Krates spends his days under the Stoa of Attalos, in the shade of the broad porch. As the morning bustle gives way to the languid pace of the afternoon, he and a few others sit on the flagstones at the feet of their teacher Teles. There are more famous Stoic philosophers in Athens, but his indifference to the limelight is part of what attracted Krates to the old man. His simple life reflects the depth at which he lives his philosophy. Teles wears no soft clothes, only a simple tunic. His love of wisdom is advertised only by his flowing beard and the way his hair hangs down to brush his shoulders. Bearing these traditional marks of the philosopher, Krates’ teacher lives a quiet life as a citizen of Athens, preoccupied with his duty to bring those who will listen a little closer to the wise path.
Teles spends his nights on a thin mat in the Atrium of his small house, warmed only by his cloak (himation). Krates and Teles’ other disciples sleep nearby, imitating the lifestyle with which Teles trains his mind to attain indifference (apatheia) in the face of hardship. At dawn Teles rises and the small band of students follow his brisk steps down to the baths. They do not linger in the caldarium (hot pool) or the tepidarium (warm pool), but savour the shock of the cold water as they plunge into the frigidarium. Emerging from the water they forgo perfumes and ointments, preferring again to rub their limbs with simple olive oil before scraping it (and the dirt) away with the stigil.
The pale sun is shining into the agora as Teles and his pupils arrive. They sit in their usual place under the stoa and eat their morning meal, a little bread and wine. By the time they wipe away the last crumbs and drain their cups the open marked is already crowded. Women and slaves are buying food for the day’s meals, wealthy children are hurrying through to their tutors for lessons, and some of the men of the city (the citizens) are striding at a more regal pace, discussing in knots of two or three the accusations they will hear in court later in the day. Soon a small crowd has formed around Teles, some determined young faces, some merely curious, and some whose wry expression warns they might be hecklers.
One earnest voice from the swarm says “I want to be free from my passions!” So begin the discussions. Watching his teacher at work, Krates tries to set his face in the same expression of perfect calm and detachment. Teles is explaining once more the rudiments of the path to freedom.
“Reason,” he explains, “must master the passions like a charioteer taking a firm hand on the reigns. It will do no good simply to strain one’s will against the passions’ force. Desire bested even Achilles’ strength in the end. Only reason, the divine Logos, allows us to rise above the beasts and fulfill God’s intention for human life. When we realize that nothing outside of our own souls really belongs to us, when we realize that we cannot move the hands of the Fates, only then can our reason gain the upper hand and wrestle our cravings to the ground.”
After a morning of elementary teaching like this, Teles takes his circle of students on a slow walk to discuss the more technical questions of Stoic philosophy: physics, theology, and of course logic. Logic, the study of the logos, teaches its devotees the subtle structures of proper reasoning, of valid and invalid arguments, of premises and conclusions and syllogisms. Through the sure application of this logos Krates hopes to distinguish truth from falsehood, so that he can finally escape the superstitions and confusion that make human beings so miserable with their lot in life.
This afternoon their walking lesson leads the small circle up the Acropolis, the high hill at the heart of the city, and into the great sanctuary of Athena at its summit. The towering image within feeds the superstitions of the masses, of course, but the traditional rites help to maintain some semblance of rationality in the life of the mob. Teles and his disciples know full well that Athena is merely another face for Zeus, for Dis, for Theos, the divine Father of all. They pour out a libation of wine in honour of this one Deity, whose divine Logos gives rational form and structure to the cosmos. They acknowledge again their gratitude that the Deity saw fit to implant in humanity a seed of his own being, his own Reason, to guide them and lead them to the happiness of detachment.
From Athena’s high sanctuary it is a short walk to the rounded rock of the Areopagus, Mars Hill. As the sun begins to sink again in the sky, its heat easing once more, Krates follows Teles up the ancient steps carved in the stone of the hill itself. As they crest the rocky slope they find the usual gathering of philosophers. As they draw closer, though, Krates sees an unfamiliar face standing at the centre, setting out his teaching to the noblest minds of Athens. The man’s style is rather rough, but this appeals in its own way to Krates’ Stoic sensibilities, his suspicion of the orator’s slippery tongue. The man is expounding some sort of Jewish philosophy, it seems. The Jews certainly appear more philosophical than most of the other barbarian nations. So Krates settles himself on a rock to see what this newcomer might have to say about the divine path of Reason.