Greek Philosophers of the Classical and Hellenistic Period
As we reach the classical period of philosophy, there are other Greek philosophers (or if born elsewhere, those who made their way to ancient Greece to practise teachings) who are contemporaries of or who came after Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.
Again, despite not holding as much gravitas in popular culture, these philosophers are deeply influential in philosophical thought and can resonate profoundly with our lives today:
Zeno of Citium (c. 334BC – c. 262BC)
Coming from Citium (Cyprus), Zeno was the founder of Stoicism. It was a school of philosophy that flourished in Athens during this period. Zeno taught how to live a good life that is free from suffering by being aware of the bad things that can happen to us.
Stoicism encourages this state of mind and says that suffering arises because one holds unrealistic expectations about situations in life. If we are too hopeful, then the disappointment and failure in not achieving what we want can cause us deep pain.
However, if we are aware of the possible negative outcomes of certain situations, then we can deal with them in a much better way. To be ‘stoic’ is to remain calm under pressure, conserving one’s emotions as to not flounder in difficulty.
Zeno encouraged living without unrealistic expectations and dealing with the reality of the world. This is what can make us resilient and emotionally stable during hard times. In doing so, we can build a path towards self-improvement and be content with our lives as they are.
Remembering Zeno can help us to prepare for dark times. We learn how to not let tough situations overcome us, which can help us suffer a little less.
Diogenes (c. 412 BC – 323BC)
Diogenes was an advocate and practiser of Cynicism, a school of thought in ancient Greece. He lived in Athens after being exiled from Sinope and is known for his strange way of life. He embodies the notion of ‘practice what you preach’.
Cynicism was a practice of philosophy that taught that living in virtue, to be self-sufficient and in compliance with nature was the key to a meaningful life; to live simply, free from material possessions and to reject normal desires.
Diogenes embodied this completely. He is said to have lived in a jar, tub or barrel type object on the streets of Athens, living in poverty and begging for a living.
Whilst practising his philosophy, he would also torment passers-by to show his disdain for civilised life. He wanted to show the meaninglessness of civilised life and that the artificialities that arise from society can never provide fulfilment.
Maybe Diogenes took an extreme position to teach his philosophy and may seem quite mad and bizarre. However, his simple vision of well-being through living in contentment without material things is something that we should all take heed from.
Epicurus (341BC – 270BC)
Perhaps the most well known of the ‘less known’ ancient Greek philosophers, Epicurus founded a school of philosophy that eventually went on to be called Epicureanism.
Epicurus concerned his teachings with how to best achieve true happiness. This consisted of concentrating on pursuing what is pleasurable and void of pain. This doesn’t mean the pursuit of anything; just the pleasures that are moral and that provide us with the right amount of fulfilment (without suffering) needed to live a meaningful life.
To do this, Epicurus thought we should strive to live a simple life. He himself owned little clothing and allegedly lived off only bread, cheese and milk. To be truly happy, he taught that all we need is friendship, fulfilling work and contentment without luxury.
Romantic relationships, although they can provide us with a large amount of pleasure, often become a source of pain. If we surround ourselves with good friends, then we are often at our best and reduce our suffering.
He encouraged his followers to work in jobs that they feel most satisfied with and where they are working for themselves or helping others. In these jobs, money should not be the primary reason for taking up the occupation.
Epicurus believed that true peace of mind could only come to us through simple, sober activities that can provide calm and contentment. We are naive and misguided to think that material possessions can bring us happiness and the internal serenity that we seek.
What Epicurus wants us to do is pursue simple pleasures that are moral and that reduce the possibility of suffering. In other words, it is the simple things in life that bring us true happiness.
Why They Should Be ‘Well Known’
Each of these ancient Greek philosophers, in their own way, provide valuable messages and ideas that we can take away and implement into our own lives. The fact that aspects of their 2000-year-old teachings are still relatable and transferable to the modern day demonstrates their enduring importance.
This is why these ancient Greek philosophers should be well-known in popular culture. Being aware of these wise individuals’ basic intuitions about the world and our individual lives may provide deeply worthwhile education and solace when we need it the most.
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