There are plenty of portraits the the Athenian philosopher Socrates. Yet do these accurately reflect what he could have looked like?


Socrates to be a Greek thinker whose work-related is thought about so crucial that all thinkers who lived before he walk are now lumped with each other as one group: the Pre-Socratics. Socrates was born in Athens approximately 470 BC and was famously sentenced to death in 399 BC on the pretext the corrupting Athens’ youths.

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Socrates never wrote something himself. Everything we know around him ultimately derives native the work-related of two important authors who belonged to his inside circle, specific Plato and also Xenophon. Other authors include important details, such as the comic playwright Aristophanes and Plato’s college student Aristotle. Every little thing we know around the guy – his “Socratic” method, the truth that his father was a sculptor, that his mam was referred to as Xanthippe – derives from these sources.

A portrait the the philosopher

The old Athenians also created portraits that this famed citizen of the city. You’ve more than likely seen among these before. Below is a portrait purporting to stand for Socrates from the National archaeological Museum the Naples.

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Is this an accurate portrait of the well known philosopher? A bust currently on display screen at the National historical Museum in Naples. Photo: Josho Brouwers.

Before the Hellenistic period (i.e. After Alexander’s death in 323 BC), ancient Greek sculptors did not strive to create realistic portraits. They often tended to create more idealized representations, such together the well known bust of Themistocles. Greek portraits more than likely did no reproduce the subject accurately. The Greeks to be not prefer the Romans, who excelled once it came to the production of realistic portraits of people.

In fact, this bust that Socrates appears to evoke the satyr Silenus much more than a mortal man. Silenus, follow to Greek mythology, was the ancestor of satyrs. Silenus was portrayed with the body of a man and the ears and also tail the a horse, like most satyrs. But unlike usual satyrs, that was additionally depicted together older, through a beard, a bald head, and also a snub nose; larger satyrs were likewise called sileni and modelled after him. Thus, this portrait doesn’t tell us much around Socrates himself. That may have actually looked type of like this, yet there’s no real means to tell.

Further clues of interest

Owen Rees reminds me that there is an exchange in Plato’s Symposium wherein Alcibiades to compare Socrates an initial to Silenus and also then to Marsyas, especially this passage:

And now, mine boys, i shall praise Socrates in a figure which will show up to the to be a caricature, and yet i speak, no to make funny of him, but only for the truth’s sake. I say, the he is exactly like the busts of Silenus, i m sorry are set up in the statuaries, shops, stop pipes and also flutes in your mouths; and also they are made to open in the middle, and also have pictures of gods within them. Ns say additionally that struggle is prefer Marsyas the satyr. You yourself will certainly not deny, Socrates, the your challenge is choose that of a satyr.

Furthermore, this frostbite is a roman inn copy the the an initial century AD. Like many other roman inn marble copies, it was based on a Greek original that dated to the an initial half of the 4th century. This Greek initial must have actually been made shortly after Socrates’ death or maybe as much as a generation later. This provides it much less likely the it is an accurate reflection the the male appearance.

In various other words, Socrates is an elusive figure. We understand of his philosophy and his life just through the writings of those who were connected with him. Likewise, we have actually this portrait that could not at every resemble what the male actually looked like, yet rather reflects renowned opinion that him: a satyr-like figure who has actually left one indelible mark on history.


Further reading

Suggestions for further reading are listed below:

J.J. Pollitt, Art and Experience in timeless Greece (1972).Robin Osborne, Archaic and Classical Greek art (1998).

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