Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius: The Masters of Stoicism.

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How an emperor, wealthy playwright, and former slave contributed to one of the most influential life philosophies.

Stoicism is a philosophy with its roots in Ancient Greece and Rome. It maintains that happiness consists in accepting what you cannot change, changing what you can, and living according to the four cardinal virtues of prudence (practical wisdom), justice (morality), temperance (moderation), and fortitude (courage).

The first Stoic author we have many texts from is Seneca. Seneca was born in the year 4 BCE in southern Spain and became a wealthy playwright and advisor to emperor Nero. He was exiled from Rome by emperor Claudius, then was secured an invitation back by Nero’s mother, then eventually killed by Nero in 65 CE.

Stoicism’s second major author whose texts survive was Epictetus. Epictetus was born in the year 55 CE in what is present-day Turkey. He was born into slavery but eventually won his freedom. He taught philosophy in Rome for over two decades, until he (and all other philosophers) were banished by emperor Domitian. He fled to Greece and founded a philosophy school, at which he taught until his death in 135 CE.

The third Stoic author—one of whose writings have come down to us intact—is Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius was born in the year 121 CE in Rome. He was considered one of Rome’s greatest leaders and is most known for his Meditations, in which he journaled private thoughts and self-advice about living virtuously while ruling the greatest empire history has ever known.

Despite enduring very tumultuous lives, all three found happiness and tranquillity in what was to become the philosophy of Stoicism. And that continues today: Stoicism counts George Washington, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nelson Mandela, JK Rowling, and many others among its modern practitioners.

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