Founded by Zeno of Citium (335-263 B.C.), Stoicism became the leading philosophical school under the Roman emperors, until the triumph of Neoplatonism in the third century. Insisting in the trying times of the Hellenistic monarchies that even poverty, pain, and deathare as nothing to the eternal soul, Stoics vanquished their materialistic rivals, the Epicureans, who stressed pleasure rather than virtue as the aim of life.
Almost all earlier Stoics, sometimes labeled the First Stoa, praised homosexual love and shocked most Greeks by claiming that, contrary to the convention that one should cease loving a boy once he sprouted a beard, one should keep one's eromenos until he reached his twentyeighth year. Paenatius and other Greeks introduced Stoic doctrines, which appealed to the Latin sense for gravitas and endurance of hardships, to the Scipionic circle in Rome. Perhaps fearing the wrath of old-fashioned patresfamilias, who disapproved of Greek love and arranged the marriage of their sons during their teens to girls of 12 or 13, in contrast to the practice of upper-class Greeks to postpone marriage to 30 and then take brides whose ages ranged from 15 to 19, they omitted the emphasis on boy-love. Aristocratic Romanwomen lived with their husbands and circulated in society, in contrast to Greek women who were secluded, shut away in gynaikeia (women's quarters). Aristocratic Roman women thereby attained a far higher status than Greek women had and fostered the emphasis of later Stoics on marriage. Often designated the Second Stoa, most of the later Stoics deemphasized homosexual love and some, notably the Roman Musonius Rufus in the first century, demanded reciprocal fidelity to one's wife. Others, however, like the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (reigned 161-180), remained bisexual. The slave philosopher Epictetus (ca. 50-ca. 135) demonstrated the Stoic doctrine that one's station in life was indifferent, only one's virtue mattered.
Many have seen Stoic emphasis on the soul and on virtue and restraint of appetites as a harbinger of Christianity. Indeed, Patristic writers from Clement of Alexandria (150-215) to St. Augustine (354-430) dressed up Christian doctrine in Stoic phrases to convert the upper classes. But while Stoic philosophers, like pagan physicians, recommended moderation in sexual activity as in diet and exercise to improve the body and mind, most Christian Fathers advocated complete chastity and total sexual abstinence. Christians wished to transcend nature, while Stoics preferred to live in harmony with it. To control sexual urges, Christians mortified the flesh, often in thedeliberate attempt to achieve male impotence and female frigidity, states that Greco-Roman physicians treated as diseases to be cured. Christians condemned sodomy with the Stoic phrase, "against nature." The evolution from uninhibited pagan sexuality through Stoic restraint to Christian asceticism and chastity that some philosophers and historians claim to detect is thus more apparent than real, more superficial than fundamental, one of vocabulary rather than essence.
Daniel Babut, "Les Stoiciens et l'amour," Revue des Etudes Gréques, 6 (1963), 55-63; G. W. Bowersock, Greek Sophists in the Roman Empire, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969; Michel Foucault, The Care of the Self, New York: Random House, 1986; J. M. Rist, Stoic Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969; Aline Rousselle, Porneia: On Desire and the Body in Antiquity, New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988.
William A. Percy