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Twenty Quotes from Stoic Philosophers

by September 28, 2021

by Bryan Maniotakis, Guest Poster,
One of the best ways to get a quick grasp on Stoicism and the principles it follows is through thousands of years of age-old quotations influenced by its teachings.
Across the centuries, many important people in history have made note of what has led them to success or failure.
Quotes attributed to famous celebrities can often be found dating back into antiquity. These provide guidance on almost every aspect of common human existence such as health, personal relationships, living harmoniously with others and with one’s self, family life, love and death.
Here are 5 of my favourite thoughts from some of the most famous philosophers of the ancient world.
Marcus Aurelius
Give yourself a gift, the present moment.
The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.
Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too.
Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.
Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.
We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.
Life is long, if you know how to use it.
While we are postponing, life speeds by.
It does not matter how many books you have, but how good are the books which you have.
For many men, the acquisition of wealth does not end their troubles, it only changes them.
I cannot escape death, but at least I can escape the fear of it.
A ship should not ride on a single anchor, nor life on a single hope.
It is difficulties that show what men are.
Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.
Reason is not measured by size or height, but by principle.
Zeno of Citium
All the good are friends of one another.
Better to trip with the feet than with the tongue
No evil is honorable; but death is honorable; therefore death is not evil.
We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.
Happiness is a good flow of life.

Cicero and the Stoics – the Paradoxa Stoicorum

by 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.
Cicero manuscript
14th century manuscript of the Paradoxa Stoicorum (featuring a marginal bracket in the shape of an octopus)
However, Stoic sayings were often difficult to understand so that, as Cicero says, even the Stoics themselves called them ”paradoxes”. For this reason, he decided to perform a little exercise (or even a game) that consisted of exploring and translating six complex Greek Stoic sayings into his contemporary language and style of rhetorical Latin. This was the Paradoxa Stoicorum, today one of Cicero’s most fascinating but overlooked writings. Cicero also says that he is playing this game out of curiosity, to see if these principles can actually be applied in reality….
1. That moral worth is the only good
Have you ever thought about how strange it is that the property is also called ”goods”? In this section, Cicero wonders about this paradox, asking:
By what staircase did Romulus ascend heaven? By the ones that those people call ”goods” or by his deeds and virtues?
Cicero quickly answers this question with Bias of Priena‘s famous sentence: Omnia mecum porto meaEverything mine I carry with me. He concludes that a good and happy life means nothing else but to live honorably.
Apotheosis of Romulus
2.  That virtue is sufficient to live happily
This is another very typical stoic belief that is more or less self-explanatory and more of a follow-up to the first principle. This is his message to those who are ”tortured by day and night by the thought that what they possess is not enough”:
Death is devastating to those whose everything vanishes with their life, not to those whose praise cannot die.
3. That offenses are equal, and good deeds are equal
Cicero explains that the best way to punish, or rather, to prevent crimes is to consider them all equally bad, the same way as we should not measure the greatness of a deed if it is good in any way. When asked (by himself) for a reason, he responds in a quite Socratic manner:
Whatever is not fit, is a crime, and whatever is not permitted, we should consider a sin. ‘’Even in the smallest things?’’ Of course, for if we cannot fix the limit of things, but we can set limits on our souls.
4. That every foolish man is insane
This is a perfect example of Cicero’s use of philosophy for political purposes. It is an attack against his personal enemy whom he does not name, but many speculate that it was Clodius, who was responsible for his exile, 58. B.C.E.
As it is well-known, Cicero revealed the conspiracy of Catilina and prevented it from happening. After this, he was so boastful about it, that he was claiming that he was solely responsible for saving the Republic. This section is, in its essence, a follow-up on this self-praise, highlighted by the fact that the exile was not a misfortune for him because he possessed Stoic virtue.
5. Every wise man is free and every fool is a slave
Cicero gives us his definition of freedom while explaining this principle. For him, freedom is the ability to live as you wish. However, under living as we wish, he considers pursuing the upright things, practicing virtue, and living according to our own judgement and will. On the other hand, a slave is everyone who does the opposite.
6. Only a wise man is rich
Cicero already tackled the question of wealth while explaining the first two principles. In this chapter, he says that a truly rich man is the one who thinks he has enough, regardless of how much he has:
But the bad and the greedy, because they have possessions which are uncertain and depend on chance, always seek more, and by now, none of them has been found to whom what he has is enough, not only that they should not be considered abundant and rich, but even as poor and deprived.
We cannot possibly know how this treatise was received by the Romans, but we can conclude that this work was unjustifiably neglected for centuries. In it, we can see Cicero’s rhetorical skills at their best, read about the famous examples from early Roman history, and dive into well explained Stoic philosophy.

Marcus Aurelius and Diogenes: Stoicism and Cynicism

by 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. 
Where the differences start to emerge is in what each philosophy considers to be ‘in accordance with nature’. You see, the Stoics believe that human beings naturally tend toward both ensuring their own success, but also living in harmony with others, and so Stoicism promotes temperance within these natural desires. Stoics believe it is acceptable to wish for wealth, for example, provided one does not damage their virtue in its pursuit, and that it is acceptable to live within the confines of societal expectation, provided that those expectations are just and, once again, do not diminish one’s virtues as an individual. 
The Cynics on the other hand placed a far greater value upon one’s personal nature, individual freedom, and self-sufficiency. Interestingly, the name ‘Cynic’ comes from the ancient Greek ‘kunikos’ meaning ‘dog like’. The moniker has many motivations, but it was initially seen to be an insult to Cynic adherents who would often live on the streets like stray dogs, with some even surviving on begging alone. This may seem extreme, but through this process they could not only free themselves of the burdens of materialism, but moreover, by standing apart from societal systems, they were better placed to realise how these systems can lead us away from living in accordance with our true nature and experiencing real freedom and happiness. 
Diogenes by Jean-Léon Gérôme
This, I feel, is the key difference between the Cynics and the Stoics. Where the Stoics believe that a good life can be achieved within certain confines of human desires and societal expectations, the Cynics argue that true happiness cannot be achieved without freeing oneself from all limitations, including those imposed by our internal wants, as well as other people. 
For example, the Cynics reject any ideas of wealth or grandeur outright; arguing that we do not need such luxuries to live naturally; claiming that not even a home, or a bed, are truly necessary. The Stoics on the other hand agree that these things are not necessities but argue that things such as a warm bed or a nice home bring with them certain benefits and that it’s okay to utilise these benefits. In a nutshell, the Stoics recognise that these sorts of luxuries don’t inherently make you happy, but they can make life easier, and so they accept their place in our lives, whereas the Cynics reject these things regardless of their uses precisely because they don’t make us happy directly. 
The differences in the outlook of the Stoics and Cynics are made even more stark when we contrast two of the most famous adherents of each philosophy; the Stoic Marcus Aurelius, and the Cynic Diogenes of Sinope
As many of you know, Marcus Aurelius was a much-lauded Roman Emperor who earned a reputation as a ‘philosopher king’ among historians. In fact, he was described by Herodian of Antioch as “Alone of the emperors, he gave proof of his learning not by mere words or knowledge of philosophical doctrines but by his blameless character and temperate way of life.”. Marcus Aurelius’ personal journals have formed the collection now commonly known as the Meditations.
On his approach to social life, he wrote “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”
Statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback
Statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback
As with other Stoics, Marcus Aurelius accepts that although the people he interacts with may have a negative influence he realises that through his own self-control he can negate this, and that this is in fact a natural way of living, since we are ‘born to work together’.
Diogenes of Sinope, on the other hand, stands in abject contrast with the legacy of Marcus Aurelius, despite their equal adherence to their respective philosophical practice. He was one of the most infamous philosophers of his time and is still widely known today for his extreme behaviour. While Marcus Aurelius was known as ‘the Philosopher’, Diogenes’ moniker was ‘the Dog’. This was, of course, originally intended as an insult but Diogenes seemed to take great pleasure in the jest. In fact, he is quoted by the historian Diogenes Laertius in his work ‘The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers’ as responding, when asked why he was called ‘the Dog’, “Because I fawn upon those who give me anything, and bark at those who give me nothing, and bite the rogues”.
Where Marcus Aurelius was an emperor, Diogenes lived a life of poverty, despite being the son of a well-off banker, he chose to abandon his possessions and lived in a large ceramic pot in the marketplace of Athens. While Marcus Aurelius did much to improve the lives of Roman citizens through legislative action and saw benefits in working together with others, Diogenes would debase the morals and rules of society to point out hypocrisies. Many different historians, such as Dio Chrysostom and Diogenes Laertius, attest that Diogenes would urinate on people he didn’t like, defecate in the theatre, and masturbate in public, all in an effort to demonstrate how social expectations were limiting our freedom.
Indeed, Diogenes lived a life of voluntary adversity by choosing to comport himself in such a confrontational manner. However, despite this adversity some later Stoics, such as Epictetus, considered him to be living in total freedom. Diogenes did what he wanted, when he wanted, and from all we can glean from contemporary texts he was perfectly happy doing so. In no way is this better illustrated than in his conversation with Alexander the Great. Although the validity of the accounts of their meeting have been questioned, both Diogenes Laertius and Plutarch recount the story. Alexander is said to have found Diogenes, excited to meet such a famed philosopher, and offered if he could offer any favour Diogenes need only name it. Diogenes replied simply “Stand out of my sunlight.” .
Painting by Monsiau, depicting the encounter between Alexander and Diogenes
Painting by Monsiau, depicting the encounter between Alexander and Diogenes
It’s almost impossible not to be a little jealous of this carefree attitude. How many times have you wished you could tell your boss how you really feel? How many times have you gotten frustrated at being told you can’t do something simply because it’s ‘frowned upon’? But is it a freedom you truly desire, or just a vanishing craving to set the world to rights? Might it not be better to live as Marcus Aurelius did, with a well-measured and tempered response to the adversities in our lives?
While the comparison between the likes of Marcus Aurelius and Diogenes of Sinope is an extreme one, it does help to demonstrate not just the key differences between the Stoics and the Cynics, but also the different perceptions of the two philosophies in practice. Marcus Aurelius, and the Stoics more generally, accepted the benefits of some luxuries and a life lived in harmony with others, whereas Diogenes, and the Cynics, rejected the trappings of wealth and excess and focused instead on their individual freedom, in some cases at the expense of others.  Both philosophies believe freeing oneself from external influence is the key to a good life, but the Stoics believe that one can enjoy certain aspects of life without allowing them to influence you.
Though the development of the two philosophies is deeply intertwined I think it is fair to say that the Stoics refined and tempered many of the tenets of Cynic philosophy into a practice that found more mainstream acceptance whilst still promoting the inward focus on virtue and wisdom as being key to reaching a state of eudaimonia. However, the Cynics paved the way, bringing much of these shared ideals of austerity and forbearance from temptation into the public consciousness. Without the Cynics, there could be no Stoicism, but without the Stoics, the wisdom of such irksome characters as Diogenes may well have been clouded in their extremely oppositional approach to the world and lost to the ages.

Fate and Free Will – The Stoic Perspective

by 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.
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’.
The Lazy Argument attacks this claim by attempting to show the futility of any action in the face of fate. The argument is formulated in the following way:
  • If it is fated that you will survive a snakebite, then you will survive whether you go to a hospital or not.
  • Likewise, if you are fated to not survive a snakebite, then you will not survive whether you go to a hospital or not.
  • One of them is fated.
  • On either alternative, it does not matter what you do because the fated outcome will happen anyway.
The essence of the Lazy Argument is to demonstrate how no action matters if every event is fated. And since your life is set to unwaveringly follow a determined track, there is no point to exert any effort or even think about the right course of action. Simply put, the Lazy Argument makes just being lazy an appealing choice.
The Stoic response, attributed to Chryssipus by Cicero in his De Fatō, is designed to show that the Lazy Argument is unsound, and our actions indeed do have a bearing on the outcome of events. According to Chryssipus, not all premises of the Lazy Argument is true. Ancient Stoics accept that everything is fated, but dismiss the rest the argument. To say something is fated to happen does not mean that it will happen regardless of what you do. Rather, to the Stoics it means that this event is a part of the unbreakable cause-effect chain in which some causal elements are crucial for bringing about the effect. Moreover, knowing that the outcome is fated does not give you any insight into what actions lead up to it.
Some events, claims Chryssipus, are co-fated, meaning that they are interconnected and conjoined to the others. The prophecy of Laius, the father of Oedipus, is a telling example of this concept: Laius was warned by the oracle that he would be killed by his own son. But this would not happen if he did not beget a child. Simply put, Laius’ end is co-fated with begetting Oedipus, which is in turn co-fated with having intercourse with a woman. It is not true that Laius will still meet the same end whether or not he has a child.
The course of fate, therefore, does not necessarily dispose of the causal relationship between the events. Quite the opposite, the Stoic fate is remarkably logical: it is operating under the sound logic of ’cause and effect’. Therefore, according to the Stoics, the claim of the Lazy Argument that a certain event will occur no matter what we do grossly overlooks the necessary connections between events. So, to put it another way, if we want to survive the snakebite, we really better go to a hospital.
The Death of Laius, at the hands of his son Oedipus
Some might argue that the objection of whether or not our actions are ‘up to us’ is a completely different objection. The Stoic response is taking the Lazy Argument as a question of mechanical correspondence between cause-effect, while what the argument is actually drawing on is how the absence of agency or choice over our actions renders any choice meaningless.
One way or another, Stoics have much more to say about the choice and agency. Let us consider the Stoic argument through the lens of objection raised by Stoic scholar Keith Seddon:
“Though seeing [two events being co-fated] doesn’t to any degree undermine the fatalist’s position, for just as your recovering was fated (if only you had known it), so was your calling the doctor! This might be how it happened, all right, but if the event of your calling the doctor was caused by prior circumstances (as all events are, according to the theory of causal determinism) then in what sense could you be considered to exercise your free will?” (2004, “Do the Stoics Succeed?”).
Stoics would say that the matter is more complicated, as the same phenomena can have different effects on different agents. Chryssipus illustrates this with the following metaphor: “if you push a cylinder and a cone, the former will roll in a straight line, and the latter in a circle (LS 62C)[1]. Similarly, different men will assent differently to the same push. And assent, just as we said in the case of the cylinder, although prompted from outside, will thereafter move through its own force and nature.”[2] Therefore, our internal nature shapes the way we respond to the external stimuli. Simply put, character is fate, with the further inference being that our character itself is determined.
I think the most successful Stoic response to the Lazy Argument is their dog analogy: “When a dog is tied to a cart, if it wants to follow it is pulled and follows, making its spontaneous act coincide with necessity, but if it does not want to follow it will be compelled in any case. So, it is with men too: even if they do not want to, they will be compelled in any case to follow what is destined.” (Hippolytus, Refutation of all heresies 1.21, L&S 62A). In other words, nothing is up to you, except the way you react to it. A very Stoic thought!
Tim O’Keefe, The Stoics of Fate and Freedom, the Routledge Companion to Free Will, eds. Meghan Griffith, Neil Levy, and Kevin Timpe, 2016.
“A. A. Long and D. N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge, 1987). ”
Cicero, On Fate 
Brennan, T. (2005-06-23). The Lazy Argument. In The Stoic Life: Emotions, Duties, and Fate. : Oxford University Press.

[1] “A. A. Long and D. N. Sedley, The Hellenistic Philosophers (Cambridge, 1987). ”
[2] On Fate 42–3 (SVF 2.974; LS 62C(5)–(9)).

The Journey To Stoicism:

by August 16, 2021

A Guide to a Good Life
We write to you today from the Mediterranean, about an hour from the port of Piraeus, en route to the ancient Minoan stomping grounds of Crete. 
It’s hard not to feel inspired by the wine-dark seas, the fading tips of the nearby islands and the gentle rocking of Poseidon’s domain. 
Yes Dear Reader, we have made the journey to Greece in time for our upcoming event next week, to really get into the spirit of the Symposium.
After all, this is the very spot where so many great ideas began… 
The inspiring Aegean…
In fact, it was during his voyage from Phoenicia to Piraeus, our very point of departure, that Zeno of Citium found himself shipwrecked. The wealthy merchant from Cyprus then did what may seem a bit odd to us now; he went to a local bookseller and found himself with Xenophon’s Memorabilia.
So pleased with the portrayal of Socrates, he sought out philosophers from which he could learn more and ended up under the tutelage of the Cynic, Crates of Thebes. Zeno took up the Cynic way of life as best his native modesty allowed… but with time developed his own way of thinking, creating a new guide to living a good life. 
Zeno taught this approach under the colonnade in the Agora of Athens, known as the Stoa Poikile, in 301 BC… and thus began the origins of the philosophy Stoicism. 
Today, Stoicism is enjoying a revival, helping individuals around the globe find a new perspective with this ancient wisdom, in huge part due to modern philosophers such as William B. Irvine and his wildly successful book, A Guide to a Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. 
Professor of philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, USA, and author of eight books that have been translated into more than twenty languages, Dr. Irvine’s work on Stoic Joy illustrates just how applicable and insightful Stoicism is in our modern era. 
Using the psychological insights and the practical techniques of the Stoics, Dr. Irvine offers a roadmap for anyone seeking to avoid the feelings of chronic dissatisfaction that plague so many of us. The book delves into Stoic techniques for attaining tranquility and illustrates how to put these techniques to work in our own life. 
It’s a fantastic read, and also remarkably practical… with tips on how to minimize worry, how to let go of the past and focus our efforts on the things we can control, and how to deal with insults, grief, old age, and the distracting temptations of fame and fortune. 
With Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, as well as the good Phoenician and founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, as your guide, you can find the ancient art of Stoic Joy. 
Get Your Copy of A Guide to a Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, Here:
You can also watch Dr. Irvine speak LIVE on Sunday, August 22nd, during our second keynote panel discussion, along with Donald Robertson and A.A. Long, on what control we have over the Fall of Nations… and how we can prepare for their evitable end. 
Make sure to get your tickets now – and remember – you can pay what YOU WANT. Reserve your spot here:
Get Tickets to Watch the panel LIVE Sunday night:

Secrets of a Roman Emperor

by August 6, 2021

Plato once wrote that there wouldn’t be peace until philosophers were kings. But what about Emperors?
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already heard of Marcus Aurelius; Roman emperor, philosopher, and author of the much beloved Meditations.
Perhaps no other book quite captures what we mean by ‘Classical Wisdom’ than the Meditations, the insights of an emperor on daily life. In our information-saturated, multimedia world, the words of Marcus Aurelius have even MORE potency than in his own day, as he reminds us, ‘Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.’
Marcus Aurelius has had an enormous surge of popularity in recent years. Yet how much do we really know about the philosopher and emperor? How can we understand not just his life, but his inner life? And what can he teach us about today?
Donald Robertson’s fantastic and enormously popular book How To Think Like A Roman Emperor brings vividly to life the mind of this great thinker. We come to know the details of his life, but more than that, we learn the secrets that gave him his famous Stoic resilience, and how to apply them to our own lives.
These secrets speak to us through the ages and are every bit as relevant as they were in the days of Marcus Aurelius (if not moreso!).
As a cognitive psychotherapist and one of the founders of Modern Stoicism, Donald Robertson is uniquely able to illustrate how philosophical doctrines and therapeutic practices together can build emotional strength so that anyone can endure tremendous adversity. Following the life of Marcus Aurelius, readers can learn these ancient techniques and put them to use for themselves.
When Plato spoke of peace, he meant the affairs of states and nations. Marcus Aurelius offers us something perhaps even more valuable: the spirit of inner peace. 
“Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too.” These profound words once written by Marcus Aurlieus illustrate the importance of our upcoming Symposium where Donald Robertson will be speaking LIVE on the topic of Stoicism and the Imperial Rule of Marcus Aurelius.
Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see Donald Robertson, alongside a host of the world’s most renowned experts on Ancient Greece and Rome.
Taking place August 21/22 – this will truly be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Reserve your tickets HERE!
Want wine with your tickets?? Get into the Spirit of the Symposium with our exclusively sourced Mediterranean collection… but you’ll need to ACT FAST. This offer closes August 10th!
Get your wine HERE!