It was a bustling day in the city of Athens, around
The grand marketplace of Agora was swarming with
The golden sun above made the surrounding hills
shimmer, but even the sun was no match for the blazing
movement of the market below.
There was fresh fish caught
from the morning, artisans showing the glory of their work
cut in stone, and Greek members of the assembly passing
through the crowd with bright white tunics and deep purple
The energy of conversation and flourishing
commerce marked an Athens at its height of culture and
Thousands of trading stands made of simple wooden
poles with dusty hanging canopies sprawled over downtown
In some rare free space in a corner of the market,
there stood a man who was garnering the attention of a
growing number of people. The man held an outward
appearance that was the reverse of what Athenians
considered graceful and beautiful.
He was dustier than the
canopies and muddier than the morass of the lowlands after
a heavy rain, but his presence was nevertheless remarkable.
As though he offered free pottery or exotic fruits, the
crowd wriggled their way as close as possible to hear him
“I, Socrates, have stumbled upon the fortune to have
provided benefit to Pericles.
By helping him to see the
path he already knew himself, Pericles has strengthened our
relations with the Spartans.
At last, we have united the
most honored and capable city states to stand against
future aggressors who threaten the republic.
dealings with Sparta will afford us peace and the
contemplation to further the great city of Athens.”
Aristophanes, though commonly holding an aversion to
Socrates and his philosophical teachings, had admiration
for him on this day and went to stand beside him.
Aristophanes was suave and wealthy, and the most revered
playwright in all of Greece.
The crowd shifted to him as
he moved to stand next to Socrates.
Let us hold a banquet in
your honor for your part in the union with Sparta.
shall be tonight in the hall of Centuries, where the
moonlight will shine silver waves upon us as we drink and
talk. You will be the lead of this Symposium, and you will
bring the discussion and games of your choosing.
invite several men of great disposition.
mention, I invite the Stranger from the East.
from a far off place, and is a man of a kind you have never
As the sun subsided and moon rose, about a dozen men
gathered in the Hall of Centuries for the Symposium in
honor of Socrates.
The hall was a simple but powerful
structure made of thick marble columns that surrounded the
men and used the starry sky as its ceiling.
had ornate couches placed in the hall along will servants
with wine and food trays.
Beautiful women played flute
As in all Symposia, the plan for the men was to sit or
lie on the couches and drink red wine over discussion.
The mood of the evening began celebratory, and
Socrates found himself elated from the encomium.
respected for his sharp and logical methods, most men
detested his relentless commitment to unearthing the truth.
Proving the false to be in fact false made him an unpopular
person to the same men who now encircled him with raised
“…And that, my companions, is the meaning of justice as
best I have allowed myself to comprehend,” Socrates
remarked in a manner more certain than was his norm.
men all appeared in accord with his statements, and pleased
with the evening’s progression.
The Stranger from the East, brought by the great
playwright Aristophanes, was silent and motionless during
the last two hours of back and forth dialogue.
Aristophanes had invited the Stranger due to his ability to
seemingly hypnotize a wild snake into submission at the
The Stranger finally began to speak, and directed a
remark towards Socrates.
“You have said many words.
with a style of both silk and rock.
But the substance of
them is a wind that barely moves the air beneath.”
“That sounds like something Socrates would say to me!”
Aristophanes shrieked as he laughed and wine from his glass
splashed red on the marble floor.
“My neighbor from afar, do you possess knowledge of
greater worth than the meaning of Justice?” asked Socrates.
“No,” said the Stranger.
His one word response brought attention to how
different he was amongst the men of Athens.
hair anywhere on his head.
He had not a
His skin was tan, as was theirs
from the summer, but of a different hue altogether.
wore a long wool robe that covered both shoulders and
swayed down the length of his entire body.
meek and potent simultaneously, and emanated a force that
caused the group to abstain from speaking when he appeared
After the long pause, Socrates huffed slightly and
then formed the question, “Then what do you know?”
“I know nothing,” he replied.
This made Socrates cheerful again.
share something very singular and real.
proclaimed my lack of wisdom.
“Well then, we
I have also
From this discovery, in a
matter of utter surprise, the Oracle of Delphi reputed me
as the most wise man of Athens.
knows nothing is wisdom.
The realization that one
You and I are the same.”
“The same, we are not.
Awareness is further from you
than I am from home.”
“Well, Stranger far from home” said Socrates “I enjoy
your skepticism, but must ask that you expound on what you
You claim to take away my vision, but you have not
shown how you yourself see anything.
What knowledge do you
have to share with us?”
“I do not think in your terms.
You claim to examine
the nature of things, but your claims are desolate.
mind is closed,” said the Stranger.
Aristophanes interjected “The Stranger who was so
quiet is now so intriguing.
Stranger, if you and Socrates
are so different, then show us how something Socrates
claims to be true is in fact false.
Surely, you will be
the first of us ever to do so!”
With calmness and a slow motion of his hands coming
together so the tips of his fingers touched, the Stranger
asked Socrates “tell me, with all your being, what is the
meaning of existence?”
Socrates replied with minimal verve,
is the ultimate question, and held most closely to me of
all the questions I have asked and attempted to answer.
appears to me insensible to revisit it with someone such as
I only say this because you are likely not to
follow the meaning, and the topic is sure to bore the fine
patrons here in attendance.”
Aristophanes and several others urged the conversation
Everyone, except for Socrates and the Stranger,
was drinking heavily and entertained quite satisfactorily
from the odd statements and peculiar disposition of the
Plus, they enjoyed the way the Stranger seemed
to carefully position Socrates into a vice that was about
to close on him.
“Very well, Stranger,” said Socrates.
“The meaning of
all existence lays in one’s possession of virtue and a life
spent in search of the good.
This brings glory to one’s
life and pleases the gods.”
The Stranger replied, “You appear to focus on the
singularity of the individual in this quest.
for his own sake, and to please the gods.
“Yes, it is true,” said Socrates.
Is that true?”
“It is in your importance of individuality that our
views split in opposite directions.
From where do you
derive your virtue?” said the Stranger.
“As a philosopher, knowledge of the nature of things
as they truly are leads me towards decisions that are
virtuous,” said Socrates, slightly rattled from the
bombardment of questions.
“And how do you learn and obtain knowledge of the
nature of things?” said the Stranger, visibly deepening his
Aristophanes was lying down, but straightened himself
upright and leaned forward as the discussion between
Socrates and the Stranger ripened.
“As I have told my dearest friend Plato, we do not
learn, but that what we call learning is recollection.”
The Stranger responded, “In this, the view that there
is a recollection, an innateness in all we learn, we are
We are close to discovering how aware you truly
In all of your recent days, you spend every waking
moment in utter contemplation to achieve this recollection,
is this true?” said the Stranger, in a reflective and
almost disappointed tone, which Socrates sensed.
“Yes, my mind moves fast like the ocean’s waves so it
can crash quickly on the shores of knowledge and bring back
truth,” said Socrates, speaking quickly and with no
Your mind ceases to pause, and prefers to crash
loudly to gain possession of knowledge.
You view knowledge
as a thing in the same manner a beggar views a gold coin.
You can never get enough and your desire grows the more you
But let me ask you, are happiness and goodness
related?” said the Stranger, with focus and ease in his
The flute players were playing ever so softly now, and
even tilted to hear the conversation between Socrates and
the Stranger for their own ears.
The men of the Symposium
were not gorging themselves with food, nor holding separate
intimate conversations, as was the usual; they were keenly
focused on the discussion at hand.
Aristophanes and the
other men, mostly high officials from the assembly of the
Republic of Athens, had reverted back to their disdain for
To see Socrates without the complete command of
discourse finally gave them the satisfaction of being able
to say he had been wrong, or at least ineloquent, if only
this one time.
The men did not like the Stranger or in
fact care for the words he spoke, but derived their
pleasure from Socrates being torn down by a distorted
mirror image of himself.
Socrates responded with hesitation “Yes, happiness and
goodness are very close to one another.”
“Is your greatest happiness from the knowledge you
feel you have obtained over the years?
The same knowledge
that leads you to virtue, the good life, and bringing glory
to the gods?”
Socrates was now feeling caged in much the same way he
imagined he made others feel when he questioned their
assertions about virtue, justice, and love.
“Yes,” replied Socrates.
“Close your eyes, and let us dive to find the truth.
Socrates, forget all of your desire for knowledge and let
your mind be still a moment…
Now, search deeply but
Search deeply; when in your entire life
were you most happy?
What is the first manifestation that
flows through you?”
Socrates’ eyes were closed and the memory came to him.
“It was when I was a stonemason, years and years ago.
was just a boy then.
It was even before I entered the
“What was it about being a stonemason that brought you
happiness?” said the Stranger.
Socrates’ eyes were still shut as he spoke, “As a
stonemason, sometimes I could work giant slabs of marble
for hours and be driven by a pure love of the moment for
what I was doing.
I desired nothing more.
In my hand I
held a mallet or chisel, and I would form the rock
effortlessly, and for no other reason than the act itself.
When I was done for the day, I could admire the artifacts
or structures I had created, but it was in the moment of
making them that brought me happiness.”
The Stranger was looking down, and raised his head to
reflect on what Socrates’ had found inside himself.
was at this point in your life you were closest to being
who you really are.
Cutting the stone, you experienced a
oneness with all life, with all the gods, that you have
All the knowledge you have since desired, it
has only accumulated to slam a wall between you and real
In the very beginning their conversation, Socrates
felt like he held a bow with a sharpened arrow aimed
directly towards the Stranger.
Now, somehow, the bow took
the tension of the flexed wood and instead plunged the
arrow through Socrates’ own mind, and heart.
Aristophanes preyed on Socrates’ disenchantment.
that you old bAAAstard!
You should have drunk my wine
while you had the chance. Seeing you sit there, confused by
this Stranger from afar, you are laughable at best.
fact, my next play will be a comedy about you!
I will call
it The Clouds, in reference to the hot air you speak that
the Stranger so flatteringly pointed out early in the
The Stranger did not turn his head to view or listen
Instead, he remained focused on Socrates,
awaiting his next words.
Socrates sat motionless, gloom surrounding him.
looked with glassy eyes at the empty palms of his languid
He felt the eyes of the men upon him, and imagined
in his mind what they saw of him.
He saw of himself a
hopeless, froggy looking, cock eyed vagabond with a
demolished past and no way forward.
He stood up, and walked about ten feet to reach a view
of the Agora marketplace in the valley below.
lost after realizing that as a stone mason, ages ago, he
was closer to truth than his was on this day.
“Who is he…
from where in the east…” Socrates muttered to himself as he
surveyed his surroundings.
The market was hushed; a black
and grey version of the colorful cascade it once was.
Smoke billowed from an unknown source in the market; “a
sign of hope?”
Socrates thought to himself.
“What will you do now, oh wise Socrates!”
Aristophanes yelled from behind as the others joined in to
heckle the wisest man in Greece.
The Stranger remained
silent and focused.
“I have forgotten how to breathe.
I have forgotten my
How to remember…”
The Stranger stood up and walked over to stand by
Socrates and said, with a voice as calm as dawn, “You are
empty now; there is nothing healthier than this.
end of suffering.
It is the
I myself was once a prince; I unlearned
that existence as you must unlearn yours.”
Socrates found serenity in the meaning of the
His life was devoted to learning, but it was a
rapacious devotion, and appeared hallow after examination.
Now, he would be devoted to unlearning what he knew in the
Socrates began to grip his hands
together as if packing and re-molding something.
He turned, put his eyes across all the men who had
fouled him, and said, “All the gods, neither Zeus nor
Athena, could send down the gift that this Stranger has
A calling of no sound…”
A squat member of the assembly plopped off one of the
couches, brought his wine glass full way above his head,
and smashed it with all his power.
Aristophanes rose, appearing more like a general than
a playwright, and put his fists at his sides in a stance of
With a cantankerous grin he called out:
“Soldiers, bring these two lunatics to the holding chambers
of the tribunal.
Socrates has renounced the gods, and will
die for it.”
Two soldiers wearing heavy bronze masks entered from
the shadows with massive pikes clenched by giant hands.
“Any last babblings before you are dragged away like
bags of wheat?”
The Stranger from the East was as still as ever,
almost disappearing into himself.
“You look like you’re going somewhere…” Socrates
commented to the Stranger.
,” said the Stranger from the East.
the word in a foreign tongue Socrates could not place.
Socrates faced the guards. He leaned his face right up
to their pikes.
He told them both slyly, “Don’t ever
become a philosopher. You two look like you’ll do a fine
job of avoiding that livelihood, but don’t be two puppets
for Aristophanes all your life either.”
With rejuvenated composure, he announced to everyone
in a loud and commanding tone: “I no longer identify my
existence with knowledge.
I have reached a new dimension
I have wisdom, oneness.
I have no