The Hellenistic Philosophers: The Epicureans, Stoics, and Academics

The Hellenistic philosophers lived in the Hellenistic Age. This is the time from the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE to the end of the Roman Republic in 27 BCE. In the Hellenistic Age, Greek culture spread throughout the Eastern and Southern Mediterrean.

The philosophers who lived in this time are united by their critical reaction to what they thought were the excesses of the prior classical tradition of Plato and Aristotle.

This reaction began to disintegrate around 100 BCE as non-skeptical forms of Platonism underwent a resurgence and eventually gave rise to Christianity.

The end of this critical reaction marks the end of the Period of Schools.

Sets of Selected Texts

Most of what the Hellenistic philosophers themselves wrote has not survived. So what is now known about them depends mostly on what others wrote about them.

The texts can be confusing. It helps to read the lectures first.

Epicurus and the Epicureans
Epicurus set up his school, "the Garden" (ὁ κῆπος), in about 306 BCE.

"Epicurus was born, says Apollodorus in his Chronology, in the third year of the 109th Olympiad [344-341 BCE], in the archonship of Sosigenes [341 BCE], on the seventh day of the month Gamelion [roughly January in the Gregorian calendar], Plato (429-347 BCE]), Aristotle (384-322 BCE)

Epicurus (341-270 BCE)

Appollodorus (2nd century BCE)
Only fragments of his Chronology (Χρονικά) are extant.

The Attic calendar has twelve months. It begins on the summer solstice (the longest day of the year.)

"Gamelion" (Γαμηλιών) is the seventh month.
in the seventh year after the death of Plato. When he was thirty-two he founded a school of philosophy, first in Mitylene [on Lesbos in the Aegean Sea] and Lampsacus [on the Hellespont (the strait linking the Aegean to the Sea of Marmara)], and then five years later removed to Athens, where he died in the second year of the 127th Olympiad [272-269 BCE], in the archonship of Pytharatus, at the age of seventy-two" (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers X. 14).

Zeno and the Stoics
Zeno of Citium founded the Stoic school in about 300 BCE.

"Zeno used to discourse, pacing up and down, in the painted colonnade (ποικίλῃ στοᾷ), Zeno (334-262 BCE) which is also called the colonnade of Pisianax [because he had a now unknown role in its being built], but which received its name from the painting of Polygnotus.... Here, then, people came to hear Zeno, and this is why they were known as the Stoics (Στωικοὶ); and the same name was given to his followers" (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers VII.1. 5).

Arcesilaus and the Academics
Arcesilaus entered the Academy in 275 BCE. In 269 BCE, he became its head and changed its focus to the questioning Socrates pursued to expose the pretense to knowledge. Arcesilaus (315-240 BCE)

"Arcesilaus, the son of Seuthes, according to Apollodorus in the third book of his Chronology, came from Pitane in Aeolis. With him begins the Middle Academy (ὁ τῆς μέσης Ἀκαδημείας); Cicero calls this the New Academy (Academica I.46). he was the first to suspend his judgement owing to the contradictions of opposing arguments. He was also the first to argue on both sides of a question, and the first to meddle with the system handed down by Plato and, by means of question and answer, to make it more closely resemble eristic" (Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers IV.6. 28).

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