The reason for this is that the Stoic has a social and personal courage which is a real alternative to Christian courage. Stoic courage is not an invention of the Stoic philosophers. They gave it classical expression in rational terms; but its roots go back to mythological stories, legends of heroic deeds, words of early wisdom, poetry and tragedy, and to centuries of philosophy preceding the rise of Stoicism. One event especially gave the Stoics’ courage lasting power— the death of Socrates. That became for the whole ancient world both a fact and a symbol. It showed the human situation in the face of fate and death. It showed a courage which could affirm life because it could affirm death. And it brought a profound change in the traditional meaning of courage. In Socrates the heroic courage of the past was made rational and universal. A democratic idea of courage was created as against the aristocratic idea of it. Soldierly fortitude was transcended by the courage of wisdom. In this form it gave “philosophical consolation” to many people in all sections of the ancient world throughout a period of catastrophes and transformations.
The description of Stoic courage by a man like Seneca shows the interdependence of the fear of death and the fear of life, as well as the interdependence of the courage to die and the courage to live. He points to those who “do not want to live and do not know how to die.” He speaks of a libido moriendi, the exact Latin term for Freud’s “death instinct.” He tells of people who feel life as meaningless and superfluous and who, as in the book of Ecclesiastes say: I cannot do anything new, I cannot see anything new! This, according to Seneca, is a consequence of the acceptance of the pleasure principle or, as he calls it, anticipating a recent American phrase, the “good-time” attitude, which he finds especially in the younger generation. As, in Freud, the death instinct is the negative side of the ever-unsatisfied drives of the libido, so, according to Seneca, the acceptance of the pleasure principle necessarily leads to disgust and despair about life. But Seneca knew (as Freud did) that the inability to affirm life does not imply the ability to affirm death. The anxiety of fate and death controls the lives even of those who have lost the will to live.