Recent essays, #34

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:

Thucydides and the human condition

In the year 427 BCE, not long after the onset of the Peloponnesian War, Sparta took its time to send naval relief to the allied city of Mytilene, which had recently revolted against Sparta’s longtime rival, Athens. As a result, the city was captured by an Athenian contingent. This would have been just one more of a number of back-and-forth episodes between Sparta and Athens, which lasted from 431 to 404 BCE and which, even though it technically ended with a Spartan victory, weakened all of the Greek city-states, thereby opening the way for the Macedonian conquest of all Greece, which began in 338 BCE.

What sets aside the Mytilenean revolt is that Thucydides wrote about it in detail in his classic, The History of the Peloponnesian War (full text here). And what makes me write about it is one of the speeches connected to that episode and recorded by Thucydides. It contains some fascinating insight into the human condition, and reminds us that things have not changed that much, in certain respects, over the past two and a half millennia.

(continue to read on Patreon, Medium)

$toicism, Broicism, and stoicisM — Part I: it’s not about becoming rich & famous

Stoicism is back, baby! As anyone who has been paying the slightest attention should have realized by now, the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy founded around 300 BCE by Zeno of Citium is more popular than ever. As modern Stoic Bill Irvine told a large gathering of Stoic practitioners in New York three years ago, “this is the largest group of Stoics ever assembled.” And it’s gotten bigger since. Stoicism’ online presence (over 58k members at the largest Facebook Stoic group), the growing number of books on popular Stoicism, and the ample media coverage are all witnesses to that fact.

Yet, modern Stoicism has a problem. Three, actually. I’m not talking about the still surprisingly many people who criticize our philosophy from the outside, usually on the basis of simple misconceptions, such as that Stoicism is about suppressing emotions and going through life with a stiff upper lip. (Examples here, here, and here, just to mention a few.) I’m talking about three somewhat related “internal” misapplications of the philosophy: what I call $toicism, Broicism, and stoicisM. The first one is a distortion of Stoicism that is employed to achieve wealth and fame; the second one is a different kind of distortion, which makes Stoicism into a precursor of and philosophical foundation for “men’s rights” nonsense; while the last one is a potentially even more dangerous distortion that turns Stoicism into a tool for military training and aggression.

(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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