philosophic tradition; Avicenna would „naturalize“ it further; Avicebron would change the Aristotelian hýle into materia universalis; and Averroës would „baptize“ it as natura naturans. The Aristotelian morphé of dynamei on, Avicenna had determined as the „Fiery Truth of Matter“, that is, in the tradition of the Promethean-Luciferean, Heracleitean-Zenonean hylozoistic lógos. Later, Ernst Bloch would even pose the answering question of a supernatura naturans and a supernatura naturata.
However, to return to the transitional epoch between slavocracy and feudalism, in the ancient Graeco-Roman world, as we have noted in the last book, after the birth of Jesus Christ, in tendency hylozoistic, pantheistic, panpsychic and panvitalistic materialism was cooling down, but, in latency, it was never totally eclipsed by religious Stoicism and Roman Catholicism. Even in its strongest denial as Nous or Logos, in Neo-Platonic Plotinism, its archaic original fiery explosion, its fiat lux, was still „shining“ diabolically; this Luciferean brilliance was present in the inquisitorial fires of the burning stakes and the materialist flambeau would again flare up in the Renaissance philosophy of Marsilio Ficino.
Late Stoicism: Religious Ideology of Roman Emperors, Ministers and Slaves
We will conclude this chapter, this Book, by summarizing the religious, philosophic essence of Late Stoicism, as expressed by its three major exponents: Seneca (a minister), Epictetus (a slave) and Marc Aurel (an emperor). In any case, it is very arduous to differentiate between the eclectic philosophic, syncretistic religious currents of the centuries immediately after the birth of Jesus Christ. The ideas and conceptions of Plotinists, Neo-Platonists, Neo-Pythagoreans, religious Platonists, eclectic commentators, Jewish theologians and Christian apologetics are all intertwined, and they seriously challenge any scientific classification and categorization - a real fertile soil for dialecticians, to study universal contradictions, transitions of epochs, social revolutions.
Seneca’s example of a virtuous life
Lucius Annaeus Seneca (3/4 B.C.-65 A.D.), a real contemporary of Jesus Christ, who never mentioned the Name of the legendary Lord, received the same name as his father (born around 54 B. C., in Cordova, Spain), was a Spaniard, but he was cultivated in Rome. He chose a political career, and as a statesman, he had good and bad luck with powerful women; very soon he had incurred the malevolence of the Empress Messalina. As a result of this misfortune, he was banished to Corsica in 41 A.D. However, another woman, Agripinna, the second wife of the Emperor Claudius, was impressed by him, and she recalled him from exile in 48 A.D.
Like Aristotle, Seneca was appointed as tutor of a future ruler, of Agripinna’s son, Emperor Nero Claudius Drusus Germanicus Caesar. After the death of Claudius, aided by the political machinations of his mother, in 54 A.D., Nero ascended to the throne. During the first five years, he practically ruled Rome under the direction of the Late Stoic religious philosopher, Seneca.
Thereafter, due to the acquisition of absolute power, his tyranny and megalomania became boundless. Eminent victims of his despotic absolutism were his own mother, Agripinna, Seneca, Britannicus and Lucan. In 64 A.D.,the fire of Rome, which raged six days, and which destroyed famous buildings, cultural and artistic treasures, was probably originated by Nero himself. Seneca was accused of a conspiracy to murder Nero, and to try to usurp the throne. In 65 A.D., graciously, Nero advised him to commit suicide.
Now, concerning a virtuous modus vivendi, Seneca was an example par excellence of religious, Stoic pretensions. Although he preached asceticism, and verbally despised riches, yet he personally amassed a Croesusian fortune: in those days, it was estimated at three hundred million sesterces. According to Bertrand Russell, this amounted to about three million pounds (according to valuation in 1945).
In fact, he was an ancient Roman „capitalist“, an expert money-lender, with an aptitude for super-interest rates. The heroic forerunner of the contemporary Queen Mother, the then "British" Queen Boadicea had to organize a huge rebellion against Seneca’s primitive, accumulative capitalism, against the Stoic religious apostle of ascetism and austerity, against one of the ideological "founding fathers" of Catholicism. Sentenced to death, before committing suicide, he had the odessity to write the following in his family will: „Never mind, I leave you what is of far more value than earthly riches, the example of a virtuous life“. (See: Russell, p. 267.) Those that most babble to the rabble about a stoic, good, virtuous, Christian life and afterlife are generally those, here and now, who at the cost of the poor are enjoying a rich, extravagant, opulent life on earth.
The bitter irony was that Seneca’s „evil deeds“ were „interred with his bones“; the Christian „Fathers“ adopted him as a „Christian“, and Saint Jerome even accepted as genuine a supposed religious correspondence between him and St. Paul. It is simply incredible of what all "founding fathers" are capable of.
Hence, the founder of Roman Stoicism, or of Late or Young Stoicism, was Seneca, the richest man in Rome. This ancient Roman Rasputin not only enjoyed the favour of Roman empresses, but he participated in various royal conspiracies, and allowed himself to be overflooded by „gifts“, money, houses, gardens and palaces, while he was preaching about the miserable Lazarus, about a „virtuous life“.
In fact, this Senecan religious tradition would continue right up to modern times, no wonder that the „sigh of the oppressed creature“, the „heart of a heartless world“ eventually became more and more transformed into "the wretched of the earth", into the "miserables", and now into the "terrorists".
While enjoying the „flesh-pots“ of the Roman Empire, Seneca was advocating Fatalism and Mysticism, spiced with Stoic pantheism and Platonic immortality of the soul. The faex populi of Rome were taught to adore the goddess Fatum, and that they, by Nature, could not change anything, least of all their misfortune: volentem fate ducunt, nolentem trahunt.
Thus, a reactionary, passive, Gandhistic spirit was hammered into the slaves, plebs and „drones“ of the urbs aeterna. Late Stoicism completely severed all relations between Human Praxis and Theory, and across the next millennium and a half, in Roman Catholicism, Creation, Ora et Labora, Belief, Redemption and Revelation became the new watch-words, the true absolutist, feudalist catch-words; the slaves, the serfs, the toiling masses had no power whatsoever to interfere in divine and „natural“ processes; they could not change or improve anything within socio-political life. The historical product of such a world outlook was obvious: the reign of terror of Nero, Caligula and Seneca, and later of the Dominican Order.
Epitectus: I am a citizen of the Universe
Epitectus (approx. 60 A.D.-140 A.D.) was a Greek, born in Hierapolis, Phyrgia. Originally, he was a slave of Epaphroditus, then he was freed, and became a teacher of philosophy. He settled in poor conditions in Nicopolis and Rome. Because of cruel treatment during his slave days, it is said that he was lame. Although Epictetus never wrote anything, his devoted pupil, the historian Flavius Arrian, had made stenographic reports of his speeches and teachings.
In 90 A.D., the Emperor Domitian began a campaign against philosophers and intellectuals, and Epitectus was forced to retire to Nicopolis in Epirus. There he spent the rest of his life. Thanks to his disciple, Flavius Arrian, who had compiled „Treatises of Epitectus“, „Discussions of Epitectus“ and „Manual of Morals“, we know something about his basic philosophic teachings.
Let us commence to cite Epitectus on universal fraternity: „I must die. But must I die groaning? I must be imprisoned. But must I whine as well? I must suffer exile. Can anyone of them hinder me from going with a smile, and a good courage, and at peace?... 'Will behead you’. Why? When did I ever tell you that I was the only man in the world that could not be beheaded? These are the thoughts that those who pursue philosophy should ponder; these are the lessons they should write down day by day, in these they should exercise themselves.“(See: Russell, p. 270; quoted from W. J. Oates, The Stoic and Epicurean Philosophers, pp. 225 - 226.)
According to him, reminding us of Plato's soma sema, on earth we are prisoners in a corporeal human body. Zeus did not have the capacity to free the body, but he had given us a small part of his divinity. Hence, we are not Greeks, Athenians or Romans, we are masters and servants of the Cosmos. In his own words: „I am a citizen of the Universe“.
However, we are also „citizens“ of Zeus, of God: "‘We must submit to God (Zeus) as a good citizen submits to the law. The soldier swears to respect no man above Caesar (Nero), but we do respect ourselves first of all.’“ (ibid.) Of course, in a strict Christian sense, we should „love“ our enemies, should love our neighbour as ourselves. We have to play our specific roles on earth, strictly according to Providence, according to the Will of Zeus, of Jupiter, of God.
In a Socratic-Platonic spirit, he declared arete as the Highest Good, and only through it "Man" could achieve hedone. Human pleasure could not be increased or diminished by external things, whether they were good or bad, it was essentially a subjective, individual process. Although „Athens is beautiful“, in reality, „happiness is far more beautiful“, and happiness is achieved through total liberation from „passion and disturbance“; and, to achieve an ataraxic state, in which our „affairs depend on no one,“ is the greatest virtue. Definitely, Epitectus committed class suicide, he became the spokesman for ruling class absolutism and feudalism.
Hence, influenced by Cynicism, Scepticism and Middle Stoicism, Epitectus was preaching a religious fatalism. In this way, he complemented the reactionary religious philosophy of Seneca, and, as we will see later, in spite of the class difference he even agreed with the Emperor Marc Aurel. But, Epitectus did not completely forget his „lameness“ and his sufferings under Roman chattel slavery, hence, even in his religious Stoic philosophy, there were negative, rebellious, materialist traits. Echoes of the Spartacist revolutionary tradition, now and then still reverberated in his fatalism.
Ethically he condemned slavery and exploitation, and he tried to appeal to the „conscience“ of the slave-master. He reminded him of the social relation between slave and slave-master, that the starving, toiling slaves were responsible for his social and economic prosperity. In fact, he elevated the concept „Labour“ to an honourable moral category. And, against the banausian attitude of Plato and Aristotle, he emphasized that labour merits human worth and dignity. But, of course, labour should not be placed in the service of personal well-being, but it should be the motor of social welfare. In this case, it should be placed in the service of the megalomania and extravagance of the Emperor Nero. Surely, Epitectus could not see, that Labour itself was the root of all evil.
However, still in a true Democritean-Epicurean sense, he denied the Socratic-Platonic doctrine of the immortality of the soul. Thus, only on earth, Man could achieve real true happiness - in spite of the fact that he possessed a small part of Zeus’ divinity. Consequently, the philosophy of Epitectus was essentially contradictory, on the one hand he criticized slave-owning society, but on the other hand, he appealed for social reconciliation within the class struggle, and thus paved the road towards feudalism and capitalism.
Marc Aurel: Self-Meditation and Fatalistic Pessimism
Seneca and Epitectus were so successful that they even converted a Roman Emperor into a Late Stoic philosopher. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (120-180 A.D.) was the adopted son of Emperor Antoninus Pius, whom he succeeded in 161 A.D. As „Sophos“ on the Roman throne, he tried to assimilate „philia“ and "eros“ for paideia, episteme and gnosis, and this he accomplished with Stoic discipline and ancient Roman simplicity. In fact, Plato would have been proud of this philosopher-king.
And, all these virtuous things he tried to realize in the face of chronic calamities - wars, pestilences and earthquakes. In addition, he had great family problems: his wife, Faustina, was accused of gross immorality, and his son, Commodus, who later succeeded him, suffered from extravagant vicious propensities.
He was so introspective that his famous work, Meditations, became a real gnothi seauton, a discourse addressed to himself. It reflected an absolute pessimism, the decomposition of ancient slave-owning society. Linking up with Seneca and Epitectus, he preached indifference to social affairs, a retrogression to one’s own subjectivity, to one’s inner spiritual experience. Externally, praxically, nothing could be done - slave-owning society was just eternal and immutable.
The summum bonum was a virtuous life tuned to the rhythm and harmony of the Bacchic-Pythagorean Universe. And, Cosmic harmony was identical with Roman „law and order“, with obedience to the Will of Zeus. God had presented man with a Socratic demon, a Christian guardian angel, who guided man along the virtuous paths of earthly existence. His maxim: „Love mankind, Follow God“, and: remember, „Law rules all“. In 180 A.D., this pathetic Roman Emperor died in Vienna or in Sirmium, after he had succeeded to achieve the deification of his beloved Faustina, and that his son could succeed him after his death; the latter turned out to be one of the worst Roman Caesars.
In conclusion, we can say that Late Stoicism had attempted to neutralize the violent social conflicts and to rationalize ruling class exploitation and oppression. It expounded the reactionary ideology of an existing „fraternity“ between men, independent of their class affiliation. It was for this reason why Late Stoicism had advanced to a Roman State philosophy, and logically it produced its negation, Epicureanism.
With Late Stoicism, we have reached the end of Roman Stoic Philosophy. In conclusion, we should just make some remarks about the last Roman philosopher, Boethius (480 - 524 A.D.), an eminent idealist and eclectic in the tradition of the Aristotelian „Right“. Although he had translated Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Ptolemy and other ancient Greek thinkers, from Greek into Latin, essentially, he was a Neo-Platonist, with an affinity to Stoic doctrines. His De consolatione philosophiae became a classic in the Middle Ages, but, more significant were his translations and commentaries of the Aristotelian categories. As Christian and accused of „high treason“, he was executed in 524 A.D.
Eclipse of Materialism: veritas odium parit
Truth begets Hatred. Epicurean materialist Truth generated Stoic Hatred. In Graeco-Roman Philosophy, the essential contradiction became the Negation „Epicureanism“ contra the Affirmation „Stoicism“. And, Stoicism had utilized any means whatsoever to eradicate Atomism. Cynicism, Scepticism, Nihilism, Agnosticism, Gnosticism, Neo-Platonism, Neo-Pythagoreanism and Plotinism, all were organized eclectically-syncretistically and religiously to destroy the materialist demon of revolutionary-emancipatory Praxis-Theory against tyranny, absolutism, catholicism and despotism.
What the protagonists of the Aristotelian „Right“ did not realize was that to eradicate one’s own Negation, was to negate one’s own historical process. And, for this reason, although surreptitiously and in a clandestine fashion, ancient materialism continued to suvive in delitescence and deliquescence.
In fact, where the oppressed continued to sigh and to groan, materialism continued to flourish and, if necessary, in religion, in Christianity, in Catholic Theology itself, heated up by the eviternal flames of the Inquisitorial fires. Veritas not only begets Hatis (Hate), but also Elpis (Hope), and Hope became the intra-patrian, energetic dynamo of Revolutionary Fire. A total eclipse of the Material Sun, of Original Light befell Europe, and spread towards the west and north; meanwhile, towards the south and east, towards Northern Africa and the Arab World, ex oriente lux was shining bright rain-bow colours of natura naturata and natura naturans.
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