Childhood & Early Life
Chrysippus of Soli was born in 279 B.C., in Soli, Cilicia, to Apollonius of Tarsus, in a rich family. His father had earned a huge fortune while living in Soli. After the death of his father, Chrysippus inherited the lands and the wealth, but a large portion of it was confiscated to the king's treasury.
The early records of his life state that he was a mild natured young man and a good athlete. He liked running and had trained himself as a long distance runner.
The fortune he inherited from his father was confiscated by the king and he had nothing left in Soli. He then moved to Athens, Greece, the world capital of philosophy.
Moving to Athens, he became a follower of Cleanthes, a big name in ‘Stoic philosophy.’ Cleanthes was a successor to Zeno of Citium, who ran a ‘Stoic school’ in Athens. Chrysippus enrolled at the school and began studying the philosophy of Stoicism. He further continued his studies in scepticism as a student of well-known philosophers, such as Arcesilaus and Lacydes. They taught at the Platonic Academy, which was founded by Plato.
Chrysippus turned out to be an audacious man and a great scholar. He pulled himself completely into studying the ‘Stoic system.’ He quickly gained a reputation among all his fellow students, which was mostly due to his self-confidence and his reliance on himself. He is said to have told his teacher Cleanthes once that he only needed the principles to base his work upon and he would find the proofs all by himself.
Hence, after Cleanthes, he was the most popular philosopher in the school, which earned him the position of the head of Stoic school after Cleanthes passed away.
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Career & Works
Chrysippus was well-known as a great writer and wrote passionately. It was said that he wrote at-least 500 lines every day. Although there is no accurate number of the works that he had written, an estimate states that he wrote more than 700 papers. He studied both sides of an argument, before forming his concrete opinion.
However, many philosophers criticised him on the ground that he could write so well because he stole quotations from other philosophers. He was also known to lead a careless life, which had many philosophers not taking him seriously enough. Despite these shortcomings, he was known as a highly able man and one of the wisest philosophers who had ever lived.
In 230 B.C., he became head of the ‘school of Stoicism’ after the death of his teacher Cleanthes. He allowed an open space for arguments and hence, the Academy challenged Chrysippus’ ideas and also the philosophy of ‘Stoicism.’ People were still not used to the idea of applying the principles of ‘Stoicism’ and hence, the school faced regular threats from the opponents. To tackle that, Chrysippus formalized the doctrines of ‘Stoicism.’ He embraced the works of Stoic philosophers, including Zeno, and compiled a work which was later known as the basis of the philosophy of Stoicism. Before his time, ‘Stoicism’ lacked an organized system that Stoics could refer to and hence, it was a highly confused term. Chrysippus made the philosophy easily adaptable.
As the second founder of ‘Stoicism,’ Chrysippus gained several enemies who began thrashing his work, blaming him of being unoriginal. He was also said to be careless about his work. But despite all this, there was no question about his intellectual abilities and his position as the head of the ‘Stoic’ school.
None of his works have survived, but his works served as an inspiration for several other philosophers, such as Seneca, Cicero, and Plutarch. Some of his works were found in the Herculaneum papyri, but they are not in their complete form.
One of his greatest contributions to philosophy is his creation of a very detailed system of ‘propositional logic’. The core idea behind it was to have a clear understanding of the workings of the universe. The ‘if-then’ or the hypothesis,’ which are a huge part of the current academic curriculums these days, are such examples of his contribution. In the modern era, it does not seem very important, but back then it was a revolutionary finding.
Just like many ‘stoics,’ Chrysippus was a big believer in the theory of determinism. He said that all things in our life are pre-determined and it meant nothing to react to them (he nevertheless sought a role for personal freedom in thought and action).
’Stoicism’ believed that we do not have any control over the circumstances around us, and we can only control our reactions to them. The rich and poor are no different, as they both have their own struggles in life. Hence, the philosophy of ‘Stoicism’ became popular among all classes of the society.
Chrysippus also made a lot of effort refuting paradoxes. Paradoxes have been the core of philosophy since the ancient times and Chrysippus became deeply interested in the ‘Liar Paradox.’ It is said that he wrote 23 books on the ‘Liar Paradox’ and 26 books on other paradoxes.
Toward the end of his life, Chrysippus became widely known in the Roman and the Greek world as one of the most prolific logicians. He was revered by many great personalities of his time, including Clement of Alexandria and Diogenes Laertius. The latter stated that if the Gods ever used dialectic, it would be Chrysippus’.
However, Aristotle’s logic became much more popular as it was known to be practical. Chrysippus’ work on logic was forgotten overtime. It was also because the philosophy of ‘Stoicism’ was not always seen in a good light. Only in the 20th century, did it become a widely accepted way of life.
Personal Life & Death
Chrysippus never married.
There have been many accounts of his death. The most popular one is that he died from laughing too hard for too long. He passed away in 206 B.C., during the 143rd Olympiad.
One theory which many historians relate to with is that he died from over-consumption of undiluted wine.