Recent essays, #31

Most of my original writings now appear over at Figs In Winter, both on Patreon and Medium. The most recent posts are behind a paywall (monthly subscription at $3 for Patreon, $5 for Medium, but the latter comes with access to additional authors as well). The majority of the material is free to read. Here are some of the most recent entries:

Are you ready to die?

Are you ready to die? I’m not, which means my philosophical training is not yet complete. I’m not a sage. As Seneca says:

“Most men ebb and flow in wretchedness between the fear of death and the hardships of life; they are unwilling to live, and yet they do not know how to die.” (Letters to Lucilius, IV.5)

I have always been “willing to live” in Seneca’s sense, meaning to do things in life that I found worthwhile and meaningful. From very early on, when I was in middle school, I resolved that I would become a scientist, because the human quest for knowledge and understanding seemed to me to be paramount. I was lucky enough to actually have a successful academic career as an evolutionary biologist, and it seemed like that was going to last me for a lifetime.

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

Stoicism’s origin stories

Everyone loves a good origin story. Spiderman’s has been told a number of times, in both the comic books and the movies. And who doesn’t delight in telling their friends how they met the love of their lives? (In my case, at Stoic Camp, in case you were curious.) So let’s talk about the origin stories (yes, there is more than one) of Stoicism.

Diogenes Laertius gives the classic accounts, which begins with a shipwreck:

“[Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism] was shipwrecked on a voyage from Phoenicia to Piraeus with a cargo of purple. He went up into Athens and sat down in a bookseller’s shop, being then a man of thirty. As he went on reading the second book of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, he was so pleased that he inquired where men like Socrates were to be found. Crates [of Thebes, a Cynic philosopher] passed by in the nick of time, so the bookseller pointed to him and said, ‘Follow yonder man.’ From that day he became Crates’s pupil.” (Lives and Opinions of the Eminent Philosophers, VII.2-3)

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

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