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Virtue is Strength

If you had to define virtue in one word it would be “strength.” In English we use the same root word when we say virility. Virility means a special kind of power. So does virtue.

The Stoic School teaches that strength is a good thing. This is basic to human nature and Nature in general. Nature rewards the strongest in a species with survival and progeny. Nature is a place of struggle. The earth is a place where all animals must exert constant activity to live and must exercise great strength to get ahead. Those who lose their energy fall behind and perish. 

Human society also rewards athletes of great strength or speed. You don’t find yourself wishing you were weaker, do you? 

But, the Stoic School teaches about a strength more powerful than muscles.

First, think about an army. History shows that the most athletic soldiers do not always win. A smaller army with better strategy and equipment often defeats a larger force. Why? Second, a runner or boxer who has beaten a certain opponent previously might lose to him during the Olympics because the opponent trained harder and kept a stricter diet. Third, a weaker army can rout a greater one when the stronger flees the battle field.  Fourth, The ancient play The Suppliants by Euripides illustrates a special kind of power. In the play, the women have no physical power to retrieve the bodies of their dead loved ones who were killed in a battle, because the victors wanted them to rot in the open and be eaten by animals, so what mysterious strength empowered the mothers, wives, and daughters to win?

Our cultural grandparents called the first kind of strength “Wisdom,” the second “Temperance,” the third “Courage,” and the fourth “Justice.”

1) Wisdom is “being smart,” “thinking things through,” “making good decisions.” 

2) Temperance is self-control, self-discipline, and the ability to choose the difficult path that is good rather than the easy paths that are bad.

3) Courage means fortitude, bravery in the face of danger and pain, and risking personal safety, wealth, and reputation in the interest of something more noble.

4) Justice is doing the right thing, recognizing a higher morality than even human laws, and successfully harmonizing with Nature rather than only reading and talking about it.

The Stoic School teaches that the purpose of human life is Virtue. 

Even in human society, Nature requires constant energy to live, to be healthy, to be wise, to control yourself, to be brave, and to be fair to all.

An evidence that Nature intends mankind to be virtuous is that Nature gave humanity the potential for all these strengths. We know of no other creatures with the potential to develop the four Cardinal Virtues as we mean them here. Nature has attributes that can only be understood by those who practice wisdom, temperance, courage, and justice. We live in Nature more and more only as we grow in Virtue more and more. 

Another indication that Virtue is our purpose in life is that virtues bind us in stronger friendship with our fellow citizens, our friends, and our family. We are political animals. Nature provides no other species with a social structure anything like human society. There are no other species with commerce, technology, musical instruments, clothing, conversations, etc. anything like human society. But, along with our need to socialize in our uniquely human way, we see that virtue is what binds us together in the bonds of good faith necessary to produce thriving human societies. Individuals who practice Virtue are bound with their friends in stronger bonds of friendship and are praiseworthy among their countrymen. Those who practice vice suffer in their public and private relationships.

We call Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, and Justice the Cardinal Virtues. They remind us of the cardinal directions North, South, East, and West. With only four directions you can get from wherever you are to wherever you need to be in two-dimensional space.  In life, you need a different dimension of directions – virtues.

With the Cardinal Virtues, you can get from any circumstance you are in to where you need to be. The four virtues form a coordinate system that surely navigates you through your entire life, with “magnetic north” being the Good. Whatever crisis or reversal befalls you, the way to maintain happiness and to get where you need to be is always a combination of these four virtues.

The mother of all the virtues is Gratitude. All virtues are a combination of Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, and Justice, and those Cardinal Virtues come from Gratitude. Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, and Justice are the natural response to gratitude for what Nature has done for us, what our friends have done for us, and what our country has done for us.

Convention Highlights

Excerpted from the Historian's Report

Plague from Justinian’s time

AD 529 – AD 775


Our records indicate some symptoms consistent with Bubonic Plague during this period. However, there was something very unlike Bubonic Plague that is mentioned far more.

Symptoms of the latter case were swollen black areas that felt as if the skin “was on fire” in areas that do not match the lymphatic system, ague at quicker and quicker intervals that culminated in seizures, continuous headache, increasing paralysis, blackening of fingers and toes followed by “falling away of the extremities,” (Perpetua of Durburg) and violent vomiting of black liquid with unbearable odor (this was why many called it Black Plague). Well before entering a hamlet, travelers could smell the odor and would bypass the community. A member of the School named Quintus recorded, “Even a fresh Plague corpse makes one yearn for a normal rotting corpse to serve as a nosegay. This interferes with burying the dead. Some take the practice of digging a grave at the first sign of Plague and making the patient live there. A tent is built over the grave. A cot and blanket are provided. Once the patient dies, others shovel the nearby dirt upon them.” According to our records, from first symptom until death was 96 to 216 hours with an average of 120 or 168 hours (accounts time it from different points).

Justinian could not capture more of the original Roman empire mostly because troops caught Plague. Arabs could not conquer Europe due to the same thing.

AD 529           Christian Emperor Justinian I suppressed all non-Christin religions including the Stoic School. The Great Sowing began. The Scholarch appointed eight leaders and “sowed” them throughout the known world. Each had duplicate libraries.

AD 535           In the Year of the Consulship of Belisarius, in year 1238 a.b., The Dark Year that brought the Black Plague began. All were in sober expectation of what the darkness would cause. All communities reported the Sun was dramatically fainter for 20 months. The moon was very faint and could not be seen until quarter moon.  For most of the time, no stars were visible. Winter began in August and lasted until April. Crops were impossible, so cattle, fowl, sheep, etc. died quickly. After the animals were eaten, people died quickly. Several communities recorded mass cannibalism until the Plague arrived. Then, even corpses could not be eaten. Theodosius the Mason stated, “Even those mad from starvation cannot approach the corpse close enough to carve it.” In several places of Europe at moderately high altitudes and above, snow was recorded higher than roof tops from late October until early March. By 540, there were rhymes equivalent to, “April showers bring May flowers.” Professor Arthur Bowmanson reported, “the survivors being so joyful at the return of the Sun and Moon and stars to their proper glory and the return of seasonal weather, they memorialize the event in song.”

AD 594           Shotoku converted Suiko to Buddhism. Buddhism adopted a modified version of Stoic theology on apatheia and made it the state religion called upon to protect Japan.

Reports documented several testimonies of shepherds rotating the grazing for their herds. Alfred the Shepherd testified in court, since he was accused of stealing flocks. He stated, “I was pasturing my herd and heard many sheep bleating pitifully off toward the village. There were cries from many sheep, so I knew it was not an animal stuck in a thicket. The cries continued longer than could happen if they were being torn apart by dogs. I left my flock in the care of my daughter and headed toward the bleating. When I got near the village, I found a flock of thirsty sheep fenced in, so they could not forage. I released them, and they went to the brook while I investigated the village. There was not a soul alive. Not two weeks before, I pastured there, and the village was noisy with men and activity. Back then, I could hear the ringing of the smith’s hammer all day. The smell of Plague was still strong. So, I took the flock to my flock.”

AD 607           The forty-eighth Scholarch assumed office.

The Scholarch began a system to maintain contact with the Stoic diaspora by riders making circuits. The riders collated the reports of each Stoic community on their circuit and shared it with all others. He would share the most current information on where to go to get away from infected areas and what the data indicated regarding what worked regarding the Plague and any patterns regarding those who died of the Plague, those who survived it, and those who never contracted it.

Eventually, the messenger was accompanied by two or more other riders with carts full of supplies to drop off and with room for pickups of goods or families that could no longer function in their desolate community.

AD 625           Saint Isidore of Sevilla wrote Etymologiae. Isidore espoused the Stoic School’s doctrines of jus natural, jus civile, and jus gentium to formulate Christian doctrines on the origin of political authority.

AD 629           The Byzantine-Arab Wars began. Much of the Roman Empire was conquered by  Khalid ibn al-Walid. Stoics were slaughtered as infidels.

Matthew the Physician wrote, “The Plague helped the Arabs advance rapidly. Some small villages were totally depopulated when they arrived, leaving brooks full of fish to sustain the invaders. The Arabs knew this would be the case. They were familiar with the plague.”

AD 640           Two Stoic pontiffs in China vigorously debated Alopen, exposing Nestorian Christianity as not providing a coherent world view. Stoic influence on Buddhism increased, especially its teaching on transcending desires.

The Stoic community in China reported to the School, “The present plague was first observed in western China. It then travelled west rather than east, because it made efficient use of the trade routes, as if mocking the materialism and excesses of man.”

The relatively small effect of the plague in China allowed them to become the most populous nation on earth. They still show the evidence of this.

AD 642           Muslim army leader Amr ibn al ‘Aas conqueored Alexandria. Caliph Omar gave the order to burn Stoic manuals in the Library of Alexandria saying, "If those books are in agreement with the Quran, we have no need of them; and if they are opposed to the Quran, destroy them."

Fortunately, the “Great Sowing” strategy ensured that we had multiple duplicate libraries. The School was not set back by this event.

AD 680           Chinese Emperor Gaozong introduced an unprecedented era of support for the Stoic School due to its practice of productive civic life.

By this time, word spread among Stoics regarding two communities that were never affected by the Plague. They both attributed their health to an ancient Stoic ritual that each community scrupulously observed. The ritual included lathering the entire body with a poultice made from red wine, apple vinegar, pine oil, sea salt, lake salt, mint, oregano, garlic, and wormwood. While the poultice was working, they would each leisurely drink a mixture made by a small amount of fresh poultice mixed into approximately a pint of strong wine infused with garlic, pepper, and parsley. During this time, they would feed lightly from a platter of dried fish, leeks, barley, vegetables, garum, heavy black bread, olive oil, and a “dark blue” cheese, i.e. blue cheese but heavily propagated with penicillium. After another pint, they would bathe in cool water.

AD 732           Near Poitiers, France, Christian Charles Martel defeated the Arabs. The Battle of Tours halted Islam in Western Europe and established a balance of power between Western Europe, Islam and the Byzantine Empire. It brought a period of productivity and prosperity for Stoic projects throughout Europe and the Middle East.

AD 758           Arabs and Persians razed Guangzhou. The School in China disappeared.

AD 775           The sixtieth Scholarch assumed office.

Once the School knew the Plague came from the east, the leaders agreed that some communities should go west. Since 152 BC the Stoic School knew the earth was a globe. That was the year the Stoic Crates of Mallus made the earliest known globe of the earth. Having the globe and tales of another continent between Europe and Asia that did not touch China, the obvious thought was to go west. The School spent centuries exploring west to find out. Three expeditions were never heard from again. Others turned back, were blown off course, were overcome by Plague, etc.  

This Plague does not seem to have been an “evolutionary radiation.” China had accounts of isolated cases of this plague going into their ancient past. A dramatic increase in population and the Dark Year seem to have coincided to make the perfect storm for this pathogen. There is no proof the cause was a now extinct bacterium.

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