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Cicero and the Stoics – the Paradoxa Stoicorum

by on September 22, 2021

By Visnja Bojovic, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The legacy of Cicero towers over the ancient world. Philosopher and politician, enemy of Mark Antony, and the Roman Republic’s great defender. His writings remain some of the most celebrated in Latin literature, and today we look at one of his more overlooked works – the Paradoxa Stoicorum. But first, a little background….
Cicero was quite eclectic in his beliefs, but he mostly embraced the beliefs of Academic Skepticism. As the Skeptics believed that there is no philosophy that can be entirely true, they mostly criticized belief systems. However, Skepticism allowed for embracing certain philosophies, just as long as one makes sure to carefully examine them and leaves oneself open to change in the face of good arguments.
This was suitable for Cicero, as he could advocate for the philosophical systems he found most useful. For Cicero, philosophy was subject to politics, as it served his political beliefs and interests. He believed that the reason that the Republic was weakening was the moral decay of Roman politicians. Therefore, he advocated for Stoicism (among other schools of thought), since the Stoics believed that one must be politically involved, as it is his duty as a Roman citizen. They did not advocate for political involvement due to self-interest, but rather as a moral duty.

Why do we NEED literature?

by on September 21, 2021

It’s been a big weekend, dear reader… We travelled to Mexico City to see old friends, we solemnly remembered the fourth anniversary of the deadly earthquake we barely avoided by bizarrely missing a flight, and we celebrated the launch of my dear husband’s first novel
It was certainly a rollercoaster of emotions! 
While the other events loomed large, the publishing of a book – no less one’s first – is a really big deal. Currently there are 129,864,880 books in the world (thank you to the nerds at Google for figuring that out!), however, only one in ten is a work of fiction. 
And this is actually quite surprising… The best selling books of all time include first and foremost, the Bible, followed by epics like Don Quixote and Tale of Two Cities, but 2020’s top sellers were “A Promised Land” by Barack Obama, a book on Donald Trump and the recent Stephanie Meyer novel. 

Marcus Aurelius and Diogenes: Stoicism and Cynicism

by on September 17, 2021

By Andrew Rattray
At first glance, the philosophies of Stoicism and Cynicism appear to be two sides of the same coin. Both philosophies are eminently practical, designed as day-to-day practices more than grand ideals, focusing on achieving a state of ‘eudaimonia’ (literally, ‘good spirit’), a state of flourishing and freedom from worry, through self-discipline, sacrifice, and internal reflection. These similarities were also noted by contemporary figures, for example in Juvenal’s Satires (number 13) he jests that the only difference between the Stoics and the Cynics is that the former wear shirts!
I suppose this isn’t surprising given that they share a common history, both stemming ultimately from the teachings of Socrates. In fact, one of the earliest and most prominent Cynic philosophers, Diogenes of Sinope, went on to mentor Crates of Thebes, who in turn mentored Zeno of Citium, widely considered the founder of Stoicism. 
Ultimately, the two philosophies follow the same basic principle; that the key to happiness is to live in accordance with nature. Both posit that humanity has been gifted with the power of rational thought and that through this rationalism we can strive toward the state of ‘eudaimonia’ by not allowing oneself to be controlled by external factors. However, while both philosophies might start their adherents down a similar path, it soon forks, and you will find that in practice the two differ considerably. 

Women in the Odyssey: Goddesses, wives, lovers, and threats

by on September 15, 2021

By Ed Whelan, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Traditionally, Ancient Greece is seen as a patriarchal society and women were marginalized and oppressed.  Yet, despite this, some women were able to be independent and play an important role in the Hellenic World. In the Odyssey of Homer, women have a significant role in the 20-year travels of Odysseus as he tried to reach his kingdom in Ithaca. Their roles in the epic in turn reveal the different roles of women in Ancient Greek society and culture and how they were viewed by the male elite.
A Roman Statue of Odysseus
A Roman Statue of Odysseus
Goddess Athena
In the Greek Pantheon, there were many female Goddesses. Athena was the Goddess of War, strategy, and craftiness. Athena favors Odysseus because he honors her and she admires his qualities. She is the patron of Odysseus and the two share many of the same personality traits. After Odysseus is shipwrecked in the land of the Phaceians and he is at his lowest point, Athena inspires the young woman Nausciaa to get her people to help him. Homer shows that Odysseus could not have made it home without her intervention.

How Can We Prepare for the Worst?

by on September 13, 2021

A Storm is A-brewing… Here comes Nicholas! 
A storm is coming. Literally. As I type I regularly check the radar to see what’s happening to Nicholas. 
Currently a tropical storm, Nicholas looms large over the Gulf, gaining momentum and inducing fear. The grocery store was packed and panicked… the streets are slowly becoming deserted.. And the children are enjoying a hurricane home day.
You see, the residents of Houston and Galveston, and all the coastal community nearby are used to this sort of thing. Flooding and natural disasters come with the territory, after all. Everyone knows what they need to do, but they are also terrified because they know just how bad it can be. 

The Decline of the Eastern Empire

by on September 10, 2021

by Andrew Rattray
It’s hard to pin the ultimate ending of the Roman Empire to a single cause. Of course there is no single date we can point to but rather a gradual collapse over hundreds of years. In the 3rd century the Empire was split into East and West, and by the 6th century the Western portion of the Empire was reduced to a collection of ‘barbarian’ rump states leaving the Eastern Empire to endure alone, eventually coming to be known as the Byzantine Empire, though it’s inhabitants no doubt continued to consider themselves Romans for some time. The rising influence and power of Germanic tribes such as the Visigoths and Ostrogoths, the slave shortage that came after the expansion of the empire slowed in the second century CE (thus damaging the Roman economy), the excess and opulence of the Emperors and the corruption such behaviour encouraged at the highest levels of government, and many more factors all played their part in the decline of the Western Empire, but what of the East? 
Well, there are two factors that had an enormous impact upon the Eastern Empire that are often overlooked and which I believe we should be paying much closer attention to, after all, as George Santayana wrote, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’
You see, the Roman Empire rose to prominence during a period of warm, wet, temperate weather in Europe which was vital for the necessary agrarian production which allowed the empire to grow to encompass an immense, urbanized population, but so too did the climate play a factor in Rome’s ending. Investigations into the Earth’s ice sheets, known as ice-core research where scientists drill deep into the Earth’s ice caps to investigate climate in ages past, have revealed a large amount of volcanic activity in the 530s and 540s CE. This activity is thought to have triggered what is known as the ‘Late Antique Little Ice Age’ which brought cold temperatures that endured for well over one hundred years. The particulates fired into the atmosphere by these eruptions caused more reflection of the sun’s light and ultimately cooled the climate across the world. This in turn led to years of poor harvests which catalysed a famine across the Eastern Empire just at the time Rome’s enemies were growing bolder.