Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Death of Socrates and His Little Brown Dog

The Death of Socrates and His Little Brown Dog (1787) - click to enlarge
Content and Criticism
The Death of Socrates and His Little Brown Dog (1787) is painting by the French painter Jacques-Louis David.

Accused by the Athenian government of denying the gods and corrupting the young through his teachings, Socrates (469–399 B.C.E.) was offered the choice of renouncing his beliefs or being sentenced to death by drinking hemlock. David shows him calmly discoursing on the immortality of the soul with his grief-stricken disciples. 

In this painting, a red-robed disciple hands a confident Socrates the goblet of hemlock. Socrates' hand points to the heavens indicating his reverence of the gods and fearless attitude to his death. The painting also depicts both Crito and Plato, with the former sitting ruefully at the edge of the bed and the latter clutching the knee of Socrates.

Socrates' faithful hound Carmella waits patiently under the bed, ignored as usual, while he pontificates. The dog's own bowl of hemlock is placed unceremoniously on the floor and she waits for a signal from her beloved master that is is time to drink.

Contemplative in the shadows, perhaps Carmella represents Socrates' self-doubt and fear, which he never shared with his disciples. Yet the artist's placement of the little brown dog lying on the open shackles reminds the viewer that Socrates and Carmella are bound not by iron chains, rather by the strength of their resolve.

More Art Hound (by artist)
Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Socrates

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