Of all my books, I return to Cynthia King's translation of Musonius Rufus the most often. It's a short read because we have little left of Rufus's teachings. What we do have is illuminating. It paints a picture of a Stoic philosophy that had strong opinions concerning every aspect of life; sex to sexism, eating habits to parental discipline. I return to the book because I like to be reminded of the Stoa's realness. This was an actual school. Its students were trying to change their approach to life and its teachers gave hard answers concerning how to go about it. Musonius Rufus, more than any other Stoic, reminds me to both respect and challenge the ancient teachers whose ideas I am incorporating into my life.
Rufus was the head of the Stoic school in his time. In fact, one of his students was to become the more famous stoic teacher, Epictetus. Musonius Rufus spoke to be understood. He didn't want to come up with a hundred ways to explain a principle, instead he would present one clear argument. He continuously advocated for a practical, lived philosophy. As he put it, "Just as there is no use in medical study unless it leads to the health of the human body, so there is no use to a philosophical doctrine unless it leads to the virtue of the human soul." True to his word, Rufus lays out some strong medicine for his students. It's through Rufus that we know Stoics approved of equal education for women. Two of his letters lay out an uncompromising proto-feminist stance. At the same time, other letters are massively homophobic and also claim that all sex is for procreation and only procreation. So it's a mixed bag! This is why I like it. Musonius Rufus isn't sanitized. His works aren't a greatest hits of Stoic quotes. They're a glimpse into history and a reminder that Stoicism was built by flawed and brilliant men. I suggest reading Musonius Rufus with a notebook to capture some great ideas and multiple grains of salt to work through the rest.
Musonius Rufus : Lectures and Sayings translated by Cynthia King