Dr JC Coetzee Clinical Psychologist in Ponsonby & Parnell, Auckland Book Sessions

The Stoics: From Zeno to Modern Day

"Wellbeing is attained by little and little, and nevertheless is no little thing itself." — Zeno of Citium
Dr JC Coetzee Clinical Psychologist, Ponsonby, Auckland Couples Therapy

Stoicism, an ancient Greek philosophy founded in the early 3rd century BCE, has profoundly influenced both ancient and modern thought. It emphasizes virtue, wisdom, and the development of self-control and fortitude as a means to overcome destructive emotions. The philosophy was established in Athens by Zeno of Citium and has been perpetuated through the writings and teachings of various notable figures, including Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, and Musonius Rufus. This article explores the key figures in Stoicism, their significant contributions, and the major historical events during their times, along with a timeline of the major contributors to Stoicism from its inception to the present day.

Zeno of Citium (c. 334–262 BCE)

Life and Major Events: Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, was born in Citium (modern-day Larnaca, Cyprus). Initially a wealthy merchant, Zeno's journey into philosophy began after he survived a shipwreck and arrived in Athens. Inspired by the teachings of Socrates and the Cynics, particularly Crates of Thebes, Zeno started developing his own philosophical ideas.

Notable Writings: Zeno's primary contributions include:

  • "The Republic": A work that outlines his vision of an ideal state governed by rational principles.

  • "Ethics": A foundational text on Stoic moral theory.

Though none of Zeno's original works have survived, his ideas were preserved through the writings of later Stoic philosophers.

Dr JC Coetzee Clinical Psychologist, Ponsonby, Auckland Couples Therapy

Cleanthes (c. 330–230 BCE)

Life and Major Events: Cleanthes succeeded Zeno as the head of the Stoic school. Born in Assos in Asia Minor, Cleanthes initially worked as a boxer before studying philosophy under Zeno.

Notable Writings:

  • "Hymn to Zeus": Cleanthes' most famous work, a poetic expression of Stoic theology, emphasizing the unity and rationality of the cosmos.

  • "On Pleasure": A treatise that contrasts Stoic views with those of hedonistic philosophies.

Cleanthes played a crucial role in preserving and expanding Zeno's teachings.

Dr JC Coetzee Clinical Psychologist, Ponsonby, Auckland Couples Therapy

Chrysippus (c. 279–206 BCE)

Life and Major Events: Chrysippus of Soli, the third head of the Stoic school, is often considered the co-founder of Stoicism due to his extensive contributions. He was instrumental in systematizing and defending Stoic doctrines against rival schools of thought.

Notable Writings: Chrysippus is said to have written over 700 works, including:

  • "On Logic": Explored the principles of Stoic logic and epistemology.

  • "On Nature": Addressed Stoic physics and the nature of the universe.

  • "On Ethics": Discussed Stoic moral philosophy.

Chrysippus' prolific output ensured the survival and dissemination of Stoic philosophy.

Dr JC Coetzee Clinical Psychologist, Ponsonby, Auckland Couples Therapy

Musonius Rufus (c. 25–95 CE)

Life and Major Events: Gaius Musonius Rufus was born in Volsinii, Etruriaa (modern day Lazio, Italy). As a Stoic philosopher, he was known for his practical approach to Stoicism. He taught philosophy in Rome during the reign of Nero and so was sent into exile in 65 AD, returning to Rome only under Galba. He influenced several notable figures, including Epictetus.

Notable Writings: Musonius Rufus' teachings were compiled in:

  • "Lectures and Fragments": These works cover a range of topics, including ethics, education, and the role of women in society.

  • "That One Should Disdain Hardships: The Teachings of a Roman Stoic": A collection of lectures on Stoicism. It emphasises the importance of self-discipline, virtue, and the rejection of worldly pleasures to achieve true happiness.

Musonius emphasised Stoic virtues in everyday life, advocating for the importance of philosophy in practical matters.

Roman Stoicism: From Greece to Rome

As Stoicism evolved, it found fertile ground in Rome, where it significantly influenced Roman thought and governance.

Seneca (c. 4 BCE–65 CE)

Life and Major Events: Lucius Annaeus Seneca, known as Seneca the Younger, was a Roman statesman, dramatist, and Stoic philosopher. Born in Corduba (modern-day Córdoba, Spain), Seneca was educated in Rome and became a prominent figure in Roman politics. He served as an advisor to Emperor Nero, a position that brought both influence and peril.

Notable Writings:

  • "Letters to Lucilius": A collection of 124 letters offering practical advice on Stoic philosophy and ethical living.

  • "On the Shortness of Life": An essay discussing the importance of valuing time and living a virtuous life.

  • "On Anger": Explores the destructive nature of anger and ways to control it.

Seneca's works blend Stoic philosophy with practical wisdom, making them highly accessible and enduringly popular.

Dr JC Coetzee Clinical Psychologist, Ponsonby, Auckland Couples Therapy
Dr JC Coetzee Clinical Psychologist, Ponsonby, Auckland Couples Therapy

Epictetus (c. 50–135 CE)

Life and Major Events: Epictetus was born a slave in Phrygia (modern-day Turkey) and was later freed. He studied Stoicism under Musonius Rufus and went on to teach in Rome until the emperor Domitian banished all philosophers. Epictetus then established a school in Nicopolis in Greece.

Notable Writings: Although Epictetus wrote nothing himself, his teachings were recorded by his student Arrian in:

  • "Discourses": A series of lectures on Stoic philosophy.

  • "Enchiridion" (Handbook): A concise manual of Stoic ethical advice.

Epictetus emphasised the distinction between what is within our control and what is not, a central tenet of Stoic thought.

Marcus Aurelius (121–180 CE)

Life and Major Events: Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, is perhaps the most famous of the Stoic philosophers. His reign was marked by military conflict, the Antonine Plague, and internal strife, yet he is remembered for his wisdom and dedication to Stoic principles.

Notable Writings:

  • "Meditations": A series of personal reflections written during his military campaigns, exploring Stoic philosophy and self-improvement.

"Meditations" offers a unique insight into the mind of a Stoic philosopher-emperor, emphasizing the importance of inner strength and virtue.

Timeline of Major Contributors to Stoicism

  1. Zeno of Citium (c. 334–262 BCE): Founder of Stoicism.

  2. Cleanthes (c. 330–230 BCE): Second head of the Stoic school.

  3. Chrysippus (c. 279–206 BCE): Third head of the Stoic school, systematizer of Stoicism.

  4. Panaetius (c. 185–110 BCE): Brought Stoicism to Rome, influential in the Roman Republic.

  5. Posidonius (c. 135–51 BCE): Expanded Stoicism, integrating it with other philosophical systems.

  6. Seneca (c. 4 BCE–65 CE): Roman statesman and Stoic philosopher.

  7. Musonius Rufus (c. 25–95 CE): Roman Stoic philosopher, teacher of Epictetus.

  8. Epictetus (c. 50–135 CE): Former slave, influential teacher of Stoicism.

  9. Marcus Aurelius (121–180 CE): Roman emperor and author of "Meditations."

Stoicism, from its founding by Zeno of Citium to its modern-day revival, has offered profound insights into living a virtuous and fulfilling life. The teachings of key figures like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus, and Musonius Rufus provide timeless wisdom on how to navigate the complexities of human existence. By emphasising inner virtue, self-control, and rationality, Stoicism remains a relevant and influential philosophy that continues to inspire individuals across the globe.


  1. Marcus Aurelius. Meditations. Translated by Gregory Hays. Modern Library, 2002.

  2. Seneca. Letters from a Stoic. Translated by Robin Campbell. Penguin Classics, 2004.

  3. Epictetus. Discourses and Selected Writings. Translated by Robert Dobbin. Penguin Classics, 2008.

  4. Musonius Rufus. Lectures and Fragments. Translated by Cora E. Lutz. Yale University Press, 1947.

  5. Long, A. A. Hellenistic Philosophy: Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics. University of California Press, 1986.

  6. Hadot, Pierre. The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. Harvard University Press, 1998.

  7. Holiday, Ryan, and Stephen Hanselman. Lives of the Stoics. Portfolio, 2022

Read more about ... 

Modern Stoicism 

Contact Dr JC Coezee

Send me an email to find out more about Stoic mentoring.

Ponsonby Clinical Psychology Practice Address

Clinical Psychologist, Ponsonby, Auckland

Dr JC's Clinical Psychology practice is located at Vermont Street Specialists, 25 Vermont Street, Ponsonby, Auckland.

Email Dr JC Coetzee

Tuesdays & Thursdays 7 am - 1 pm

Parnell Clinical Psychology Practice Address

Practi Space 1 Gibraltar Crescent, Parnell, Auckland.

Email Dr JC Coetzee

Tuesdays & Thursdays 7 am - 1 pm