Happy New Year!
If we were following the Attic Lunisolar Calendar, today (June 30th) would be New Year’s Day.
Like many cultures in the past and present, citizens of Attica and its allies looked to the sun and moon to track progress through their religious calendar and mark the days of their festivals. In the Attic calendar, the year begins after the Summer Solstice and each month begins when the first sliver of the waxing moon is visible after a new moon (this is the practice with other lunar calendars used today). TONIGHT, we should be able to see the first bit of the waxing crescent moon after the Summer Solstice; thus, marking the first day of the first month of the new year. The corresponding day in our modern Gregorian calendar is different every year but it would have to fall between June 22nd and July 22nd and we can commemorate the occasion accordingly.
So how should we commemorate the occasion? I propose we use the day to celebrate Athens, the capital of Ancient Attica and the philosophical center of the Western world for centuries. It was also the origin of Stoicism and the home of the Greek Stoa.
We can also commemorate the occasion by celebrating those that lived in Athens and contributed to its intellectual tradition. Interestingly, among all the Greek philosophers that we consider important, it seems that only Socrates, Plato, and Xenophon could claim Athens as their birthplace. All others became citizens only after immigrating there from other parts of the Mediterranean and beyond. Here’s a list of some famous Athenians of the original Greek Stoa that suggests that Stoicism was originally a philosophy for immigrants:
- Zeno came from Citium (modern day Cyprus) and was apparently of Phonecian descent
- Cleanthes and Aristo came from Ionia (modern day Turkey on the Aegean coast)
- Sphaerus was from Borysthenes (modern day Ukraine on the coast of the Black Sea)
- Chrysippus and Zeno of Tarsus came from the Cilicia region (modern day Turkey near Cyprus)
- Diogenes of Babylon traveled very far indeed before settling in Athens with the Stoics there
- Panaetius and Posidonius were from the large island of Rhodes
Once Rome was on the scene, Posidonius relocated the old Greek Stoa to Rhodes, which provided philosophical training to Romans who made the long trip (like Cicero).
Who is your favorite Athenian? You can skim through Diogenes Laertius’s Lives of Eminent Philosophers (https://en.m.wikisource.org/wiki/Lives_of_the_Eminent_Philosophers) or else some modern works (Kai & Leo’s Being Better or Ryan Holiday’s Lives of the Stoics) if you want to learn more about them.
What else should you do today? In addition to commemorate the philosophers of the past, you should consider them as your ancestors and acknowledge yourself as the most recent member of a prestigious lineage– not one built around nationality, ethnicity, or class (what the ancients might describe as a “noble birth”), but built around a common pursuit of wisdom and virtue. Acknowledge your philosophical family and welcome anyone into it who is like-minded.
[E]xcellence of mind is available to all. Philosophy neither rejects anyone nor chooses anyone; it shines for all. Socrates was no patrician; Cleanthes hauled water, and hired himself out to water people’s gardens; Plato did not come to philosophy a nobleman but was ennobled by it. Why should you not hope perhaps to become their equal? All of them are your ancestors if you prove yourself worthy if them. And you will do so if you persuade yourself, right now, that no one is superior to you merely by reason of noble birth.Seneca Letters to Lucilius 44.2-3 (trans. Graver & Long)
Happy New Year– Here’s wishing you a strong resolve to become better, to grow mentally/emotionally/morally … and to be happy.