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Plato Writing

Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is an explanation of the Head piece, ‘Plato writing’, from the second tome (1772) of Antoine Court de Gebelin’s ‘Monde Primitif’, pages XLVI and XLVII.


‘This headpiece (vignette) introduces us with the names of the most famous wise men of Greece, by the skillful art they used speech, by their views of its origin, by their works about Grammar.

The main subject is Plato. This philosopher meditates on the origin of language and he is writing these words out of his ‘Cratylus’: ‘Things are best depicted by letters and syllables’: fundamental truth that we shouldn’t have lost of sight. In front lies the bust of his master, Socrates, the first who brought back among the Greeks the fair use of speech, and who fought against the art of the sophists to substitute from it the study of Logic. On the pedestal of the bust we discover the Graces, that Socrates wanted authors to sacrifice to; graces who brought so much credit to his discourses. Below Plato, we see a few books of Grammar, those of Aristotle, Apollonius and his own ‘Cratylus’.

On the carpet on which Plato is writing, is represented the famous argument who rose between Neptune (Poseidon) and Minerva (Athena) to give a name to the capital of Attica and to the usefulness of the masterpiece they will produce for this event. We can see the two divinities, with by their side a horse raised out of the earth by Neptune and the olive tree that Minerva gave birth to. Minerva won against the terrible god of the seas and thus, the city was called Athens. What is might without goodness and usefulness? Through this fable, the Athenians were justifying the name they took and the choice they made of Minerva as their tutelar Goddess and as symbol of their city. This is showing that everything has its reason and that no name was never imposed randomly.’


‘Pallas in figures wrought the heav’nly Pow’rs,

And Mars’s hill among th’ Athenian tow’rs.

On lofty thrones twice six celestials sate,

Jove in the midst, and held their warm debate;

The subject weighty, and well-known to fame,

From whom the city shou’d receive its name.

Each God by proper features was exprest,

Jove with majestick mein excell’d the rest.

His three-fork’d mace the dewy sea-God shook,

And, looking sternly, smote the ragged rock;

When from the stone leapt forth a spritely steed,

And Neptune claims the city for the deed.

Herself she blazons, with a glitt’ring spear,

And crested helm that veil’d her braided hair,

With shield, and scaly breast-plate, implements of war.

Struck with her pointed launce, the teeming Earth

Seem’d to produce a new surprizing birth;

When, from the glebe, the pledge of conquest sprung,

A tree pale-green with fairest olives hung.’

Source of the Ovid’s quotation: Ovid, ‘The Metamorphoses’, Book VI. Translated by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden. Full text here:
Plato Writing

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