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2004 | 48 | 37-63

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The name of Socrates that since the 13th century had appeared hundreds of times in the writings of medieval university scholastics most frequently carried no personal or doctrinal connotations, and was only a logical symbol, replacing the notion of a human individual. Socrates was also the subject of humanist rather than philosophical interests of such authors as Pierre Abelard or John of Salisbury who saw him as a historical personage, as a live man preaching some philosophical views, but also perceived in him some personal traits. Beginning with the 13th century, this kind of interest in Socrates penetrated into the more popular literature, for example John of Wales' Compendiloquium or Walter Burley's De vita et moribus philosophorum. Both these writings, parallel with the classic university scholasticism, and the earlier writings by medieval humanist philosophers drew their information on Socrates exclusively from ancient Latin authors. Their interest in the person of Socrates was, however, more lively than that of medieval humanists, and embraced a wider spectrum both of his activity and personal traits, as well as everything that concerned the pertinence of Socrates to the Christian world. This is shown by the description of some features of Socrates in Petrarca's writings, the eulogy of Socrates as a forerunner of Christian saints in those by Coluccio Salutati, and especially in Giannozzo Manetti's Vita Socratis of 1444, the philosopher's first separate humanist biography. The picture of Socrates, compiled from various sources, shows, perhaps, some traces of the knowledge of the Greek writings by Plato; especially striking is the picture, isolated from Plato's Symposion, of Socrates as the Silenus. A much fuller picture of Socrates emerges from the characterizations of both his teachings and personality, taken up several times by Marsilio Ficino. Their dominant is the comparison of Socrates not to the Christian saints, as in Coluccio Salutati, but to Christ himself, for whom Socrates is, in Ficino's opinion, a 'prefiguration'. This comparison is, in a way, continued by Erasmus of Rotterdam in his adagium Sileni Alcibiadis. However, in contrast to the use earlier made of this picture by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, confined to the Silenic character of Socrates' conversations, Erasmus concentrates on the moral personality of Socrates who due to his external poverty and internal richness resembled both Christ himself and the chosen Christian saints.








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  • J. Domanski, Al. Waszyngtona 18 m. 4, 03-910 Warszawa, Poland.


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