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Roman philosophical beliefs
Philosophy and Roman Religion
• How did the Romans view their gods?
• How did the Romans worship their gods?
• How would you describe the relationship that
the Romans had with their gods?
• The religious beliefs of the Romans went
unchallenged for many years
– Power and prosperity kept increasing
– Religious practices were working
• But the old religion did little to satisfy people on
an intellectual and spiritual level
• In the last two centuries BC, educated Romans
turned to the philosophers of Greece when
seeking answers to their questions about the
nature of the universe and the purpose of life.
• Athens main city for teaching philosophy by
the third century BC
• Two schools had an influence on Roman
– The Epicureans, followers of Epicurus
– The Stoics, followers of Zeno
Epicurus (341-270BC)
• From Greek island of
• Set up school in
Athens in 305BC
• Had many devoted
followers including
women and slaves.
The nature of the universe
• Everything consists of a stream of atoms which flow in
parallel lines in a void (emptiness)
• Sometimes atoms swerve, collide and join together to
produce matter – which eventually makes up our universe
and everything in it
• Because atoms swerve by chance nothing is fixed. The
destiny of humans is not predestined and humans can act
according to their own free will
• Death occurs when the atoms break up, and death is the
end of everything
• All unexplained events which people claim are caused by
the gods, are in fact caused by the movement and
combination of atoms
Epicurean view of the gods
• Epicurus taught that there is no point in worshipping the gods
– There is nothing to be feared after death, since death is
the end of everything
– The gods do not create life
– They have no influence on events during an individual’s
Epicurean view of the gods
• For most people it would have been to extreme to hear
a claim that the gods did not exist, so Epicurus taught
– The gods were outside the universe
– They were perfect beings, who spent their time reflecting
on their perfection
– The gods were indifferent to human affairs and human
behaviour and they did not direct the events of the world
– If you want to worship the gods, concentrate on trying to
be like them, rather than offer prayers and sacrifices (gods
need nothing from humans and have nothing to offer
The greatest good
• Pleasure
– This must be the greatest good because all
humans strive for it
– Best achieved by avoiding pain, living a quiet
secluded life, avoiding all extremes and activities
which might bring pain
• The following activities should be avoided
(could bring pain):
– Political career, pursuit of wealth, love affairs
• A true Epicurean:
– Replaced love with friendship
– Replaced ambition and greed with attempts to
achieve peace and tranquillity
– Replaced excess with moderation
– Replaced prayer, sacrifice and fear of the gods
with the contemplation of their perfection
– Did not fear death because human consciousness
would no longer exist after death
– Believed that all matter came about by chance
Epicureanism in Rome
• Ideas reached Rome in 3rd century BC
• Some philosophers expelled from Rome
during 2nd century BC because ideas and
teachings undermined their authority and
• But Greek ideas and culture spread, eroding
the traditional beliefs of the educated
– Many converts
– Titus Lucretius Carus, The Nature of the Universe,
1st century BC
Lucretius, The Nature of the
• Read study materials 2, THE EPICUREAN VIEW,
by Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe VI 4778
– What message is Lucretius giving about the gods?
– What message is he giving about belief in the
Horace, The Epicurean View
• Study materials 3, THE EPICUREAN VIEW, by
Horace, Odes I 34
– How does Horace describe Epicurean philosophy?
– What is it that makes him unable to reject the
– Do you think Horace is being serious?
Zeno (c. 335-263BC)
• Taught in a colonnade in
Athens called the Stoa
Poikile (the Painted Stoa)
 Stoicism
• Phoenician
• Reached Athens around
314BC, studied under an
Athenian philosopher for
13yrs, then founded his
own school in 301BC
The Basic Theory
• Not too concerned with a scientific
explanation of the nature of the universe
• Zeno went back to an earlier doctrine of
Heraclitus and claimed that fire was the basis
of all matter
– This fire was identified with God or reason, which
created the world
The Basic Theory
• Belief in a single God, a World Soul, which
created all living things
– All things shared this divine World Soul and
contained a small piece of divine fire
• After death the body decayed but the soul
returned to and was dissolved back into the
World Soul
• World and human nature was governed by
fixed and unchanging laws (no chance)
• Stoics believed that:
– All human beings were children of God
– All humans were ruled by the same law – all were
– You must live according to nature – accept their fate
and learn to live with only the basic necessities (pain
food, water, basic clothing and shelter)
– Human should develop the gift of reason, helping
people to overcome pleasures, passions, pain, grief,
superstitions and fear
• The greatest good:
– Virtue or goodness
Stoicism in Rome
• Many Romans accepted the belief in an all-powerful
World Soul
– Link to Jupiter
• Pursuit of virtue identifies with old Roman ideal of pietas
– doing one’s duty to the gods, the state, to followers and
• Stoicism brought to Rome by Panaetius in 2nd century BC
- Welcomed into some top families, translated Stoic
teachings into practical doctrine for the ruling class of
Rome to live by
Cicero on Stoicism
• Study Materials passage 4, TRUTH AND FABLE,
by Cicero, The Nature of the Gods II 70-2
– List 4 ways in which Cicero says the gods are
– What does Cicero think of the old stories about
the gods
– How should men worship the gods?
The Academy
• Based on teaching of Plato (427-384BC Athens)
• Believed this world was constantly changing and that
people could not be sure of anything in it because
their senses could not be trusted
• Behind this world lay an ideal, eternal and
unchanging world from which humans could grasp
ideas from through the use of pure reason
• Most important idea was goodness and the pursuit
of it through reason and a virtuous life
• God was a single power identified with goodness
Philosophy and Roman Religion
• Moral conduct
– Important to all 3 schools of philosophy, not essential in
Roman religion
• Philosophers rejected traditional views of the gods
- For Epicurus they were remote and disinterested in
- Stoics believed in a Supreme Being
- Plato linked a single God with Goodness
- Roman believed in many gods, with power, and who could
be influenced by human actions
• Intellectual content of philosophy. Roman religion emotionally
• Complete the compare and contrast visual
thinking map, comparing the beliefs of
Epicureans and Stoics