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JUNE 2018

Platonic Love …


The grave stele of Diotima

National Archaeological Museum

Sculpture Collection, inv. no 226

Provenance: found in 1887 during excavation conducted by the French Archaeological School in the Agora of ancient Mantinea

Dimensions: Height 1.48 m

Date: 420-410 BC or 2nd c. AD

Location of object within the exhibition: Room 17.


The stele which has been carved in Pentelic marble depicts a life-size peplophoros holding a schematized liver of an animal. The female figure stands next to a palm tree, the sacred tree of Apollo, that alludes to a divination ritual. The work is considered an original creation of 420-410 BC. However, according to a different view, the iconography as well as the style belong to the Roman imperial period (most likely in Hadrian’s reign, early 2nd c. AD)[1]. The upper part of the stele has been mended using metal clamps as part of an ancient restoration of the sculpture that is indicative of the special significance of the monument.


The depicted woman is a soothsayer, a “hepatoscopos” [2], identified as Diotima of the Platonic Symposium . In this work Socrates recounts an extensive dialogue with the wise Diotima[3] from Mantinea, who introduced him to the mysteries of Love (201d-212c). According to the philological interpretation of the text, Diotima was not a real, historical figure with supernatural powers, but a figment of Plato’s imagination who played a specific role in the development of his philosophical theory about Eros (Love).


For Plato Eros is a demon philosopher, an intermediate between gods and mortals, a fertilizing power of the body and the mind that brings forth life. Eros fulfils a certain purpose in the theory of Ideas[4], in which the Idea of the Beautiful and the Good holds a prominent position. The aim of Eros is the eternal quest for beauty, harmony, bliss and immortality of the body and the soul. The initiation into the mysteries of Eros includes successive stages which the enamoured soul must undergo in order to accomplish this goal. The ascent of the human soul to its summit through philosophy and education is accomplished in three primary stages: a) training into the beauty of the body, b) training into the beauty of the soul and c) training into the beauty of the mind, in the ideal, eternal Beauty, in the Absolute Beauty as Idea.


The imposing relief was installed in the place of origin of the wise prophetess in order to honour and perpetuate her memory. It was possibly commissioned in Athens by a member of the educated elite of Mantinea and marks the connection with the spirit of the age of Socrates and Plato.


Dr Evrydiki Leka


[1] It belongs to the cultural and historical environment of the Second Sophistic and the «renaissance» of the Classical education and art. In that period Mantinea regained its old prestige as a place of visit by the emperor Hadrian himself (125 A.D.), but also as a centre of Antinous’ cult (after 130 A.D.).

[2]  «Hepatoscopy» was a primary branch of ancient Greek divination, which examined the liver of the sacrificed animal with the aim to foresee future events. It was usually practiced by specialized soothsayers, the «hepatoscopoi». In the Attic vase-painting of the late Archaic times (530-490 B.C.), «hepatoscopy» appears in typical «warrior’s farewell» scenes, before the battle, in which the liver is examined by the warrior himself.

[3] The prophetess performed a sacrifice resulting in a ten-year postponement of the plague that finally devastated Athens in 429 B.C., at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war.

[4] According to the theory of Ideas, Plato devided the world in two levels:

  1. The realm of sensible Forms, which consists of the Forms surrounding us and that we can perceive with our senses
  2. The realm of Ideas, which consists of the Ideas of the Forms. These Ideas are the real Forms, (ta ontos onta) whereas the Forms of the sensible realm literally mimic the real Forms.



On the relief:

Fougères G., Stèle de Mantinée, Bulletin de Correspondance Héllénique 12 (1888) 376-380.

Svoronos J. N., Das Athener Nationalmuseum III (Athen 1911) 662, no. 422.

Möbius H., Diotima, Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 49 (1934) 45-60.

Möbius H., Studia Varia (Wiesbaden 1967) 33-46.

Καρούζου Σ., Στήλη Διοτίμας, στο: Χ. και Σ. Καρούζου, Ανθολόγημα θησαυρών του Εθνικού Μουσείου (Αθήνα 1981) 77, pl. 90.

Schefold K., Die Bildnisse der antiken Dichter, Redner und Denker2 (Basel 1997) 108-109.

Κλατσάς Ν., Εθνικό Αρχαιολογικό Μουσείο. Τα Γλυπτά2 (Athens 2002) 132, no. 254.

Hupfloher A., The Woman Holding a Liver from Mantineia: Female Manteis and Beyond, in: E. Østby (ed.), Ancient Arcadia. Papers from the Third International Seminar on Ancient Rcadia (Athens 2005) 77-91.

Hupfloher A., Leberbeschau durch Frauen? Zur Divinationspraxis im Osten der Römerreiches, Das Altertum 53 (2008) 203-207.

Flower M. A., The Seer in Ancient Greece (Berkeley 2008) 212-213.

Goette H. R., Klassisches Original oder klassizistische Tradition in der Kaiserzeit? Zum Relief Athen, Nationalmuseum Inv. 226 aus Mantineia, in: Θ. Στεφανίδου-Τιβερίου – Δ. Δαμάσκος (eds), Κλασική παράδοση και νεωτερικά στοιχεία στην πλαστική της ρωμαϊκής Ελλάδας (Thessaloniki 2012) 213-224.

Δεσπίνης Γ., Μικρές μελέτες για ανάγλυφα (Athens 2013) 18-20.

Βλαχογιάννη Ε., Η ιέρεια-μάντισσα Διοτίμα, Αρχαιολογία & Τέχνες, ΕΓΓΥΣ: Κοντινές ματιές σε επιλεγμένα εκθέματα του Εθνικού Αρχαιολογικού Μουσείου 1-7-2015 (https://www.archaiologia.gr/blog/2015/07/01/η-ιέρεια-μάντισσα-διοτίμα/).


On “hepatoscopy”:

Karouzos Chr., Statuette d’un stratège en bronze, in: Études de sculpture antique offertes à Jean Charbonneaux, Revue Archéologique 1968, 185-192.

Durand J.-L. – F. Lissarague, Les entrailles de la cité, Hephaistos 1 (1979) 92-108.

Kossatz-Deissmann A., Nestor und Antilochos. Zu den spätarchaischen Bildern mit Leberschau, Archäologischer Anzeiger (1981) 562-576.

Lissarague F., L’autre guerrier. Archers, peltastes, cavaliers dans l’imagerie antique (Paris – Rome 1990) 55-69.

Van Straten F. T., Hiera Kala. Images of Animal Sacrifice in Archaic and Classical Greece (Leiden – New York – Köln 1995) 156-157, 238-243.

Thesaurus Cultus et Rituum Antiquorum III (2005) 6-8 s.v. Divination, gr. (W. Burkert).


On the role of Diotima in Plato’s Symposium:

Robin L., P. Vicaire, J. Laborderie (επιμ.), Platon, Œuvres complètes, IV.2. Le Banquet (Paris 1989) xxii-xxvii, lxxvi-xcviii.

J.C. Swearingen, Plato’s Feminine, Rhetoric Society Quarterly 22 (1992) 109-123.

D. Halperin, Why is Diotima a Woman?, in: One Hundred Years of Homosexuality (New York 1990) 113-151.

D. M. Halperin, Why is Diotima a Woman? Platonic Eros and the Figuration of Gender, in: D. M. Halperin – J. J. Winkler – F. I. Zeitlin (eds), Before Sexuality: the Construction of Erotic Experience in the Ancient Greek World (Princeton 1990) 257-308.


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