In the same room which holds Parnassus, with Poetry above on the ceiling, there is another wall painting by Raphael, which commonly bears the name of The School of Athens, though that name was not originally applied to it. In the ceiling above is a figure representing Philosophy, and the picture below carries out the idea in its presentation of an assembly of scholars.

Just as in Parnassus Raphael brought together as in a beautiful dream the god of poetry, the nine muses, and famous poets of the ancient and what was to him the modern world, so, in the School of Athens, he has assembled a great company of philosophers, chiefly out of the famous line of Greek scholars. In a general way he has divided the assembly into two groups, one of men who devote themselves to pure thought, the other of those who apply their thought to science, like geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music.

There are more than fifty figures in this great painting. Raphael has made it clear whom he meant to represent, in many cases. They were the philosophers, whom his friends among the cardinals and learned men were so enthusiastic about. But he has also gathered about these teachers those who might be their pupils; they are in many cases young Italians of his own day; indeed, he has even pictured himself coming in with a fellow artist.

What interested him was to paint a great number of persons who should show by their faces and their attitudes that they were busy, in an animated way, over what was worth thinking about. He placed them in a noble hall, with a domed recess at the end, such as a great architect of his day might have built. He showed a noble colonnade of pillars, and he placed in niches statues of the old Greek gods like Apollo and Minerva, who would be supposed to take an interest in what was going on.

The picture is so large and has so many figures that it would not be easy to reproduce it here, and give a good idea of its various parts; so a portion only is shown, depicting what is commonly known as the group of Socrates and Alcibiades. Socrates can surely be distinguished, for he had a singular face and head. Some have thought the companion was not Alcibiades, but Xenophon.

It does not greatly matter. Each was his companion and pupil, when he was living. Xenophon wrote a narrative of his master's life and death. Alcibiades is often mentioned in the dialogues of Plato, who also has preserved for us the great sayings of Socrates. Two or three men stand about, listening to a discussion which Socrates is having with his companion.

Vatican Palace, Rome

The chief interest centres in Socrates, who seems to be explaining his principles, telling them off, one by one, on his fingers. In the old accounts which we have of this philosopher, he is shown to have been a man who had thought deeply about the most important things, but used the plainest, most homely speech when he was trying to make his meaning clear. His plain face and eccentric figure were a familiar sight in the market places, where he used to linger, drawing young men into conversation, by which he tried to show them the better things of life.

Alcibiades was, as Socrates acknowledged, "the fairest and tallest of the citizens;" he was also "among the noblest of them," and the nephew of the powerful Athenian, Pericles. Moreover, he was rich, though this was a smaller matter. All these things, however, had lifted Alcibiades up; and with the vanity of youth, he was ambitious for a great oratorical career, without having in reality any sufficient preparation. It is at this juncture that he falls in with Socrates, who begins to question him kindly about his plans. The young man confesses his ambitions, and the philosopher innocently asks him where and how he has made his preparatory studies. Alcibiades seems to think that the ordinary subjects of oratory, such as questions of war and peace, justice and injustice, need no special knowledge but that learned of the people.

"I cannot say that I have a high opinion of your teachers," says the shrewd old philosopher; "you know that knowledge is the first qualification of any teacher?"

Alcibiades. Certainly.

Socrates. And if they know, they must agree together and not differ?

Alcibiades. Yes.

Socrates. And would you say that they knew the things about which they differ?

Alcibiades. No.

Socrates. Then how can they teach them?

Alcibiades. They cannot.[9]

So little by little, as one question follows another, Alcibiades comes to see that the popular knowledge upon which he depends is a very weak and variable thing. He confesses at last his own folly, and declares his resolution to devote himself to thoughtful study.

[9] From Plato's dialogue, Alcibiades, Jowett's translation.