The masters and mentors

Today morning I had an intention to post a small photo gallery of shots made in Raphael’s Rooms. Raphael’s Rooms is a series of rooms in the Vatican Palace (at present in Musei Vaticani) richly decorated by Raphael with frescoes. Raphael is considered to be one of the great master artists of the Italian Renaissance (together with Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci). The frescoes in the Vatican are one of his greatest achievements.

However, instead of presenting a bigger shots gallery from this place, for now, I selected only a small fraction of this masterpiece that unlike many others, is of civic nature. The great artists like Raphael, Michelangelo or later Bernini had a time in their lives when they used to work exclusively for the Church (or Pope). But it does not mean that all of their works focused on the bible, saints or other religious motives.

The picture below shows one of the four walls in one of Raphael’s Rooms. I will not speculate on its size, but for sure, it is bigger than 20 sq meters. It is called the School of Athens. It shows many of the ancient Greece great masterminds of V-IV century BC.

The School of Athens, famous fresco painted by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael between 1509 and 1511. It is located in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican City, Rome.

The painting depicts a group of the most famous Greek philosophers and scientists gathered in a grand hall, engaged in discussion and debate. In its center, there are two men engaged in a conversation surrounded by people listening to it. Those two are two great masterminds of the ancient European philosophy Plato and Aristotle. Plato is shown pointing upwards, representing his belief in the transcendent world of forms or ideas, while Aristotle gestures towards the earth, representing his emphasis on empirical observation and the physical world. The painting also includes a number of other important philosophers and scientists, including Socrates, Pythagoras, Euclid, Diogenes, and Archimedes, among others. Each of these figures is shown in a pose that reflects their individual contributions to philosophy and science.

Depicting Plato and Aristotle, Raphael in fact made his self-portrait, whereas he is posting as Aristole. His older companion is Leonardo da Vinci posting as Plato. Although Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael were contemporaries and both lived and worked in Italy during the High Renaissance period, there is no conclusive evidence that they ever met in person. Leonardo may have had however influence on Raphael’s work.

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), two masterminds (or philosophers) of ancient Greece, a painting by Raphael.

A couple of weeks ago, I was attending a lecture on the psychology of teaching and mentoring. Those two together with a third one – Socrates (on the upper photo in a green robe standing back to them), were at the focus of the introductory part. Socrates was Plato’s mentor. He lived in Athens from 469 BC to 399 BC. He is often told to be a street-corner philosopher as he had a habit of walking around streets and asking questions to people, questions about virtue of things. This method of questioning is today called the Socratic method. It involves asking a series of questions to draw out a person’s beliefs and to test the logical consistency of those beliefs. Socrates believed that this method was the best way to arrive at the truth. Unlike his student Plato, Socrates was however not interested in that what we today call science. Socrates did not write any books or treatises, and much of what we know about him comes from the writings of his students, such as Plato and Xenophon. Socrates was sentenced to death by an Athenian court in 399 BC, after being accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and impiety, which means showing disrespect for the gods. Socrates had a chance to escape and go into exile, but he refused to do so. He believed that it would be wrong to violate the laws of Athens, even if he disagreed with them. Instead, he chose to accept the sentence of the court and drink a cup of hemlock, a deadly poison.

Plato and Aristotle were both thinkers (or philosophers) and scientists.

In fact, Plato was the founder of the first academia in the Western world called the School of Athens otherwise called Academy in Athens, which was one of the first institutions of higher learning in the Western world. Plato wrote many dialogues, which are works of philosophy in the form of conversations between different characters. In these dialogues, Plato explored a wide range of philosophical topics, including ethics, politics, metaphysics, epistemology, and more.

Aristotle was his most famous student, but much more versatile in his scientific interests than his mentor and teacher. After twenty years, presumably after Plato’s death, he left the School of Athens and became the tutor to future kings of Macedonia. His first student was Alexander the Great. Back in Athens, Aristotle established another school that was called The Lyceum. Aristotle’s work covers a wide range of topics, including metaphysics, ethics, politics, biology, and more. He believed that all knowledge should be based on empirical observation and logical reasoning, and he developed many of the foundational concepts of Western philosophy, including the principle of non-contradiction, the concept of causation, and the idea of the four causes. Aristotle also wrote extensively on ethics and politics, arguing that the ultimate goal of human life is happiness or eudaimonia, which can be achieved through the cultivation of virtue and the practice of ethical behavior. He also developed a theory of politics that emphasized the importance of the state in promoting the common good and maintaining social stability.

The ancient Academy of Athens was one of the most important centers of learning in the ancient world, and it attracted students and scholars from all over Greece and beyond. Plato was the Academy’s first head, and he taught a wide range of subjects, including philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, and politics. After Plato’s death, the leadership of the Academy passed to a series of his students, including Aristotle. Under Aristotle’s guidance, the Academy became more focused on the natural sciences, and he developed many of the foundational concepts of Western science and philosophy. The Academy continued to operate for several centuries after Aristotle’s death, and it remained a center of learning and scholarship throughout the Hellenistic and Roman periods. However, it declined in importance after the Roman conquest of Greece in the 2nd century BC, and it was eventually closed down by the Emperor Justinian in AD 529, as part of his campaign to suppress pagan learning and philosophy.

The masters and mentors