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Cebes of Thebes (Greek: Κέβης Θηβαῖος, gen.: Κέβητος; c. 430 – 350 BCE[1]) was an Ancient Greek philosopher from Thebes remembered as a disciple of Socrates. One work, known as the Pinax (Πίναξ) or Tabula, attributed to Cebes still survives, but it is believed to be a composition by a pseudonymous author of the 1st or 2nd century CE.


Cebes was a disciple of Socrates and Philolaus, and a friend of Simmias of Thebes. He is one of the speakers in the Phaedo of Plato, in which he is represented as an earnest seeker after virtue and truth, keen in argument and cautious in decision. Xenophon says he was a member of Socrates' inner circle, and a frequent visitor to the hetaera, Theodote, in Athens.[1] He is also mentioned by Plato in the Crito and Epistle XIII.

Three dialogues, the Hebdome, the Phrynichus, and the Pinax or Tabula, are attributed to him by the Suda and Diogenes Laërtius. The two former are lost, and most scholars deny the authenticity of the Tabula on the ground of material and verbal anachronisms.[2]

The Tablet of Cebes[edit]

Title page with the Tablet of Cebes, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1521. Metalcut by Jacob Faber.

The Tablet of Cebes is probably by a pseudonymous author of the 1st or 2nd century.[3][4] The work professes to be an interpretation of an allegorical picture of a tablet on which the whole of human life with its dangers and temptations was symbolically represented, and which is said to have been dedicated by someone in the temple of Cronus at Athens or Thebes.[5] The author introduces some youths contemplating the tablet, and an old man who steps among them undertakes to explain its meaning.[5] It is intended to show that only the proper development of our mind and the possession of real virtues can make us truly happy.[5] The author develops the Platonic theory of pre-existence, and shows that true education consists not in mere erudition, but rather in the formation of character.[2] Parallels are often drawn between this work and John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.[2]

The Tabula has been widely translated both into European languages and into Arabic (the latter version published with the Greek text and Latin translation by Claudius Salmasius in 1640). It has often been printed together with the Enchiridion of Epictetus. Separate editions have been issued by CS Jerram (with introduction and notes, 1878), Karl Praechter (1893), and many others.[2][6] An English translation and commentary by John T. Fitzgerald and L. Michael White was published in 1983.

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  1. ^ a b Debra Nails, (2002), The people of Plato: a prosopography of Plato and other Socratics, page 82.
  2. ^ a b c d  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cebes". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ "The date of the Pinax is uncertain. The Teubner editor gives reason for thinking that it is later than Dio Chrysostom, and as we know it to be earlier than Lucian the first half of the second century seems the best conjecture." Donald R. Dudley, A History of Cynicism - From Diogenes to the 6th Century A.D., page 198
  4. ^ A philosopher called Cebes of Cyzicus is mentioned by Athenaeus (iv. 156 D) in a fictional Banquet of the Cynics, but there is no evidence that Cebes of Cyzicus was a real person. Cf. Bracht Branham, Marie-Odile Goulet-Cazé, (2000), The Cynics: The Cynic Movement in Antiquity and Its Legacy. page 411
  5. ^ a b c  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSmith, William, ed. (1870). "Cebes". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
  6. ^ See Eduard Zeller's History of Greek Philosophy; F Klopfer, De Cebetis Tabula (1818–1822); C Prachter, Cebetis Tabula quanam aetate conscripta esse videatur (1885).

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