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The Myth of Hercules in Cynicism and Stoicism

By Donald Robertson

[Snip] Prodicus / Xenophon

Socrates reputedly admires the Sophist Prodicus, who was renowned for his inspirational lecture, which became known as The Choice of Hercules. In his Memorabilia, Socrates’ friend and follower, the Athenian general Xenophon portrays Socrates recounting his own version of this story. We’re told that it was reading Xenophon’s Memorabilia of Socrates, and apparently this chapter in particular, that inspired Zeno after his shipwreck to embrace the life of a philosopher and become a follower of the Cynic Crates. Later Stoics appear to also have revered this part of the Hercules myth and perhaps saw it as important insofar as it perhaps ultimately inspired the founding of the Stoa itself.

Antisthenes

Diogenes Laertius says that Antisthenes was the original founder of Cynicism and that “he argued that hardship is a good thing” and pointed to Hercules as an example in this regard. We’re told he wrote several texts referring to Hercules in their title, such as Heracles, or Of Wisdom or Strength. Antisthenes was also respected by the later Stoics, and perhaps seen as a precursor of their own school.

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