The School of Athens


Raphaels Frensco

This masterpiece stands as one of the central pieces of the renaissance era. Painted during the period of 1509 – 1511, Raphael has portrayed the entire Athenian philosophical wisdom in this fresco. The artwork oozes and radiates with classical art and knowledge, the faces ranging from Democritus to Aristotle, the colours symbolizing the Athenian philosophy of five elements theory – that all earthly things are composed of fire, earth, air, water, and aether. Today, this piece resides on the warm walls of the Apostolic Palace, in the Vatican City

. The Actual School:
Bound with the universal fabric of reality, philosophy, science and art, Raphael’s Fresco portrays nearly every great Greek philosopher that was born. The list of all these storming figures can be found at this wiki link – However, our discussion will only be limited to that of Aristotle and Plato.
Elder Plato is portrayed to be walking with Aristotle.

It is curious to note their body movements, Plato is pointing up towards the sky, symbolising his theory of Idealism, while Aristotle is turning his Palm down to the ground portraying Realism.

Plato’s Idealism VS Aristotle’s Realism

Originating from Pythagorean Philosophy, Plato’s Idealistic views bring in focus that ideas are what defines the real world, the true world cannot be represented through physical forms. For example, taking the common example of a tree, we see a tree in its physical form, with a bunch of markings and irregularities in its natural twigs and branches but Plato argued the idea of Tree gave the thing its true existence and not the physical form we see. Abstraction is the firm foundational unit while materialistic reality is only a crude reflection of the eternal truth subject to change unlike ideas. Since the old Athenian times, where Plato’s Ideas were taught in his school called ‘Academy’, Platonist Idealism has changed a lot through these periods. A detailed reading of the evolution of Idealism can be found here: Aristotle, student of Plato the Great, broke away from his mentor’s idealistic philosophy and built the foundation of a new philosophy known as Realism, with a pillar of scientific method supporting it. He believed that the existence of reality is independent of the mind, it all narrows down to perception. Realism focuses on the perception of materials through our senses rather than dwelling on abstract ideas of mind, this marks the key contrast between Idealism and Realism.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Written as a dialogue between Plato’s brother Glaucon and Socrates in his highly praised work ‘The Republic’, this wonderful piece of philosophical delight still remains a piece of mental feast to some. The dialogue begins with Socrates describing a cave where a bunch of men are chained, facing the black wall for their lives. The only reality these men know is the shadows they have seen dancing on the black walls. These shadows are projected by a fire that is lit behind them. Ultimately the only crude reality of the world they know is through these haunting undetailed shadows. Since, they have never seen what the real world looks like, even if they ever set their foot outside, they would find it seeping through their disbelief and ignorance that the world is a different place than just mere shadows. For those in the cave, they do not tend to leave the prison for they know not of the existence of a better life. A philosopher’s life is like a person freed from the cave; he is the one who realizes that life is so more than just the shadows. His path for grasping the higher reality never ends, for no matter how hard we try reality always lies above all. We only get to the increasingly precise versions of reality. Socrates explains, just the like the freed prisoner, when a philosopher tries to explain the higher metaphysical realities to ordinary men, who are symbolised as caved men, would be ridiculed by the ordinary men and they would further infer that the freedom has harmed his mind and they themselves should not follow the same path.

Plato finally concludes, the prisoners are so ignorant that they would murder not only the person but even the idea which tries to drag them away from their cave, thus portraying the place of philosophical and scientific reformer in a thickened ordinary world.