Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Roman Christianity and Roman StoicismA Comparative Study of Ancient Morality$

Runar M. Thorsteinsson

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199578641

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199578641.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use.  Subscriber: null; date: 20 November 2019

Gaius Musonius Rufus

Gaius Musonius Rufus

(p.40) 3 Gaius Musonius Rufus
Roman Christianity and Roman Stoicism

Runar M. Thorsteinsson (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Subsequent to a general introduction to the life of Musonius (ca. 25–100 CE), who was a towering figure in Roman Stoicism, an overview of his moral teaching was provided. Musonius was widely celebrated for his moral integrity. The sources on him reveal a teacher of philosophy who was particularly concerned with social issues. He considered the four traditional cardinal virtues more or less sufficient as the basis for ethics, but he could also define virtue as humanity and concern for the welfare of one's fellow human beings. This definition of virtue was in line with Musonius' heavy emphasis on concrete social matters, like questions concerning the family, the status of women, and the situation of the less fortunate in society.

Keywords:   Musonius Rufus, moral integrity, virtue, humanity, social issues, family, women

Introduction: A Social And Political Provocateur

It is one of the great losses of history that we do not possess more and better sources on the life and teaching of Musonius Rufus, this key figure in Roman Stoicism. The sources that we have are rather limited, and all are secondary as well.1 For, as with some other key figures in history, Musonius does not seem to have written anything himself.2 Instead, records of his life and teaching were preserved and furthered, first, by his students and followers, and, then, by Roman historians. These are the two main groups which contribute most to our knowledge of Musonius Rufus.

But even if the sources on Musonius are somewhat limited, there is no denying that he has yet to receive the attention he deserves in scholarly discussions—even in classical studies, not to mention New Testament scholarship.3 This can only be grieved. It is in proportion neither to the (lack of) sources on him nor his importance in history. Even if fragmentary, we actually (p.41) do have some sources on this ‘Roman Socrates’,4 whose life and philosophy were far too important in the ancient world to be ignored or referred to in passing only.

According to our sources, Gaius Musonius Rufus was born into an Etruscan family in the city of Volsinii5 early in the first century CE, probably sometime in 20–30 CE.6 He was thus some twenty to thirty years younger than his fellow Stoic Seneca. Musonius was a member of the equestrian order and a prominent teacher of philosophy who had several followers of high reputation in Roman society.7 He associated with a group of distinguished Stoics in Rome who actively opposed the emperor, including such prominent men as Rubellius Plautus (exiled by Nero in 60 CE and executed in 62 CE), Barea Soranus (proconsul in Asia, condemned to death by Nero in 66 CE), and Thrasea Paetus (a senator of considerable influence, also condemned to death by Nero in 66 CE).8 The historian Tacitus so revered the character of these men that he stated that with the death sentences of the latter two Nero killed ‘virtue herself’.9 Musonius, the sources suggest, was specifically concerned with social affairs and seems to have been quite active in advocating his ideas for reform. That may also have been one of the main reasons for which Nero exiled him to Gyara in 65 CE, a desolate island in the Cyclades, south‐east of the mainland of Greece, often used as a place of banishment in early imperial times.10 This was subsequent to the Pisonian conspiracy and the death of Lucius Annaeus Seneca that same year, but it is unlikely that Musonius was ever involved in the conspiracy. According to Tacitus, the real ground for Musonius' expulsion was simply (p.42) his prominence and influence as a teacher of philosophy.11 Sociopolitical concerns may well have been involved as well. The notion that philosophy was responsible for political opposition does not appear to have flourished in Rome except for a period of some forty years under Nero and the Flavian dynasty,12 and the only serious local critics of the Roman government in the second half of the first century CE were Stoic philosophers.13

After the death of Nero in 68 CE Musonius returned to Rome. He seems to have been on good terms with emperor Vespasian, since he was the only philosopher we know of who was exempted when the emperor banished all philosophers from Rome in 71 CE. However, for reasons unknown, a few years later Musonius too was banished from the city. It was probably during this second exile that Pliny the Younger met him in Syria.14 But when Titus, an old friend of his, acceded to the principate (79–81 CE), Musonius went back to Rome and (presumably) resumed his lectures on philosophy. The year of his death is uncertain, but scholars agree that it must have been at the very end of the first century, perhaps as late as 100 CE.15

There is no evidence of any direct relationship between Musonius and Seneca. Each belonged to a circle of his own, whose contact with the other seems to have been rather limited. The senator Thrasea Paetus, for example, was a close friend of Musonius and at least loosely acquainted with Seneca. But the political stances of Seneca and the senator differed enough to create a certain distance between them.16 It is nevertheless clear that, in addition to Stoicism itself, Musonius and Seneca had several things in common. Both belonged to the high ranks of Roman society, and both philosophers focused on issues of morality in particular. Also, precisely as Seneca, Musonius reached the height of his influence under Nero, although the nature and extent of his influence differed somewhat from Seneca's. Furthermore, both affected the politics of their day, each in his own way. Their political stances differed widely, to be sure: whereas Seneca operated (mostly) from ‘within’, as a professional politician and imperial counsellor, Musonius worked actively (p.43) though (mostly)17 indirectly from the ‘outside’, through his socially reformist lectures and thus in some ways in opposition to governing authorities.18 But in the end, both paid the price for defying the will of Nero.

Moral Teaching In Musonius: The Welfare Of The Neighbour

Most of what has been preserved of Musonius' teachings is found in the anthologies of Stobaeus: twenty‐one treatises, written by Musonius' student Lucius, and nineteen fragments of sayings. An additional thirteen sayings have also been transmitted by Epictetus (through Arrian), Plutarch, Aulus Gellius (in Latin), and Aelius Aristides.19 Some of the sayings may derive from Annius Pollio, the son‐in‐law of Barea Soranus.20 While the sources are fragmentary, together they give a general idea of Musonius' philosophical points of view, several of which are expressed in detail. A number of the longer and more detailed discourses deal with practical issues and concrete ethical problems. (The following references are made from Lutz's collection of the texts attributed to Musonius [referred to by number of discourse, page number(s), line(s); e.g. 1.32.5].21)

Musonius Rufus downplays the role of physics and logic in philosophy, and defines ethics as the primary part of the discipline. According to him, ‘philosophy is training in nobility of character and nothing else’ (φιλοσοφία καλοκἀγαθίας ἐστὶν ἐπιτήδευσις καὶ οὐδὲν ἕτερον).22 Musonius aligns himself with other Stoics in distinguishing four cardinal virtues, i.e. prudence (φρόνησις, prudentia), moderation or self‐control (σωφροσύνη, temperantia), (p.44) justice (δικαιοσύνη, iustitia), and courage (ἀνδρεία, fortitudo),23 but shows at the same time a remarkable and quite unusual consistency in building his arguments precisely on these virtues.24 The more typical Stoic fashion was to subdivide or add to the four, as we see, for instance, in Seneca.25 Musonius' systematic treatment of the cardinal virtues, on the other hand, suggests that he considered them to constitute an adequate basis for his moral theory.26 Occasionally he appears to depart from this pattern, as when he contrasts virtue (ἀρετή) with evil (κακία), the latter of which ‘consists in injustice and cruelty and indifference to a neighbor's trouble’ (ἀδικία τε καὶ ἀγριότης καὶ τὸ του̑ πλησίον πράττοντος κακω̑ς ἀφροντιστει̑ν), and describes virtue as ‘brotherly love and goodness and justice and beneficence and concern for the welfare of one's neighbor’ (φιλανθρωπία καὶ χρηστότης καὶ δικαιοσύνη ἐστὶ καὶ τὸ εὐεργετικὸν εἰ̑ναι καὶ τὸ κηδεμονικὸν εἰ̑ναι του̑ πέλας).27

But, as a rule, it is the four cardinal virtues that form the basis for the presence of other virtues and for every virtuous thought or act. A good example is when the disposition of being ‘high‐minded, beneficent, and kindly’ (μεγαλόφρων καὶ εὐεργετικὸς καὶ φιλάνθρωπος), which in fact matches closely the description of virtue above, is clearly understood as a consequence of the four cardinal virtues.28 It is important to note, however, that ‘when characterizing virtue as φιλανθρωπία καὶ χρηστότης καὶ δικαιοσύνη, which are nearer qualified by the εὐεργετικὸν εἰ̑ναι and κηδεμονικὸν του̑ πέλας, [Musonius] gives quite an interesting proof of how much in those days, also in the Stoic circle, virtue was felt to be essentially the love of, and active care for, one's fellow man’.29

Musonius is optimistic about human capacity to live virtuously. He believes that human beings are born with an inclination towards virtue, and that they are good by nature.30 This conviction follows quite naturally from the Stoic belief of the divine origin of humankind and of the kinship between (p.45) gods and human beings. As Musonius formulates it, the supreme being, Zeus, is the common ‘father’ of all human beings and gods (κοινὸς ἁπάντων πατὴρ ἀνθρώπων τε καὶ θεω̑ν).31 Of all the earthly creatures the human being alone is in the image of God (μίμημα θεου̑) and has the same virtues that God has, from which it follows of course that provided they live in accordance with nature (ὅταν ἔχῃ κατὰ φύσιν), human beings should be regarded as being like God, i.e. in moral excellence.32 There is, in other words, an ‘innate inclination (φυσικὴν ὑποβολήν) of the human soul toward goodness and nobleness (καλοκἀγαθίαν)’, and there are ‘seeds of virtue (σπέρμα ἀρετη̑ς) in each one of us’.33

The opinion that human beings by nature are good was a traditional Stoic doctrine.34 It did not mean that every human being, as it were, automatically possessed virtue itself, but rather that every human being possessed a natural disposition to virtue. Evil, the morally bad, on the other hand, was believed by Stoics like Musonius to be external to man, something that comes from without and infects the human soul from the very beginning. The result is moral illness, against which the study of philosophy is the sole remedy: one must search out and examine how to lead a good life.35 It is philosophy alone that teaches one how to live in harmony with one's true nature as an originally good creation of God.36

The philosophical education is twofold: theoretical and practical (ἡ ἀρετή, ἔφη, ἐπιστήμη ἐστὶν οὐ θεωρητικὴ μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ πρακτική).37 While there is no question that Musonius considered the theoretical part to be decisive as a foundation on which to build one's way of living,38 he put more weight on the practical side, arguing that ‘in effectiveness, practice takes precedence over theory as being more influential in leading men to action’ (δυνάμει μέντοι τὸ ἔθος προτερει̑ του̑ λόγου, ὅτι ἐστὶ κυριώτερον ἐπὶ τὰς πράξεις ἄγειν τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἤπερ ὁ λόγος).39 That is, if one wants to influence others towards a particular behaviour or way of life, one's deeds are of much more importance than words. Indeed, according to one of his students, Musonius himself was ‘always earnestly urging those who were associated with him to make practical application of his teachings’ (παρώμα δὲ πρὸς ἄσκησιν τοὺς συνόντας ἐντεταμένως ἀεὶ τοιοι̑σδέ τισι λόγοις χρώμενος).40 Without conduct added to the teaching, the Stoic teacher professed, philosophical education is of no (p.46) use.41 The human being is after all neither soul nor body alone, but a synthesis of the two.42

With his firm emphasis on praxis, Musonius is in good harmony with Stoic philosophy. But the Cynic tendencies in his teaching are quite clear. Such traits are wholly in line with the Stoicism of the day, of which his student, Epictetus, represents but one example (cf. below). Musonius, however, went further with his Cynic‐like preaching than most of his contemporaries who, like himself, belonged to the upper socioeconomic class of Roman society. In matters of clothing, for instance, he commended moderation: ‘Wearing one chiton is preferable to needing two, and wearing none but only a cloak is preferable to wearing one.’43 Clothes were for covering the body, not for display. Also, in matters of housing and furnishings Musonius strongly spoke against any extravagance, arguing that bare necessities should suffice for all alike. Consider the following comments on expensive abodes and decorations:

Are not all these things superfluous and unnecessary, without which it is possible not only to live but also to be healthy? Are they not the source of constant trouble, and do they not cost great sums of money from which many people (πολλοὺς ἀνθρώπους) might have benefited by public and private charity (καὶ δημοσίᾳ καὶ ἰδίᾳ)? How much more commendable than living a life of luxury it is to help many people (τὸ πολλοὺς εὐεργετει̑ν). How much nobler than spending money for sticks and stones to spend it on men (ἀνθρώπους)…. What would one gain from a large and beautiful house comparable to what he would gain by conferring the benefits of his wealth (χαρίζεσθαι) upon the city and his fellow‐citizens?44

At times one can sense a certain idealization of material poverty,45 the kind of unrealistic idealization that, I dare to say, can come only from a person who has never experienced real poverty.46 Nevertheless, for a man of his means and status, Musonius seems to have been quite radical in terms of practical ethics. The (ostensibly) faithful application of his ethics is also the aspect for which he was best known by the ancients. Our sources show very clearly that in antiquity he was generally praised for his character, wisdom, and moral integrity.47 Moreover, ‘unlike some (p.47) philosophers, Musonius was no doctor umbraticus, but was rather a public figure, a conspicuous participant in civic affairs’.48 It is surely illustrative that so many of the extant texts attributed to him concern civic and social affairs, and that so many of them are concerned with concrete practical aspects of such affairs.

If anything, it is probably Musonius' views on the status of women that are most familiar to the modern reader. But these are parts of a broader subject relating to questions of the family and relations within the family. Marriage is one such topic,49 having children another,50 and having parents still another.51 The discourses indicate that, for Musonius, the family is the very cornerstone of society, whereas marriage is the foundation on which the familial structure is built. Few things are more manifestly ‘in accord with Nature’ than marriage, and few conform closer to the will and purpose of God as the creator of humankind.52 Destroy marriage and you destroy not only the family itself, but the whole city as well and eventually also the entire human race.53 This is because procreation of children should, according to Musonius, occur only within marriage. And so should sexual intercourse, which, even in marriage, should never be mere pleasure‐seeking but conducted for begetting children only.54 As for marriage itself, what is particularly noteworthy in these first‐century discourses is Musonius' view of the reciprocal roles and mutual affection of the partners, both husband and wife: ‘[I]n marriage there must be above all perfect companionship and mutual love (κηδεμονία) of husband and wife, both in health and in sickness and under all conditions, since it was with desire for this as well as for having children that both entered upon marriage.’55 The basic thought here is that of union and balanced partnership, which, together with the concept of ὁμόνοια (concord or ‘sympathy of mind’),56 runs through all the discourses on marriage and the family. One is tempted even to see in Musonius a champion of equal roles for the (p.48) spouses.57 To him, this balanced state of the marriage is so imperative that the marriage is doomed to disaster if it so happens that ‘each looks only to his own interests and neglects the other’. When sincere mutuality is undermined, ‘eventually they separate entirely or they remain together and suffer what is worse than loneliness’.58 Given the social importance of marriage, the consequences for society as a whole are equally disastrous. According to Musonius, ‘one could find no other association (κοινωνία) more necessary nor more pleasant than that of men and women’. After all, ‘to whom is everything judged to be common, body, soul, and possessions, except man and wife? For these reasons all men consider the love of man and wife to be the highest form of love (φιλία)’.59 In this way the bond between husband and wife has become an expression of the virtuous life, an extension of the concept of friendship in philosophical discourse that typically applied to the bond among the sages.60

In striking contrast to conventional thinking of his day, Musonius underlines that outward things such as material possessions and social status—or looks, for that matter—should not determine whom one is to marry:

Therefore those who contemplate marriage ought to have regard neither for family (γένος), whether either one be of high‐born parents, nor for wealth, whether on either side there be great possessions, nor for physical traits, whether one or the other have beauty. For neither wealth nor beauty nor high birth (εὐγένεια) is effective in promoting partnership of interest (κοινωνία) or sympathy (ὁμόνοια), nor again are they significant for producing children.61

But, as for character, one should expect both partners to be naturally disposed to virtue, in particular to self‐control (σωφροσύνη) and justice (δικαιοσύνη).62 It is telling that while Musonius himself could easily have found a well‐born and wealthy son‐in‐law from his own ranks, he favoured the philosopher Artemidorus, despite the fact that the man was a foreigner and famous for his simple lifestyle. Correspondingly, then, when confronted with the question of whether marriage is a handicap for the pursuit of philosophy, Musonius' answer was unreservedly negative. According to him, it is entirely fitting for the philosopher to marry and a good thing for him to have children.63 This view runs counter to the ideas of some other prominent philosophers, (p.49) e.g. Cicero,64 and to common opinion of the Stoics in general, who have typically, but mistakenly, been seen as emotionally indifferent and rather isolated characters. However, as one scholar rightly points out, Musonius Rufus even ‘considers affection and eros to be as important as the care for offspring and social duty—so much for the stereotypical image of the Stoics as being cold and detached’.65 In his praising of marriage and the mutual love of the married couple, Musonius does not fail to emphasize the more emotional and affectionate side of the union: compared to that of husband and wife, he asks, whose presence would do more to ‘lighten grief (λύπη) or increase joy (χαρά) or remedy misfortune?’66 Recall that, according to Stoic theory, both λύπη and χαρά belong to the passions, τὰ πάθη, and were thus normally understood by the Stoics as something negative.67 Evidently, Musonius did not share this view entirely.

One related question addressed by the Stoic teacher was if women should study philosophy as well as men.68 Given his opinion of the reciprocal roles of men and women in marriage, it is not surprising to see Musonius' positive answer to the question. The same goes for his response to the question of whether daughters should receive the same education as sons.69 There is some debate among scholars about Musonius' views of women and their roles in society, particularly as to whether he can be considered a full‐scale ‘feminist’.70 The debate strikes me as unnecessary at best, coloured as it is by an unwarranted value judgement. It can hardly be justified to impose upon this first‐century figure modern values and concepts such as ‘feminism’ and make a judgement of his discussion in that light, as we see, for instance, in the recent complaints of his ‘incomplete feminism’.71 A scale of more or less ‘feminism’ is simply irrelevant in this case and, even worse, potentially misleading. As with all other figures of his time, the views of Musonius must be seen in the (p.50) context of the ancient Graeco‐Roman world of thought, and their potential variations assessed in that light. Only thus can we reach a historically sound judgement of his contribution to ancient discussions of women and their positions in society.

Seen in that light, there is little doubt that for many in his audience, who, we should keep in mind, were probably all male students,72 Musonius' statements in this regard were quite radical, if not shocking. According to him, there is no difference at all between men and women with respect to inclination towards virtue and the capacity for acquiring it. Unlike Plato, who argued that women were weaker than men in every respect, the Stoic philosopher makes emphatic in his teaching that both genders have equal moral value and philosophical ability.73 Due to physical differences, however, some tasks are better suited for the one than the other, although this is not an absolute rule:

For all human tasks, I am inclined to believe, are a common obligation and are common for men and women, and none is necessarily appointed for either one exclusively (πάντα μὲν γὰρ ἴσως ἐν κοινῳ̑ κει̑ται τὰ ἀνθρώπεια ἔργα καὶ ἔστι κοινὰ ἀνδρω̑ν καὶ γυναικω̑ν, καὶ οὐδὲν ἀποτακτὸν ἐξ ἀνάγκης τῳ̑ ἑτέρῳ), but some pursuits are more suited to the nature of one, some to the other, and for this reason some are called men's work (ἀνδρει̑α) and some women's (γυναικει̑α). But whatever things have reference to virtue, these one would properly say are equally appropriate to the nature of both (ὀρθω̑ς ἐπ᾿ ἴσον ἑκατέρᾳ προσήκειν φύσει), inasmuch as we agree that virtues are in no respect more fitting for the one than the other.74

To be sure, it so turns out that Musonius speaks much in favour of the ‘traditional’ order when he assigns to (most) women typical tasks relating to the household, and some typical physical outdoor tasks to (most) men. But it is important to observe that there is no indication whatsoever that he considered the former to be less meaningful than the latter. Why then should we presume (as some do) that he thought so? The sources certainly give no support to such assumptions. Recall that Musonius considered the family and household to be the very foundation of society. Moreover, by professing the equality of men and women with respect to the possession and capability of virtue, Musonius was in fact simply following the Stoic theory of universal humanity in which no distinction is made between the sexes: all humans have received a part of the divine reason and all are born with an inclination towards virtue. To speak of equality of women and men in this respect proceeds naturally from this doctrine. And this must also apply to the study (p.51) of philosophy: ‘If then men and women are born with the same virtues, the same type of training (τροφή) and education (παιδεία) must, of necessity, befit both men and women.’75 Musonius was not the first Stoic to recognize this,76 but he was certainly among those who were most true to this self‐evident but neglected aspect of the doctrine.

A particularly interesting case comes to the fore in Discourse 12, where Musonius lectures on sexual indulgence (Περὶ ἀφροδισίων). The discussion still involves issues of gender, now with the main focus aimed at male dominance. Discussing adultery, inter alia, which for him is a lucid manifestation of a lack of self‐control, the Stoic teacher censures the (married) man who has sexual relations with his maid‐servant.77 The occasion of the censure would not have been all that obvious to everyone, because such conduct, as Musonius clarifies, was widely considered legitimate, if not fully natural, due to the master's absolute domination over his slaves. In a harsh and ironic tone, the philosopher turns the scene on its head and asks: what would this same man say if his wife had sexual relations with a male slave? Wouldn't he consider it completely intolerable? Of course he would! And yet, Musonius declares, it is the very same thing! It is easy to imagine several jaws dropping in the audience. Even more so when he proceeds to challenge the prevailing notion that it is acceptable or even appropriate for unmarried men to have relations with slaves, whereas it is considered outrageous for unmarried women to do so. According to Musonius, this kind of behaviour should of course be considered disgraceful for women and men alike. He concludes the discourse by setting up a sort of rhetorical trap for his male audience through ironical remarks about men's claimed superiority.78 We can only speculate as to whether he actually caught some students in his trap, but perhaps Epictetus' description of his mentor's teaching methods and their effects are suggestive: ‘He spoke in such a way that each of us as we sat there fancied someone had gone to Rufus and told him of our faults; so effective was his grasp of what men actually do, so vividly did he set before each man's eyes his particular weaknesses (κακά).’79

While Musonius' primary concern in Discourse 12 is to condemn sexual relations that involve adultery, his rebuke of the master's abuse of the slave‐maid goes hand in hand with his general understanding of virtue and its duties, which, in turn, is rooted in the Stoic theory of universal humanity. The (p.52) cardinal virtue ‘justice’ (δικαιοσύνη) is of particular importance here. Musonius underlines that the serious student of philosophy knows that it is God's own law that bids the human being to be just.80 The student has also learned that ‘to shun selfishness and to have high regard for fairness and, being a human being, to wish to help and to be unwilling to harm one's fellow men is the noblest lesson, and it makes those who learn it just (δικαίους)’.81 If, on the other hand, the student holds that each one should have concern for his or her own interests alone, she or he represents man as no different from wild creatures, which have no share of any notion of justice.82 Such indifference to the interests of the neighbour is nothing but evil, whereas concern for the neighbour's welfare is virtue.

But who is the ‘neighbour’ in the teaching of Musonius? How comprehensive, really, is the sense of the concept of neighbour in his discussion? The discourses suggest that we should take it in truly wide terms, referring, at least, to friends, family, strangers, and even enemies. Thus one discourse claims that it is not only a sin against Zeus, the god of friendship (τὸν φίλιον [Δία]), to be unjust (ἄδικος) to one's friends (φίλους), and it is not only a sin against Zeus, the guardian of the family (τὸν ὁμόγνιον Δία), to be unjust to one's own family (γένος), but it is also a sin against Zeus, the god of hospitality (τὸν ξένιον Δία), to be unjust to strangers (ξένους).83 In another discourse, Musonius insists that it is not enough simply to refrain from harming one's enemies, but that one must be ready to offer them help as well.84 Discussing the question of how wrongdoers should be met by ‘the philosopher’ (i.e. the ideal sage), Musonius strongly objects to any form of retaliation. Such behaviour, he underlines, is the mark of anything but proper human behaviour: ‘For to scheme how to bite back the biter (ἀντιδήξεταί τις τὸν δακόντα) and to return evil for evil (ἀντιποιήσει κακω̑ς τὸν ὑπάρξαντα) is the act not of a human being but of a wild beast.’85 What is expected of the properly thinking and genuinely rational person is forgiveness (συγγνώμη).86 Musonius adopts the Socratic principle that it is better to suffer injury than to cause one.87 Any harm done to a fellow being, even as payback for some (p.53) other wrongdoing, is an act of ignorance, for the person who harms another does so only because she or he does not know any better. The person who, on the other hand, acts out of knowledge shows forgiveness and benevolence, for ‘to accept injury not in a spirit of savage resentment and to show ourselves not implacable toward those who wrong us, but rather to be a source of good hope to them is characteristic of a benevolent and civilized way of life’ (τὸ δὲ δέχεσθαι τὰς ἁμαρτίας μὴ ἀγρίως, μηδὲ ἀνήκεστον εἰ̑ναι τοι̑ς πλημμελήσασιν, ἀλλ᾿ αἴτιον εἰ̑ναι αὐτοι̑ς ἐλπίδος χρηστη̑ς, ἡμέρου τρόπου καὶ φιλανθρώπου ἐστίν).88 Put differently, according to Musonius, one should not only forgive evildoers but also endeavour to bring about a change in their disposition by leading them towards a better understanding. Such was indeed the case, says the Stoic teacher, when Lycurgus the Lacedaemonian was blinded in one eye by the hand of a fellow citizen, a young man, whom he later received as prisoner and could treat in whatever way he wanted. Lycurgus, to everyone's amazement, chose not to harm the man, but ‘trained him instead and made a good man of him’, eventually returning the young man to the Lacedaemonians with the words: ‘This man I received from you an insolent and violent creature; I return him to you a reasonable man and a good citizen.’89 Musonius' admiration for this story is not difficult to understand, particularly if one takes into further account that he was said to have been a vigorous antagonist of such violent events as gladiatorial games.90

According to one scholar, Musonius' ‘high idealism, combined with the noble humanitarianism of his teachings, represents the greatest height Stoicism ever reached’.91 Considering his great influence and reputation throughout the ancient world, this rather bold statement is probably not wide of the mark. It is true that some scholars have identified in Musonius' teaching a certain lack of originality in terms of philosophical theory, including ethics.92 However, as others continue to note,93 Musonius preferred applied ethics to theory, and there seems to be no lack of ‘originality’ in his various efforts to develop earlier philosophical doctrines to that end, nor in his apparently unmatched manner of (p.54) successfully embodying his own moral teaching. Musonius Rufus, it appears, effectively practised what he preached. Thus the church father Origen testifies:

There are found in every philosophical sect, and in the word of God, persons who are related to have undergone so great a change that they may be proposed as a model of excellence of life. Among the names of the heroic age some mention Hercules and Odysseus, among those of later times, Socrates, and of those who have lived very recently, Musonius.94


(1) The texts attributed to Musonius are conveniently collected (with English translations) in Cora E. Lutz, ‘Musonius Rufus: “The Roman Socrates” ’, Yale Classical Studies 10 (1947): 32–147. A brief, recent survey of modern research on Musonius is found in J. T. Dillon, Musonius Rufus and Education in the Good Life: A Model of Teaching and Living Virtue (Dallas, TX: University Press of America, 2004), vii–viii.

(2) cf. A. C. van Geytenbeek, Musonius Rufus and Greek Diatribe (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1963), 7–9.

(3) Klassen's criticism and complaint in this regard more than twenty years ago is (sadly) still appropriate (‘Musonius Rufus’, 188–9, 191–2). Nussbaum points out the startling fact that the comprehensive and widely used collection of texts by Long and Sedley, Hellenistic Philosophers (1987), ‘includes neither any text from Musonius nor any mention of him, even in the section dealing with Stoic views on the political equality of women [a topic to which Musonius' views are undeniably of major importance]’ (Martha C. Nussbaum, ‘The Incomplete Feminism of Musonius Rufus, Platonist, Stoic, and Roman’, in The Sleep of Reason: Erotic Experience and Sexual Ethics in Ancient Greece and Rome [ed. M. C. Nussbaum and J. Sihvola; Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2002], 283). Telling is also the fact that Lutz's 1947 collection and English translation of the Musonian works (as a whole) still appears to be the only one of its kind. Lutz's text follows the 1905 edition of O. Hense, which is the sole modern edition (C. Musonii Rufi reliquiae [Leipzig: Teubner]).

(4) As Rudolf Hirzel called him in Der Dialog (1895); cf. Lutz, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 4.

(5) The approximate location is the modern city of Bolsena, about 130 km north of Rome.

(6) On the life of Musonius, see esp. the important work of Lutz, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 14–30. See also Geytenbeek, Musonius, 3–7.

(7) See Lutz, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 18–20, according to whom Fronto noted that the students/followers of Musonius included Euphrates of Tyre, Timocrates of Heracleia, Minucius Fundanus, Athenodotus (Fronto's own teacher), and Dio Cocceianus of Prusa (later called ‘Chrysostom’). From Pliny's letters we learn that Pliny himself was a great admirer of Musonius (though scarcely one of his students), and that he enjoyed the friendship of Musonius' son‐in‐law, Artemidorus (Ep. 3.11). And then we have, of course, Musonius' most famous student, Epictetus (specifically treated below). Whereas the early second‐century Stoic Hierocles did not belong to Musonius' closest circle, he effectively passed on his teachings within Stoicism (several examples from Hierocles may be found in Malherbe, Moral Exhortation, 85–104).

(8) On the so‐called ‘philosophical opposition’ and Nero's persecution of the Stoics, see Griffin, Seneca, 100–3; eadem, Nero, 171–7. Cf. also MacMullen, Enemies, 46–94 (ch. 2); Jürgen Malitz, ‘Philosophie und Politik im frühen Prinzipat’, in Antikens Denken—Moderne Schule: Beiträge zu den antiken Grundlagen unseres Denkens (ed. H. W. Schmidt and P. Wülfing; Heidelberg: Carl Winter Universitätsverlag, 1988), 164–76.

(9) Ann. 16.21. As for Tacitus' (favourable) view of Rubellius Plautus, see Ann. 14.22.

(10) See, e.g., Epictetus, Diss. 1.25.20; 2.6.22.

(11) Ann. 15.71: ‘To Verginius Flavus and Musonius Rufus expulsion was brought by the lustre of their names (claritudo nominis); for Verginius fostered the studies of youth by his eloquence, Musonius by the precepts of philosophy (praeceptis sapientiae).’ (Verginius Flavus was a rhetorician and tutor of the satirist Persius.)

(12) cf. Griffin, ‘Philosophy’, 21–2. Cf. the comments of Seneca in Ep. 73.1.

(13) cf. Klauck, Religious Context, 347.

(14) See Ep. 3.11. According to Musonius 8.60.4–5, he was actually once visited by a certain ‘king from Syria’.

(15) The reference to Musonius in Pliny's Ep. 3.11, probably written in 101 CE, suggests that the former was already dead by then.

(16) See Griffin, Seneca, 100–3.

(17) Tacitus relates how Musonius once participated directly in the politics of his day by engaging in a diplomatic mission on behalf of the emperor Vitellius in 69 CE (Hist. 3.81).

(18) Christopher Gill notes that Musonius' ‘principled political involvement may have played a significant role in making him a widely influential Stoic teacher’ (‘Stoic Writers of the Imperial Era’, in The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought [ed. C. Rowe and M. Schofield with S. Harrison and M. Lane; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000], 601).

(19) See Lutz, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 6–13, 146–7; Geytenbeek, Musonius, 8–12. On Epictetus and Arrian, see below.

(20) So Lutz, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 9–13. Differently Geytenbeek, Musonius, 8–9.

(21) Ever since it was published in 1947, Lutz's collection has been the standard work on Musonius in which English translation is included. As for the Greek (and Latin) text, it has already been noted above that Lutz follows Hense's edition (except in a few instances), and so do I in the present study.

(22) Musonius 4.48.25–6. Cf. 3.40.5–6; 8.66.1.

(23) See, e.g., Seneca, Ep. 85.2; 90.46; 120.11; Plutarch, Stoic. rep. 1034C; Virt. mor. 440E–41D; Stobaeus, Ecl. 2.7.5a–5b7 (= Arius Didymus 5a–5b7); 2.31.123; 2.59.4–60.24; 2.63.6–24; Flor. 1178.

(24) cf. 3.40.17–42.9; 4.44.10–35; 4.46.9–10; 4.48.1–14; 6.52.15–23; 8.60.8–64.9; 9.74.24–6; 17.108.10–11.

(25) e.g. Ep. 92.19; Ben. 2.31.1; 4.8.3. Cf. also Stobaeus, Ecl. 2.59.4–60.24; 2.7.5b–5b7 (= Arius Didymus 5b–5b7); Cicero, Fin. 3.11.

(26) cf. Lutz, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 27 n. 113.

(27) Musonius 14.92.29–33.

(28) Musonius 17.108.14. It is actually God who is μεγαλόφρων καὶ εὐεργετικὸς καὶ φιλ‐άνθρωπος, but Musonius adds that so also is the human being as the image of God (οὕτω καὶ τὸ ἐκείνου μίμημα τὸν ἄνθρωπον ἡγητέον). According to Musonius, God has these qualities through the possession of the four cardinal virtues (διὰ τὴν παρουσίαν τούτων τω̑ν ἀρετω̑ν) (lines 10–16).

(29) Geytenbeek, Musonius, 28.

(30) Musonius 2.38.1–3.

(31) Musonius 16.104.31.

(32) Musonius 17.108.8–18.

(33) Musonius 2.38.12–14.

(34) See the discussion in Geytenbeek, Musonius, 28–33.

(35) Musonius 3.40.5–6.

(36) cf. Musonius 3.38.26–40.6; 14.92.6–8; 16.104.30–7; 17.108.1–4.

(37) Musonius 6.52.8–9.

(38) cf. Musonius 5.52.1–2.

(39) Musonius 5.52.2–4. On the translation of ἔθος as ‘practice’, see Lutz, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 49 n.

(40) Musonius 6.52.7–8; cf. 11.82.22–84.27; 17.110.14–15.

(41) Musonius 1.36.10–12. Cf. 14.96.6–7.

(42) Musonius 6.54.2–4.

(43) Musonius 19.122.3–4. His fellow Stoic Seneca had a more balanced opinion of this: ‘Do not wear too fine, nor yet too frowzy, a toga. One needs no silver plate, encrusted and embossed in solid gold; but we should not believe the lack of silver and gold to be proof of the simple life’ (Ep. 5.3).

(44) Musonius 19.122.22–32. Cf. 20.124.4–7.

(45) Musonius 15.98.17–100.16; 18B.118.36–120.5.

(46) This goes for Seneca, too; cf. the discussion in Chapter 2 above.

(47) See Geytenbeek, Musonius, 14–15.

(48) Lutz, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 24. (Doctor umbraticus [lit. ‘private tutor’] is a rather cloistered figure who has little or no practical solidity in his teaching.)

(49) Musonius 13A.88 (under the title: ‘What is the Chief End of Marriage?’); 13B.90 (same title); 14.90–6 (‘Is Marriage a Handicap for the Pursuit of Philosophy?’).

(50) Musonius 15.96–100 (‘Should Every Child that is Born be Raised?’).

(51) Musonius 16.100–6 (‘Must One Obey One's Parents under All Circumstances?’).

(52) Musonius 14.92.9–17. One may add that Musonius disapproves of same‐sex sexual relations (he mentions only males in this respect), which he finds ‘a monstrous thing and contrary to nature’ (παρὰ φύσιν τὸ τόλημα, 12.86.10).

(53) Musonius 14.92.35–6.

(54) Musonius 12.86.4–8. Cf. also Musonius' rejection of abortion, child exposure, and infanticide in Disc. 15. Note his sharp criticism of wealthy people in particular who practise any of these things, although they ‘do not even have poverty as an excuse’ (15.98.28–9).

(55) Musonius 13A.88.17–20.

(56) Musonius 13B.90.4, 13–20.

(57) cf., however, Musonius 3.42.5–11, a passage that reminds us of the necessity to read his discourses in their own historical context.

(58) Musonius 13A.88.24, 27–9.

(59) Musonius 14.94.2–3, 8–11.

(60) cf. Reydams‐Schils, ‘Human Bonding’, 245–7. Referring also to Hierocles, she rightly states: ‘The Roman Stoic stance is firm: there will be no community unless we start with the one close to home’ (246).

(61) Musonius 13B.90.4–8.

(62) Musonius 13B.90.12–13.

(63) Musonius 14.96.2–4.

(64) In a fragment of his lost De Matrimonio, Seneca states that Cicero refrained from remarrying because ‘he could not possibly devote himself to a wife and to philosophy’; see Reydams‐Schils, Roman Stoics, 148. One may also compare Cicero's standpoint with Paul's, expressed in 1 Corinthians 7 (esp. vv. 8, 32–4, 38–40).

(65) Reydams‐Schils, Roman Stoics, 150.

(66) Musonius 14.94.5–8.

(67) Although χαρά, it should be noted, is an εὔπαθεια (a ‘good feeling’) in Stoic theory; see, e.g., Tad Brennan, ‘The Old Stoic Theory of Emotions’, in The Emotions in Hellenistic Philosophy (ed. J. Sihvola and T. Engberg‐Pedersen; The New Synthese Historical Library 46; Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1998), esp. 34–6.

(68) Musonius 3.38–42 (under the title ‘That Women Too Should Study Philosophy’).

(69) Musonius 4.42–8 (under the title ‘Should Daughters Receive the Same Education as Sons?’).

(70) See, e.g., David M. Engel, ‘The Gender Egalitarianism of Musonius Rufus’, AncPhil 20 (2000): 377–91; Nussbaum, ‘Incomplete Feminism’; Klassen, ‘Musonius Rufus’.

(71) Nussbaum, ‘Incomplete Feminism’.

(72) See the discussion in Dillon, Musonius Rufus, 49–57.

(73) See esp. the discussion in Reydams‐Schils, Roman Stoics, 153–63, which argues that Musonius' standpoint is essentially a response to Plato's views in the Republic.

(74) Musonius 4.46.27–34.

(75) Musonius 4.44.35–46.2.

(76) See Klassen, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 194–6; Bonhöffer, Ethics, 125–7; Reydams‐Schils, ‘Human Bonding’, 245–7; Gill, ‘School’, 46–7.

(77) Musonius 12.86.29–38.

(78) Musonius 12.86.38–88.6. Cf. also Reydams‐Schils, Roman Stoics, 157.

(79) Epictetus, Diss. 3.23.29.

(80) Musonius 16.104.32–3: πρόσταγμά τε γὰρ ἐκείνου καὶ νόμος ἐστὶ τὸν ἄνθρωπον εἰ̑ναι δίκαιον

(81) Musonius 4.48.9–12: πλεονεξίαν μὲν φεύγειν, ἰσότητα δὲ τιμα̑ν, καὶ εὐ̑ ποιει̑ν μὲν θέλειν, κακοποιει̑ν δὲ μὴ θέλειν ἄνθρωπον ὄντα ἀνθρώπους, ἔστι μὲν δίδαγμα κάλλιστον καὶ δικαίους ἐπιτελει̑ τοὺς μανθάνοντας. Cf. 7.58.1–2.

(82) Musonius 14.92.20–5.

(83) Musonius 15.96.28–98.1.

(84) See esp. Musonius 41.136. Cf. Epictetus, frg. 7.

(85) Musonius 10.78.27–8.

(86) Musonius 10.78.33–80.3.

(87) See Musonius 10.78.4–5. Cf. also Seneca, Ep. 95.52. On the Socratic principle and Musonius' adoption of it, see Geytenbeek, Musonius, 134–42. For a Christian version of this principle, see 1 Pet 3.17.

(88) Musonius 10.78.31–3.

(89) Musonius 39.136.15–16.

(90) Dio Chrysostom, Rhod. 121–2 (= Or. 31.121–2). See also Lutz, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 17 with n. 60.

(91) Lutz, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 30.

(92) Esp. Geytenbeek, Musonius (conclusion on pp. 159–63). A century ago, Arnold observed, on the other hand, that because of his great influence Musonius should be regarded as ‘a third founder of the philosophy’ (Roman Stoicism, 117), presumably in addition to Zeno (p. 71) and Panaetius (p. 101).

(93) See, e.g., Klassen, ‘Musonius Rufus’, 188; Morford, Roman Philosophers, 207–8; Gill, ‘School’, 47. Klassen rightly points out that one has to ask what exactly is meant by ‘originality’ in this context. Cf. also Reydams‐Schils, Roman Stoics, 147–8, 166.

(94) Cels. 3.66: εἰσὶ γὰρ καὶ κατὰ πα̑σαν φιλοσοφίας αἵρεσιν καὶ κατὰ τὸν θει̑ον λόγον οἱ τοσου̑τον μεταβεβληκέναι ἱστορούμενοι, ὤστε αὐτοὺς ἐκκει̑σθαι παράδειγμα του̑ ἀρίστου βίου. καὶ φέρουσί τινες ἡρώων μὲν τὸν Ἡρακλέα καὶ τὸν Ὀδυσσέα, τω̑ν δ᾿ ὕστερον τὸν Σωκράτην, τω̑ν δὲ χθὲς καὶ πρώην γεγονότων τὸν Μουσώνιον (trans. from FC). Similarly, Justin comments (2 Apol. 8.1–2): ‘And those of the Stoic school—since, so far as their moral teaching went, they were admirable […]—were, we know, hated and put to death,—Heraclitus for instance, and, among those of our own time, Musonius and others. For, as we intimated, the devils have always effected, that all those who anyhow live a reasonable and earnest life, and shun vice, be hated’ (trans. from FC). Cf. also the favourable comments in Dio Chrysostom, Rhod. 122 (= Or. 31.122); Pliny, Ep. 3.11; Philostratus, Vit. Apoll. 4.46.