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Athenian Political Art from the fifth and fourth centuries BCE: Images of Historical Individuals 

Amy C. Smith, edition of January 18 2003

page 11 of 14

· Plato ·

(philosopher/teacher, ca. 427-348/7)

Read about the evidence
Diogenes Laertius (Diog. Laert.).
Pliny (Plin. HN).
Olympiodoros (Olymp. Vit. Plat.).
Cicero (Cic. ad Brut.).
Christodoros (Christ. Ecphr. in Grk. Anth.).
Plot on a Map

Evidence: The only reference to a statue of Plato that was set up in the fourth century (but not necessarily during Plato’s lifetime) is a quote from FavorinusMemorabilia, that Mithradates set up a statue of Plato in the Academy, inscribed as follows: "Mithradates, the Persian, the son of Orontobates (?), dedicated to the Muses a statue of Plato, made by Silanion" (Diog. Laert. 3.25). This statue must date some time after the founding of the Academy in 386, and Pliny dates Silanion’s career to the 320s (Pliny, HN 34.81-2). It is likely that the copies mentioned by later writers copied this original: Olympiodoros said that portraits of Plato were set up everywhere (Olympiodoros, Vita Plat. p. 1.32 [ed. Westermann]); Cicero had a statue of Plato in his Villa at Tusculum (Cic. ad Brut. 6.24); and Christodoros cited a statue of Plato in the Zeuxippos of Constantinople (Christ. Ecphr. 97 in Grk. Anth. 2.97 ff.).

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One portrait type of Plato has been identified, of which there are at least 20 copies. The type is in the style of the middle of the fourth century and is conceivably the type created by Silanion. The identification of this type as a portrait of Plato was made on the basis of an inscribed herm in Berlin, which was purchased in 1884; it has been corroborated by a double herm in the Vatican, which pairs the same portrait type with that of Socrates. Two headless seated statues of Plato, labelled ΠΛΑΤΩΝ and ΠΛΑΤΩ, have also been found. The seated statue, half life-size, is now lost, although plaster casts remain in Bonn, Dresden, Strasbourg, Leipzig, and Karlsruhe. Anton Hekler successfully combined this seated figure with the cast of a head, from Athens, of the Plato type. The standing statue of Plato, from Memphis, may be a Hellenistic invention, a Hellenistic copy of an otherwise unknown type, or a Hellenistic variant of the known Plato type.

Read about the evidence
Simplicius (Simp. Phys.).
Epictetus (Epict. Diss.).
Diogenes Laertius (Diog. Laert.).
Seneca (Sen. Epist. 59).
Apuleius (Apul. de Plat. et eius dogm.).
Olympiadoros (Olymp. Vit. Plat.).

The portrait of Plato copied in the extant examples, conveys the general good looks and some specific characteristics of Plato’s appearance noted by ancient writers. The copies of the head share the characteristics of a domed skull, broad forehead, small, closely-set eyes, slightly aquiline nose, and protruding lower chip and rounded chin. Simplicius describes Plato’s finely shaped nose, the beauty of his eyes, and the breadth of his body (Simp. Phys. 4.14), while Epictetus simply notes that he was strong and good looking (Epict. Diss. 1.8.1). Two horizontal and two vertical furrows on the brow of the portrait type convey Plato’s serious nature, which might be hinted at in Amphis’ note that Plato frowned with his eyebrows lifted high, presumably to give him a dignified appearance (Diog. Laert. 3.28). Some ancient writers mention that Plato’s broad chest gave him his name, and that his original name was Aristocles (Diog. Laert 3.4; Seneca, Epist. 59.30; Apuleius, De Plat. et eius dogm. 1.1; Olympiodoros, Vita Plat. p. 1.28 [ed. Westermann]).

Extant portraits:

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  1. Berlin 300: a herm labelled ΠΛΑΤΩΝ.
  2. Vatican 128: a double herm (now split) with Socrates.
  3. Geneva, private collection: A marble head said to have come from Athens.
  4. Cambridge, Fitzwilliam 15: a marble head.
  5. Thasos 177: a head of Plato.
  6. A seated statue (now lost), inscribed [Π]ΛΑΤΩΝ.
  7. The lower part of a Hellenistic standing statue from an exedra at the Sarapieion, Memphis, inscribed ΠΛΑΤΩΝ on the plinth.

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page 11 of 14