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Athenian Political Art from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE: Images of Historical Individuals 

Amy C. Smith, edition of January 18 2003

page 12 of 14

· Socrates ·

(philosopher/teacher, 469-399)

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Diogenes Laertius (Diog. Laert.).
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Evidence: Only one statue of Socrates is mentioned in ancient literature. Diogenes Laertius (Diog. Laert. 2.43) explains that the Athenians immediately felt remorse for having condemned Socrates to death, so that they honored him with a bronze statue, created by Lysippos, that was placed in the Pompeion. But Lysippos’ career was much later than the death of Socrates so this work could not have been erected immediately after Socrates’ death, as Diogenes suggests; this statue might have dated more realistically to the middle of the fourth century. A plethora of copies, in the round, in paintings, and in other media, attest at least two definite types. Some, which are classed as “Type A,” are thought to copy a portrait set up soon after Socrates’ death by his friends, as suggested by Richter (Richter 1984, 199), perhaps for the Mouseion of Plato’s Academy at Athens. Others, which are classed as “Type B,” may copy the later, somewhat idealized portrait created later by Lysippos. Indeed the latter group (Type B), show stylistic characteristics attributed elsewhere to the style of Lysippos. They are securely identified as portraits of Socrates on the basis of an inscribed herm in Naples. Although no Type A copies are inscribed, they are identified as portraits of Socrates on the basis of physiognomic comparison with Type B portraits.

Two painted portraits of Socrates are noted by ancient writers: Lucian, in the Death of Peregrinus 38, mentions that several painters treated the subject of Socrates dying among his disciples; and Joannes Barboukallos mentions a painted portrait of Socrates in an epigram (Grk. Anth. 16, no. 327).

Read about the evidence
Plato (Plat. Sym.).
Cicero (Cic. de Fato).
Xenophon (Xen. Sym.).

Ancient sources, both written and visual, provide a consistent view of Socrates’ physical form. His appearance was often compared to that of a Silenos, with regard to his stocky, broad-shouldered body (Plat. Symp. 215a ff.; Xen. Symp. 5.7), thick neck (Cic. De Fato ch. 5), protruding belly (Xen. Symp. 2.19), baldness (Sidon. Apoll. Epist. 9.9.14; Lucian, Dialog. mortuorem 20, Menippi et Aeaci 417), prominent eyeballs (Xen. Symp. 5.7), broad nose with wide nostrils and large mouth with thick lips (Xen. Symp. 5.7).

Extant portraits:

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Other variants:

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  1. Naples 6128: Bronze relief of Socrates and Diotima, from Pompeii (perhaps a combination of types A and B).
  2. Mosaic from Apamea: mosaic with a bald, bearded figure, inscribed ΣΩΚΡΑΤΗΣ, among the seven sages (see Richter 1965, 118, fig. 569).
  3. Mosaic from Cologne (now in the Römisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne): mosaic with a figure inscribed ΣΩΚΡΑΤΗΣ (see Richter 1965, 118, fig. 572).

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