Raphael’s "The School of Athens"


School of Athens-detailThe School of Athens is Raphael’s famous fresco in the Apostolic Palace in Vatican. Less than a dozen figures on this large fresco have been identified beyond doubt, a small few of them in the right corner. According to Frank Keim of the University of Ulm, that corner of the picture features the dispute between the geocentric and the heliocentric theory. According to Keim, the beardless young man in white gown is Copernicus, the crowned man holding a terrestrial globe is Ptolemy, the bearded man in white gown holding a celestial sphere is not Zarathustra, as usually suggested, but Seleucus of Babylonia (Seleucus of Seleucia), a zealous supporter of the heliocentric theory of Aristarchus of Samos. Both Seleucus and Ptolemy look intently at Copernicus, who in turn seems to look at Aristarchus, portrayed as a bearded man in dark purple gown in the upper row, pointing discretely at the celestial sphere held by Seleucus. Aristarchus’ isolation on the picture suggests that he had few or no followers in antiquity, or at any rate during his lifetime. Also, the figure to his left, jabbing him with a stick, Keim surmises, is the Stoic philosopher Cleanthes of Assos, who wrote a treatise against Aristarchus accusing him of impiety (cf. Plutarch, De facie in orbe lunae 923A). Report of Keim’s finidings in Der Spiegel 6/2009 [pdf].

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