Is kicking your enemy into a large well after screaming,
“This is Sparta!” the Hellenistic embodiment of courage?
Well, it could be, looking at the Greek mythological heroes like Achilles and Hector, and their bravery on the battlefield.
But the definition of courage doesn't stop there, as far as the Stoics are concerned.
As a matter of fact, there are many different philosophical ideas about what courage really is.
This video is a short essay about how different philosophies define the virtue of courage.
Now, if we want to be courageous according to Stoic ethics, does that mean that we have to become these fearless warlords as we see in movies about the ancient Greeks, or do we have to become the hero that saves the princess?
Courage is a Stoic virtue.
This means that courage is part of what Stoics call 'eudaimonia,' which means flourishing, and is regarded as the end goal.
It's important to notice that, according to the Stoics, 'eudaimonia' equals life in accordance with nature, which is regarded as an optimal way for human beings to live.
When we look at the Stoic definition of courage, we discover that it's subdivided into endurance, confidence, high-mindedness, cheerfulness, and industriousness.
We can apply these characteristics in all kinds of situations.
We could be very courageous doctors or very courageous YouTube content creators.
As long as we do it confidently, with positive energy, and in a way that's disciplined.
This is the key to success.
We can cultivate Stoic courage by controlled adversity, also known as 'askesis,' through which we gradually expose ourselves to dis-preferred indifference.
In this way, we become more confident, strong, and skilled.
Ethically, courage ought to be directed toward pursuits that are in favor of the common good.
Preferably, things that are conformable to our own inborn nature, and the nature of our environment.
Thus, the Stoic hero is a virtuous hero.
Now, Nietzsche was a German philosopher who valued courage very highly.
According to him, courage is the main ingredient to become, what he called, the 'overman' or 'übermensch.'
The 'overman' is an individualist who has succeeded to free himself from the master-slave morality and lives self-sufficiently while following his own unique path.
“God is dead,” declared Nietzsche, meaning that we've arrived in a secular age in which God can no longer provide us with answers.
In a similar way, Albert Camus saw institutionalized religions as a form of philosophical suicide, and submitting to them would mean that we refuse to see reality for what it truly is:
meaningless and absurd.
Nietzsche, as well as Camus, thought that the right way to live as human beings is to create our own values and live by them, instead of adopting values of certain belief systems and ideologies, which, in the end, only exploit us and rob us of our intellectual conscience.
When we decide to set ourselves free from the herd mentality, and truly forge our own path, we need an immense amount of courage.
Because we have to break the chains of fear and convention.
And by doing so, we're likely to encounter resistance from our environment.
Simply put: courage is to become who we are.
The Buddha had a slightly different view of courage.
There's this common misunderstanding that Buddhist monks are a bunch of cowards that hide in their monasteries while renouncing life.
The renunciation of life is partly true in Buddhism, as it is the renunciation of certain parts of life, also known as 'samsara.'
Samsara is the wheel of suffering and involves all cravings and desires and pleasures that lead to suffering.
By 'taking refuge' in Buddhism, we seek to emerge from 'samsara,' by giving up a great deal that conventionally makes life pleasurable.
For the regular person, giving up so many things means a great deal of pain and suffering.
And this is the irony: one has to go through the pain of giving up short-term pleasure and devoting oneself to a life of practice and discipline, to become free of pain.
Thus, embarking on the path of enlightenment is a very brave thing to do.
Part of the path of enlightenment is overcoming our fears.
Because a truly enlightened being has no fear.
And in order to overcome fear, we have to face it.
This is especially true for the fear of death.
When the Buddha experienced the harsh reality of life, he chose not to be sheltered from it, but to acknowledge suffering and accept it.
Thus, in Buddhism courage means that we dare to see reality for what it is, and transform our fear and suffering into a path to awakening.
Philosopher Alan Watts, who was a scholar of Zen, spoke about a metaphysical courage, which is basically the awareness that all manifestations of existence are a show.
So, we approach life how we approach a movie.
This means that on the one hand we get tangled up in life, and experience fear because everything that happens appears real to us.
But on the other hand, we can see the illusion for what it is.
Then, life is no more frightening than playing a video game.
According to Watts, this is what the Samurai were after when they were studying Zen.
They wanted this metaphysical courage so nothing would scare them.
This is easier said than done.
And when we put this idea into practice, we discover that our bodies still react to the things we perceive as scary.
We still feel fear.
Now, the key to dealing with this fear is not fearing fear and seeing these sensations as a part of the illusion.
The opposite is the act of worrying, which is a vicious cycle that is absolutely useless.
The cause of worrying is the illusion that we believe that by thinking, we can control the future, which isn't the case.
Thus, in this context, courage is the ability to simply letting the show play out as it plays out.
The last form of courage I'd like to explore is a nice add-on to the previous one.
The founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, once had a teacher called Crates of Thebes, who was the most well-known cynic at that time.
Crates saw that Zeno had difficulties putting aside his shame.
So, he let his pupil walk around with a pot of lentil soup.
Lentils as a dish were looked down upon, because it was seen as food for peasants.
Because he saw Zeno struggling and ashamed doing this assignment, Crates broke the pot with his staff, and Zeno ran away in embarrassment with the lentil soup flowing down his legs.
“Why run away, my little Phoenician? Nothing terrible has befallen you,” Crates said.
He wanted to teach Zeno the art of shamelessness, and the freedom that comes with that.
This freedom is very well portrayed by Crates' teacher, Diogenes of Sinope, who lived in a barrel.
Alexander the Great was very interested in Diogenes and traveled a long way to meet him.
He asked Diogenes what he could do for him because with his wealth and power he could get him anything that the empire had to offer.
Diogenes looked at him and answered:
“Can you please step aside? Because you're blocking my sun.”
Diogenes' lifestyle granted him the possibility to be independent.
He didn't need the approval of other people nor the help of the most powerful man on earth.
But it took him great courage to live such a radical life.
According to the Cynics, real courage means that we simply don't give a damn about external things, including what people think and say about us, and don't let them stop us from living how we want to live.
A courageous cynic is shameless.
All in all, the human experience is full of fear, which can block us from living even the most ordinary of lives.
That's why it's important to cultivate courage, so we can live more happily and freely.
Or at least, so we can cope with the predicament of being involuntarily thrown into this world.
As Albert Camus stated: “Sometimes it takes more courage to live than to shoot yourself.”