There’s been a lot of interest in reviving Stoic philosophy recently, particularly the therapeutic aspects of it. I’m skeptical about this, as in my view philosophy is primarily the attempt to understand, and as such is an activity of enquiry. There’s no guarantee that discovering how things are will benefit us psychologically: it might in fact make things much worse. As Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out, it might not even be possible to confront the deeper truths of reality head-on. That would make human existence unbearable. What do you think?

What have the Romans ever done for us? Well, obviously the roads – the roads go without saying. How about guidance for how to live in the 21st century? That seems less likely, but in fact the last few years have seen a flurry of interest in the work of three Roman Stoic philosophers who offered just that. They were Seneca, tutor to the Emperor Nero; Epictetus, a former slave; and Marcus Aurelius, himself emperor.

“Know Thyself. Delphic Oracle.”  This famous call to the examined life that Socrates answered and passed on to the world is reprinted on the title page of The Rule of Life, a forgotten but extraordinary book published in 1834. The book reminds us that a genre of popular literature, collections of moral maxims, helped keep alive the Socratic tradition of the examined life.