ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The author, Ray Cooper, is a retired journalist and public
relations consultant, living in Sydney. He majored in Classical Languages for a
Bachelor of Arts degree awarded by the University of New England in New South
Wales in 2004.
He was a journalist with metropolitan daily newspapers in
Sydney over a period of 20 years, including six years as Chief of staff of the
Australian Financial Review in the 1960s. His career in public relations
included four years as a senior consultant and manager with Eric White
Associates, later to become Hill and Knowlton.
In 1970, Ray Cooper established the first Australian public
relations consultancy to specialize in serving the communications needs of the
information technology industry.
In the 1990s he attended several Greek Summer Schools at
Macquarie University. After his retirement from public relations in 1995, he
continued these studies when he enrolled for his Arts degree.
The Stoic Homilies is a
collection of advices for the reader on how to deal successfully with the
problems and challenges of the individual in 21st
century living. They are based on a modern interpretation of the ancient Stoic
teachings. The author of the homilies is an imaginary Stoic teacher with an
imaginary small following of students.
Each of the homilies carries a message on the art of
enlightened living for the modern age, which draws on the recorded statements of
three famous Stoics – the ex-slave philosopher, Epictetus, the writer-statesman,
Seneca, and the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius.
There are 52 homilies in all; one for each week of the
year. Our fictional teacher – let’s assume – e-mailed one to his students at the
same time each week, with much the same regularity as a Christian minister
delivering a weekly sermon. Each homily occupies only a few minutes reading
time. Readers may like to follow the timeframe in which the homilies were
delivered by adopting this routine – read a homily, reflect on its message over
the following week, and apply whatever they find beneficial.
Although Stoicism was one of the ancient schools of
philosophy overwhelmed by the rise of Christianity in the early part of the
first millennium, the gist of some of the teachings survived, both in name and
practice, in Western civilization.
By name, the teachings are represented by the use of
the adjectives, Stoic and Stoical, in our written and verbal discourse, and
generally convey the notion of keeping calm under the stress of potentially
In practice, Stoicism lives on in some of the ways that
people face life, which suggests that enduring elements were absorbed into
Western societies two millennia ago and have come down through the generations
into the modern era. These elements are expressed in some sayings in current
use, such as “grin and bear it”, “whatever will be, will be”, “keep your chin
up”, “it’s water off a duck’s back”, and “change the things you can, accept the
things you can’t, and have the wisdom to know the difference”.
There are also proverbs that reflect Stoic philosophy
and could well have been derived from Stoicism. For example: “fear of death is
worse than death itself”, “there’s no flying from fate”, “good and evil are
chiefly in the imagination”, “a man is well or woe as he thinks himself so”,
“what is a man but his mind”, “reason rules all things”, “take things as they
come”, and “don’t meet troubles halfway”.
Stoicism was founded about 308 BC by Zeno, of Citium,
Cyprus, who opened a school in Athens. He taught in the city’s central square at
the Stoa Poikile (Painted Colonnade) from which the name of the philosophy is
derived. To some extent, Stoicism owes its inspiration to the teachings of
Socrates, who lived a century earlier. The basis for the philosophy was a belief
in a rational and deterministic universe. Wisdom was seen as the knowledge of
how best to live and behave in this world.
When ancient Greece became part of the Roman Empire,
one consequence was that the Romans adopted and continued various elements of
Greek culture. The Greek Stoic teachers taught a philosophy comprised of three
parts – logic, ethics and physics. Many educated Romans were drawn to Stoic
ethics and their practical application, finding guidance for the conduct of life
that reinforced their temperament and outlook on the world. Stoicism became the
dominant philosophy of the Romans by the first century BC.
The teacher has relied more heavily on his messages
from Epictetus than the other Roman Stoics, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.
Epictetus devoted his post-slavery life to lecturing on practical applications
of Stoicism while the others needed to meet other demanding obligations and
expressed their philosophical outlooks through their writings. Epictetus
developed a set of practical guidelines for living, which the teacher introduces
and explains in the early homilies.
Epictetus was born a slave in Phrygia (now part of
Turkey), a Roman province, in AD 55. He was brought to Rome and eventually given
his freedom. As a slave, he studied Stoicism under the tutor, Musonius Rufus,
and became a teacher himself after he was freed. His teachings were given
written form by a student, Arrian, who later became a politician and a
historian. Four books, out of a probable eight, of Arrian’s work on Epictetus
have survived – The Discourses and a summary of the lectures, The
Seneca, born in Cordoba, Spain, in about 4 BC, was one
of Rome’s outstanding citizens as an advocate, writer and statesman. He tutored
Nero when he was a boy and later was unofficial “Prime Minister” to the Emperor,
Nero, for eight years. Nero subsequently forced
Seneca to commit suicide when a plot against the emperor, which appeared to
implicate him, was discovered. He expresses a wide range of Stoic-based opinions
in a work, Epistles, which records his letters to a prominent Roman civil
Marcus Aurelius was born into a noble family in AD 121
and was emperor of Rome from AD 161 to 180. His Stoic beliefs and attitudes to
life are described in his Meditations, which is considered a classic of
ancient literature. His reflections are mainly in the form of advice to himself
and are believed to have been written while he was leading Roman armies against
German tribes in the last ten years of his life.
The three books mentioned – the sources for the
composition of the homilies – contain insights into the human condition and
guidelines for living that are as useful in the 21st century as 2000
years ago. Presenting this wisdom for the purpose of this book has required the
selection and interpretation of passages from a large amount of available
material. I have drawn on my own translation of The Handbook, but
otherwise have relied on various translations of the sources, referring where
necessary to the original Greek or Latin to clarify the meanings given. I am
greatly indebted to the translators and the editors, not only for the
translations but also for the commentaries. Details of the references are given
in a bibliography at the end of the book.
- Ray Cooper
THE HOMILIES OF THE STOIC TEACHER
The first homily
forward in human affairs remains dark and obscure. Great advances were made in
the 20th century in the development and use of technology,
particularly digital, and in medical knowledge and application. None were made
in the reduction, let alone elimination, of conflict among human beings. The
wars of the last century were fought by the largest number of people in history
and were by far the most destructive and bloodiest. At the other end of the
scale, no discernible progress was made in increasing harmony among individuals.
Medical advances are giving us longer lives but the extra years are not
deepening our wisdom in dealing with each other. There are no signs on the
horizon which direct us towards the next beneficial step for humankind in its
believe these signs can be provided by the wisdom of the ancient Stoic teachers.
In this wisdom we can find a guide for living that will give you happiness and
peace of mind, and will enable you to live in continuous harmony with other
guide shows you how to progress to the evolutionary step human beings need to
take to rise above the painful conflicts that beset human civilisation. It
abolishes any need for a religion, a cult or a spiritual guru of any kind. You
need only behave as rationally as you already have the power to do. You do not
need to pray or otherwise call for divine help. You have the power within
yourself, and when you improve yourself, you improve the world. You become a
building-block for a higher, more peaceful civilisation. You become a more
valuable member of your community, more useful to others.
beginning of this new life is to adopt this attitude as your general outlook:
willing for things to happen as they happen.
is a way of saying, “Accept the existence of fate in your life”, or of accepting
the notion of “whatever will be, will be”.
does not mean that you have no free will, that everything in your life is
predestined. You can certainly hope and act to achieve certain results, but the
results are never produced by you alone. Your influence is one of various
factors that combine to produce the result. In other words, the result comes
from the working of fate. Shakespeare expressed this phenomenon when he said,
“There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”
accepting what happens as it happens, you are recognising that the behaviour of
everything in the world is governed by its own natural laws. Nothing can behave
outside of its nature, randomly. There is no such thing as an accident, much as
it might look like one. When these unchangeable laws interact in a situation
there can be only one outcome. It makes sense for you to accept that outcome.
Any other reaction is irrational. By accepting the outcome, even if it is not to
your liking, you will not feel disappointment and you will preserve your peace
Remember that the things that happen to you, for instance, to take extreme
examples, the death of a loved one, or injury or disease to yourself, do not
interfere with your essential self, as expressed in your moral values. If you
can accept as your destiny every turn of events which affects you personally,
you will retain your tranquillity which will benefit not only yourself but the
people you are in contact with – family members, friends, and strangers alike.