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Category Archives: Stoicism

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How to Eat Like a Stoic: The Ancient Diets of Cynicism and Stoicism

by April 22, 2020

Donald J. Robertson, Writer and Cognitive-behavioural Psychotherapist, author of “The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy”

The Early Stoic and Cynic Diet

Zeno of Citium, the founder of the Stoic school, had for many years been a Cynic philosopher. “Zeno”, we’re told, “thought it best to avoid gourmet food, and he was adamant about this.” He believed that once we get used to eating fancy meals we spoil our appetites and start to crave things that are expensive or difficult to obtain, losing the ability to properly enjoy simple, natural food and drink.

Eating with Attention and Moderation

Musonius also thought we should train ourselves to avoid gluttony:

Recipe for Stoic Soup

In Meals and Recipes from Ancient Greece, Eugenia Ricotti describes the following recipe called “Zeno’s Lentil Soup”. It’s a modern recipe loosely based upon ancient sources, including remarks attributed to Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoic philosophy, which are found in the Deipnosophistae (or “Dinner Experts”) of Athenaeus of Naucratis.

[First seen on]

Dale Carnegie and the Stoics: How to Handle Financial Worries

by April 15, 2020

Written by Alex Barrientos, Senior Editor, Classical Wisdom
In his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie recommends 11 rules to follow in order to lessen our financial worries. Most of the rules are purely financial:
Rule No. 3: Learn how to spend wisely.
Rule No. 4: Don’t increase your headaches with your income.
Rule No. 5: Try to build credit, in the event you must borrow.
Rule No. 10: Don’t gamble—ever!
These rules are in many ways still relevant and helpful. However, what caught my attention most was the 11th rule:

Rule No. 11: If we can’t possibly improve our financial situation, let’s be good to ourselves and stop resenting what can’t be changed.


Dale Carnegie. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt/Pix Inc./The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

This rule, perhaps unsurprisingly, has its roots in—you guessed it—Stoic philosophy! I say perhaps unsurprisingly because, when it comes to learning how to stop worrying, the Stoics are the heavyweight champions of putting our lives in perspective.
Carnegie begins explaining rule 11 by writing,
“If we can’t possibly improve our financial situation, maybe we can improve our mental attitude toward it.”
The Stoics, as you might know, thought this approach to be the best approach to life in general. As Epictetus began his Enchiridion,
“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”

Artistic impression of Epictetus

While there are certain aspects of one’s financial situation that are within one’s control, there are certainly many aspects that are not. And recognizing when we are in a financial situation that leaves us without the possibility of improving it through our own means, all we can do is focus on what is within our power—that is, our mental attitude toward the situation.
Yet, even people who are doing well with their finances face an issue: wanting more. Constantly wanting more is a recipe for unhappiness and distress. After all, as Carnegie puts it,
“We may be worried because we can’t keep up with Joneses; but the Joneses are probably worried because they can’t keep up with the Ritzes; and the Ritzes are worried because they can’t keep up with the Vanderbilts.”
In other words, the same people you want to have as much as—the same people you financially envy—want to have as much as someone else, and so on. And though one may climb this endless ladder, thinking greater wealth awaits them, all they will really encounter is the highest form of poverty. This is something the Stoics knew quite well:
“It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more.” ~ Seneca, Letter II
Death of Seneca

The Death of Seneca by Domínguez Sánchez, Manuel

And I’m not just inferring the Stoic connection here! Carnegie makes it explicit himself:
“If we can’t have all we want, let’s not poison our days with worry and resentment. Let’s be good to ourselves. Let’s be philosophical.”
Be philosophical… what did he mean by that? He meant what the Stoics meant by it. As Carnegie continues,
“And philosophy, according to Epictetus, boils down to this: ‘The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.’ Here is what Seneca said about it: ‘If you have what seems to you to be insufficient, then you will be miserable even if you possess the world.’”
From Epictetus we are reminded that happiness shouldn’t be tied to external things, and from Seneca we are reminded that to be unsatisfied with what we already have, is to be unsatisfied with whatever we might come to obtain.
But Carnegie drives the point home even further, in a way that I had never thought of before:
“And let’s remember that even if we owned the world with a hog-tight fence around it, we could eat only three meals a day and sleep in one bed at a time—even a ditch digger can do that; and he will probably eat with more gusto and sleep more peacefully than Rockefeller.”

Photograph of Dale Carnegie doing his NBC show, ‘How to Win Friends and and Influence People,’ January 25, 1938. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Carnegie notes that to have more things in your possession is not to have more happiness. This is because happiness is not tied to external things, and simply having more stuff won’t make you happy if you weren’t happy with what you already had.
In fact, as his example illustrates, one who has learned to be happy with little will likely lead a more tranquil life than one who is unhappy with a lot; the ditch digger will probably sleep better at night than the Rockefeller.
I know many of us right now might be going through tough times, financially speaking and otherwise. I hope reading this helps. I hope that it also doesn’t offend. It’s certainly not intended as a, “Just get over it!”, type of article.
There is no “just getting over it” for something like this, but there are healthier and unhealthier ways to handle certain situations. I’m inclined to think that Carnegie and the Stoics are right here: that when something is no longer in our control, all that’s left to do is to focus on what is. It might not be the most comforting answer, but it might just be the one we need to hear.

How Stoicism Cured My Depression

by March 10, 2020

Written by Pete Lewis, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Long ago and far away, laws of physics sent an asteroid hurtling through space. It collided with a planet in its equally predetermined orbit.
That is how the theory goes.
Neither the asteroid nor the planet is at fault for wiping out the dinosaurs. It was a purely natural event. Some might even say that it was almost destined to occur, due to the chain reactions that govern the universe.
As with physics, so it can be with personalities.
A person crashes into the life of another, rocking their world and wiping out some of their ‘dinosaurs’: the things that seem biggest and most powerful in their life, including happiness. Neither of the people is purely at fault: they just happen to cross paths and – given their individual natures and circumstances – something has to give; maybe it was always going to happen.

Gottfried Schadow, Fates Sculpture (1790). The three Fates spinning the web of human destiny, part of the tombstone for Count Alexander von der Mark; in the Old National Gallery, Berlin (Cr: Andreas Praefcke).

It took four years to arrive at that interpretation of what I call ‘people paths’ that may be as unavoidable as natural celestial events. That might sound a bit fatalistic, but it does help to cope with emotional trauma following such an event.
In 2014, I was diagnosed with severe depression. For four years, I was prescribed many kinds of medication and remedial therapy, including counseling and CBT (twice). CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) only worked in the short term and I believe that is because it could be fundamentally flawed. The last thing a person with depression needs is to focus their attention on the supposed causes of depression. It ultimately made it worse, for me…!
However, as it had been somewhat successful in the short term, twice, I began thinking that there must be something to it. Thus, I started researching and came upon Stoic Philosophy, which is – apparently – the theoretical basis of CBT.
Aaron Beck

Aaron Temkin Beck (born July 18, 1921), is the American psychiatrist widely regarded as the father of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

*NOTE: I do not recommend that anyone should do what I did next.
I am no Astro-physicist, Doctor or Philosopher but I could clearly recognise the benefits of a practical philosophy, from the very first time I read about Stoicism. Within days, against my doctor’s advice, I had stopped taking medication and was reading as much as I could find online about the ancient Stoic wisdom.
Support and healthcare workers could not believe how rapidly and profoundly I was changing for the better. The seismic shift in my core beliefs are what brought that initial change about – and it all began with “Some things are within our control and some things are beyond our control”; the basis of Stoic philosophy.
Seeing the world in that new perspective, I realised that I cannot change how other people sometimes collide with my life…but I can control my response and stop it from destroying me.

Artistic impression of Epictetus.

That was two years ago and I have not looked back since. I have had no medication, either for depression or for any of the psychosomatic disorders that accompanied it. Within two days of being medication free, I remember looking out of my bedroom window one morning and seeing features that I had not noticed before; it was a wonderful experience.
Around that time, I was sitting upstairs in a bus, traveling to an appointment with a support worker. What happened then was a momentous occasion for me because it was the first time since being diagnosed with depression that I found myself thinking of a future, instead of dwelling on my past. I suddenly realised that – in that moment – my long, dark day was over.
I met the support worker and the first thing I said went something like this…
“You know what, I’ve just been thinking to myself; it would be good if I could do something that I would do for nothing and still get paid for it”. She suggested that I should start coaching, using my lived experience of depression – and how I was dealing with it – to help others.

Baroque marble imaginary portrait bust of Seneca, by an anonymous sculptor of the 17th century. Museo del Prado.

Thus, I went home and devised a plan.
I wrote a short course. The course is called Positive Poetry. It begins with a basic description of Stoic fundamentals and then relates it to poetry. The poetry aspect introduces mnemonics, making the learning easier and longer lasting. It is designed to complement professional healthcare, not be a substitute for it. I plan to write more short courses in the future. First, however, I must get the fledgling venture – Zeno Coaching – up and running.
Oh! As for the depression? Well, it now seems like it was long ago and far away!

Having a Healthy Debate: Three Tips from Marcus Aurelius

by November 27, 2019

Written by Alex Barrientos, Associate Editor, Classical Wisdom
As a Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius faced many instances of adversity, not only from the Germanic tribes to the north, but from his generals and members of the Roman Senate as well.
So it is no surprise to find in his Meditations various reflections on how a rational person—the type of person the Stoic strives to be—must react to disagreements with others.
Though no one reading this is an emperor, we face disagreements everyday with our family, friends, and even strangers on social media. There’s no avoiding that (not that you have to argue with people on social media, but it will be difficult to avoid seeing things posted on there by family and friends that you don’t agree with!).
What we can try to avoid, however, is having these disagreements in an unhealthy manner, and in a way thats gets us nowhere.
Marcus Bust

Bust of Marcus Aurelius.

One could spend a lifetime learning from the wisdom contained in the Meditations (I know I plan on it!).
Yet, I’ve taken up the much smaller task of providing you with just three pieces of advice from Marcus Aurelius that will, hopefully, allow you to begin having healthier, more productive debates.
1. Being open to change

If anyone can refute me—show me I’m making a mistake or looking at things from the wrong perspective—I’ll gladly change. It’s the truth I’m after, and the truth never harmed anyone. What harms us is to persist in self-deceit and ignorance. Book VI, 21

The first thing is to begin any debate or argument with a devotion to truth. You must say to yourself, “It’s the truth I’m after.” With the truth as your aim, you’re prepared to see where someone might be wrong, where you might be wrong, or where you both might be wrong. 
And, of course, sometimes there may be no “Truth” with a capital “T” to the issue in question, in which case the intellectually honest thing to do is to simply say, “I don’t know.” Being able to say those three words is not something everyone has the humility and honesty to do, but it is required more often than not, given how nuanced the world is. 
Equestrian statue

The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

The next thing is to keep in mind that “the truth never harmed anyone.” Now, you might say, doesn’t it often hurt to hear the truth? Yes, it definitely can hurt!
But Marcus is working within the Socratic framework which holds that the truth, however painful (in Plato’s analogy of the cave, the truth is portrayed as the sun, which pains the eyes of the man who has lived his life in the shadows of ignorance), is a good in itself worthy of striving after. 
Whatever seems “harmful” or painful about the truth, in reality is good, whereas the only true harm comes from persisting in “self-deceit and ignorance.” 
Once you’ve devoted yourself to the truth, and recognized that true harm only comes from persisting in one’s own ignorance, then you’ll be open to change, which is a prerequisite for any healthy debate. 
First english translation

First English translation of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations; 1634.

2. Be patient : 

The only thing that isn’t worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don’t. Book VI, 47

So, great, now you’re open to change. But your interlocutor isn’t. What do you do? 
Well, it should not be a shock to learn that most people aren’t open to changing their minds. Reading any Facebook thread serves as a great example of how futile it can often be to try to change someone else’s mind, no matter how many facts or sources you provide that back up your own view. 
In fact, sometimes, simply showing someone that they’re wrong can make them more zealous about their beliefs! 
This doesn’t mean you should just give up. There is definitely some amount of discerning you must do when deciding who to get into an argument with. If they’re not devoted to the truth, you might be best off to leave it alone. After all, if you’re going to play chess with someone, there’s not much of a point in playing someone who has no interest in playing by the same rules as you. 

Cicero attacks Catilina at the Roman Senate, from a 19th-century fresco.

However, if you do choose to debate this person, you must do so with patience.
Sure, it might be frustrating. But weren’t you, at some point, resistant to change, ignorant of the facts regarding some issue or other, or in a situation where you felt your beliefs threatened and so clinged to them tighter? 
If you’ve devoted yourself to truth, then all that you need to be concerned with is your own disposition, living “life out truthfully and rightly.” Regarding those who haven’t done so, be patient. 
As Marcus writes later on, People exist for one another. You can instruct or endure them. Book VIII, 59

3. Be kind, humble, and consistent

Remind yourself that your task is to be a good human being; remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy. Book VIII, 5

“Be a good human being”: simple enough, right? Well, not quite. 
When someone you love is espousing views you detest, it can be easy to get angry, to lose your place, and to forget what nature demands of you. That is, it can be easy to forget your duties as a rational creature. 
aurelius on horse

Rome, Italy. Piazza del Campidoglio, with copy of equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius. The original is displayed in the Capitoline Museum.

Now, perhaps speaking “the truth as you see it” doesn’t sound too difficult. But it’s how you do it that’s important. 
You must speak it with kindness. No one wants to hear what you think if you say it with disdain or contempt. When you speak with kindness you separate yourself from those who speak with anger or hatred, and you let the truth of what you have to say stand out more. 
You must speak it with humility. People are more likely to be receptive to what you have to say when you speak your mind acknowledging that you could be wrong, that you are open to changing what you believe if good evidence or reasons are provided. 
You must speak it without hypocrisy. Be consistent, apply the same standard to yourself that you do to others. Don’t get angry with someone who is being stubborn about changing their mind, when you’ve been stubborn in the past yourself. If you would have wanted someone to be understanding and patient with you then, be understanding and patient with others now. 

Marcus Aurelius and myself, taken at the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

Some concluding reflections
These are just some of the many bits of advice Marcus Aurelius has to offer us when it comes to dealing with our fellow human beings in a healthy and productive way.
Those familiar with the Meditations will know that what I have listed above is a mere fraction of what Marcus had to say.
Yet, I think you’ll agree that it is very helpful advice.
Whether it’s your family, a friend, or a stranger on social media, the words of Marcus Aurelius can guide you to having healthier and more productive debates.
You’re not always going to win everyone over. You’re not gonna change everyone’s mind. Nor should that be your goal, since sometimes it is your own mind in need of changing.
The point is to try to get closer to the truth, or to realize how far away from it you are.
At least, that was what the great minds of the classical world hoped to do.

Christianity and Stoicism

by September 5, 2019

By Rodrigo Ferreyra, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
It is no secret that the origins of Christian thought are closely related to other Mediterranean philosophies and religions. Already determined by its Jewish heritage, Christianity additionally borrowed for itself different elements such as the Golden Age myth, the fatalism of living in a fallen world, and Zoroastrian duality. Greco-Roman influence is no less present. It was Stoicism, however, that held a remarkably special position in early Christianity.
To the recognition of the Stoics as “ecclesiastical writers” by church fathers like Saint Ambrose and Saint Jerome, we shall add the apocryphal correspondence maintained between the Latin writer Seneca and the apostle Saint Paul. Sadly, these documents, which have reached us in the format of fourteen letters, have been proved false. This does not, however, dismiss the fact of an existing bond between the Stoic school of thought and the genesis of Christianity.
Michael Pacher - Altarpiece of the Church Fathers

Michael Pacher – Altarpiece of the Church Fathers

First of all, we are to immediately notice how broadly linked their discourses are… This is especially so in their understanding of philosophy as lecturing on ethics, that is, the idea of a practical philosophy that is composed to assist one on how to act.
At the same time, they both developed an ethic extremely interested in self-improving by detachment from the mundane activities of the mind and body. Christianity finds its grace in salvation personified in the resurrection of Christ. The Christian life, as a sum of practices, guides to it.
Seneca by Vorsterman

Seneca by Vorsterman, Lucas
Datierung: 1610 / 1675

The Stoics, for their part, found guidance in being in harmony with nature throughout their everyday lives. Although these ethical positions seem to invite virtue to be part of our beings, it is interesting to notice how the Stoics ‘deal’ with these virtues. In On the Tranquility of Mind, Seneca writes:
I like for my servant a young house-bred slave without training or polish, for silverware my country-bred father’s heavy plate that bears no maker’s stamp, and for a table one that is not remarkable for the variety of its markings * or known to Rome for having passed through the hands of many stylish owners, but one that is there to be used, that makes no guest stare at it in endless pleasure or burning envy.
Seneca’s renouncement of commodities as fulfilling what he understands as the true nature of life does not show any disagreement with his attachment to slaves. From our modern point of view, it would not be stoic at all to own slaves. It wouldn’t be very Christian either. And yet, Pope Gregory I the Great (540-604), one of four Fathers of the Western Christian Church, was indeed both a stoic at heart and a slave dealer.
Saint Gregory the Great. Engraving by A. Hogenberg

Saint Gregory the Great. Engraving by A. Hogenberg after D.

Nevertheless, Seneca admittedly defended slaves as humans and preached for a just and kind behavior in dealing with them. As a matter of fact, in both Seneca and Gregory’s writings slaves are integrated into their ethical safeguard judgments: They too are to reach salvation/harmony.
How come, then, that these two schools of thought have shown a similar hypocritical ethic or, at least, no signs whatsoever of impugning the social order with their own ethical judgments?
In his Phenomenology, Hegel argues that the historical development of Stoicism was a movement from a collective to an individual consciousness: the “freedom of self-consciousness”. It was after the fall of the Roman Republic that the most influential Latin Stoics appeared. Stoicism was a response to the ending of the institution in charge of society’s mind. The Republic was replaced with a ‘State’ in which these new thinkers had no part.
Epicurus in Thomas Stanley History of Philosophy

Epicurus in Thomas Stanley History of Philosophy

Yes, both servants and slaves are free owners of their consciousness, but at the same time, they are unable to address critical thinking in order to change any nature nor salvation they may be pursuing. Judgment remains solely within the “rational”, that is, the Latin or Christian social order. Control always remains in the self without reaching, as Hegel states, the further skepticism required for the true realization of this freedom: Where mere self-discipline and awareness find its limit.
We can acknowledge, then, that both Christianity and Stoicism preached ‘self-improving’ as a means to an end. And while their purpose was certainly different, the adepts of both philosophies identically adopted a passive role over the world in which they lived to achieve it.

Marcus Aurelius and the Sophists on Justice

by August 2, 2019

Stoicism and the “Great Discourse” of Protagoras by Donald Robertson, author of “How to Think like a Roman Emperor”
What is it, then, that arouses your discontent? Human wickedness? Call to mind the doctrine that rational creatures have come into the world for the sake of one another, and that tolerance is a part of justice… (Meditations, 4.2)
The virtue of justice is one of the main themes that runs throughout The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. For Stoics, this is a less formal concept than the English word implies and really refers to social virtue in quite a broad sense. Justices entails the exercise of wisdom, kindness, and fairness in our relationships with others both individually and collectively. However, it’s also bound up with Stoic pantheism, the belief that everything in the universe, including every human being, is part of a sacred whole. We’re all in this together as citizens of a single world-city – a notion sometimes referred to as ethical “cosmopolitanism”. More than that, though, the Stoics believed that nature intended human beings to actively help one another. We’re fundamentally designed to co-operate for our own mutual benefit – and malice or conflict between us, though common, is against our true nature.
Marcus Aurelius on Horseback

Marcus Aurelius on Horseback

Marcus, like other Stoics, assumes that human nature is inherently reasoning – we are essentially thinking creatures – and that we therefore have a duty to apply reason consistently to our lives. Doing so would culminate, of course, in the virtue of wisdom. However, there’s a less well-known assumption in Stoicism, which holds that humans are not only essentially rational but also social. “Now every rational being,” writes Marcus, “by virtue of its rationality, is also a social being” (Meditations, 10.2). From this it follows that in order to truly flourish and fulfill our own natural potential, we should excel in terms of our social relationships. Doing so would culminate in the virtue of justice. Humans are naturally rational and social creatures – the Stoic wise man (or woman) is therefore someone who excels in both regards, exercising both wisdom and justice consistently in his (or her) life.
Marcus tells himself that the supreme good of every creature lies in the goal for which it is naturally constituted and that the supreme good for a human must consist in kinship with others, and the exercise of social virtues such as justice, as it has “long been proved that we were born for fellowship” (Meditations, 5.16). Indeed, he goes as far as to say that whoever commits an act of injustice acts impiously against the most venerable of gods “since universal nature has created rational creatures for the sake of one another, to benefit their fellows according to their deserts and in no way to do them harm” (Meditations, 9.1).
He therefore reasons that as he is part of the social system, his every action should be dedicated toward improving society, which he tends to call the goal of seeking “the common welfare of mankind”. Any action which does the opposite “tears your life apart”, in a sense, by alienating us from the rest of mankind and preventing us from experiencing a sense of oneness with the rest of humanity – “as does the citizen in a state who for his own part cuts himself off from the concord of his fellows” (Meditations, 9.23).
Bust of Marcus Aurelius

Bust of Marcus Aurelius

Indeed, Marcus repeatedly argues that because humans are essentially social creatures our individual welfare necessarily depends upon the welfare of our society, and ultimately the welfare of our species – the great city or society of humankind as a whole. “What brings no benefit to the hive”, he says, “brings none to the bee” (Meditations, 6.54). Elsewhere he explains more literally “What causes no harm to the city causes no harm to the citizen” (Meditations, 5.22). He actually advises himself to respond to every impression of having been harmed by affirming to himself that: “If the community is not harmed by this, neither am I”. He adds that if the community really is harmed he should not be angry with the person who is responsible but rather show him what he has failed to see.
Elsewhere Marcus goes further and states that only what harms the laws can truly harm the city presumably if they are rendered unjust (Meditations, 10.33). He reasons that those things the majority of us ordinarily complain about as misfortunes in life – such as illness, poverty, or persecution from others – do not themselves corrupt the laws, and can therefore bring genuine harm neither to the city nor to its citizens.
If I remember, then, that I am a part of such a whole, I shall be well contented with all that comes to pass; and in so far as I am bound by a tie of kinship to other parts of the same nature as myself I shall never act against the common interest, but rather, I shall take proper account of my fellows, and direct every impulse to the common benefit and turn it away from anything that runs counter to that benefit. And when this is duly accomplished, my life must necessarily follow a happy course, just as you would observe that any citizen’s life proceeds happily on its course when he makes his way through it performing actions which benefit his fellow citizens and he welcomes whatever his city assigns to him. (Meditations, 10.6)
Protagoras of Abdera /Painting by Ribera -

Protagoras of Abdera, Painting by Ribera

Although Marcus undoubtedly inherited these ideas from his own Stoic teachers there’s also a much earlier source for the notion that humans are designed to work together by exercising social virtues such as justice, kindness, and fairness to one another. It comes from a speech called The Great Discourse by the first great Sophist thinker, Protagoras. It originated about six centuries before the time of Marcus Aurelius but remained very well-known in the ancient world because Plato recorded a version of it in his dialogue named after Protagoras. What follows is a rough paraphrase of the speech’s content…
The Great Discourse of Protagoras
At first there were gods but no mortal creatures. When the time came, the gods fashioned countless animals by mixing together the elements of fire and earth. Zeus commanded the titan Prometheus to assign different abilities to each living thing.
Some creatures were slow moving and so to make up for this he gave them great strength. Others were weak and so to these Prometheus granted speed. Some he armed while others were given various forms of protection. Small creatures were granted the capability for winged flight or for concealing their dwellings underground. Large beasts had their size for protection. And he took care to grant all creatures some means for their own preservation so that no species should be in danger of elimination by others.
Prometheus creates man

Prometheus creates man

Having equipped them to survive among each other in this way Prometheus then granted them protection against their environment and the harshness of the seasons. He clothed some with dense hair or thick skin, sufficient to endure the heat of summer and ward off the cold through winter months. To some he gave strong hooves, to others claws and hard bodies that were not easily wounded. And every creature was assigned its own source of food. Some pastured on the earth, others ate fruits hanging from trees or roots from beneath the ground. Yet others were predators who fed upon certain types of animals for their meat. To the predators he assigned fewer offspring whereas their prey were more abundant so that there would always be enough to serve as food.
Once he had finished assigning to each species its own special capabilities, however, Prometheus was left with the realization that he had nothing left to give the race of man. Humans are born naked, unshod, unarmed, and with no bed in which to lay their head and rest safely. They were more vulnerable than other creatures and seemed bound to perish. Not knowing what else to do, in desperation, Prometheus stole the technical expertise of the gods Hephaestus and Athena and gave that to mankind, along with the gift of fire.
Once human beings were granted these divine gifts, however, they sensed their kinship to the gods and began praying and building altars to them. They invented clothing, bedding, dwellings, agriculture, and even the use of language to express their thoughts and acquire learning. Men lived apart at first but finding themselves beset continually and harassed by wild beasts they sought to build cities for their own mutual protection.
Prometheus steals fire

Prometheus steals fire

However, the wisdom that concerns our relations with others belonged to Zeus alone, king of the gods and patron of friendship and families. No sooner than men gathered together trying to save themselves, being lawless, they began instead to wrong one another and fighting broke out among them. Scattering once again from their failed cities, they continued to perish in the wild.
Looking down upon this chaotic scene with dismay, Zeus feared for the destruction of the entire human race. He therefore sent Hermes, the messenger of the gods, to teach mortals about justice and also to instill in them a sense of shame concerning wrongdoing as a deterrent against injustice. By this means Zeus now granted mankind a unique capacity to unite themselves in cities governed by law and the principles of justice, maintaining order through the bonds of friendship and fostering their sense of community.
Hermes asked Zeus whether he should distribute justice and the various social and political virtues among men in the same way as technical knowledge concerning the other crafts had been shared. One man who possesses the knowledge of medicine, for example, was enough to benefit many other men. However, Zeus decreed that every human being must be granted at least some rudimentary knowledge of justice and the arts needed to unite society. He even laid down the law that anyone who was found unable to respect justice and the rule of law should be put to death to prevent them from becoming a pestilence in the city.
Statue of Zeus

Statue of Zeus

For this reason, said Protagoras, although we seek the advice only of those few who are experts with regard to crafts such as medicine or carpentry, concerning justice we allow every citizen to have his say. Further, if someone boasts of being an expert in playing the flute or some such art but is found to be nothing of the sort then he is merely ridiculed as a fool. However, anyone found incapable of respecting justice should be expelled from society because each and every citizen is expected to share at least somewhat in this capacity, so that he may live harmoniously in the company of others.
The Sophist Protagoras originally expressed this doctrine that humans are naturally social creatures in the guise of a myth. According to the tradition that followed, we are obliged to realize our potential for wisdom by exercising the gift of reason to the best of our ability. So we are also obliged, as Marcus Aurelius said many centuries later, to fulfill our natural potential for friendly collaboration with others by exhibiting the virtue of justice.