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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. 

Fate and Free Will – The Stoic Perspective

by on September 8, 2021

by Mariami Shanshashvili        
It is no secret that ancient teachings of Stoicism have seen a massive revival in modern times. From academia to the general public, people have been closely rethinking Stoic philosophy.  One of the primary reasons behind this surging popularity of Stoicism, I would say, is the appeal of exercising a complete control over your mind. It is true that Stoic practices allow us the greater freedom over our psyche and emotions. One area, however, where Stoicism does not spoil us with as much freedom, is the freedom of will.
When it comes to fate and free will in Stoicism, a key debate exists beween what’s referred to as the ‘Lazy Argument‘ from critics of Stoicism, and the Stoic Response to the Lazy Argument developed by the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus. By examining this debate we can gain a better insight into the truth of the Stoic understanding of fate and freedom.
Chrysippus
Ancient Stoics believed in a causal or ‘soft’ determinism: a view that maintains that everything that happens has a cause that leads to an effect. Each and every event is a part of the unbreakable chain of cause and effect, which is dictated and steered by the gods’ providential plan of fate. Nevertheless Stoics, however, also assert that even in a deterministic world, our actions are ultimately ‘up to us’.

Horatius at the Bridge: Man or Myth?

by on September 7, 2021

by Andrew Rattray
Where does history end and myth begin? It’s a question that often doesn’t have a clear answer. Even in ancient times, the answer could prove elusive. Such is the case of Horatius and his heroic stand against the Etruscans. It’s a story that has endured through the centuries, recurring in all sorts of cultural works, perhaps most notably in Victorian Britain.
In 1842 a young Thomas Babington Macaulay produced a collection of narrative poems while he was serving as a member of the Governor-General of India’s Supreme Council during the period of British rule in the region. The poems are written in the style of ancient ballads and four (from a total of six) recount several heroic and legendary episodes from Rome’s early history. The work captures the essence of ancient ballads, such as the Iliad, in a way few others have. The collection became immensely popular in Victorian Britain and the poems and the themes within have continued to feature in popular culture ever since.
The first of these poems, Horatius, is a retelling of the story of how Publius Horatius Cocles, an officer in the Roman army in the 6th century BC, held the only bridge across the Tiber during an attack from an Etruscan army under Lars Porsena. It’s a beautiful story of heroism in the face of overwhelming odds and Macaulay’s poem brings it to life in a visceral way. However, there is some contention around the events, and even the existence of the titular hero. I’ve included an exert from the poem below, with the second passage now seen as the most iconic of the poems seventy verses.