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Lives of the Stoics summary

The Art of Living from Zeno to Marcus Aurelius

4.4 (1449 ratings)
28 mins

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Lives of the Stoics by Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman details the teachings and lives of stoic philosophers such as Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, highlighting their principles of virtue and resilience in the face of adversity.

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    Lives of the Stoics
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    Zeno (334 BCE–262 BCE)

    Here we are, on the island of Cyprus, in the fourth century BCE. With us on this island is a man named Zeno. He’s a wealthy merchant, and he makes his living trading in a rare purple dye. This dye, which enslaved laborers make from the blood of sea snails, is in high demand among the rich and powerful, who use it to color their sumptuous robes.

    It’s a good life. Zeno is comfortable, he wants for nothing, but today tragedy strikes. The ship carrying Zeno’s precious cargo is wrecked at sea. Just like that, with the swiftness of a crashing wave, all is lost. Zeno and his family are left with nothing.

    This is one possible account of Zeno’s misfortune. In another, he was on the ship. Or maybe he was safely on land. We don’t know. But we do know how he reacted. Some people – most people – would have been broken by this devastating turn of events, but not Zeno. He confronted his bad luck with resilience and courage – exactly the sort of qualities that Stoicism would come to represent.

    Rather than cursing his fate, he embraced it. He moved to the city of Athens, the beating heart of Ancient Greece, and reinvented himself as a philosopher. He even went so far as to praise fate: “Well done, Fortune,” he’s said to have said, “to drive me thus to philosophy!”

    Fourth century Athens was the perfect place for a budding philosopher. Fueled both by business and, shamefully, by the slave trade, the city was a commercial success. Its educated elite had plenty of time to ponder life’s biggest existential questions. Before long, Zeno found a respected teacher, a man named Crates of Thebes, who introduced him to the basics of philosophy.

    Zeno’s education began with an eccentric lesson. Crates asked Zeno to carry a pot of lentil soup across the city. Believing that this task was beneath him, Zeno took the soup through the back streets, in an attempt to avoid being seen. Crates was having none of that. He came up to Zeno and tipped the soup down legs, plain for all to see. The lesson was simple: Zeno should care less about what other people thought of him.

    Before long, Zeno became a respected philosopher in his own right. He founded a new philosophy, called Stoicism, and formulated its four guiding principles: courage, wisdom, moderation, and justice.

    Like the Stoics who came after him, Zeno believed that philosophy should not be confined to the classroom but should instead be put into action in daily life. So, rather than shouting from a bell tower or speaking in a grand lecture hall, Zeno and his followers discussed their ideas in the middle of the city, on the Stoa Poikile – the “painted porch” – of the Agora of Athens. Which is where Stoicism gets its name from – the “Stoa” in Stoa Poikile.

    And that is perhaps the greatest testament to Zeno’s modesty. Rather than naming his philosophy after himself, he named it after the porch on which he taught. Next up, we’ll meet one of the people who studied on that porch, a student of Zeno’s named Cleanthes.

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    What is Lives of the Stoics about?

    Lives of the Stoics (2020) explores Stoicism through the lives of its earliest followers. Packed with insights into the leaders, wars, and politics of classical antiquity, these blinks provide a fresh yet historical look at this popular philosophy.

    Lives of the Stoics Review

    Lives of the Stoics (2020) explores the lives and teachings of the ancient Stoics, offering valuable insights for navigating the challenges of modern life. Here is what makes this book a worthwhile read:

    • Through compelling stories and historical anecdotes, the book brings the philosophy of Stoicism to life, making it relatable and applicable to everyday circumstances.
    • It provides practical wisdom and actionable advice that readers can use to cultivate resilience, find inner peace, and lead more fulfilling lives.
    • With its accessible writing style and captivating narrative, the book manages to make the rich and complex philosophy of Stoicism engaging, ensuring that it is anything but boring.

    Who should read Lives of the Stoics?

    • Philosophy buffs seeking new insights
    • Strivers looking for inspiration
    • Budding historians looking for a fresh perspective

    About the Author

    Ryan Holiday is an American author, media strategist, and bookstore owner. He’s also the host of the Daily Stoic podcast. His other books include Stillness is the Key, Ego is the Enemy, and The Obstacle is the Way.

    Stephen Hanselman is an author and publisher. He studied at Fresno Pacific University and obtained a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School. His previous books include The Daily Stoic

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    Lives of the Stoics FAQs 

    What is the main message of Lives of the Stoics?

    The main message of Lives of the Stoics is to learn from the ancient Stoic philosophers and apply their teachings to modern life.

    How long does it take to read Lives of the Stoics?

    The reading time for Lives of the Stoics varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Lives of the Stoics a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Lives of the Stoics is a valuable read for anyone interested in Stoic philosophy. It provides insights into the lives of Stoic philosophers and offers practical wisdom for modern challenges.

    Who is the author of Lives of the Stoics?

    The authors of Lives of the Stoics are Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman.

    What to read after Lives of the Stoics?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Lives of the Stoics, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday & Stephen Hanselman
    • A Handbook for New Stoics by Massimo Pigliucci and Gregory Lopez
    • The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
    • How to Be a Stoic by Massimo Pigliucci
    • Courage is Calling by Ryan Holiday
    • Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday
    • How to Think Like a Roman Emperor by Donald Robertson
    • A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine
    • The Wealth Money Can't Buy by Robin Sharma
    • The Little Book of Stoicism by Jonas Salzgeber