Stoic Stories

A Heroic Account of Stoicism (Ancient Wisdom)

Non-Fiction - Religion/Philosophy
223 Pages
Reviewed on 04/14/2022
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Philip Van Heusen for Readers' Favorite

Neel Burton kept my interest in Stoic Stories, even though I spent years studying for my master’s certificate in Ancient And Classical History. Neel taught me more in his book than I learned in my years of study. Not only does Neel explain the philosophy of the ancients, but he also introduces his readers to their life. He made the great philosophers feel human and not some bigger-than-life, unapproachable legend. I enjoyed looking into their personal lives and not just reading about their philosophy. Neel addresses the different philosophical schools, such as the Platonic, Stoic, and Epicurean schools. He also discusses the interaction between the school and the philosophers. Most people study the words of the philosophers, but one of the principles of the Stoics is “action over words.” This book helps the reader learn some of the terms and shows the Stoics’ actions during their lifetime.

Neel Burton shares information about many ancient philosophers such as Zeno, Epicurus, Socrates, Plato, Epictetus, Seneca, Diogenes, Cato, and Cicero. For one not to suffer from hope, fear, envy, etc., they must differentiate between things in our control and those not in our power. Stoic Stories shares the lives of these stoics in their own settings, which combine history and philosophy. How much influence did these ancient philosophers exert on modern society? One of the most significant influences has been Christianity during the past two thousand years. While many feel Stoicism lost out to Christianity, Neel shows that Stoicism influenced Christianity in many ways. For example, St. Paul met Stoics and Epicureans in Athens. Early church fathers (Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen) and even Ambrose and Augustine were greatly influenced by Stoicism. Neel writes in simple terms. This book is a lively introduction to philosophies and philosophers.

Asher Syed

Stoic Stories: A Heroic Account of Stoicism (Ancient Wisdom) by Neel Burton is a compilation of stories that are, in one way or another, connected to the philosophy of Stoicism. In a single sentence, Stoicism can be described as the philosophical belief that moral virtue is all that is required to live a fulfilling life. While moral virtue is inherently subjective, Stoicism outlines what this means in the context of its school of thought. Burton assembles the pieces for the modern reader to show us what the philosophy truly is through “stories about Stoics, stories told by Stoics, and stories with a Stoic bent.” These range from The First Stoic, a look at the birth of Stoicism as we know it through Zeno who stated, “Happiness is a good flow of life", to the disparity between life as it was lived and a lifestyle that was professed by the infamous Seneca in The Two-Faced Philosopher.

I once had an Ancient History and Philosophy professor tell me that modern religions are constructed through the theft and destruction of Stoicism's definition of moral virtue. He went on to explain that Stoics drew a line and said that reaching it is the goal, and getting there requires a, b and c. Nothing more, nothing less. Then modern religion came along and drew a line so far ahead that it was no longer visible...and in the slog of trying to reach it, the rest of the alphabet was invented. Stoic Stories is an excellent refresher and Neel Burton presents his anthology in a way that is educational and entertaining in equal parts. The writing is straightforward and intelligent without being pretentious, and it is wonderfully easy to understand. My favorite entry is Porcia's Trial, which details the history of the legendary Brutus' wife, also the daughter of the Stoic sage Cato, and the misconception of misogyny as heroism. I'd forgotten about this. Overall, this is a profoundly thorough collection for such a compact volume and is an absolute pleasure to read. Very highly recommended.

Cecelia Hopkins

Stoic Stories by Neel Burton provides a scholarly explanation of the philosophical roots of stoicism. The first chapter explains how Zeno of Citium visited an oracle and was advised to talk to the dead, setting him on a path of lifelong learning. Then Crates chose life on the streets over wealth, in line with thinking inherited from Diogenes and the Cynics. While most of Zeno’s writing has been lost, it is believed he argued that to live well was to follow nature and made distinctions in physics, logic, and ethics. This school of thought was continued by other thinkers, although a turbulent period saw some philosophers suffer violent deaths during periods of political upheaval. Epictetus notably earned his freedom from slavery, while Marcus Aurelius's achievement in writing Meditations created a landmark. Finally, Stoicism entered into dialogue with Christianity and its influence faded.

Stoic Stories by Neel Burton successfully clarifies the distinction between classical stoicism and the modern-day association with a lack of feeling. I appreciated the lessons embedded into each chapter; for example, the “parable of Herakles” who must choose between the paths of virtue and vice, and the implications of Epicurus’s reasoning that pleasure was good and pain was bad. The writing style was clear and the book was an excellent source of information about ancient Greek and Roman figures. I liked the way the author sought to draw out distinctions and explain fine points, making the philosophy more relevant to today’s reader. I recommend Stoic Stories by Neel Burton to anyone interested in philosophy or classical history.