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8. Picturing Socrates


Subject Classics » Classical Philosophy

People Socrates

Key-Topics arts and architecture, biography

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405108638.2005.00011.x


Because, in the disputations of Socrates, where he raises all manner of questions, makes assertions, and then demolishes them, it did not evidently appear what he held to be the chief good, every one took from these disputations what pleased him best. —St. Augustine, City of God 8.3 Although Socrates is principally associated with the spoken word, he was born to the visual arts. His father, Sophroniskos, was a stone-worker ( lithourgos, marmorarius ), and he himself is reported to have worked as a sculptor early in life. Ancient literary sources report that he carved a group of the Charites (Graces) that stood at the entrance to the Athenian akropolis as well as an image of Hermes Propylaios. Attribution of actual surviving artworks to Socrates - just like words - remains highly problematic, of course, but multiple marble versions of both compositions are preserved. Their popularity in antiquity is likely the result of (mis)attribution to the philosopher, for Socrates was not a rare name; and homonymous craftsmen, among numerous others, are mentioned in ancient texts. If we cannot confidently identify any images by Socrates, we can readily recognize images of him, for descriptions of his physique and physiognomy by both his contemporaries and later writers emphasize his distinctiveness. Ancient authors agree that he did not possess the ideal beauty we tend to associate ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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