Category Archives: Chrysippus

(c. 280-c. 206 B.C.)

The Stoics’ Five Reasons for Suicide


Chrysippus, to whom von Armin attributes the fragment provided here (though it may be the work of one of his successors) was born at Soli in Cilicia. Chrysippus, a disciple of Cleanthes, became the third head of the Stoic school at Athens.

Founded by Zeno of Citium, Stoic philosophy had begun as a recognizable movement around 300 B.C.. Only fragments of the writings of the early Stoics remain, for the most part preserved by quotation in the works of later thinkers. Under the guidance of Chrysippus, Stoicism developed into a full philosophical discipline. Stoicism remained one of the most influential and fruitful philosophical movements in the Graeco-Roman world for more than 500 years.

Chrysippus was particularly known for his work in logic, especially in developing formal propositional logic, rather than for providing practical advice on how to live one’s life, as were the efforts to varying extent of later Stoic thinkers like Epictetus [q.v.], Seneca [q.v.], and Marcus Aurelius. Nevertheless, in this fragment, Chrysippus encapsulates Stoic thinking on the matter of how to live—and end—one’s life. The passage presented here gives the five reasons recognized by the Stoics as adequate for suicide. A similar passage appears in Olympiodorus’ later commentary on Plato’s [q.v.] Phaedo.


Ioannes ab Arnim, ed., Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, Vol. 3, paragraph 768, Stuttgart: B. G. Teubner, 1903, pp. 190-191, tr. Yukio Kachi. Some material in the introduction is from Nicholas White, tr. and ed., Handbook of Epictetus (Indianapolis/Cambridge, Hackett, 1983), pp. 1-2.



But the Stoic philosophers too understood philosophy to be the practice of death, and for this reason they wrote of five ways of reasonable departure from life.  For…life is like a great party in which the soul seems to feast, and all the ways of reasonable departure from life correspond to the ways in which a party is broken up.  Now, a party is broken up in five ways: 1) because a pressing matter suddenly turns up–for instance, a friend appears after a long absence, and you and the friend get up in delight to walk out and the party is broken up.  Or 2), because revelers rush in, shouting obscenities; the party is likewise broken up. Or 3) because the meats served are spoiled, or 4) because the provisions have run out, or 5) because of drunken stupor, a party is broken up.

Reasonable departures from life take place in the same five ways: 1) because a pressing matter turns up, as in the case of someone commanded by the Pythia [the oracle of Apollo at Delphi] to slit his throat to save his own city, on the brink of destruction.  Or 2) because tyrants rush in, forcing us to do shameful deeds or say forbidden things; or 3) because a serious illness prevents the soul from using the body as an instrument for a long time.  For this reason Plato too does not approve of the dietetic part of medicine, because of its effect of moderating the disease and turning it into a chronic condition, but approves of the surgical and the pharmaceutical parts, to which Archigenes, the army doctor, resorted.  So Sophocles too says:

It will not become a good doctor
To chant incantations over a malady calling for the knife.

            (Ajax, 582)

Or 4) because of poverty, as Theognis says well: “…Escaping from poverty, it is necessary to…”  Or 5) because of dementedness.  For just as drunken stupor would break up a party there, so here too can one have oneself depart from life because of dementedness.  For being demented is nothing but natural intoxication, and intoxication, nothing but self-induced dementia. The same consideration applies here.

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