Zeno’s Adventure

Zeno is on his boat in the open sea, on his way back from Phenicia with his cargo of purple.

He is over 30 now, he has gained experience as a merchant, he knows the risks of the trade, most of all the navigation one. But experience is never enough when you have to deal with “Lady Fortune” and he will realize this very soon!

Suddenly the wind rises, the sky turns black, the sea rages, the ship’s mast breaks, the crew ends up in the sea.

Zeno clings with all his strength to what remains of the ship’s mast, invoking the help of the gods, everyone! “I must not let go! Hold on!”.

At a certain point he no longer feels the splashes or the strong wind on his face, he realizes that the boat was no longer floating whirlwind: “It’s over!”. He faints.

He wakes up on a beach surrounded by onlookers. He stands up disoriented. Some fishermen offer him water to drink and in a reassuring tone tell him: “You are in the port of Athens, Piraeus!” “But how long has it been? How many days? I need help!”.

After a few nights spent in the cold, Zeno finds refuge with a typographer, a taciturn, gruff but very cultured man. He helps him with the work in the shop and in exchange, the old man, assures him a bed and food but, more than anything else, access to a considerable number of Socrates‘ texts of which Zeno remains fascinated.

One day, immediately after lunch, he and the typographer sit down to work outside with the intention of taking advantage of the warm autumn sun. Zeno raises his eyes from the text and with a sigh says: “I think it would be nice to know men like Socrates?”, and asks the typographer: “where do you think I could find them?”.

At that precise moment, an elderly man passes right in front of them. The surprised typographer looks at Zeno and commands him: “Follow him!”.

Suddenly, incredulous Zeno finds himself at a crossroads: “but that’s crazy!”

The heart beats on the chest as if to want to come out, the legs no longer support him, and yet, without even realizing it, he was following that man, that sage, who soon discovered to be the famous Crathes of Thebes, the cynical philosopher. Thus Zeno of Citium, from a rich merchant as he was, abandoned his riches, becomes a disciple of Cratete, he chooses the difficult path towards Wisdom, towards Serenity. His life has completely changed: “So I had a good trip when I was shipwrecked!”

Zeno of Citium is considered the founder of Stoicism, he was much loved and respected by the Athenians who granted him honors despite his foreign origins. After his death, they built a bronze statue for him and he was buried in the “Ceramico” necropolis at public expense. The memory of him remained over the centuries.

The image you see at the top of the post consists of a marble inlay designed by Pinturicchio in the early sixteenth century. Its title is The Allegory of the Hill of Sapienza. You can find it in the Cathedral of Siena and, except for special events, you can always visit it. One of the most probable interpretations is that it tells of the journey of Zeno of Citium and his meeting with Crathes of Thebes.

In fact, it seems nobody is missing: we find Zeno, Cratete, the typographer, and even “Lady Fortune”. But are also depicted many other characters, symbols, messages, and stories.
This masterpiece tells us about a path of personal growth that connects to the history of the cathedral, to the history of Siena.