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Collection Highlights

Bust of Socrates

Bust of Socrates
© BA Antiquities Museum/C. Gerigk

Registration Number(s)
BAAM Serial Bibliotheca Alexandrina Antiquities Museum Number 0114

Inv.Inventory
 (Greco-Roman Museum) 3887

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Greco-Roman Antiquities

Bust of Socrates

Category:
Sculpture in the round, statues, human / gods and goddesses statues, busts
Date:
Graeco-Roman Period, Roman Period (31 BCE-395 CE)
Provenance:
Lower Egypt, Alexandria (Antoniades Garden)
Material(s):
Rock, marble
Height:
60 cm
Hall:
Greco-Roman Antiquities


Description

This bust is a Roman replica depicting Socrates. The head is set on a shaft with stump-like arms. It seems that this statue is a Roman replica of a Greek original dated back to the fourth century BCE. The Roman influence is obvious in the realistic features, as well as the hairdress and the beard style; while the Greek influence appears in the round face and the meditating look which has a touch of perfectionism.

Roman busts

Since the vast majority of the original Greek portraits were lost, collections of portraits of famous Greeks were made by Roman intellectuals and aesthetes in the late Classical and Hellenistic times to adorn their houses, libraries and gardens. The bust became a favorite form of portraiture among the Romans.

Socrates

Socrates was the first great Greek philosopher, Athenian by birth. He lived during the City's golden age. He was born around 470 BCE, and died 399 BCE. As a young man he studied the then fashionable philosophies of what are now known as the "pre-Socratic philosophers" who, in their different ways, were trying to understand the world around us. Socrates questioned what effect did nature have on our lives. He wanted to know how far the Sun was from the Earth. Our behavior could, in no way, be affected by such knowledge, we needed to know how to conduct our lives? What is right? What is just?

Socrates did not think he knew the answers to these questions, but he realized that no one else knew them either. When the oracle at Delphi declared him to be the wisest of men, it meant nothing to him as he was convinced that he barely knows anything since he has not reached the answers he was seeking. So he went around Athens raising the basic questions of morality and politics with anyone who would listen to him, people gathered around him wherever he went, especially the eager young. He was teaching people to question everything; he became  a highly controversial figure, much loved, but also much hated.

In the end, the authorities arrested him with the charge of corrupting the young, and of not believing in the gods of the city. He was put on trial, and condemned to die by poison. The detailed story of his trial and death is one of the most inspiring tragedies in the history of human philosophy; he left no books which men could study following his death. He taught his followers to question and argue, to use discussion as a mean of reaching the truth, and always to seek the “good”.


The information given here is subject to modification/update as a result of ongoing research.

Bibliography
  • Walker, Susan. Greek and Roman Portraits. London: British Museum Press, 1995.
  • Parker, Meg. Socrates and Athens. Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1986.
  • Magee, Bryan. The Story of Philosophy. New York: DK Pub, 1998.
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