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Coin Portrait of the Week #20


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Cyprus 20 Cent Coin 2001




KM 62.2 Cyprus 20 Cent Coin Depicting The Stoic Philosopher Zeno of Citium (Nickel - Brass)


Zeno of Citium was a Hellenistic philosopher born in the 3rd century BC in the town of Citium, a Greek colony on the island of Cyprus which also had a large Phoenician population; Zeno himself may well have been of Phoenician ancestry. None of his writings survive and what is known of his life and his works come down to us through the accounts of others. The major source being Diogenes Laërtius who wrote "The Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers" in the 3rd century B.C. This is a compilation of facts, myths, rumors and excerpts from other writers and contemporaries concerning the life and work of Zeno.


The son of a merchant and a merchant himself, it is said he was exposed to philosophy later in life after a shipwreck off the coast of Attica deposited him in Greece and from there he made his way to Athens. It is also suggested that he was not shipwrecked at all but that he may already have been a student of philosophy. His father was a merchant who had travel to Greece and may have returned with works for his son to study, that on a trade mission to Greece, he simply sold all his cargo at Athens and decided to stay to continue his study of philosophy.


Regardless of how he came to Athens, while there he met the Cynic philosopher Crates who would become his first instructor. he would eventually study under other teachers of the time such as Stilpon, Xenocrates and Polemon until he founded his own school, the Stoa Poikile, around 300 B.C. His school was named for his teaching platform, located on the north side of the Ancient Agora of Athens, the Painted Porch ("stoa" is Greek for "porch"). Laërtius states that he came to Athens when he was twenty-two years and Apollonius says that he presided over his school for forty-eight years.


His teachings were the beginning of Stoicism which was partly based on ideas taught to him by Crates and other Cynic philosophers whose founding father, Antisthenes, had been a disciple of Socrates.


Zeno preached that man conquers the world by conquering himself. He lectured his students on the value of apatheia, which he explained to be the absence of passion. Only by controlling one's emotion and physical desire, he argued, could we develop wisdom. Central to his teachings was the law of morality being the same as nature. Zeno often challenged prohibitions, traditions, and customs and emphasized love for all other beings. Stoicism was the first philosophical school of thought to morally condemn slavery.


He developed the concept of Kathekon meaning befitting or appropriate actions and states that one must always act in accordance with Nature. Zeno's most influential follower was Chrysippus who further developed and taught Stoicism which would later be adopted by thinkers such as Cicero, Seneca the Younger, Marcus Aurelius, Cato the Younger, Dio Chrysostom, and Epictetus. Other philosophers who succeeded Zeno as leaders of the Stoa were Cleanthes, Zeno of Tarsus, Diogenes the Babylonian, Panaetius of Rhodes, Posidonius, and Hecaton.


Zeno lived and taught in Athens until his death of which Persaes asserts that he died at the age of seventy-two while Diogenes Laërtius states he lived ninety-eight years, and then died, without any disease, and continuing in good health to the last. Laërtius goes on to give an account of the details of his death: As he left the school, he tripped, fell and broke a toe. Hitting the ground with his hand, he cited words of Niobe: "I am coming, why do you call me thus?" Since the Stoic sage was expected to always do what was appropriate (kathekon) and Zeno was very old at the time, he felt it appropriate to die and consequently strangled himself.'


Zeno refused to become an Athenian citizen since he wanted to be loyal to Cyprus. His pride in his origins and the pride of his countrymen in him is well illustrated by an account told by Antigonus of Carystos which states: Zeno himself never denied that he was a native of Cittium. For that when on one occasion, there was a citizen of that town who had contributed to the building of some baths, and was having his name engraved on the pillar, as the countryman of Zeno the philosopher, he bade them add, "Of Cittium."


Of his physical appearance Apollonius states: he was thin, very tall, of a dark complexion; in reference to which some one once called him an Egyptian. Of his disposition and way of life it is reported: For in reality he did surpass all men in this description of virtue, and in dignity of demeanor, and, by Jove, in happiness. He was a person of great powers of abstinence and endurance; and of very simple habits, living on food which required no fire to dress it, and wearing a thin cloak.


The philosopher Timon of Philus reports: there were also a lot of dirty beggars always about him writing: Till he collected a vast cloud of beggars, Who were of all men in the world the poorest, and the most worthless citizens of Athens. And he himself was a man of a morose and bitter countenance, with a constantly frowning expression. He was very economical, and descended even to the meanness of the barbarians, under the pretence of economy.


he reported to be the author of the following works - The Republic, a treatise on a Life according to Nature, one on Appetite, on the Nature of Man; on Passions, on Duty, on Law; on the usual Education of the Greeks, on Sight, on the Whole, on Signs, on the Doctrines of the Pythagoreans, on Things in General, on Styles, five essays on Problems relating to Homer, one on the reading of the Poets. There was also an essay on Art, and two books of Solutions and Refutations, Reminiscences, and one called the Ethics of Crates.


Several Quotes attributed to Zeno:


"Fate is the endless chain of causation, whereby things are; the reason or formula by which the world goes on."


"No evil is honorable: but death is honorable; therefore death is not evil."


"Follow where reason leads."


"We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say."


"tranquility can best be reached through indifference to pleasure and pain"




Zeno of Citium - Founder of the School of Stoicism


This coins page also has an overview of Cyprus which I omitted but can be read after the bio of Zeno here:


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