Stoicon 2019-Athens: Interviews With the Organizers

Over the last few years, we have held the annual Stoicon conference in London, New York, and Toronto. This year, Stoicon is planned to take place in the city where the philosophy was born – Athens! That’s precisely where the founder, Zeno of Citium, had his fortunate shipwreck, read about Socrates in a bookseller’s stall, studied with Crates the Cynic (among others), and then went on to teach at the Stoa Poikile (the “painted porch”).

If you’re thinking about attending this historic Stoicon – coming up Saturday, October 5 – here’s the event information and the ticket link. There is also a Facebook event for Stoicon 2019. Keep in mind that there is also a Stoicon-X the next day in Athens as well (information here).

As editor of Stoicism Today, I compiled a list of email interview questions for Donald Robertson, Alkistis Agio, and Christopher Gill. Their responses below are intended to give our readers a much fuller conception of what this important annual conference involves, both in general, and specifically this year.

1. Why does Stoicon matter?  Why is it important to have a conference like this?

Donald: There’s no other event like this.  It’s the largest gathering of modern Stoics in the world and therefore has some of the subject’s leading authors and experts in attendance.  It’s a chance to really feel connected with other Stoics, to learn more about the subject, explore different perspectives, and also, in this case, to visit the birthplace of the philosophy.

Alkistis: In my view, Stoicon matters because it is important to bring our community together, to meet each other face to face on a regular basis.It’s not enough to read each other’s books and to comment under each other’s posts; meeting in person allows us to interact on a deeper human level.To feel the warmth and friendliness of each other, as in “phil-adelphia”, brotherly-sisterly love.We are a family and it is the most natural thing in the world to want to be close to one another on a regular basis.Stoicon is a celebration of our way of thinking and way of life, the values we share; Ethos, Arete, Agape…Also, the event may also attract attention of more people to Stoicism that can benefit them too.

Chris: It is a unique opportunity to meet people from all over the world interesting in applying Stoic ideas and insights in their life and to hear talks by experts of various kinds and take part in workshops on aspects of life and current concern that matter greatly.

2. What can people attending Stoicon expect?  What will they get out of participating in it?

Chris: To judge from previous Stoicon events – an atmosphere of great enthusiasm and engagement – talks on real life issues drawing on Stoic philosophical ideas but conveyed in a way that is accessible to all – and workshops, Q &A after talks ,and social time when you can share your views and concerns.

Donald: There are talks and workshops from experts on Stoicism.  We encourage speakers to adopt a practical focus and we try to have something for everyone by inviting speakers from different walks of life, from the military, academia, popular psychology, psychotherapy, teaching spirituality, etc.  There will also be lots of extra events this year because of the special location we’ve chosen.  The city of Athens has a lot to do and see for those interested in Greek philosophy, of course.

Alkistis: Expect to be inspired. Expect to remember this experience for the rest of your life, as one of the best decisions you ever made.

3. What are you particularly looking forward to about Stoicon 2019? Why that in particular?

Alkistis: I am looking forward to making new friends that may last a lifetime. I am looking forward to sharing my insider’s view of Athens and Greece. I am looking forward to sharing about my book, THE STOIC CEO. I am looking forward to learning about Stoicism from other points of view, from some of the most knowledgeable people in the world. I am looking forward to profound dialogues and discussions about things that matter to us.

Chris: Stoicon 2019 is unique in being held in Athens, home of the original Stoic philosophy and other great Greek philosophies, and also a beautiful and inspiring city with history all round you. Some  new speakers from around the world and new topics for workshops. Topics include Stoicism and community, environment, military life, psychotherapy, inner control and attending to yourself and other suggestive themes. 

Donald: I think it’s a great opportunity for people to absorb the atmosphere in Athens.  You can climb up the hill to the Acropolis, look down on the ruins of the agora, the city centre of ancient Athens, and compare that view to Marcus Aurelius’ description, for example, of the view from above.  You can visit the remains of the Theatre of Dionysius where Aristophanes’ satirical play The Clouds was performed and Socrates, seated among the audience, reputedly stood up so that everyone could see who they were laughing at.  You can visit the Areopagus where we’re told St. Paul addressed gathered Stoic and Epicurean philosophers and the Lyceum where Aristotle founded his school – however, the Sophists, Socrates, and later even the Stoic Chrysippus also reputedly taught there.  Some people might even want to travel a few hours outside Athens to the ruins of Delphi in the mountains, where according to legend the Pythia pronounced that no man was wiser than Socrates. 

4. What is distinctively new about Stoicon this year?

Alkistis: Stoics from all over the world will come to Greece. 
It’ s a milestone, a historical event. This is unprecedented, it’s moving when you think about it…Imagine walking the same streets, under the same sky, drinking Greek wine and philosophizing as Socrates did…The venue Cotsen Hall, with it’s beautiful gardens and surrounding neoclassical buildings like the Gennadios Libraryrich with history, is probably the most inspiring venue so far for Stoicon.Every Stoic should be there for this celebration!

Donald: The location is obviously much more steeped in history this year.  We’ve also therefore been able to add many extra events such as small tours and additional talks in the city of Athens.  

5. Travel to and from Stoicon often affords people a chance to practice Stoicism. How does Stoicism help people travel well?

Donald: Seneca says that the wise man (or woman) sets off on every journey with the intention “I will travel to Athens”, or wherever, “if nothing prevents it”, employing the Stoic reserve clause.  Stoicism teaches us to reconcile determined action, in the service of wisdom and justice, with calm acceptance when things don’t turn out according to our plans or desires.

Chris: Two useful Stoics tips on travel: wishing ‘with reservation’ – e.g. ‘I want to arrive – if nothing prevents me’ or ‘I want to arrive on time – if nothing prevents me’ (this reservation can take off a lot of pressure) and playing your own specific role in life: remember you are the passenger not the driver or pilot – your role is to be a good passenger, calm and relaxed and helpful to others whatever the situation – it is not your job to pilot the plane, to run the catering, to drive the bus…

Alkistis: The obstacle is the way; S**t happens, and it’s a great opportunity to exercise ‘ataraxia’, to grow and learn through everything.To practice the wisdom of inner freedom.

6. Who is Stoicon for? Would it be of benefit  for someone who doesn’t know much about Stoicism?

Chris: Who would benefit from Stoicon? Anyone – for first-timers it is accessible and open and not ‘cliquey’ – but for those who are already involved in Stoic practice there is a chance to develop your ideas and share them with others.

Donald: Yes, we encourage all speakers to assume that many of the attendees will be new to the subject, although others may be experts themselves.  So ideally they’ll accommodate newbies but also say some things that will be of interest to those who are well-read in the literature of Stoicism.  We also try to begin with a quick introduction to help bring newcomers up to speed.  And the range of speakers from different backgrounds helps to ensure that even the most experienced students of the subject should find something new in the different perspectives represented.

Alkistis: Absolutely! I would recommend this event to anyone who is sincerely interested in learning about, ‘How To Be Free’, ‘How To Find Fulfillment’, ‘How To Live Well’.

7. What sorts of benefits are there for people to studying Stoic philosophy?

Alkistis: I can only speak for myself; Stoicism has helped me to overcome toxic habits like dramatizing, to be more honest with myself and others, and to experience freedom more often.Also, I like meeting people who share similar values.  

Chris: Stoicism offers a broad and deep framework for living – developed over 5 centuries in the ancient world and also reflected on by modern thinkers and writers. Not just a superficial quick-fix or how to – guide to life – but something that can offer a framework for addressing the big questions we all face – what is happiness, what is the purpose of life, how can I face my own death and that of those I love, why should I concern myself with other people or foreigners or the environment? Stoicism has long been valued for promoting resilience but also has great value in helping people to frame a positive, thoughtful and constructive attitude to living.

Donald: Studying Stoicism gives people a sense of direction and meaning in life, and a method for reflecting upon and examining events philosophically.  It also provides a surprisingly extensive armamentarium of psychological techniques which can contribute to building emotional resilience.

8. We’ve had Stoicon conferences now in London, Toronto, and New York. Now we’re meeting in Athens. What other locations do you think would be great for a future Stoicon?

Alkistis: I would love for it to happen in Rome too!

Donald: Rome would be an obvious choice.  I also think that an event on the West coast of the USA or Canada, perhaps in Vancouver, might be an option.  Another good location would be Vienna, in Austria, because it’s situated beside the huge archaeological park at Carnuntum, where Marcus Aurelius reputedly wrote (at east part of) The Meditations.  

9. We ask this every year: have we reached, or are we approaching “peak Stoicism”?

Donald: I don’t think so.  Stoic Week keeps growing bigger each year and that’s a good index.  Stoicism communities around the world, and online, continue to grow.  There are more and more books on Stoicism from new authors coming out all the time.  Facebook’s data show that over 1.5 million people say in their profiles that Marcus Aurelius is one of their favourite authors.  We’ve barely scraped the surface of the huge potential audience that exists for Stoic philosophy.

Chris: No – think how many people in the world would benefit from the kind of insights that Stoicism can offer – and how many people are very troubled by the way things are going and wanting to find a framework to deal with their own lives and  life around them.

Alkistis: No, of course not; Stoicism is flourishing, and changing lives everywhere. 

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