Philosophers are Athenians
But how did Athens managed to gain all this respect that sometimes it was enough to save from complete destruction? For centuries after Socrates (trial) and Pericles, Athens served global thinking as a center of human thought and philosophy until 6th century AD and before Christianity prevailed in the western world, an era that is called today as Classic. The schools were these of Plato, Aristotle, Cynics and Antisthenes, in Kynosarges, where also Diogenes belonged to. But after Plato and Aristotle what? How did Athens passed to global history not like Rome and Carthage?
Plato’s Academy and Aristotle’s Lyceum could be seen as Socrates’ legacy to philosophy. But what followed after them, nobody could have ever imagined it. Plato managed to record birth of dialogue and logic, and Aristotle was the world’s first scientist. After them more followed and made Athens what it is today: a global symbol of wisdom and learning. Here is a selection of them .
Antisthenes & Diogenes. From Cynicism to Stoicism
Diogenes was born in Sinope, an Ionian colony on the Black Sea, between 412 and 404 BC and died at Corinth in 323 BC, some say the same day with Alexander the Great. Diogenes declared himself a cosmopolitan (after Socrates) and a citizen of the world and he proved it, by moving later from Athens to Corinth. Diogenes lived in Athens during Plato’s era, and he was famous for bulling him publicly in Agora but also during his lectures.
Diogenes was accused of money forgery in his hometown, his father was probably a banker, and he was exiled. After Athens, he was was captured by pirates and sold into slavery.
Cynicism was his philosophy, another path for Socrates passivity, that passed to Crates, who taught it to Zeno of Citium. Zeno established the school of Stoicism, one of the main philosophical schools ever. Diogenes first teacher was Antisthenes, pupil of Socrates.
Antisthenes (445-365), learned rhetoric under Gorgias (famous from Plato’s dialogues). He later became a pupil of Socrates. He followed a more “Christian” life, meaning ascetic. He is considered the founder of Cynicism, by lecturing at Cynosarges, where he founded a school.
Definitely there was no “cynicism” theory during his lectures, the term was developed later.
Crates, Zeno and Stoicism. Athens’ Paradigm to the world
The next century in Athens had one more surprise.. Crates was born in Thebes, a member of a wealthy family, but he decided to move to Athens, give away his wealth and follow Diogenes. He later met with Zeno, a Cypriot wealthy merchant, accidentally.
Zeno arrived to Athens after a sea journey (when probably he lost his fortune) and visited to a bookstore, probably in a Stoa of Athens agora. There he asked the bookseller where he could meet person like Socrates, (whose fame had already spread around Mediterranean). At that time Crates was passing by and the bookseller pointed at him.
Crates wrote many works, but none of them is saved today, and Plutarch wrote a biography, that is not saved as well. He was nicknamed the Door-Opener, because he could het into inside any house and people would welcome him. He was also married another immigrant in Athens, Hipparchia of Maroneia (from northen Greece), a sister of his student Metrocles. Their marriage was a real event, since they were both equal.
So Athens was a center for all people that wanted not only to educate themselves, but to live a life of a saint, as we would call it today. Crates’ student, Zeno, followed the same path and created his one philosophy, Stoicism.
Zeno was an innovative student and teacher. He was a student of Crates of Thebes but also of Xenocrates (from Chalcedon, near Constantinople) the director of Plato’s Academy. Moreover, he studied at the Megarian School which was directed by Stilpo, another notable philosopher.
Zeno begun his teaching carrer in the Poikile Stoa in 301 BC, this is why his students were name Stoics. Stoics were behaving and teaching Virtue- Areti- and were actually christinity’s forerunners.
Famous Stoics were Seneca (the Elder, 54 BC-39 AD) and Epictetus, even Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Generally, ancient Greek thought passed to Roman thought by the Roman admirers of ancient Greek culture, -that it was not ancient back then- till Rome lost its power as a capital and the Empire’s residence was transferred to Constantinople.
Modern scholars usually divide the history of Stoicism into three phases, Early Stoa, Middle Stoa and Late, with Epictetus, Seneca the Younger and Marcus Aurelius. After Stoicism declined, so did Rome, with the last Five Good Emperors (Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius).
From Stoicism to the Garden of Epicurus
Epicurus (341-270) was born in Samos in 341 CB and was attracted by the philosophy of Democritus (as Karl Marx was). Thirty years later he began to teach in the island of Lesvos. Alexander the Great at Babylon and Diogenes at Corinth died at 323 BC. Around 311 Zeno arrived in Athens, aged 21, and Epicurus around 306, where he bought an estate. It was the famous Garden, from where was delivering his lessons to Athenians. With Alexander there was another philosopher travelling to Asia, Pyrrho of Elis, meeting the famous Gymnosophists in India. When Pyrrho returned to Athens, he was given the rights of citizenship.
The age between Alexander’s death and Actium (31 BC) is the period where Stoicism, Epicureanism coexisting with Platonism and Aristotelianism in Athens. Epicurus wrote hundrends of works, but few survived. Karl Marx’s PhD was about the differences of Epicurean and Democritus philosophy.
Why this ancient philosophy wave inclined and stopped? Because of poverty and the new religion of christianity, that changed the face of Europe and of course Athens.