Socrates Becomes Narcissus: Moral Mediation in Achille Bocchi’s Symbolicarum quaestionum

  • David Packwood (Autor/in)


Achille Bocchi’s Symbolicarum quaestionum of 1555 shows Socrates drawing a preparatory design, in the presence of his demon. Socrates as artist was used to illustrate Bocchi’s adage, “The significance of weighty things is shown by a picture/ Whatever is hidden deeper becomes more apparent.” A companion print of Socrates holding a mirror illustrates another maxim “Behold - a live face is splendidly transmitted from a mirror. You know this and are able to do everything you yourself want.” This article explores how Socrates’s iconography is intertwined with theories of artistic representation and moral mediation in the Symbolicarum quaestionum. It also argues that Bocchi’s juxtaposition of Socrates looking into a mirror and performing an artistic function, suggests that the Bolognese intellectual knew of a philosophical tradition that combined Socrates and Narcissus: the former linked with inner truth via the mediation of the mirror; the latter with the origin of painting, also a form of self-knowledge. Finally, by drawing on recent scholarship on Socrates, which meshes reflections on philosophy, gender and age, Bocchi’s representation of Socrates is placed within a new context.