The Republic (Zeno)

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The Republic (Greek: Πολιτεία) was a work written by Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoic philosophy at the beginning of the 3rd century BCE. Although it has not survived, it was his most famous work, and various quotes and paraphrases were preserved by later writers. The purpose of the work was to outline the ideal society based on Stoic principles, where virtuous men and women would live a life of simple asceticism in an equal society.


Written, it would seem, in conscious opposition to Plato's Republic,[1] Zeno's Republic (politeia) outlined the principles of an ideal state written from the point of view of early Stoic philosophy. The work has not survived; but it was widely known in antiquity and more is known about it than any of his other works. Plutarch provides a summary of its intent:

It is true indeed that the so much admired Republic of Zeno, first author of the Stoic sect, aims singly at this, that neither in cities nor in towns we should live under laws distinct one from another, but that we should look upon all people in general to be our fellow-countryfolk and citizens, observing one manner of living and one kind of order, like a flock feeding together with equal right in one common pasture. This Zeno wrote, fancying to himself, as in a dream, a certain scheme of civil order, and the image of a philosophical commonwealth.[2]

It is not obvious from Plutarch's remarks whether he had read the work himself. One person who had read it was an otherwise unknown figure known as "Cassius the Skeptic", whose polemic written against Zeno's Republic is paraphrased by Diogenes Laërtius:

Some, indeed, among whom is Cassius the Skeptic, attack Zeno on many accounts, saying first of all that he denounced the general system of education in vogue at the time, as useless, which he did in the beginning of his Republic. And in the second place, that he used to call all who were not virtuous, adversaries, and enemies, and slaves, and unfriendly to one another, parents to their children, brethren to brethren. and kinsmen to kinsmen; and again, that in his Republic, he speaks of the virtuous as the only citizens, and friends, and relations, and free men, so that in the doctrine of the Stoic, even parents and their children are enemies; for they are not wise. Also, that he lays down the principle of the community of women in his Republic, and ... teaches that neither temples nor courts of law, nor gymnasia, ought to be erected in a city; moreover, that he writes thus about money: that he does not think that people ought to coin money either for purposes of trade, or of travelling. Besides all this, he enjoins men and women to wear the same dress, and to leave no part of their person completely covered.[3]

Further on, Laërtius makes some further remarks which also seem to be from the same work by Cassius:

They say too, that the wise man will love those young men, who by their outward appearance, show a natural aptitude for virtue; and this opinion is advanced by Zeno, in his Republic. And they also teach that women ought to be in common among the wise, so that whoever meets with any one may enjoy her, and this doctrine is maintained by Zeno in his Republic, and by Chrysippus in his treatise on the Republic, ... and then, they say, we shall love all boys equally after the manner of fathers, and all suspicion on the ground of undue familiarity will be removed.[4]

These paraphrases by Cassius are not a neutral summary of the Republic, his purpose seems to be to describe all the doctrines in the work which he found shocking. These include Zeno's denouncement of general education; his exhortation that only the virtuous can be regarded as true citizens; his view that men and women should wear the same clothes; and the idea that "women should be held in common", which in practice seems to have meant "recognizing no other form of marriage than the union of the man who lives freely with a consenting woman".[5]

A few other statements from the Republic are preserved by other writers. We learn from Laërtius that Zeno stated that the wise man will marry and produce children,[6] and several writers mention Zeno's view that there is no need to build temples to the gods, "for a temple not worth much is also not sacred, and nothing made by builders or workmen is worth much".[7] Athenaeus also preserves a quote on the need for a city to be built on the principle of love:

And Pontianus said that Zeno of Citium thought that Love was the God of Friendship and Liberty and the author of concord among people, but nothing else. Hence, he says in his Republic, that "Love is a God, who cooperates in securing the safety of the city."[8]


Zeno's Republic seems to have been viewed with some embarrassment by some of the later Stoics. This was not helped when Chrysippus, Zeno's most illustrious successor as the head of the Stoic school, wrote his own treatise On the Republic (probably a commentary on Zeno's work), in which (among many other things) he defended both incest and cannibalism.[9] It is unlikely that Chrysippus urged the adoption of such behaviors; Chrysippus was probably responding to criticisms that in a society practicing free love, in which people often did not know who their relatives were, rare instances of incest would unintentionally occur; his discussion of cannibalism is probably connected with the Stoic contempt for dead bodies as an empty shell. Nevertheless, these points provided extra ammunition for those people who wished to attack both Zeno and Stoicism in general. Some blamed the influence which Crates of Thebes, the famous Cynic philosopher and teacher of Zeno, may have had when he wrote the Republic: it was joked that Zeno "had written it at the tail of the dog."[10] By the 1st century BCE, there was an attempt among the Stoics to downplay the involvement which Cynic philosophy had played in the development of early Stoicism; it was said that Zeno had been "young and thoughtless" when he wrote his Republic.[11] It was also said that "by Zeno things were written which they [the Stoics] do not readily allow disciples to read, without their first giving proof whether or not they are genuine philosophers."[12] Regardless of these views, it is clear that Zeno was one of the first philosophers in a long tradition begun by Plato of depicting an ideal society in order to understand ethical principles.


  1. Plutarch, On Stoic self-contradictions, 1034F
  2. Plutarch, On the Fortune of Alexander, 329A–B
  3. Laërtius 1925b, § 32–33.
  4. Laërtius 1925b, § 129–131.
  5. A description of a "community of wives" which Diogenes Laërtius uses when discussing the views of Diogenes of Sinope (Laërtius 1925, § 72).
  6. Laërtius 1925b, § 121.
  7. Plutarch, On Stoic self-contradictions, 1034B; Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, v.9
  8. Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, xiii. 561C.
  9. Sextus Empiricus, Outlines of Pyrrhonism, 3.205, 3.247; Diogenes Laërtius, vii. 188
  10. The word "Cynic" is derived from the word for "dog" (Laërtius 1925b, § 4).
  11. A view attributed to some contemporary Stoics by Philodemus, On the Stoics, c. 2. col 9. ed. Dorandi.
  12. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, v.9.58


  • Wikisource-logo.svg Laërtius, Diogenes (1925). [ "The Cynics: Diogenes" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. 2:6. Translated by Hicks, Robert Drew (Two volume ed.). Loeb Classical Library. § 20–81.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Laërtius, Diogenes (1925b). [ "The Stoics: Zeno" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. 2:7. Translated by Hicks, Robert Drew (Two volume ed.). Loeb Classical Library. § 1–160.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Dawson, Doyne (1992). Cities of the Gods: Communist Utopias in Greek Thought. Oxford University Press.
  • Schofield, Malcolm (1991). The Stoic Idea of the City. Cambridge University Press.