Sun May 10 17:08:48 2009
I would argue that Stoicism as a philosophy was a replacement for active participation in politics. Stoicism became popular in the era following the end of the Greek polis. The polis allowed for widespread participation of citizens in the political and legal life of the community. With the end of the polis as a social and political structure at the beginning of the Hellenistic era individuals no longer had much voice or influence. Instead of emphasizing the active and communal virtues of courage, pride, magnificence and generosity that we find in Aristotle’s Ethics, Stoicism emphasized the practice of apatheia, freeing oneself from suffering through self-control of an individual’s passions and desires. Classical Greek philosophy is usually about achieving personal excellence and working cooperatively with others. Hellenistic philosophy emphasizes preserving your self-worth when room for achievement is limited and actions are ineffectual.
We see a similar trend happening in entertainment. The old comedy of Aristophanes deals with current political topics, which were relevant and interesting to fifth century Athenians who actively participated in their polis. In the Hellenistic era we have the rise of new comedy, which deals with domestic and family situations–now the only sphere that most Greeks still have any influence or control.