As an undergraduate at City College of New York I was exposed to the Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus (ca 55 AD - 135 AD) via a slim booklet called The Enchiridion (Manual or Handbook) of the philosophy of Epictetus, published by his student Flavius Arrian.
I have carried that booklet on all my travels since (as did Frederick the Great :^) and I credit Epictetus for moderating my Jewish atheism. I accepted his opinion that "the essence of piety towards the Gods is thinking rightly concerning them – as existing and governing the Universe justly and well.”
Nearly all scientists accept the basic Truth that the Laws of Nature and of Evolution and Natural Selection promote general progress towards superior levels of biological organization. Human (Artificial) Selection yields superior cultural organization. So, let that fact be our "GOD" - the "General (or Genetic) Optimizing Device". Thus defined, GOD exists and governs the Universe justly and well!
I was Bar Mitzvah and married in a Jewish ceremony and our three daughters were Bat Mitzvah. We are founding members of Temple Shalom near The Villages, FL, and are pleased that our triplet grand-daughters were Bat Mitzvah in 2011 in Andover, MA. For me, it is not about literal belief in Jewish religious doctrine, but of ethnic solidarity and duty.
I inherited an unbroken chain from Abraham through Moses and through Solomon's Temple at Jerusalem, and via the Pale of Jewish Settlement in Europe (Austria, Russia), and the immigrant experience of my grandparents in the Lower East Side of New York City and then Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, where I was Bar Mitzvah. WHO DO I THINK I AM TO BREAK THIS CHAIN?
EPICTETUS - THE ENCHIRIDION
Epictetus was born to a slave in Hierapolis (Turkey) and brought to Rome as a slave to Nero’s secretary. He was freed and became a respected Roman Stoic philosopher. After banishment from Rome (along with other philosophers who were considered nuances to the leadership), he lived in Greece. The Enchiridion begins as follows:
Some things are in our control and others not.
Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.
The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others.
Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men.
But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you.
Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed. …There is much more from The Enchiridion in my PowerPoint show. Download it! Here: https://sites.google.com/site/iraclass/my-forms/2013PhiloSenecaSHOW.ppsx?attredirects=0&d=1
SENECA THE YOUNGER
Last month I attended a DVD lecture by Prof. J. Rufus Fears (at Freedom Pointe, an Independent Living facility here in The Villages) titled "Life Lessons from the Great Books". That DVD included a session on Seneca the Younger, based in his book "On Providence". I was impressed and, due to my long-term interest in Roman Stoicism, I downloaded Seneca's book "On Benefits", and read it through. I also researched Seneca on Wikipedia.
As the figure above shows, Seneca lived from about 4 BC to 68 AD in interesting times. While Epictetus was born near the eastern end of the Roman Empire, and brought to Rome as a slave, Seneca was born near the western end of the Roman Empire to a prominent family and brought to Rome as a student. Seneca also travelled to Egypt to stay with his Aunt, so he saw and experienced a considerable part of the Roman Empire and the higher classes of rulers and leaders.
Seneca rose to become a Magistrate in Rome, and survived a scrape with Emperor Caligula. However, Emperor Claudius banished him for eight years to Corsica. Upon request of Agrippina, Claudius's wife, Seneca returned to Rome to become tutor to her son Nero. When Nero became Emperor, perhaps due to Agrippina poisoning Claudius and pushing him into power over rivals, Seneca became his advisor for some eight years. Seneca lost that position and became tied up in palace intrigue and, in 65 AD, Seneca was ordered by Nero to commit suicide, which he did.
Meanwhile, Seneca wrote many books, among them the above-mentioned "On Providence: and "On Benefits".
"On Benefits" begins as follows:
AMONG the many and diverse errors of those who live reckless and thoughtless lives, almost nothing that I can mention, excellent Liberalis, is more disgraceful than the fact that we do not know how either to give or to receive benefits.
For it follows that, if they are ill placed, they are ill acknowledged, and, when we complain of their not being returned, it is too late for they were lost at the time they were given.
Nor is it surprising that among all our many and great vices, none is so common as ingratitude. …Seneca distinguishes between a loan and a benefit. A loan is granted carefully, after checking the credit-worthiness of the recipient. A loan is a formal agreement that obligates the borrower to pay back in accordance with the terms, and also provides for legal action if the loan in not repaid. A benefit, on the other hand, is given freely, with the only expectation being that the recipient express thankfulness to the benefactor. Seneca goes into quite a bit of detail on considerations related to giving and receiving benefits, some of which I include in my PowerPoint show, download it here: https://sites.google.com/site/iraclass/my-forms/2013PhiloSenecaSHOW.ppsx?attredirects=0&d=1
SENECA'S LIVED IN INTERESTING TIMES
As the graphic above indicates, Seneca lived from ca 4 BC to 68 AD, which overlapped the very early years of Epictetus lifetime (ca 55 - 135 AD). This was also the time when Jesus lived (ca 2 - 33 AD) and when Saul of Tarsus (ca 5 - 67 AD) first persecuted Christians and then, taking the name "Paul" (and later being recognized as a Saint), spread Christianity in parts of the Roman Empire. I did not find any mention of Paul or Christianity in the Seneca book or the Wikipedia articles I read.
Seneca lived in the period immediately preceding the destruction of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem (70 AD). Prior to and around this time, Judeans (Jews) were spreading throughout the Roman Empire. After the destruction of the Temple, and the loss of the associated priestly class, the Rabbinic period of Judaism was initiated, where regional and local Jewish institutions became the main face of our religion. I did not find any mention of Judaism in the materials I read about Seneca or Epictetus.