Zeno, Stoicism And The Leadership Of The Mind

When we read of those yonder days we learn things we never imagined would happen. Recently I was reading books on the history of philosophy and its development and this particular episode about one school of philosophy mesmerized me. There is a very interesting story behind the development of Stoicism as a school of philosophy. Zeno of Citium is generally regarded as the father Stoicism. Zeno before becoming a philosopher had nothing to do with philosophy. He was a merchant whose sole motive in life was to become rich. Once his ship sank along with all of his merchandise resulting in an enormous financial loss. He lost everything he had in business. 

Zeno became depressed with the loss in his business and to come out of his depression he started reading philosophical books. Once he visited a bookstore and chanced upon a book on Socrates, the philosopher written by historian Xenophon. He started reading it and was very interested in the world of philosophy and philosophers. He asked the shopkeeper as to where he could find such  men as mentioned in the books. Zeno was referring to finding the philosophers in flesh and blood. Incidentally at that time one famous philosopher of that town was passing by the bookstore. The shopkeeper immediately pointed towards that man and told Zeno that he was the philosopher type. In those days of Athens it was quite possible to find philosophers roaming the streets as ordinary men with their students. Athens was the hub of philosophy and their resultant schools and academies. 

Zeno immediately talked to him, became his disciple and started learning philosophy from him. He kept on learning philosophy from different schools of thought but still he could not satisfy his intellectual thirst. He thought there is something lacking in the philosophical world which can be of immense help to society. Thereupon he started thinking upon those issues that ultimately gave birth to the stoicism school of philosophy. Zeno talked about practical wisdom and how we must listen to our human nature and balance our actions with reasons.

To bring himself closer to the people and to propagate his philosophical thoughts, Zeno started delivering free lectures in the open marketplace.  People started listening to him and slowly he became famous in Athens. The name Stoicism comes from the word “Stoa '' which means open place. This is because Zeno used to talk about his philosophy in the open marketplace. 

Sometimes some people leave their imprint so deep that every moment of their action becomes memorable. This is an incredible story of self determination on how an individual converted his precarious situation (financial and mental catastrophe) into an intellectual revolution. Zeno of Citium is one of the leaders of the  philosophical world who provided a fresh insight into the practical wisdom of philosophy. He is one of the few we can credit with the “leadership of the mind” in the annals of humanity’s intellectual journey.