Wisdom Books: Lectures and Fragments by Musonius Rufus “The Roman Socrates”

Papyrus fragment P.Harr. I 1, Col. 2, Z. 25–50; showing a section of Diatribe 15 of Gaius Musonius Rufus.

Musonius Rufus (c. AD 30–100) was one of the four great Roman Stoic philosophers, the other three being Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and Musonius’ pupil Epictetus. During his life, Musonius’ Stoicism was put to the test, most notably during an exile to Gyaros, a barren island in the Aegean Sea. Because Stoicism was, for Musonius, not merely a philosophy but a prescription for daily living, he has been called “the Roman Socrates.” MUSONIUS RUFUS: LECTURES AND FRAGMENTS will therefore be welcomed by those who seek insight into the practice of Stoicism.

The Suda states that there are “speeches about philosophy bearing his name,” and mentions letters to Apollonius of Tyana.[1] The letters that survive[8] are certainly not authentic.[9] It is unknown whether Musonius wrote anything for publication. His philosophical opinions were collected by two of his students. One collection of Discourses, by a certain Lucius, form the basis of the 21 lengthy extracts preserved by Stobaeus.[10] A second collection was compiled by one Pollio; it has been lost, but some fragments survive in quotations by later writers.[11]

The titles of the 21 discourses (Cora Lutz edition) are as follows:

  1. That There is No Need of Giving Many Proofs for One Problem
  2. That Man is Born with an Inclination Toward Virtue
  3. That Women Too Should Study Philosophy
  4. Should Daughters Receive the Same Education as Sons?
  5. Which is more Effective, Theory or Practice?
  6. On Training
  7. That One Should Disdain Hardships
  8. That Kings Also Should Study Philosophy
  9. That Exile is not an Evil
  10. Will the Philosopher Prosecute Anyone for Personal Injury?
  11. What means of Livelihood is Appropriate for a Philosopher?
  12. On Sexual Indulgence
  13. What is the Chief End of Marriage
  14. Is Marriage a Handicap for the Pursuit of Philosophy?
  15. Should Every Child that is Born be Raised?
  16. Must One Obey One’s Parents under all Circumstances?
  17. What is the Best Viaticum for Old Age?
  18. On Food
  19. On Clothing and Shelter
  20. On Furnishings
  21. On Cutting the Hair

Here is an excerpt from Musonius Rufus “The Roman Socrates” – Lectures and Fragments:

2. That man is born with an inclination towards virtue.

All of us, he used to say, are so fashioned by nature that we can live our lives free from error and nobly; not that one can and another cannot, but all. The clearest evidence of this is the fact that lawgivers lay down for all alike what may be done and forbid what may not be done, exempting from punishment no one who disobeys or does wrong, not the young nor the old, not the strong nor the weak, not anyone whomsoever. And yet if the whole notion of virtue were something that came to us from without, and we shared no part of it by birth, just as in activities pertaining to the other arts no one who has not learned the art is expected to be free from error, so in like manner in things pertaining to the conduct of life it would not be reasonable to expect anyone to be free from error who had not learned virtue, seeing that virtue is the only thing that saves us from error in daily living. Now in the care of the sick we demand no one but the physician to be free from error, and in handling the lyre no one but the musician, and in managing the helm no one but the pilot, but in the conduct of life it is no longer only the philosopher whom we expect to be free from error, though he alone would seem to be the only one concerned with the study of virtue, but all men alike, including those who have never given any attention to virtue. Clearly, then, there is no explanation for this other than that the human being is born with an inclination toward virtue […]


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