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Mosaic of Academy of Plato discovered at Pompeii, Naples National Archaeological Museum | by some guy called Darren
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Mosaic of Academy of Plato discovered at Pompeii, Naples National Archaeological Museum

The mosaic, in First Style, framed by a rich festoon of leaves, fruit and comical masks, typical of this period, portrays the reunion of a group of seven philosophers. Four are seated on a semi-circular stone seat with leonine feet and three are standing. All are wearing cloaks, the characteristic clothing of orators and of Greek philosophers of the classical age, except for one who is also wearing a chiton underneath. Furthermore, their right arms or the whole upper part of their bodies are bare, with the exception of the figure furthest back, whose hands and arms are hidden by his cloak: he is probably a visitor to the Academy whose gesture of covering his arms can be interpreted as a sign of respect. The third from the left could be Plato: depicted with a large head and wide forehead, he holds a rod in his right hand and traces a geometrical figure on the ground. The other characters are listening, or talking amongst themselves. The first from left could be Heraclites Pontico, the second Lysias, the penultimate from the right Senocrates, whilst the last on the right, on the point of leaving and holding in his left hand a scroll, which he touches with his right hand, may be Aristotle. In the background, in the view of a temple on a hill it is possible to identify the Acropolis of Athens with the Parthenon. At the base of the mosaic there is a casket with the celestial sphere, upon which is traced a thick grid of meridians and parallel lines, probably connected to the discussion which centred on cosmological themes. Around the seven figures from left to right, there is a portal with two columns and an epistyle surmounted by four covered vases (symbols of Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy and Music, or of the four seasons of the year, or of the positions of the Sun), a tree and a votive column with a sundial, typical of an entirely mythological landscape, without any precise geographical reference. It may in fact be a reference to the funerary monument of Academos, the mythical Attic hero, near whose tomb, situated in a woodland location on the outskirts of Athens, where a Gymnasium and later, the Academy of Plato would be built. It seems that Heraclites Pontico is giving a sort of lecture, portrayed as he is on the extreme left, whilst he speaks leaning his left hand on the shoulder of his neighbour, on the point of raising his right arm as if he wants to explain something and gazes in the direction of the celestial sphere, while the other figures observe him. The chosen theme in the mosaic, which at the time of the eruption had been removed from its original location probably in order to be sold, clearly alludes to the literary and philosophical interests of the owner of the villa and probably derives from a Late Hellenistic model. (Naples National Archaeological Museum)

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Taken on February 25, 2012