This site was last updated on: 04 April 2011
Purpose of This Website
There are numerous sites on the Internet which discuss Raphael's great fresco known in English as "The School of Athens." Why publish another site and add to the clutter? My reason is simple, most of these other sites contain what I consider to be erroneous information concerning the identities of many of the philosophers depicted in the painting. The fresco was the subject of serious scholarly analyses in the 18th and early 19th centuries and a reasonable set of identities was developed. However, by the 1850s, scholarly opinions began to change. In the 21st century, opinions, as reflected in many of the most popular Internet sites, are significantly different from those of the early 19th century. After careful consideration of the findings from both eras, I find that the product of the older scholarship is more reasonable. The purpose of this site is to point out some of these differences and explain why I regard several of our modern-day identifications to be in error.
In particular, there are three very common, modern identifications, regarding important people, which I believe are completely erroneous. These three identifications are:
1) The figure of Michelangelo, in the lower left center of the fresco, is erroneously identified as the philosopher Heraclitus.
2) The figure writing in a book while sitting in front of a slate board, in the lower left quadrant of the fresco, is erroneously identified as the philosopher Pythagoras.
3) The figure in the white Toga, in the lower left center of the fresco, is erroneously identified as the philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria.
The "Parnassus" and "The School of Athens" Frescos in the Stanza Della Segnatura
The Stanza Della Segnatura is a
rather small room, measuring only about 27 by 21 feet, located in the Papal
Palace in the Vatican. The name "Stanza Della Segnatura" means "Signature Room"
in Italian and was used as a meeting room for the Tribunal of the Curia for much
of its history. However, in 1508, it was intended that the room should become
the Pope's personal library. Accordingly, Pope Julius II decided that the room
should be decorated to honor past officers and followers of the Church. To
perform this work, he commissioned Sanzio Raphael (1483-1520), who was then
working in Florence, to come to Rome and take on the task of covering the walls
and ceiling with frescoes.
Today, Raphael is considered by most art historians to be the greatest painter of the Renaissance and perhaps the greatest painter of all time. His frescos for the Stanza Della Segnatura are generally considered to be among his finest works. In my opinion, the frescos entitled "Parnassus" and the "School of Athens" are the finest works that he ever created. These two frescos may be interpreted at both the exoteric and esoteric levels. However, at this website, only the "School of Athens" will be considered; my discussion will be limited to the probable identifications of the individual philosophers depicted in the fresco.
"The School of Athens" (1509) by Sanzio Raphael (1483-1520)
Although "The School of Athens" is probably the greatest and most famous group painting ever undertaken in the Western World, I do not know of any written descriptions of it that were made during Raphael's lifetime. There are a total of 58 figures (including important contemporaries, youths, cherubs and messengers) depicted in Raphael's magnificent fresco; unfortunately, no contemporary listing as to the identity of these people has come down to us. For the purposes of this discussion, I have divided these 58 people into six groups that are defined below.
The noted art historian, Heinrich Wölfflin (1864-1945), has stated that the traditional title "School of Athens" is not Raphael's. The subject of the fresco is actually "Philosophy" or "Ancient Greek Philosophy" and the tondo on the ceiling above the painting tells us the kind: Causarum Cognitio (knowing the causes). Many of the Philosophers depicted lived before Plato and Aristotle, and only a minority were Athenians. The architectural setting is more Roman than Greek. Although most people (including me) are obsessed with making identifications of each philosopher depicted, Wölfflin makes the following cautionary observation:
It is quite wrong to attempt interpretations of the School of Athens as an esoteric treatise ... The all-important thing was the artistic motive which expressed a physical or spiritual state, and the name of the person was a matter of indifference in Raphael's time. What is evident is Raphael's artistry in orchestrating a beautiful space, continuous with that of viewers in the Stanza, in which a great variety of human figures, each one expressing "mental states by physical actions," interact, and are grouped in a "polyphony" unlike anything in earlier art, in the ongoing dialogue of Philosophy.
When making determinations of the identities of the philosophers depicted by Raphael in "The School of Athens," it is important to know as much as possible about the sources he used in making the decisions as to which philosophers to include. Raphael himself, although clearly a genius of the highest order, had never studied at a university nor had he been tutored by any of the philosophers of the time. How did he obtain the knowledge concerning ancient philosophy that enabled him to create his magnificent fresco?
Johann David Passavant, in his book entitled Raphael of Urbino and his father Giovanni Santi (at page 89), tell us:
It is now pretty generally believed that Raphael in the principal composition of the upper part, on the platform with the four steps, has assembled the masters of ancient philosophy, and in the lower part, in front, the masters of arithmetic, geometry and astronomy, those sciences having been recommended in Plato's " Republic," as preparatory to philosophy.
But, after a very careful examination, and considering that for the choice and arrangement of his subject, Raphael must have made use of some of the ten books—at that time very well known—of Diogenes Laertius, on the celebrated philosophers. We believe that he intended to express, as we have said, the development of Greek philosophy. For we may see, by commencing at the left of the foreground, the most ancient of the philosophic schools, grouped around Pythagoras. Socrates, his pupils and adversaries, are in some sort the band of union with Plato and Aristotle, surrounded by their pupils, and occupying the centre of the picture, as supreme representatives of Greek philosophy in its double tendency.
The importance of Laertius as a source of knowledge re classical philosophy during the Renaissance is without question. Indeed his importance is as great today as in the 16th century. The Philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), who was trained as a classical philologist, has stated:
I concur with Passavant to the extent that Raphael undoubtedly made extensive use of Diogenes Laertius work entitled Lives of the Eminent Philosophers when deciding which philosophers to include, and in which group to place them in the fresco. Laertius' work is divided into ten volumes and presents biographical sketches of 82 men grouped as follows:
Anacharsis, the Scythian,
Almost every philosopher depicted in the "School of Athens" is also included in the Laertius history. The only exceptions are members of the Bramante Group (see below), who represent mathematicians and astronomers, and two people in the natural sciences group (the Roman Lucretius and the Arab Geber).
The earliest known
written description of the work was provided many years after Raphael's death by
Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574). Unfortunately, this great historian of Renaissance
art provides few comments regarding the aesthetic aspects of the painting;
however, he does make some remarks as to the intended identity of several of the
many philosophers and mathematicians depicted in "The School of Athens." All of
Vasari's comments concerning this fresco, from his monumental work The Lives
of the Most Excellent Painter, Sculptors and Architects, are as follows:
After his arrival, therefore, having been received very warmly by Pope Julius, Raffaello began in Camera della Segnatura a scene of the theologians reconciling Philosophy and Astrology with Theology: wherein are portraits of all the sages in the world, disputing in various ways. Standing apart are some astrologers, who have made various kinds of figures and characters of geomancy and astrology on some little tablets, which they send to the Evangelists by certain very beautiful angels; and these Evangelists are expounding them. Among them is Diogenes with his cup, lying on the steps, and lost in thought, a figure very well conceived, which, for its beauty and the characteristic negligence of its dress, is worthy to be extolled. There, also, are Aristotle and Plato, one with the Timaeus in his hand, the other with the Ethics; and round them, in a circle, is a great school of philosophers. Nor is it possible to express the beauty of those astrologers and geometricians who are drawing a vast number of figures and characters with compasses on tablets: among whom, in the figure of a young man, shapely and handsome, who is throwing out his arms in admiration, and inclining his head, is the portrait of Federico II, Duke of Mantua, who was then in Rome. There is also a figure that is stooping to the ground, holding in its hand a pair of compasses, with which it is making a circle on a tablet: this is said to be the architect Bramante, and it is no less the man himself than if he were alive, so well is it drawn. Beside a figure with its back turned and holding a globe of the heavens in its hand, is the portrait of Zoroaster; and next to him is Raffaello, the master of the work, who made his own portrait by means of a mirror, in a youthful head with an air of great modesty, filled with a pleasing and excellent grace, and wearing a black cap.
Nor is one able to describe the beauty and goodness that are to be seen in the heads and figures of the Evangelists, to whose countenances he gave an air of attention and intentness very true to life, and particularly in those who are writing. Thus, behind Saint Matthew, who is copying the characters from the tablet wherein are the figures (which is held before him by an angel), and writing them down in a book, he painted an old man who, having placed a piece of paper on his knee, is copying all that Saint Matthew writes down; and while intent on his work in that uncomfortable position, he seems to twist his head and his jaws in time with the motion of the pen. And in addition to the details of the conceptions, which are numerous enough, there is the composition of the whole scene, which is truly arranged with so much order and proportion, that he may be said to have given therein such a proof of his powers as made men understand that he was resolved to hold the sovereignty, without question, among all who handled the brush.
Compared to more recent interpretations of the painting, some of Vasari's views may appear to be a bit bizarre. In modern times, almost no one, except the Anthroposophists such as Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) and Giorgio I. Spadaro (born 1925), believe that any Apostles appear in the picture. Also, Vasari specifically identifies only four of the philosophers, i.e., Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes and Zoroaster. In addition, Vasari identifies the likenesses of three people contemporary to Raphael's own time: Federico II, Duke of Mantua (1500-1540), the architect Donato Bramante (1444-1514), and Raphael himself (1483-1520; unfortunately, the philosophers that these three people were supposed to represent are not identified. The figure, whom Vasari identifies as Saint Mathew, is the person most people today believe is the philosopher Pythagoras! (I strongly disagree with both of these identifications - see below.) In all, we have specific information from Vasari for only 8 of the 58 figures depicted in the fresco.
By the 19th century, due to some thorough research by several European scholars, educated guesses could be made about many of the people depicted in "The School of Athens." In my opinion, one of the best 19th century descriptions of the people depicted in the painting appeared in an authoritative series of English guidebooks by the English author and playwright, Mariana Starke (1762-1838). Although any identifications, other than the seven personages mentioned by Vasari, must necessarily be highly speculative in nature, I find her identifications to be quite reasonable, and certainly more reasonable than many of those which have been published on the Internet. I should also point out that the designations made by Miss Starke were not necessarily just her own opinions. She was a well read classicist and was fully aware of the many scholarly studies of Raphael's fresco that had been published up until her own time. Her guidebooks reflected full use of such scholarly works.
I have also researched the writings of five other well-known 19th and 20th century scholars, each of whom performed a study of Raphael's great painting:
Since their works (except for Spadaro), as well as Miss Starke's, are now in the public domain, I have appended their complete assessments to this website. Their writings may be accessed by clicking on the following links:
My general discussion of Raphael's painting is given below. For convenience, I have divided the philosophers depicted into six groups. For each group, the discussion begins with a photograph depicting that group in the Raphael fresco, followed by a pertinent quotation from one of Miss Starke's guidebooks. She prefaced her descriptions with the following words:
"The School of Athens” (Scuola d' Atene) represent Philosophy in general, and is, with regard to expression and scholastic knowledge, a wonderful work; for every philosopher, by his posture and gestures, characterizes his doctrines and opinions."
As I mentioned above, the 58 figures depicted in Raphael's painting have been, for convenience, divided into six groups. It should be noted that not every figure depicted in these groups is a philosopher; several figures are those of messengers, attendants, servants, cherubs, etc. Also some of the famous contemporaries included in the painting may not actually represent a particular philosopher; they are depicted because they were friends of Raphael or, are present because Raphael was told to include them. I frequently read in modern books or at other Internet sites, that there are no women (except for the "disguised Hypatia!) depicted in Raphael's fresco. This is wrong! There are at least two and possibly three women depicted in the fresco, i.e., two philosophers in the Plato Group: Axiothaea (number 7) and Lasthenia (number 3); and a person who is probably a woman (number 5) in the Natural Philosophers Group (Physicists).
The six groups are defined in the following table:
Beginning with the Ionian School, on the right, before the Statue of Minerva, the Aged Person whose head is covered with linen, after the Egyptian manner, is Thales; whom Raphael has represented as walking with a Stick, because, with that, he measured the Pyramids. Next to Thales is Archelaus of Messenia, pictured as being in motion; because he, like Thales, was a great Traveler. Behind these Philosophers is Anaxagoras, almost hidden, in reference to the persecutions he underwent. The next figure, standing alone, at a little distance from this group, to show that he is of another School, represents Pythagoras, who seems resolved to continue fixed to one spot, to show the unchangeableness of his ideas. The concealment of his hands in his mantle refers to the secrecy he enjoined; and perhaps his being bare-footed may allude to his having worn the costume of an Egyptian priest; his head and body being turned different ways, shows his metaphorical method of teaching important truths; and the crown, formed by his hair, refers to his initiation in all mysteries. The Figure leaning on a Column is Parmenides; close to whom sits his adopted Son, Zeno, who is represented as a Youth; the acuteness of his countenance alludes to his subtlety. Parmenides appears to be watching Zeno; who (from the position in which he sits) is writing something short; referring to a Poem, by Parmenides, which compared, in two hundred lines, all the various Systems of Philosophy. Two masters only of the Eleatic School are introduced ; because its followers were few in number.
Six philosophers belong to this group. The following table compares the identifications cited by Starke, Passavant, Spadaro and by the more popular Internet sites devoted to Raphael's great fresco.
The philosophers of this group are perhaps the most difficult to identify. As the table indicates, I agree with only two guidebook designations. In my opinion, these philosophers are all associated with the Ionian School. I believe that the two men depicted in close association with Thales can be none other than his pupil and successor Anaximander (ca. 610-546 B.C.) and Anaximander's pupil, Anaximenes (ca. 585-528 B.C.). Almost all philosophical histories tend to discuss these three men together and all were born in the same city - Miletus.
The figure standing to the left of Thales has been identified as the Neoplatonic philosopher, Plotinus (204-270 A.D.), by many of the major Internet sites. In this case, I agree with Miss Starke, that this man probably depicts Pythagoras of Samos (ca. 569-475 B.C.) not Plotinus. If the man were Plotinus, he would be totally out of place in this group which seems to be composed of only Pre-Socratics. Also, Plotinus was a devotee of Plato and as such should/would have been included in the Plato Group. The Pythagorean School was a secret society, all teachings were presented orally, secret teachings were not permitted to be written. Indeed, it was absolutely forbidden to disclose any of the secret teachings of Pythagoras outside the group of initiates. Pythagoras had spent many years studying in the Temple Schools of Egypt and had been initiated into most of the secret societies of that land. When he founded his own school in Italy, he maintained the secrecy laws of the Egyptian schools. The fact that his hands are depicted as being held close to his vest, with one hand under his cloak and the other hand making a downward pointing gesture, reinforces his aura of secrecy.
In my opinion, the two philosophers who are depicted to the left of Pythagoras are most probably two other philosophers of the Ionian School, i.e., Anaxagoras of Clazomenae and Archelaus of Athens. Anaxagoras was born in Clazomenae, in Asia Minor but removed to Athens at an early date, where he spent most of his life. His pupil was Archelaus, who was a native of Athens. Philosophically, both Anaxagoras and Archelaus were concerned with discovering the nature of matter and were intellectually kindred to the Milesian philosophers. Anaxagoras developed a theory that the constituents of things were minute entities which behaved in accordance with mechanical processes. His theory helped pave the way for the atomic theory of Leucippus and Democritus.
Seated on the second step, near the centre of the picture, is Diogenes, reading, with a cup by his side; ... Two masters only of the Eleatic School are introduced ; because its followers were few in number. The metaphysics of Parmenides and Zeno gave rise to the Skeptical Philosophy of Pyrrho, expressed by the next figure, who appears doubtful which way to go; and whose countenance and position denote the conflicts which spring from Skepticism; he is stopping, by his vehemence, another person from ascending the steps on which he stands. ... On the side of Aristotle, the tallest and most conspicuous Figure is Theophrastus; to whose care we are indebted for the Works of the Philosopher of Stagira. Theophrastus died in the hundred and seventh year of his age, complaining that nature granted longevity to crows and stags, but denied it to man. This is said to be the portrait of Cardinal Bembo. The next Figure of this group is Strato of Lampsacus, successor to Theophrastus; the next Demetrius Phalereus, who had three hundred and sixty bronze statues raised in his honor; the next Callisthenes; the next Neophron; the next (with a beard) Glycon, whose countenance indicates sweetness of disposition, and whose back is turned on Heraclides, the last figure of this Group. The two Figures behind the disciples of Aristotle, are Euclid of Megara and Eubulides of Miletus, his pupil: the last hated Aristotle, and is looking angrily at him. Near Euclid and Eubulides is Stilpo, their follower, whom Pyrrho prevents from ascending the steps to join them.
This group is comprised of thirteen philosophers, who are depicted as standing just to the right of or just below Aristotle. The following table compares the identifications cited by Starke, Passavant, Spadaro and by the more popular Internet sites devoted to Raphael's great fresco.
I agree with Miss Starke re Diogenes and the figure claimed to be Theophrastus of Lesbos (ca. 371-287 B.C.). She is probably correct with respect to Pyrrho and Stilpo. I can neither agree nor disagree with Miss Starke's other identifications - I don't have a clue! Most of the Internet sites do not identify these people either. My discussion of the alleged Theophrastus - Cardinal Bembo figure is presented here.
Seated on the second step, near the centre of the picture, is Diogenes, reading, with a cup by his side; and below him is a portrait of the great architect, Bramante (under the character of Archimedes), who is tracing an hexagonal figure on the pavement. The Young Man behind Bramante, in an attitude of admiration, is supposed to be the Portrait of Federico II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua; the other handsome and enthusiastic looking person, who points to the hexagon, is supposed to be Archytas of Tarenium: the boy, on his knees, is Phoenix of Alexandria; and behind him, with a hand on his back, is Ctesibius. The Person wearing a Crown and holding a Globe, is Alphonso, King of Aragon, Sicily, and Naples, under the character of Zoroaster: the Person with a black turban on his head, and likewise holding a Globe, may probably represent Confucius: and the two persons with whom Alphonso seems conversing, are portraits of Raphael and Pietro Perugino.
This group is comprised of nine people, who are depicted as the group gathered around the stooping image of Bramante. None of the men, who are probably represented in the group in which Bramante is portrayed, are philosophers. The group is intended to represent only mathematicians and cosmologists, not philosophers. None of these men are discussed in the works of Diogenes Laertius. The following table compares the identifications cited by Starke, Passavant, Spadaro and by the more popular Internet sites devoted to Raphael's great fresco.
Figure 4: This figure is discussed as a special topic here.
Figure 5: This figure is discussed as a special topic here.
Figure 6: Vasari stated that this figure represented the Persian prophet, Zoroaster (Zarathustra). He gave no reason. Most later scholars have just repeated his assertion. I personally doubt that Zarathustra is the man intended. The man holds a starry globe indicating that he is a cosmologist or an astrologer. There are certainly other possibilities. My best guess is that the man is really intended to be an older colleague of Ptolemy (man number 7), i.e., Hipparchus of Alexandria (ca. 190-120 B.C.). Hipparchus was a well known Greek astrologer and expert on trigonometry. He is perhaps most famous for being the first person known to have written about the precession of the equinoxes. His two books on precession, On the Displacement of the Solsticial and Equinoctial Points and On the Length of the Year, are both mentioned in the Almagest of Claudius Ptolemy. Certainly Hipparchus is a better fit into this group than Zarathustra.
Figure 7: Most modern art historians identify this man as Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria (90-168 A.D.). For once, I agree with them! The man holds a terrestrial globe thus indicating that he is a geographer and also an astronomer/astrologer. He probably wears a crown because Raphael confused this Ptolemy with his royal namesakes, the Ptolemaic Pharaohs of Egypt, who ruled from 305-30 B.C. This Ptolemy was extremely famous during the Middle Ages for his intricately designed, Earth-centered model of the Cosmos. His book, the Almagest, is the only surviving, comprehensive ancient treatise on astronomy.
Figures 8 and 9: Essentially everyone agrees that man number 8 is Raphael himself. The controversial point is the identity of the man over to whom Raphael looks, as if asking for his approval. Is he Perugino or Sodoma? In my opinion, he is most certainly Pietro Perugino (1446-1524), Raphael's old master. I discuss this item as a special topic here.
Plato and Aristotle are placed together in the centre of the Picture : Plato holds the Timaeus: his sublime style is expressed by his altitude, denoting, that his thoughts soar above this earth; and the cord attached to his neck marks his initiation at the Eleusinian Mysteries. The figure is copied from his portrait done by Neanthes; and displays the uncommon size of his shoulders; from which circumstance he acquired the name of Plato. The figure in shade, nearest to Plato, is Axiothaea, a female disciple. The next figure, in the same line, indicates roughness of character, and represents Xenocrates, whom Plato advised to sacrifice to the Graces; the next is Glaucon; and the next Speusippus, who erected statues to the Graces, and is represented as a graceful person himself. The next figure is Lasthenia, a female disciple, to whom Speusippus was attached; shown by his putting his arm round her neck. Behind Lasthenia and Socrates is Zeno of Citium, the founder of the sect called Stoics: he seems wrapped in severe self contemplation ; and this figure exhibits the portrait of Flaminius of Ravenna, Raphael's Landlord, of Stoic probity. Behind is Antisthenes, in shade, because his School is expressed by that of Zeno.
This group is comprised of eight philosophers, who are depicted as standing just to the left of Plato. The following table compares the identifications cited by Starke, Passavant, Spadaro and by the more popular Internet sites devoted to Raphael's great fresco.
I fully agree with Miss Starke regarding her designations for this group - particularly with respect to her identifications of Speusippus, Lasthenia and Axiothaea.
At the opposite side of the picture, talking with his fingers to a figure in Armor, supposed to represent Alcibiades, is Socrates, known by his face (which resembles that given to Silenus); he, like Thales, appears to be walking; because geometry was never taught in a fixed place. Near him is a person partly hiding himself, supposed to represent Critias; as the air and features express cruelty and revenge, well suited to his character. Another figure in this Group is Phaedon, known by his fine countenance; and a little behind stands Xenophon, who appears to be calling to his son, Grillus, a youthful Figure with his hand on his head.
This group is comprised of nine people, who are depicted as standing to the left of Socrates. The following table compares the identifications cited by Starke, Passavant, Spadaro and by the more popular Internet sites devoted to Raphael's great fresco.
In most cases, I agree with Miss Starke's designations. However, I regard the man in armor speaking to Socrates to be Xenophon, the mercenary general who led the famous retreat of the ten thousand across the Persian Empire and lived to write a book about it. The dissolute young man, leaning against the wall, is almost certainly intended to be the heavy drinking, self indulgent Alcibiades, depicted as he was during his youth.
Thirteen figures are included in this group. The following table compares the identifications cited by Starke, Passavant, Spadaro and by the more popular Internet sites devoted to Raphael's great fresco.
Figures 1, 2 and 3: I believe these men to be Heraclitus, Democritus and his alleged teacher, Leucippus. Heraclitus and Democritus were frequently depicted in Renaissance art as a pair, i.e., the weeping philosopher and the laughing philosopher - for a further discussion, see this special topic. Nothing is known of Leucippus except that his ideas were essentially the same as those of Democritus. Thus, some scholars are in some doubt as to whether Leucippus really exists at all!
Figure 5: I believe that figure number 5 is a woman, quite possibly Damo, the daughter of Pythagoras. It was to her that Pythagoras had entrusted his commentaries with the charge that they were not to be disclosed to anyone outside of the family. She is probably observing Philolaus committing the secret teachings of her father to a book; I am sure that she disapproves! She holds up two fingers - what does this mean? In my opinion she is making reference to the Pythagorean concept of assigning gender to the numbers. Pythagoreans identify the number one, the Monad, with the Male Principle and the number two, the Dyad, with the Female Principle. The male Monad is the principle of "unity and constancy." The idea associated with the female Dyad is more complex: she is the "other" - if there were only the Monad, there would be no "other" - the Dyad governs "separation." Damo is signaling to Philolaus that he should not forget the Dyad lest he become separated from the true teachings of Pythagoras.
Figure 6: Diogenes Laertius tell us that:
"Philolaus was a native of Crotona, and a pupil of Pythagoras, it was from him that Plato wrote to Dion to take care and purchase the books of Pythagoras. ... He wrote one book, which Hermippus reports, on the authority of some unknown writer, that Plato the philosopher purchased when he was in Sicily (having come thither to the court of Dionysius), of the relations of Philolaus, for forty Alexandrian minae of silver; and that from this book he copied his Timaeus. ... "
Laertius asserts that Plato based his great dialogue entitled Timaeus, upon the information obtained from the book written by Philolaus. In this dialogue, a Pythagorean initiate, Timaeus of Locri, is the main character, who relates the story of how the Cosmos was created and functions. Timaeus is, thus, a stand-in for Philolaus (Figure 8). I believe Raphael recognized this fact and intends figure 6, who looks over Philolaus' shoulder, to represent Timaeus of Locri!
Figure 7: This man is attired in an Arabic looking costume. Most scholars have concluded that the man is intended to represent the medieval Arab writer Averrhoes (1126-1198 A.D.). I disagree! Averrhoes was primarily an interpreter of Aristotle and his most famous writings are on that subject. He was not a Pythagorean nor was he a scholar who was primarily interested in the constituents of the material world. He would not have been placed in this group; he would have appeared in the group around Aristotle. If so, then who is this man? I believe him to be Abu Musa Jābir ibn Hayyān (721-815 A.D.) better known under the name of "Geber" in the Christian West. This Arab scholar was primarily an alchemist who was a student of the works of many of the Greek philosophers, including Pythagoras, Democritus, Plato and Zosimus. He is a good fit for this group as he was mainly concerned with the manipulation of substances in the material world. He is depicted as looking over toward the book held by Empedocles, who was principally known for his theory of the "Four Elements" - a theory of great interest to any alchemist.
Figure 8: Following the lead of both Vasari and his own master Rudolf Steiner, the Anthroposophist artist, Giorgio I. Spadaro, believes this group is composed of Christians, mostly Saints and Apostles! The key figure in the group is man number 8; Vasari and Spadaro believe him to be Saint Mathew! Passavant and many modern art historians naively consider the man to be Pythagoras. Miss Starke's guess is much better; she identifies him as an important student of Pythagoras, Empedocles (ca. 495-435 B.C.). I agree with Miss Starke to the extent that the man is a student of Pythagoras, not Pythagoras himself. Indeed, along with Starke, I believe that man number 3 in the group in the extreme upper right of the fresco is Pythagoras. In my opinion, man number 8 is an important member of the Pythagorean School at Croton, Philolaus of Croton (ca. 470-385 B.C.).
Man number 8 cannot be Pythagoras himself. As I stated in my discussion re the group in the extreme upper right: The Pythagorean School was a secret society, all teachings were presented orally, secret teachings were not permitted to be written. Indeed, it was absolutely forbidden to disclose any of the secret teachings of Pythagoras outside the group of initiates. Pythagoras had spent many years studying in the Temple Schools of Egypt and had been initiated into most of the secret societies of that land. When he founded his own school at Croton in Italy, he maintained the secrecy laws of the Egyptian schools. Unfortunately, after the death of Pythagoras, some of members of his school violated their oaths of secrecy and began to disclose and/or write down many of these secret teachings. Philolaus was perhaps the most blatant in this regard!
Man number 8 is shown writing in a book as he observes a slate board that is being held in front of him by an attendant. The contents of this slate board are discernable; they relate to the Pythagorean theory of acoustics and the theory of numbers. These are among the very topics for which the writings of Philolaus are most noted! My discussion of the contents of the slate board is presented below.
Figure 10: Many Internet sites assert that figure 10, bearing the likeness of the Duke of Urbino, was originally intended to represent the Neo-Platonic philosopher, Hypatia of Alexandria. I strongly disagree! I believe this person to be Epicurus. My reasons are discussed as a special topic here.
Figure 11: My best guess is that man number 11, standing with a book on his knee, represents the mystic philosopher Empedocles. He is clearly counter-poised with figure number 8, who is most probably Philolaus. Thus we have the two most prominent representatives of the two branches (the "hearers" and the "students") of the Pythagoreans set opposite one another. For further information, see my special topic here.
Figure 12: Man number 12 bears the likeness of Michelangelo. He does not portray a philosopher; he only portrays himself! I discuss this subject as a special topic here.
diagram shown above reveals the Pythagorean
information that the slate contains. At the top of the slate is written,
in Greek capital letters, the word "Epogdoon." An "epogdoon" is a
natural number which is 1/8 larger than a given number, for example, 18
is the Epogdoon of 16.
Each of these levels is produced from its higher level by a process called emanation. The three Hypostases are both ultimate ontological realities and explanatory principles. All Neoplatonists believe that these three Hypostases were recognized, not only by Plato, but by the entire subsequent Platonic tradition. Below the level of the World Soul is the phenomenal world as perceived by the human senses (= Nature = number "4"); unlike the three Hypostases, this material world is in a constant state of flux or change.
If Raphael had intended man number 8 to be Pythagoras, it is unthinkable that he would have shown him writing down some of his most secret teachings, i.e., a description of the "Holy Tektaktys" and his theory of Harmonic Ratios!
1) Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Two Volumes, Loeb Classical Library (Harvard University Press: 1925).
2) Iamblichus of Chalcis (ca. 250-325 A.D.), The Life of Pythagoras.
3) Friedrich Nietzsche, The Pre-Platonic Philosophers (University of Illinois Press: 2006).
4) Giorgio I. Spadaro, The Esoteric Meaning in Raphael's Paintings (Lindisfarne Books: 2006), pages 45-70.
5) Peter Kingsley, Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic - Empedocles and the Pythagorean Tradition (Oxford University Press: 2009).
6) Mariana Starke, Travels in Europe (Ninth Edition, Paris: 1836), pages 186-188.
7) Johann David Passavant, Raphael of Urbino and his father Giovanni Santi (London and New York: 1872), pages 89-98.
8) Eugène Müntz, Raphael: His Life, Works and Times (New York: 1888), pages 260-270.
9) Rudolf Steiner, The Heralding of Christianity, Lecture made in Berlin on 2 May 1912.
10) Heinrich Wölfflin, The art of the Italian Renaissance: a handbook for students and travelers (first published in 1903), pages 96-99.
11) G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven, and M. Schofield; The Presocratic Philosophers, Second Edition (Cambridge University Press: 1983).
I currently support twenty-four websites. Fifteen sites are related to philosophy and art and nine are related to genealogy and local history. Hyperlinks to these sites are shown below.
Philosophy and Art:
* Sites still under construction
Genealogy and Local History:
Copyright© 2010-2011 by Phil Norfleet
All Rights Reserved. Published in the United States of America. Essays provided at this web site, may be reproduced for nonprofit personal or educational use only. Any commercial use of these materials is a violation of United States copyright laws and is strictly prohibited.