The good news is that starting with Zeno of Citium (334-262 BC), the Stoics articulated a very systematic Pagan Theology, or at least as systematic as theology can be among polytheists. It could be (but really needn’t be) misleading to call this “a” Theology, since no two Stoics agreed on their theology, nor are the concepts of “heresy” or “orthodoxy” even coherent within a Stoic, indeed, within any genuinely philosophical, context. But that, obviously, is a good thing, and, in particular, makes for a much superior, in every way, manner of theologizing than can be found among the heretic-hunting creed-mongers, who are the natural enemies of all Truth and Reason.
The bad news is that very little remains of the theological writings of the great founders of Stoicism: Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus. In fact, of the three only one complete work of any kind comes down to us, and this, thank the Gods, is Cleanthes’ Hymn to Zeus (of which a complete translation along with accompanying commentary can be found in Meijer’s book below). But puzzling out the surviving fragments of the early Stoics, along with other important materials including the works of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, as well as Cicero‘s redaction of Stoic theology in his De Natura Deorum, and much else, is a far from impossible, and even further from thankless, task. At least for the sufficiently curious and brave.
What follows are some suggestions from one seeker to other seekers. It does not even amount to “guidance” although I do call it a “resource guide”, for lack of a better phrase to describe it. The following eight works are, in my opinion, the core materials available in the English language that are essential for anyone who wants to gain an understanding of Stoic Theology. Several other works, including a whole sub-section on Divination and Astrology, will be listed in a follow-up post.
What Is Ancient Philosophy?
by Pierre Hadot
It is simply impossible to understand Stoicism in isolation as “a philosophy” without a solid grounding in philosophy itself, that is, ancient philosophy as a whole. Fortunately, there is Pierre Hadot’s great masterwork, What Is Ancient Philosophy?
Googlebooks online version of Hadot’s book
Notre Dame Philosophy Reviews review of What Is Ancient Philosophy?
Bryn Mawr Classical Review review of What Is Ancient Philosophy?
New York Times review of What Is Ancient Philosophy?
Essays In Philosophy (Humboldt State University) review of What Is Ancient Philosophy?
First Things (a conservative Christian Journal) reivew of What Is Ancient Philosophy?
“Remembering Pierre Hadot” by Michael Chase
by P.A. Meijer
Googlebooks online version of Meijer’s book
BMCR (Bryn Mawr Classical Reveiw) review of Meijer’s book
Excerpt from BMCR review (by Marcelo D. Boeri):
It is a very well known fact that the works of the Older Stoics are lost; their remains, spread and scattered as they are, are so many that the researcher sometimes feels intimidated when attempting to account for some particular issue in their thought. So by gathering in a single book some of the main arguments the Stoics designed to prove the existence of the cosmic god and the traditional gods, Meijer (“M.”) has produced a welcome addition to the growing stock of studies devoted to the Stoics. This is a rich book full of appealing suggestions and sometimes provocative readings; given its length (256 pages of small and condensed type), however, I shall limit myself to a brief consideration of some points of detail.
M.’s main purpose is to present “the Stoic arguments and the counter-arguments against the existence of the Stoic cosmic god and the traditional gods put forward by the adversaries of the Stoa” (p. xii). The book also provides three appendixes (a translation and running commentary of Cleanthes’ “Hymn to Zeus”; a discussion of whether or not Chrysippus situated the cosmos in the centre of the void; and an examination of Alexinus’ mocking parodies of Zeno’s arguments), and several indexes (of themes, of names, and of places). Although from the very beginning the discussion is very technical, the introductions to each chapter are quite useful for understanding the focus of the chapter as a whole and the value of each argument within it. The book may thus turn out to be appropriate for undergraduate students interested in the foundations of Stoic theology. However, the work is basically aimed at scholars with a good knowledge of the issues under discussion.
As M. rightly remarks, some of the Stoic proofs involve the existence of a cosmic god, i.e. the cosmos as a rational and wise being. This implies that the Stoics were willing to defend a monotheistic stance, although the alleged proofs for the existence of a cosmic mastermind do not strictly speaking aim at proving the existence of the cosmic god, but rather at proving that the cosmic god is rational, animate, and wise. In fact, one of the major purposes of M’s book is to argue that the Stoic arguments presuppose the existence of a cosmic god (cf. p. 11; 24).
M. proceeds to develop his project by a critical exposition of some of the key passages we have for reconstructing the Stoic doctrines. Thus he quotes extensively many passages taken from Sextus Empiricus, Diogenes Laertius, and Cicero, among others. For the most part, he offers the original texts in Greek or Latin along with an English translation in the footnotes.1 M.’s translations are usually very accurate, although I have some doubts about his rendering of logikon by “logical”. It seems a little weird to say that the cosmos is a “logical” thing (see Sextus Empiricus, Adv. Math. 9.104; quoted on 2).
Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life
by A.A. Long
Googlebooks online version of Long’s book
BMCR review of Long’s book
Up to now scholars have not approached E[pictetus] as author, stylist, educator, and thinker, according to the eminent scholar of Stoicism Tony L[ong]. The aim of this book is to fill precisely this gap. L wants “to provide an accessible guide to reading E, both as a remarkable historical figure and as a thinker whose recipe for a free and satisfying life can engage our modern selves, in spite of our cultural distance from him” (2). This goal is met admirably. Not only does L succeed in presenting E on his own terms, but in the process, he fairly demolishes the view, held by many since Adolf Bonhöffer,1 that E is a sturdy but unoriginal moralist who basically rehashed the same ideas, with an emphasis on practical application, that were articulated in a more sophisticated, theoretically fastidious form by Chrysippus and the early Stoics.
L’s translations respect the tone and rhetoric of E’s Greek and avoid jarring literalness. Suggestions for further readings and scholarly notes are appended to the end of the introduction and each chapter. Nine chapters comprise the core of the book: 1. Epictetus in his Time and Place; 2. The Discourses; 3. The Socratic Paradigm; 4. Philosophy and Pedagogy; 5. Reading Epictetus; 6. Natures: Divine, Human, Animal; 7. From Theology to Ethics; 8. Autonomy and Integrity; 9. Appropriate Actions and Feelings. These are followed by an epilogue and two appendices non-specialists will find especially user-friendly: a glossary of over seven dozen Greek terms with translations and references to pages in the text where the terms figure prominently, and a ‘Who’s Who: Stoics and Others’. Ten pages of references, an extensive index of passages cited, and a somewhat abbreviated general index complete the volume. The jacket suggests that the book is intended for the general reader; while parts of the middle chapters will challenge non-specialists, as a whole this work is a wonderfully clear and cogent introduction to E. I will summarize each chapter and the epilogue and offer a few very minor critical remarks.
On the Nature of the Gods
by Marcus Tullius Cicero, translated by P.G. Walsh
Book II of Cicero’s De Natura Deorum provides the most complete surviving ancient presentation of Stoic Theology. P.G. Walsh’s OUP translation includes a very helpful Introduction, notes and other supporting material.
Googlebooks online version
BMCR review of Walsh’s translation
Peter Walsh offers a new translation of De Natura Deorum [DND] with introduction and notes. The forty-five page introduction concisely covers a sensible range of topics: Cicero’s biography as relevant to DND, a summary of his philosophical works which indicates the subjects they treat, traditional Roman views about the gods, Cicero’s sources for DND, an outline of the philosophies of the Hellenistic philosophical schools represented in DND (Epicureans, Stoics, and Academics), the literary form of DND and its characters, and an interesting section on the later history of the work through the eighteenth century. The translation, as we would expect from Walsh, reflects a masterful command of Latin and of English style. Walsh translates the fragments and places them after 3.65. Like the introduction, the sixty-nine pages of notes are intended for non-specialists and are in the main uncontroversial and explanatory rather than interpretive.
The Discourses of Epictetus
translated by Robin Hard, revised by J.M. Dent, edited by Christopher Gill
Googlebooks online version
This is my personal favorite translation-wise. And at $9.95 at amazon, the price is right (they even have a used copy in “very good” condition for $2.95 plus shipping!). Two older translations are available online at the Perseus website: George Long’s 1888 translation, and also Thomas Wentworth Higginson’s 1865 translation. Perseus also has the original koine Greek of Epictetus himself online.
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
I personally prefer the Oxford University Press edition based on A. S. L. Farquharson’s 1944 translation. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations offer an unguarded look into the private reflections of a devout Pagan and a sincere follower of the Stoic way.
Googlebooks version of OUP edition
The complete text of George Long’s 1862 translation
The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
by Pierre Hadot
Googlebooks online version of Hadot’s book
BMCR review of Inner Citadel
… In The Inner Citadel, Hadot applies to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations his characteristic interpretative approach: treating ancient philosophy as a “way of life,” in particular one which provides its students with “spiritual exercises” to enable them to make progress towards wisdom, and treating ancient philosophical texts with attention to the “forms of discourse,” or constraints of genre, tradition, and audience that affected their production.1 Hadot’s extended application of this approach to Marcus gives readers an opportunity to evaluate its fruitfulness. Below, I give a brief chapter-by-chapter summary of Hadot’s interpretation of Marcus’ Meditations, commenting along the way on some general issues in The Inner Citadel: (1) the treatment of Marcus’ eclecticism vs. Stoic orthodoxy, (2) the value of indifferents, (3) the Stoics’ account of the relationship between the disciplines of logic, physics, and ethics, especially in their theoretical and practical dimensions . . . .
The Inner Citadel is a rich and substantial book and will certainly affect future scholarship on Marcus Aurelius. One wishes the author had engaged more with the English-language scholarship on Stoicism (such as Inwood’s work mentioned above) and considered objections and alternatives to his interpretations — but perhaps that is just wishing that he wrote more in the style of analytically-trained historians of philosophy.
The Morality of Happiness
by Julia Annas
Ethics and theology are just as inseparable in Paganism as they are in any other religious tradition. In this book, Annas does an excellent job of presenting a thorough and wide-ranging, but also highly readable and engaging, study of ancient ethical theories. The key thing about Annas’ book is the way in which she demonstrates that “ancient ethical thought is a recognizable form of moral thought.” This is how she explains what she means by that, and why this is important:
That is, the ancient theories are theories of what modern moral theories are theories of; they are not a different, lost form of thought that we can study but have no practical interest in. I have emphasized one failing I hope to avoid: that of seeing ancient ethics as too readily available for our use. But I hope also to avoid the opposite failing: that of seeing it as so fundamentally different from modern moral thought in content and method as to form a disjoint alternative. This is a fairly influential view, and I shall examine the arguments for it in detail in the final section of of the first Part. I shall thus talk of ancient ethics as a form of morality, even though at several places it is necessary to contrast some aspects of it with aspects of modern morality.