Epicurus and Zeno at the Market

In Athens three o six BC,

Two thinkers lived as we shall see:

One, Epicurus, had a base—

His kitchen garden was the place.

The other, Zeno, worked in town;

In t’painted porch of high renown;

The Stoa Poikile—the same

That gave the Stoics name and fame.

These thinkers each had founded schools;

And while they both were far from fools,

They each professed a sep’rate creed  

And to their students gave a lead.

Epicurus one day shopped

In the agora, and he stopped

To hear what Zeno had to say

On this fine, crowded market day.

A seller of amphora cried,

‘How is it just, when I have tried

To serve the market ev’ry day,

An upstart steals my trade away?’

Zeno replied, ‘It may seem wrong

When your advantage for so long

Has served you well, but think it through:

The buyer may want something new.

‘Each man must look to find his role

Within the ordered, cosmic whole;

Refrain from fighting how things are; 

Enduring’s the best way by far.’

Now Epicurus begged to say,

‘I think there is another way:

This anxious man will stay in pain

If he sells the same goods again.

‘For us the world has no fixed plan;

No gods ordained when we began

That we should listen to their voice

When making individual choice.

‘This man’s good profit from his trade

And t’reputation he has made

Both give him joy, but now they’re gone

It might be time for moving on.

‘He can be free to live his life,

Without anxiety or strife;

Content in simple joys and diet

To live unseen in friendly quiet.’

The merchant smiled and turned away;

Packed up his stall, called it a day.

‘For after all,’ he said, ‘it’s true:

There’s lots of other things to do.’

© Sarah Rochelle 2020