A Note on Cebes’ Pinax

The Tabula or Pinax of “Cebes”, who is traditionally identified with the Cebes of Thebes of the Socratic dialogues of Plato. The work is in fact Hellenistic, probably of the second or, at the earliest, the first century. It was well known in antiquity, and, after its first modern publication in the late 15th century, popular in Europe through the eighteenth century. Milton, for instance, in his essay Of Education places it among the “easy and delightful books of education”. There have been several English translations and editions, nicely spaced through the centuries; the most recent that I know of is that of John T. Fitzgerald and L. Michael White (Scholars Press, 1983).

The Tabula itself is a (putative) painting describing the various states and conditions of human life and its proper (and improper) courses; the dialogue that constitutes the work is based on the painting. Among the subjects of painting and dialogue is a distinction between “human” and “divine” education; the first, which is a precursor to the second, being the sort of learning that we normally associate with the word “education”. Outside the precincts of “sincere Erudition” throng those who mistake both the limits and the purposes of education.

Note to Christian Morals, Part I, Sect. I