Religion and Philosophy

What is Stoicism? The ancient philosophy enjoys a revival

By Jonathan Bastian, KCRW

Many people are unfamiliar with the writings of Marcus Aurelius or Seneca, but their philosophy of stoicism is currently enjoying a resurgence. They were especially relevant in times of hardship and trial; great leaders sought their guidance during the Civil War, the American Revolution, and the decline and fall of the Roman Empire  The central message of the Stoics was to focus less on the external and more on the internal. In other words, less focus on what we cannot change in our lives and more on cultivating our own virtues.

KCRW’s Jonathan Bastian talks with media columnist, author and renowned modern-day stoic Ryan Holiday who sheds some light on the lives of the ancient Roman sages and explains why their philosophy on life resonates so much today.

The following interview excerpts have been abbreviated and edited for clarity. 

KCRW: Tell us about the origins of Stoicism, some of the well known Stoics like Marcus Aurelius, who was he and why was he important? 

Ryan Holiday: “When I talk to audiences that don’t know anything about philosophy, I usually point to the old guy in the movie ‘Gladiator’ that’s Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor of Rome. The most powerful man in the world was a philosopher and it was philosophy that guided him as the Emperor but you need to go back many hundreds of years to the origin of stoicism as a philosophy, as it begins with a guy named Zeno. Zeno is a merchant, who suffers and loses everything in a shipwreck and eventually he washes up in Athens and it’s actually in a bookstore that he comes upon the writings of the philosophers and creates a school known as stoicism.


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