Who is Kleanthes (from Assos)?

Who is Kleanthes (from Assos)?

June 25, 2021 Off By Felso

He is an Anatolian philosopher who lived between 331-233 BC.

He developed the old Stoic doctrine founded by Zeno of Cyprus and tried to reconcile it with religion. The Stoic School passed under the rule of Cleanthes after Zeno of Cyprus.

He was born in Assos (Today Behramköy near Edremit) and died in Athens. His father was a poor man named Phanias. Earlier he gained fame as a runner, fist fighter. He went to Athens because of the turmoil in his country. While he was trying to make a living by watering the garden, carrying loads, and being a waterman, he listened to Zeno’s speeches explaining the Stoic teaching and adopted this teaching. Upon the death of Zeno in 264 BC, he took over the administration of the school.

Kleanthes lived a very poor life and adopted the principle of being content with little and eating enough to maintain his vitality and strength. As a matter of fact, his death is the result of starving for days on his own will. Because of this attitude, his friends made fun of him and called him “donkey” because of his large body and heavy load. Against these ridicule, Kleanthes laughed and said: “To carry the philosophical burden of a sage like Zeno, it is necessary to be an ass like me, not like you.” According to what Diogenes Laertius reported, Kleanthes included the subjects of sensation, art, duty, poet, spirit, virtue, love, freedom, law, goodness, sublimity, science, beauty, friendship, feast, speech, and also included philosophers such as Democritus and Zenon. He has about forty books explaining and criticizing his views. Among them, a poem praising God Zeus remained, with a few small sections quoted by Cicero and Seneca.

Kleanthes’ philosophy stems from an idea that aims to develop Zeno’s Stoic teaching, which includes knowledge, morality, theology and astronomy. Although there are some among his views on these subjects that seem incompatible with the Stoic doctrine, the general principles and method of thinking are one. According to him, knowledge is an accumulation provided by the senses, its source is matter. The spirit, which is active in the acquisition of knowledge, is also matter, but the structure of the elements that compose it is different. Impressions from the outer universe affect the spirit. As a result of this influence, the spirit acts as a stream, spreading throughout the body. The formation of knowledge also depends on this spiritual action. Spirit entered the body from the outside, this entrance is a material flow. The innumerable spirits are immortal.

Only good constitutes the essence of morality. Absolute or supreme good is righteousness, order, and duty. Their source is living in accordance with nature under the control of selective, adaptive reason. Nature shows the person according to which principle to act in the face of events. Especially natural directions, tendencies determine the path to be taken. Nature and reason are the divine authority. Virtue, which is one of the basic principles of morality, has qualities such as truthfulness, bravery, steadfastness and wisdom.

According to Kleanthes, God is a power (hegemonicon) that is the source of goodness and ensures the unity of the universe based on unlimited, immortal, unchangeable laws. God is the source of all mortal beings in the universe. Good comes from God and evil comes from man. Another characteristic of God is that he is universal intellect, universal reason. Only the wise person can know God and show love and respect towards him.

Kleanthes is of the opinion that all celestial beings, especially the Sun, are not as they seem. According to him, the greatest and the highest of the celestial beings is the Sun. The sun is an instantaneous fire. Therefore it is alive. Its food is the steam rising from the seas and streams. It is because of this diet that he cannot stay far from the seas in summer and winter periods. The focus of the power that dominates the universe is the Sun. The earth does not move, it is stationary, while the sun goes around the whole earth. In the praise that Kleanthes wrote for Zeus, it is explained that the Sun and God are identical. “O Most High, with many names, God, Zeus, you are the leader of nature, you are the one who rules this universe according to a certain law.”

After the death of Kleanthes, the Stoic teaching was softened a little and continued by philosophers such as Panaitios and Poseidonios, especially under the name of Middle Stoa. Later, Cicero, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, who founded the Roman Stoa (New Stoa), made the will and living in accordance with nature the basic principle of this teaching.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook, History of Philosophy; prof. Macit Gokberk; Remzi Bookstore, Lecture Notes of Ernst von Aster