This book by 19th
century German scholar Eduard Zeller got me
started on Stoic and Epicurean philosophy when I was
in my twenties, and the two philosophies have enriched
my life ever since. They are both practical and easy
to understand, and they can help anyone get through
the difficult periods of their lives. While I have
never been interested in the third system Zeller
writes about, Skepticism, but his analysis of both
Stoicism and Epicureanism are still worth reading.
All of which means, in my
opinion, that this is the first book you should read
about the two systems. Most contemporary
interpretations of both Stoicism and Epicureanism
strike me as either prettified or inaccurate, and they
seem to be aimed at giving the reader some kind of
spiritualized ego-gratification, instead of the kind
of self-awareness and self-discipline necessary to
bring about a meaningful personality transformation.
But a careful study of the surviving Stoic and
Epicurean texts, plus a book like Zeller's, can change
anyone's life for the better. And while there is much
information in Zeller's book which tends to drag, if
you are willing to persevere with the text until the
end, you will find much practical advice about how to
live a tranquil and contented life, something which is
needed today as much as it was over two millennia ago.
Throughout the book
Professor Zeller takes care to emphasize the
differences between the three systems instead of the
similarities. However, given the fact that Stoicism
developed out of Epicureanism, there are definite
resemblances. I recommend that instead of limiting
yourself to one particular School, you should take
what you find valuable from each. For example, Stoics
have no place for the needs of the body in their
system, while the Epicureans reject the idea that
human consciousness can survive after death. In my
opinion, a well-rounded human being should allow for
both. So perhaps the best way to follow these
philosophies is perhaps the idea of a stoicurean.
A good stoicurean will not only acquire the ataraxia (ἀταραξία)
necessary for inner tranquility but the apatheia (ἀπάθεια)
needed to deal with externals as well. And certainly
everyone in our attention-whoring world today needs to
be reminded of the vanity of glory.
As you read the book it becomes obvious that the Stoics are Zeller's heroes; most of his criticism is reserved for the Epicureans and the Skeptics. But it is also interesting to see that Zeller is honest enough to admit that the Stoics actually approved of . . . divination! Well, in my opinion, the Stoic acceptance of divination is a point in their favor, not a weakness. But rationalist that he is, Zeller apparently must grit his teeth and make the best of it any way he can:
The highest business of philosophy is to reunite man with the divine world external to himself. In a system so purely based on nature as theirs, the supposition that God works for definite ends after the manner of men, exceptionally announcing to one or the other a definite result--in short, the marvellous--was out of place. But to infer thence--as their opponents, the Epicureans, did--that the whole art of divination is a delusion, was more than the Stoics could do. The belief in an extraordinary care of God for individual men was too comforting an idea for them to renounce; they not only appealed to divination as the strongest proof of the existence of Gods and the government of Providence, but they also drew the converse conclusion, that, if there be Gods, there must also be divination, since the benevolence of the Gods would not allow them to refuse to mankind so inestimable a gift.
This makes perfect sense
Read The Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics here.
the oneness of the soul,
which permeates all its parts,
depends, in the opinion of the Stoics,
the oneness of the universe.
--Eduard Zeller, The Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics