XI. A Role Model for All Stoics

And a book giveaway

Welcome to The Stoa Letter, the newsletter on Stoic theory and practice.

Every week we share three emails to help you build resilience and virtue with ancient philosophy. Each email includes one meditation on Stoic theory, one action to do in order to become more Stoic, and links to the best resources we’ve found.

🏛️ Theory

One of the best ways to become more Stoic is to emulate a role model. To do that, we need to choose one and adequately understand their life.

If you merely possess a blurry picture of someone, their life can’t serve as much of a guide.

When you focus the image, the hero’s example provides direction. You can simulate what they would do in your situation, imagine advice they would offer you, and use them as an inspiration.

We need models. As Roman Stoic Seneca wrote:

The soul should have someone whom it can respect, – one by whose authority it may make even its inner shrine more hallowed…Choose therefore a Cato; or, if Cato seems too severe a model, choose some Laelius, a gentler spirit…. For we must indeed have someone according to whom we may regulate our characters; you can never straighten that which is crooked unless you use a ruler.

Seneca, Moral Letters 11

Let’s talk about Cato the Younger. Who was he? Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman write:

He is in politics yet somehow not of politics. He is a man of action and a spellbinding orator, but he is also deeper; in quieter moments, he gives the impression of barely restraining the urge to retire and become a philosopher. He is the man brought into being by the crisis, and he is its solution, the mirror image of the greed and self-seeking that surround him.

Jimmy Soni and Rob Goodman, Rome’s Last Citizen

Cato the Younger lived during the Late Roman Republic. He was a statesman and Stoic. He used his political career to oppose tyrants – Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar.

He’s plausibly one of the most principled men to ever live. In an age where bribery was the norm, he rejected any attempt to pay him off. While serving as governor he focused on his duties at the expense of his friendships. In the end, he committed suicide instead of surrender to Julius Caesar.

Stories, perhaps mythical, from his childhood reveal who he was. When he asked a tutor why men put up with the Sulla – a murderous tyrant – his mentor didn’t provide a good reason. So, Cato followed up with “Give me a sword, so I might kill him and set my country free from slavery.” In another story, four-year-old Cato calmly stares back at his uncle who dangled him outside a window.

This is the same Cato that fearlessly negotiated with armed mobs, refused generals, and stuck to his principles without deliberation. Cato’s unwavering commitment to his ethics made him a legendary figure in history – and someone every Stoic can take as a role model.

🎁 Learn More About Cato

We’ll be writing more about Cato this week, but the best way to learn more about the man is to read Rome’s Last Citizen.

It is the best book on the life of Cato the Younger – hands down.

And we’re running a giveaway of the book this month. To win a signed copy, refer The Stoa Letter to 10 people who would find it useful. If you do that, we’ll send you send you a free copy.

If you’re reading this online, check your last Stoa Letter to get your referral link or subscribe to the Stoa Letter to get your link.

Check out additional details below.

🎯 Action

Take a moment to pause and contemplate a role model. Ensure that you understand who they were well enough to emulate them.

🔗 Links

📖 An exceptionally readable history of the Late Republic is Tom Holland’s Rubicon. It adds wonderful color to all the main players – Cicero, Julius Caesar, Sulla, The Gracchi brothers, Pompey the Great, and more.

🎧️ Jimmy Soni and I spoke about Cato for Stoa Conversations. We focus on what is admirable about Cato the Younger, his contradictions, and his legacy.

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