Stoicism was a school of practical philosophy whose central idea was to guide people on the path towards living of a virtuous life. It is not overly theoretical (or rather it is only as theoretical as it needs to be) and it believes that true understanding comes with practical application not just through reading (in fact Epictetus writes about the futility of just reading Chrysippus and thinking you are making progress). It is rather different to the western academic tradition as it has evolved and certainly at odds with philosophy as it is currently taught in our universities. However it is its practicality that makes the philosophy as vivid to us now as it was to the people of ancient Greece and Rome as we are basically still the same sort of people. Life is still finite and time rushes by:
“Things tend, in fact, to go wrong: part of the blame lies on the teachers of philosophy, who today teach us how to argue rather than how to live, part on their students, who come to their teachers in the first place with a view to developing not their character but their intellect. The result has been a transformation of philosophy, the study of wisdom, into philology, the study of words.
The object which we have in view, after all, makes a great deal of difference to the manner in which we approach any subject. If he intends to become a literary scholar a person examining his Virgil does not say to himself when he reads that magnificent phraseIrrestorable, Time flies‘We need to bestir ourselves; life will leave us behind unless we make haste; the days are fleeting by, carried away at a gallop, carrying us with them; we fail to recognise the pace at which we are swept along; here we are making comprehensive plans for the future and generally behaving as if we had all the leisure in the world when there are precipices all around us.’ No his purpose is to note that Virgil invariably uses the word ‘flies’ whenever he speaks of the swift passage of time.” (Seneca, Letters, CVIII, 24)