Why do we see Socrates in Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Socrates, and Plato in Raphael's School of Athens pointing up with their index finger? What does this gesture symbolize? My initial conjecture was that it may be a sign of achieved wisdom or an indication of authority.

  • I agree with Montanovici, but you may also wish to ask an art historian for their input too because there are certain “manners” and symbols used by different artistic “schools”.
    – Gordon
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 21:33

1 Answer 1


Looking at the philosophy expounded by Plato, one thing comes to mind: the Ideas, set in another realm, above the material, quite abstract. Thus, it could mean that the raised index finger points to this very realm of Ideas, where the highest principles of virtue lie and to which one must aspire.

A similar explanation goes for Socrates, to which we can add that by doing so, he holds firm to his belief, even on his death bed. His posture, straight, indicates the same thing.

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    – J D
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 17:12
  • 2
    Also see this article on The School of Athens which says 'Plato’s gesture toward the sky is thought to indicate his Theory of Forms. This philosophy argues that the “real” world is not the physical one, but instead a spiritual realm of ideas ... Conversely, Aristotle’s hand is a visual representation of his belief that knowledge comes from experience. ... Scholars argue that this divide in philosophies, placed at the center of The School of Athens, is the core theme of the painting.'
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Dec 30, 2019 at 18:16

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