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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 4 of 14

· Aristotle ·

(philosopher/scientist/teacher, 384-322 BCE)

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Diogenes Laertius (Diog. Laert.).
Pausanias (Paus.).
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Evidence: Ancient written sources attest a variety of statues of Aristotle set up in antiquity. That at least one was commissioned during his life time is suggested by Aristotle’s own will, which directed his executors to oversee that completion and erection of portraits (perhaps of Aristotle and his relatives) commissioned by Gryllion (Diog. Laert 5.15). While a location for Gryllion’s works is not noted, Theophrastos’ will ordered the replacement of a portrait of Aristotle in the sacred enclosure of the Lykeion (school) (Diog. Laert. 5.51). Alexander the Great, among Aristotle’s other students, honored him with portraits. A headless herm, inscribed “Alexander set up this portrait of the divine Aristole, the son of Nikomachos, fountain of all wisdom” (IG II2, 4261) was found in the Stoa of Attalos in the Agora at Athens. Pausanias describes a statue of Aristotle at Olympia, which bore no inscription, although Pausanias asserted it was set up by a student or a military man (Paus. 6.4.8).

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Juvenal (Juv. Sat.).
Christodoros (Ecphr. in Grk. Anth.).
Cicero (Cic. Att.).
Baronius (Annal. Ecclesiast.).
Sidonius Apollinaris (Sid. Apoll. Epist.).
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Aristotle’s portraits were clearly popular among the Romans. Juvenal noted that “no garden is perfect unless it contains a portrait of Aristotle or one of Pittakos” (Juv. Sat. 2.5-6; trans. Richter 1984, 96). A bronze portrait of Aristotle in the Zeuxippos at Constantinople may have been a Greek original. In Ecphr. in Grk. Anth. 2.161 ff., Christodoros describes it as near that of Aeschines, showing Aristotle with clasped hands, puckered face, and mobile eyes, as if he was deliberating. Other portraits of Aristotle noted by Roman authors were probably copies of one or several Greek originals: Cicero saw one in the house of Atticus (Cic. Att. 4.10); the followers of Karpokrates, a gnostic, noted that he liked portraits of Aristotle (Baronius, Annal. Ecclesiast.); while Sidonius Apollinaris (Epist. 9.14) cited an undraped right arm as a characteristic of Aristotle’s portraits.

Read about the evidence
Diogenes Laertius (Diog. Laert.).
Aelian (Ael. VH).

Several ancient authors, in describing Aristotle’s appearance, noted the conspicuousness of his short hair and many rings on his fingers (Timotheos in Diogenes Laertius 5.1 and Aelian in Ael. VH 3.19). Timotheos adds that Aristotle’s calves were slim, and Aelian that “he had a mocking expression on his face” and spoke with a lisp (trans. Richter 1984, 95). An anonymous Vita (biography) describes him as small, bald, paunchy, stuttering, and lustful. Most of these features are imperceptible in the existing head portraits of Aristotle. Yet one portrait type of the philosopher was successfully identified by F. Studniczka, on the basis of a drawing by Rubens of a lost miniature portrait, inscribed ΑΡΙΣΤΟΤΕΛΗΣ, that once belonged to F. Ursinus (the drawing, in Codex Capponianus 228, is preserved in the Vatican: see F. Studniczka, Das Bildnis des Aristoteles [Leipzig 1908] 15 ff., pl. 2.2). More than twenty copies of this type are now known, of which several follow.

Extant portraits:

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  1. Vienna Aristotle: a marble head.
  2. Terme 8575: a marble head.
  3. Louvre MA 80bis: a marble head variant (shown here).
  4. An inscribed tondo, found at Aphrodisias in 1981, is unfortunately headless.

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