There is no darkness at the heart of Stoicism

Philosophy as a Way of Life
8 min readOct 18, 2019
The new translation of the Enchiridion by A.A. Long

Ever since embracing Stoic philosophy as my own moral compass to navigate life in the most eudaimonic way possible I discovered that there are plenty of critics of Stoicism (see also here). Which is particularly disconcerting given the tiny fraction of people actually practicing Stoicism. I mean, c’mon, judging from the sheer number of such critics one may think that Stoic philosophy is about as popular as Christianity or Buddhism!

Be that as it may, the latest entry in this strange canon is a book review by University of Houston’s Robert Zaretsky, published in the prestigious Los Angeles Review of Books. The book being reviewed is How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life, by Anthony A. Long (Princeton University Press). I commented on Long’s manuscript before publication for Princeton Press and clearly liked it, as I wrote in my endorsement: “There really isn’t anything else out there quite like this book. A.A. Long, one of the most respected scholars of Stoicism, has produced a fresh, accessible translation of Epictetus’s famous manual, with an introduction that makes the philosopher’s wisdom, and Stoicism more generally, accessible to all. I will recommend this edition to friends, colleagues, and anyone who might benefit from a well-thought-out and provocative philosophy of life.” Indeed, as soon as I got my copy of the printed version I gave it to my daughter.

Zaretsky, rather strangely, begins his review of How to Be Free by arching back to Marguerite Yourcenar’s Memoirs of Hadrian, which I thoroughly enjoyed when I was back in college. The Memoirs are written as a fictional letter from Hadrian to Marcus, whom he picked to be in the imperial line of succession, given that Hadrian had no sons of his own. In Yorcenauer’s book, Hadrian chides Marcus for being “almost too sober a little boy” and for his zealous practice of “the mortifications of the Stoics.”

Of course, we don’t know what Hadrian actually thought of Marcus’ Stoic leanings, but — to be frank — if one has to compare the two men one would have to recall that Hadrian has been described as some who “adroitly concealed a mind envious, melancholy, hedonistic, and excessive with respect to his own ostentation; he simulated restraint, affability, clemency, and conversely disguised the ardor for fame with which he burned” (from…

Philosophy as a Way of Life

by Massimo Pigliucci. Practical philosophy, science, pseudoscience & good reasoning. Complete index of articles at