Of all the Ancient Stoics, we know the least about Diotimus. We know that he lived in the early first century but, when and where he was born or when and how he died is something we do not know.

DIOTIMUS

The only story we have from his life has puzzled historians for over two thousand years.

With so little to go on, what can we learn from the life of this Stoic? We can learn from his stupid mistake.

At around the turn of the first century, for revenge and to bolster his arguments against the philosophy, Diotimus forged dozens of “licentious letters” to frame Epicurus, a rival philosopher. These letters portray Epicurus as a type of maniac.

At the time, the Epicurean school of Stoicism was under the leadership of his student, Apollodorus, who we are told, smeared Chrysippus (the third leader of the Stoics), by claiming that he had filled his books with quotes he had stolen. Such a defamation that Diotimus decided could not go unanswered. Thus, Diotimus fought fire with fire, and by doing so, committed a crime far greater than the crime Apollodorus falsely alleged against Chrysippus.

We don’t know exactly what happened or how the story ended. So, this then would be Diotimus’s sole contribution to Stoicism, making his action a cautionary tale for all Stoics.

Seneca wrote extensively on all types of philosophers and about the Epicureans many times, but he never even mentions this incident. Although he did write about how the Stoics are supposed to avoid grudges. Seneca wrote “how much better it is to heal than to seek revenge from injury.” Further, “vengeance wastes a lot of time and exposes you to many more injuries than the first that sparked it.” Anger always outlasts hurt, so it is best to take the opposite course. Would anyone think it normal to return a kick to a mule or a bite to a dog?”

Seneca said that building anything from a good reputation to building an empire is a long process, but its undoing can be instant. He wrote. “Nothing is durable…We should be anticipating not merely all that commonly happens by all that is conceivably capable of happening.” You should always be prepared for anything to happen.

In Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar Brutus’s assassination of Caesar overwhelmed everything else the man would do in his life. And so it was for Diotimus, a philosopher who may well have had many interesting and profound things to say about the pursuit of moral perfection and well-being, but he is known instead only for his decision to destroy the reputation of the founder of his rivals’ school.

If Diotimus had heard this line from Anthony de Mello: “The question to ask is not, ‘What’s wrong with this person?’ but ‘What does this irritation tell me about myself?’” before he acted against Apollodorus, what could have been?

Pausing and asking yourself this question is an essential element of Stoicism. Going back to Epictetus who said “we are complicit in the offense anytime someone hurts our feelings or makes us upset.” We must remember we are choosing to react, we have all of the power, it is not the things that they do that upset and offend us, but it is our judgment about those things.

It is always something within yourself, it is never the other person. So when you get frustrated with someone, remember to ask yourself: “What does this irritation tell me about myself?”

“The growth of things is a tardy process and their undoing is a rapid matter,” – Diotimus

THE HALL OF STOIC PHILOSOPHERS

Junius Rusticus

Seneca

Marcus Aurelius

Epictetus

Statue of Thrasea Paetus

Thrasea Paetus

Lucius Annaeus

Diotimus

Publius Rutilius Rufus

Porcia of Cato

Cicero

Posidonius

Panaetius of Rhodes