Socrates’s Prison is Empty

February 26

Socrates’s Prison is empty. Gouged into the rock of Philopappos Hill, the cell is garlanded in spring’s yellow lace, wild blooms full of bees. A symposium of seagulls quarrels in the updraft above the philosopher’s prison. Are they waiting for his release or for his poisoned remains?

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Marble-paved paths are knotted around the Hill of the Muses like fishermen’s nets. As I climb, three uncollared dogs, a loose Cerberus, bark me off the path. Where nymphs and muses glided through the violets and olive trees, I lope up the pathless slope to the tomb of Philopappos. From its foot, I can see the hill of the Acropolis and Mount Lycabettus rising like islands from the spume of Athens. The white foaming city laps against the steeps but the temples have the high ground. Serene against the opal sky, they listen to Athens’s bells chanting Sunday paeans.

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I follow Socrates’s shade to the Agora where he once scattered his wisdom. Like hemlock seeds, his words blew away on the wind, blossoming into innocent white nosegays with blood-flecked stalks. Above the ruined marketplace, with its theater and columned arcade, the Temple of Hephaestus looms on a ridge. What elegant irony that the temple of the lamed smith should survive unblemished, while sanctuaries of Zeus, Athena, and Poseidon were hammered into rubble. Hephaestus’s Temple is a puzzlebox of interlocking chambers and columned cloisters. This is what faith looks like—a marble labyrinth open to the rain. Smithcraft is soulcraft.

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