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THE STOIC HOMILIES - A week-by-week guide to enlightened living


 

How do you deal successfully with personal dilemmas and challenges to make the best of your life?

How do you achieve peace of mind and happiness?

What is the practical code of behaviour to live by – for the benefit of yourself and of others?  

These questions were addressed by Stoic thinkers more than 2000 years ago. Their answers are just as valid today as they were then. As well, their guidelines may point the way to the next phrase in the evolution of the rational human being.            

In easy to understand language, The Stoic Homilies present a modern interpretation of Stoic advice on 52 different fundamental questions or issues concerning personal conduct. The author, Ray Cooper, has drawn on the recorded thoughts of three great Roman Stoics – the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the statesman and writer Seneca, and the ex-slave Epictetus – to distill the essence of this ancient wisdom in the form of homilies from an imaginary modern stoic teacher.

The result is deeply rewarding reading for anyone who desires to fulfil their potential as a unique and valuable human being.

In Store Price: $AU23.95 
Online Price:   $AU22.95

ISBN:   978-1-921406-97-3 
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 175
Genre: Non Fiction
/Self Help/Reference

 

 

Author: Ray Cooper
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2009
Language: English


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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.

INTRODUCTION

 

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 upsetting events.

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 Handbook.

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 servant, Lucilius.

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

HOW TO FIND HAPPINESS AND PEACE OF MIND

 

The way 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 evolutionary march.

I 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 people.

The 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.

The beginning of this new life is to adopt this attitude as your general outlook:

Be willing for things to happen as they happen.

This is a way of saying, “Accept the existence of fate in your life”, or of accepting the notion of “whatever will be, will be”.

It 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.”

In 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 of mind.

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.


 

 

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