Zeno and Public History

I’ve been reading a small batch of articles — most scholarly; a couple public internet history — concerning Zeno of Citium. He lived from 344-266BCE. To give some kind of contrast to that, Socrates was on the Greek mainland in Athens from 469-399BCE. Fifty-five years after Socrates

A May 16, 2012 photo of the Zeno of Citium statue in Larnaka, Cyprus. Zeno is situated so he’s looking out at the Mediterranean Sea, and on this particular day he was staring at a fleet of fishing and recreational boats in the harbor.

tipped over from guzzling hemlock, Zeno came on the scene in the eastern Mediterranean. I came to the passage in one of the articles, “Eros in Government: Zeno and the Virtuous City,” The Classical Quarterly, New Series, Vol. 48, No. 1, (1998) by George Boys-Stones, and this excerpt impressed itself on me the other day:

…for the Stoics, an individual’s harmony with himself is just a function of his harmony with nature, since he is himself a part of nature. Insofar as the city is part of nature too, it will achieve happiness and internal harmony just when it is also brought into harmony with the cosmos. And it is Eros as cosmos who presides over this state of harmony. [Boys-Stones, 1998:172]

Although I’m not too sure about the cosmos, this particular passage was of interest because it smacks of individual human perception. If a person is feeling not-so-good, then there is a chance they’ll see not-so-good in their surroundings and in the natural world. This passage and these readings on Zeno are also reflections of the way historians and philosophers have thought about his ideas through time: there was Zeno, and then there is everything that has been said after Zeno about Zeno. Then there are public history displays established on Mediterranean islands that memorialize Zeno. If the public pays attention to these displays, the interpretation brings about a type of common understanding of Zeno (sometimes known as collective intelligence; or to a degree what William McNeill called mythistory). Anyhow, these are just a couple thoughts that roll through a guy’s mind when he’s reading articles on Zeno and then running into beach-front Zeno memorials on Cyprus, this just west of the Levant.


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