The Relation of the Individual to the State

John La Farge




Second Floor
Supreme Court Chamber

Location Details

West Wall

Date Completed

Date Placed

Available for viewing on guided tour.

Description from the artist

Socrates has gone down from Athens to the Piraous “because he wanted to see in what way they would celebrate the festival of Bendis, the Tracian Artemis, which is a new thing.” After the procession and the prayers, as he turns with a friend in the direction of the City, Polemarchus, the son of a wealthy citizen detains him, asking him to spend the day and later to see the races and other festivities. Socrates accepts, and goes to his friend’s residence and remains in conversation with the two sons and the father and various other guests and friends who come in and out through the story.

In this representation, which is not meant to be literal, but typical, Socrates may be said to be talking to the eldest son of his host. One of the other guests, presumable the sophist, Thrasymachus, listens ready to interrupt. The younger son has come in for a moment from the outside – a slave girl with tambourine drops in from one of the processions, to look and listen, and a little further a charioteer drives his horses past. The festival is foreign, so perhaps is the charioteer. The family of Cephalus, the host, is also foreign.

If a moment in the discussion be chosen for my representation, it may be the argument of Socrates when he explains to Polemarchus and Thrasymarchus that “the true artist in proceeding according to his art does not do the best for himself, nor consult his own interest, but that of his subject.”

In this painting there has been no strict intention of giving an adequate and, therefore, impossible historical representation of something which may never have happened. But there has been a wish to convey, in a typical manner, the serenity and good nature which is the note of the famous book and of Greek thought and philosophy. Hence, the choice of open air and sunlight and a manner of representation that will exclude the mistake of any Academic formality.