Richard Devereux

The School of Athens  

Raphael (1483-1520)



Master Raphael reached into his bag, took a pinch of magic-dust and flicked it at the sun. In an instant, darkness fell. A single beam of moonlight dropped a staircase from the sky. Down it descended … some early Ionians and the Big Three, a couple of mathematicians, Pythagoras and Euclid, then a line of white-coated scientists, right behind old Archimedes.


For Socrates, this was a moment to die for: a chance, at last, to button-hole Aristotle. Poor Plato didn’t know which way to turn, someone even remarked how much he looked like Leonardo!


The Master went round them all in turn – chatting, sketching, getting their measure – mumbled a retro-spell and Woosh! they were gone.


This prose poem is an ekphrastic response to Raphael's fresco in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. What drew it to my attention this spring was a gesture made by France to mark the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution: the French Parliament loaned the Greek Parliament a large tapestry which is a copy of the fresco.

The 'Big Three' I had in mind were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. David Cook, who knows far more about philosophy than me, said he considered the last two were true greats and that Socrates was not in their class. 

Some of the Greeks in the painting were depicted by images of leading Italian personalities, such as Leonardo.

The image below is of the tapestry.

The School of Athens
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The School of Athens tapestry.jpg