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The Internet Journal of the International Plato Society


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Reale, Giovanni.

The School of Athens by Raphael.

Edited by Martin Cajthaml and Jakub Jinek. Translated by Marco Anone.
2008. 152 S. 29,50 Euro. 14,8 x 21 cm. Hardcover. 978-3-89665-377-2.
(Academia Philosophical Studies Bd. 25)

Inhaltsverzeichnis/Table of content (PDF)

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Prospekt (Druckversion/PDF) / Information leaflet (Print version/PDF)

In his Journey to Italy Goethe writes that one can not look at great paintings like the School of Athens only as a whole, since "the pleasure derived from the first impression is incomplete; only when one has seen and studied every detail, slowly and part by part, the enjoyment is complete".

In this book Giovanni Reale aims at achieving exactly this, namely studying and describing Rafael's fresco slowly and part by part, with the full reproduction of the cartone.

This is the only way to achieve Goethe's complete enjoyment.

Reale shows how Rafael proceeds according to a perfectly Platonic scheme, and follows it with the utmost precision. The general scheme (as pointed out by Winner) is the one presented by Plato in book VII of the Republic, where he states that it is necessary to start from those disciplines that "bring the soul from becoming to being", that is from the mathematical sciences, and through them reach the highest level of knowledge, that brings to the perception of the Absolute.

In the lower side of the School of Athens are represented the mathematical sciences: on the left music and arithmetic with the Pythagoreans, on the right geometry and astronomy. The steps painted at the centre of the fresco express the higher degrees of knowledge successively reached with these sciences.

With the first group of characters on the lower left side, around the base where a large column should be built, Raphael represents the rituals of an Orphic ceremony. Indeed Orphism had been one of the fundations of Greek thought (as confirmed by Plato in Phaedon). The great Pre-Socratics of the nearby group are those inspired by Orphism: Pythagoras, Empedocles and Heraclitus.

In the upper side are represented the most significant philosophers. The first group represents the Sophists being expelled by a Socratic philosopher. Then we find the Socratics, followed by the Platonists, with the majestic figure of Plato with his finger pointed to the sky, that is to the Transcendent. The beautiful group of Aristotle and his followers is represented as being in harmony with Plato.

At the centre of the right end side, after a master guiding a disciple of his, there is the great Plotinus, never recognised in the past, whom Reale succeeds in identifying using rigorous arguments. The last three philosophers on the right represent Cynics of a later period.

Below Aristotle there is the wonderful figure of Diogenes the Cynic sitting on the second step: the only philosopher of the Hellenistic period represented by Raphael, since he summarises to a certain extent also the message of the Stoics.

Missing are Epicurus, the Epicureans and the Skeptics. These philosophers do not fit the Platonic scheme that guides and inspires Raphael, because they do not help in any way to move up, through the mathematical sciences, to the knowledge of the Being.

The fresco is indeed an extraordinary history of philosophical thought, from a Platonic point of view, from its origins to the late Hellenistic period, covering almost a thousand years, symbolically contracted in an eternal present.


Giovanni Reale (1931) graduated at the Catholic University of Milan (Italy) and continued his postgraduate studies on ancient thought at Marburg and Munich (Germany). He has thought History of Ancient Philosophy at the Catholic University of Milan, where he founded a Centre for Platonic Studies, and now teaches at the new Philosophy Department of the Università San Raffaele, Milan (Italy).

For the Bompiani Publishing House he is responsible for the series "Testi a Fronte" and "Il Pensiero Occidentale".

He has applied the canons of contemporary hermeneutics and epistemology to the study of Greek philosophy, showing that it is at the roots of Western culture.

His research covers the whole spectrum of ancient thought, both pagan and Christian.

Reale's main publications are the following: Il concetto di filosofia prima e l'unità della Metafisica in Aristotele, Vita e Pensiero, Milan, 1994; Storia della Filosofia Antica, 5 volls, Vita e Pensiero, Milan, 1975-80 (with several later editions); Per una nuova interpretazione di Platone, Vita e Pensiero, Milan, 1997; Saggezza Antica, Cortina, Milan, 2000; Eros dèmone e mediatore. Il gioco delle maschere nel Simposio di Platone, Rizzoli, Milan, 2000; Platone. Alla ricerca della sapienza segreta, Rizzoli, Milan, 1998; Platone. Fedro (editio maior), Lorenzo Valla-Mondadori, 1998; Platone. Simposio (editio maior), Lorenzo Valla-Mondadori, 2001; Corpo, anima e salute, Cortina, Milan, 1999; Socrate. Alla ricerca della sapienza umana, Rizzoli, Milano 2000. Together with Dario Antiseri he has also published Il pensiero occidentale dalle origini ad oggi, La Scuola, Brescia (translated also in Russian) and Quale ragione?, Cortina, Milano, 2001.

The following publications that Reale edited for Bompiani are considered a benchmark by scholars of ancient philosophical thought: Tutti gli Scritti by Plato; Metaphysica by Aristotle; Tutti gli scritti by Seneca; Amore assoluto by [St.Augustin]. Together with R. Radice, he has edited a new edition of Plotinus' [Enneades] in the Meridiani series of Mondadori, Milan, 2002.

Reale has also applied the canons of hermeneutics to the interpretation of some art masterpieces inspired by Platonism, namely the three Raphael masterpieces in the Vatican's "Stanza della Segnatura": Raffaello. La "Scuola di Atene" (1997, completely revisited in the present second edition 2005); Raffaello. La "Disputa" (1998); Raffaello. Il "Parnaso" (1999). With similar hermeneutic canons he has also written Botticelli. La "Primavera" o le "Nozze di Filologia e Mercurio?" (Idea Libri, 2001).

Giovanni Reale (1931) is internationally recognized as a leading scholar of ancient thought. His works have appeared in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Polish and Croat; they are also being translated in French, Rumanian, Czech and Ukrainian.



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Andere neue Titel aus dieser Schriftenreihe/Other new books from this series:
Academia Philosophical Studies

46 · Boeckh, August. Encyclopédie et méthodologie des sciences philologiques. Édité, présenté et traduit par Marie-Dominique Richard.

45 · Pasquale, Gianluigi. Finding Reason in History.

44 · Lire les dialogues, mais lesquels et dans quel ordre? Edited by Anne Balansard and Isabelle Koch.

43 · Finamore, John F.; Phillips, John. Literary, Philosophical, and Religious Studies in the Platonic Tradition. Edited by John F. Finamore and John Phillips.

42 · Zen'kovskij, Vasilij V. Russland und Europa. Übersetzt und herausgegeben von Dietrich Kegler.

41 · Religion and Philosophy in the Platonic and Neoplatonic Traditions. Edited by Kevin Corrigan, John D. Turner and Peter Wakefield.

40 · Sembou, Evangelia. 'Midwifery' and Criticism in G.W.F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit.

39 · Newton, Isaac. Mathematische Grundlagen der Naturphilosophie. 3. Auflage. Übersetzt und herausgegeben von Ed Dellian.

38 · I diritti degli altri in Grecia e a Roma. Edited by Alberto Maffi and Lorenzo Gagliardi.

37 · Benedetto Croce und die Deutschen. Hrsg. von Giusi Furnari Luvarà und Santi Di Bella.

36 · Losskij, Nikolaj O. Der Charakter des russischen Volkes. Übersetzt und herausgegeben von Dietrich Kegler.

35 · Dante Alighieri. Monarchie. Übersetzt und herausgegeben von Thomas Vormbaum.

34 · Conversations Platonic and Neoplatonic: Intellect, Soul, and Nature. Edited by John F. Finamore and Robert M. Berchman.

33 · Mouraviev, Serge. Erkataguir ou Comment naquit l'alphabet arménien.

32 · Pasquale, Gianluigi. Beyond the End of History.

31 · Hendrix, John Shannon. Robert Grosseteste.

30 · Dante Alighieri. Über die Volkssprache. Übersetzt von Thomas Vormbaum.

29 · Frank, Simon L. Der Sinn des Lebens. Hrsg. von Dietrich Kegler.

28 · Pasquale, Gianluigi. The History of Salvation.

27 · Carone, Gabriela Roxana. La Notion de Dios en el "Timeo" de Platon. Segunda edición.