The Life & Stoic Philosophy of Musonius Rufus

“Don’t expect to tell others what they should do when they know that you do what you shouldn’t. [Stobaeus 4.7.15.]” ― Musonius Rufus

Gaius Musonius Rufus was a Roman philosopher of the 1st century CE. He is widely regarded as one of the most important figures in the Stoic tradition.

You have to be fascinated by his teachings and the way he lived his life as a rebel philosopher, showing truth to the likes of despots like Nero.

His philosophy was grounded in the Stoic belief that he lived every day of his adult life.

For him, in true Stoic tradition, virtue (wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation) was the only true good that should define and guide a person’s character and behavior.

Musonius Rufus Stoic Philosopher - The Life & Stoic Philosophy of Musonius Rufus - 1

He taught that philosophy should not be confined to the classroom, but should be integrated into everyday life. In his lectures, he often emphasized the importance of self-discipline, self-control, and the pursuit of wisdom.

“Most of all, teachers shouldn’t only be speakers of helpful words, but their actions should be consistent with them. The pupil’s duty is to attend pro-actively to what is said, and to be on guard in case they accept something false without thinking.” ― Musonius Rufus, On How To Live

All through his life, he focused on pursuing virtue, wisdom, and self-discipline.

He always emphasized that true happiness and fulfillment cannot be found in wealth or material success, but instead must be sought within the self.

Musonius Rufus was not born into a wealthy family and lived during a time of great political turmoil. He did not seek wealth or material success.

Musonius Rufus was known for his strong commitment to Stoicism and his outspokenness and his willingness to speak out against political corruption and injustice.

This, combined with his popularity and influence, likely made him a target of two Roman emperors.

He was exiled by the Roman Emperor Nero. The exact reason for his exile is not clear, but it is believed that it was due to his political views and opposition to the emperor’s policies.

Despite his exile, Musonius Rufus continued to teach and write, and his philosophy continued to spread and influence others.

He was initially allowed to stay by the emperor Vespasian during his reign, but was eventually banished from Rome.

Musonius returned to Rome only after the deaths of Nero and Vespasius.

The Life of Musonius Rufus

Musonius Rufus was born in Volsinii, Etruria around 20-30 AD and was the son of a Roman eques named Capito.

He was already famous in Rome by the time of Nero, where he taught Stoic philosophy and was associated with the Stoic opposition against Nero’s perceived tyranny.

He was banished to the island of Gyaros by Nero on a trumped-up charge of participating in the Pisonian conspiracy, but was able to form a small community of philosophers during his time in exile.

He returned to Rome under Galba in 68 AD, and when Vespasian’s general Marcus Antonius Primus was marching on Rome, he joined the ambassadors sent by Vitellius to the victorious general and preached about the blessings of peace and the dangers of war.

Musonius was highly respected in Rome, and Vespasian allowed him to remain in the city when other philosophers were banished, but he was eventually exiled anyway.

He returned to Rome after Vespasian’s death and is known to have taught Epictetus, his most famous student.

Musonius was able to accuse and obtain the conviction of Publius Egnatius Celer, a Stoic philosopher who had condemned Barea Soranus.

He specifically refers to his time in exile in his ninth discourse, pointing out its advantages for a practitioner of Stoicism.

He died around 101 AD, as mentioned by Pliny in reference to his son-in-law Artemidorus.

Musonius Rufus’ teachings and influence continue to be felt through the works of his students and the legacy of Stoicism.

“You will deserve respect from everyone if you will start by respecting yourself.” ― Musonius Rufus

The Stoic Philosophy of Musonius Rufus

Emphasis on Virtue

Musonius Rufus believed that virtue was the only true good and that wisdom, courage, justice, and moderation were the four cardinal virtues that defined a person’s character.

“Virtue … is not just theoretical knowledge, it is also practical, like both medical and musical knowledge. The doctor and the musician must each not only learn the principles of his own skill but be trained to act according to those principles. Likewise, the man who wants to be good must not only learn the lessons which pertain to virtue but train himself to follow them eagerly and rigorously.” ― Musonius Rufus, Lectures and Sayings

Importance of Education

Musonius Rufus believed that philosophy should not be confined to the classroom, but should be integrated into everyday life. He emphasized the importance of self-discipline, self-control, and the pursuit of wisdom.

Musonius Rufus believed that women should have access to the same education and opportunities as men, and that they should be encouraged to develop their intellectual and moral virtues.

One of the most notable aspects of Musonius Rufus’ philosophy was his emphasis on the importance of women’s education.

He believed that women should have access to the same education and opportunities as men, and that they should be encouraged to develop their intellectual and moral virtues.

This was a radical idea in a time when women were largely excluded from formal education and were expected to limit their activities to the domestic sphere.

Wealth and Status

“Wealth is not a good in itself, but only a means to an end.” – Musonius Rufus

Musonius Rufus believed that wealth and status should not be the primary goal in life. Instead, he taught that happiness and fulfillment could only be achieved through the development of one’s inner virtues.

Musonius Rufus also believed that wealth and status should not be the primary goal in life. Instead, he taught that happiness and fulfillment could only be achieved through the development of one’s inner virtues.

Musonius Rufus lived a simple and modest life and encouraged his students to adopt a similar lifestyle, free from the distractions and excesses of material wealth.

“Humanity must seek what is NOT simple and obvious using the simple and obvious.” ― Musonius Rufus

The Power of Reason

Musonius Rufus believed that the power of reason could guide human behavior and lead to a virtuous life.

“Therefore practicing each virtue always must follow learning the lessons appropriate to it, or it is pointless for us to learn about it. The person who claims to be studying philosophy must practice it even more diligently than the person who aspires to the art of medicine or some similar skill, inasmuch as philosophy is more important and harder to grasp than any other pursuit.” ― Musonius Rufus, Musonius Rufus: Lectures and Sayings

10 Hihghligts of Musonius Rufus’ Philosophy

  1. The philosophy of Musonius Rufus was all about practicality, aligning with the teachings of his most famous student, Epictetus.
  2. To Musonius, philosophy wasn’t just a matter of words or school lessons, but something that could be deeply personal and lived through reflection and practice.
  3. Despite his focus on the practical, Musonius still believed that philosophers should have a recognizable appearance and withdraw from general society.
  4. He saw philosophy as a tool to heal the corruptions of the mind and believed that knowledge should always have a purpose in action.
  5. He understood the importance of logic, but was repulsed by the endless dogmas of the sophists.
  6. The physical doctrines of the Stoics held little interest for him, but he believed that the human soul was akin to the gods and could be purified through effort.
  7. Ethics were at the forefront of his teachings, viewing philosophy as a mental art of healing and the pursuit of virtuous living.
  8. To Musonius, the only real obstacle to a moral life was the prejudices and bad habits instilled from childhood.
  9. A life lived according to nature was characterized by social and friendly sentiments, and contentment with the necessities of life.
  10. Musonius believed that both men and women should have the opportunity to study philosophy and understand virtue, and he lived a simple life, avoiding meat and embracing a diet based on natural food.

Musonius Rufus was known for his dedication to Stoicism and his belief in the power of reason to guide human behavior. He taught that individuals should focus on developing their inner character and avoiding external distractions and excesses, including the pursuit of wealth and material success.

“The character of a person is not determined by their gender, but by their actions.” – Musonius Rufus

Despite his unconventional ideas, Musonius Rufus was highly respected by his peers and students. He was known for his wisdom, his strong moral character, and his ability to inspire others to lead virtuous lives.

PNTV: Musonius Rufus, Lectures and Sayings (#403)


1. What were Musonius Rufus’ views & philosophy on marriage?

Musonius Rufus had a unique and progressive view on marriage and relationships. He believed that marriage should be based on mutual respect, love, and companionship, rather than on social status or financial considerations.

He taught that both partners should be committed to the development of their inner virtues and that they should work together to create a harmonious and virtuous household.

According to Musonius Rufus, the purpose of marriage was to provide a stable and supportive environment for the raising of children and the pursuit of wisdom.

He believed that both partners should share in the responsibilities of child-rearing and household management.

More importantly, he felt that women should not be confined to the domestic sphere. Instead, he encouraged women to pursue their intellectual and moral virtues and to participate fully in the life of the community.

“Marriage is not for the pleasure of the body, but for the good of the soul.” – Musonius Rufus

Musonius Rufus also believed that sexual relations should be reserved for the context of marriage and that individuals should practice self-control and restraint in their sexual behavior. He taught that sexual desire should be controlled and channeled in a virtuous manner, rather than being allowed to control the individual.

“In marriage, there must be complete companionship and concern for each other on the part of both husband and wife, in health and in sickness and at all times, because they entered upon the marriage for this reason as well as to produce offspring. When such caring for one another is perfect, and the married couple provide it for one another, and each strives to outdo the other, then this is marriage as it ought to be and deserving of emulation, since it is a noble union. But when one partner looks to his own interests alone and neglects the other’s, or (by Zeus) the other is so minded that he lives in the same house, but keeps his mind on what is outside it, and does not wish to pull together with his partner or to cooperate, then inevitably the union is destroyed, and although they live together their common interests fare badly, and either they finally get divorced from one another or they continue on in an existence that is worse than loneliness.”
― Musonius Rufus

In a way, Musonius Rufus’ views on marriage were ahead of his time and reflected his belief in the importance of mutual respect, love, and companionship in relationships.

His teachings continue to inspire and influence discussions on the role of relationships in personal and moral development even today.

2. Did Musonius Rufus know Seneca?

There is no clear historical record indicating whether Musonius Rufus and Seneca knew each other or not. However, as both figures were prominent Stoic philosophers in ancient Rome, it is possible that they were aware of each other’s work and may have even interacted or corresponded in some way.

  • Seneca, who lived from 4 BC to 65 AD, was a highly influential philosopher, statesman, and writer in ancient Rome. He was a key figure in the development of Stoicism and wrote extensively on ethics, politics, and natural philosophy.
  • Musonius Rufus, who lived from 30 AD to 100 AD, was also an important figure in the Stoic tradition, known for his emphasis on virtue, education, and self-discipline. He was a respected teacher and his lectures were widely attended.

Given the close proximity of their lifetimes and their shared interest in Stoicism, it is possible that Musonius Rufus and Seneca knew each other or had some form of interaction. However, without clear historical records, this remains speculation.

3. Did Musonius Rufus train any important persons in the discipline of Stoic philosophy?

Yes, Musonius Rufus trained several important figures in the discipline of Stoic philosophy. It’s said that if Musonius did not teach Stoicism, we might not have Epictetus.

And if Epictetus did not teach, we would not have the greatest Philosopher kIng, Marcus Aurelius.

Musonius was a highly respected teacher and his lectures were widely attended by students from diverse backgrounds.

Epictetus, who later went on to become a renowned Stoic master in his own right, was a slave when he first heard Musonius Rufus’ lecture. He was so impressed by the philosopher’s teachings that he became a dedicated student.

After his freedom from slavery bond, Epictetus went on to establish his own school of philosophy, where he taught the principles of Stoicism to a new generation of students.

Another of Musonius Rufus’ students was the philosopher Lucius Annaeus Cornutus, who was known for his works on Stoic philosophy and his contributions to the development of the Stoic curriculum.

What were Musonius Rufus’ ideas on food and eating?

“Food should be taken for the sake of the body and not for pleasure.” – Musonius Rufus

Musonius Rufus had a distinctive and straightforward approach to food and eating. He believed that food should be viewed simply as sustenance and that individuals should avoid excessive indulgence or attachment to food.

According to Musonius Rufus, the primary purpose of eating was to maintain physical health and provide the necessary energy to perform daily activities.

He taught that we should consume only what was necessary to meet these needs and that we should avoid excessive or luxurious eating.

“Also nourishing is food from domestic animals which we don’t slaughter. The most suitable of these foods, though, are the ones we can eat without cooking: fruits in season, certain vegetables, milk, cheese, and honeycombs. These foods also are easiest to obtain. Even those foods that require cooking, including grains and some vegetables, are not unsuitable; all are proper food for a human being.” ― Musonius Rufus, Musonius Rufus: Lectures and Sayings

Musonius Rufus also believed that individuals should avoid consuming food that was harmful to their health, such as rich and fatty foods, and should instead focus on eating a balanced and nutritious diet. He encouraged his students to adopt a simple and modest diet, free from the distractions and excesses of luxury foods.

“That God who made man provided him food and drink for the sake of preserving his life and not for giving him pleasure, one can see very well from this: when food is performing its real function, it does not produce pleasure for man, that is in the process of digestion and assimilation.” – Musonius Rufus

Why was Musonius Rufus called “The Roman Stoic”?

Musonius Rufus is often referred to as “The Roman Stoic” due to similarities in their beliefs and teachings, even in the face of death.

  • He was a highly respected teacher and his lectures were widely attended, attracting students from diverse backgrounds, much like Socrates.
  • He lived during a time of great political turmoil in ancient Rome and was known for his strong moral character and his commitment to the Stoic ideals of virtue, wisdom, and self-discipline, again like Socrates.
  • There is also a believable anecdote about Musonius which says he refused to be rescued or gotten released from prison, much like Socrates. He was willing to stand by his principles, even in the face of death, much like Socrates.

These parallels between the two philosophers may have contributed to the comparison and earned Musonius the title of “The Roman Socrates.” Although historians question the authenticity of Musonius’ execution.

“Philosophy teaches that we should be above pleasure and greed. It teaches that we should love frugality and avoid extravagance. It accustoms us to be modest and to control our tongue. It brings about discipline, order, decorum, and on the whole fitting behavior in action and in habit. If these things are present in a human being, they make him dignified and self-controlled.” ― Musonius Rufus, Lectures and Sayings

“Since every man dies, it is better to die with distinction than to live long.” ― Musonius Rufus

Books & Writings of Musonius Rufus

Unfortunately, only fragments of the writings of Musonius Rufus have survived to the present day. The majority of his works were lost over time, and what remains is scattered across various ancient texts and manuscripts.

However, despite the limited availability of his original writings, Musonius Rufus’ teachings have been widely studied and continue to be influential in the field of Stoicism. Some of the most important sources for his philosophy include:

  • “Lectures” (also known as “Discourses” or “Diatribes”) – a collection of lectures that were recorded and compiled by one of his students. The identity of this pupil is not definitively known. Some sources suggest that the pupil was Lucius, while others suggest that it was someone else. This work provides a glimpse into Musonius Rufus’ teachings and philosophy and is considered one of the most important sources of his thoughts.
  • “Questions and Answers” – a collection of questions and answers that were recorded during Musonius Rufus’ lectures. This work provides insight into his approach to teaching and the questions and concerns of his students.
  • The works of other ancient philosophers, such as Diogenes Laërtius, who wrote a biography of Musonius Rufus in his “Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers,” and Stobaeus, who quoted Musonius Rufus extensively in his “Anthology.”

Further Reading:

Final Words

Musonius Rufus was a remarkable philosopher who made a significant contribution to the Stoic tradition. His emphasis on the importance of virtue, education, and self-discipline continues to inspire and influence philosophers and thinkers around the world.

“Since every man dies, it is better to die with distinction than to live long.” ― Musonius Rufus

During his times and to this day, Musonius Rufus remains a highly respected Stoic master.

His legacy serves as a testament to the power of reason and the enduring value of Stoicism.


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