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Between reason and instinct

Posted October. 15, 2020 07:59,   

Updated October. 15, 2020 07:59


Duplicity might be a natural instinct for humans, as there is no one perfectly good or bad. Everybody has good and bad sides and struggles between reason and instinct. Good/bad people are decided when either side has priority. Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli captures the relationship between reason and instinct perfectly in a painting.  

On this large canvas, which stretches out more than two meters in length, two people are depicted in drawing in real life size. On the left is a centaur, the half-man and half-beast from Greek mythology known from being brutal, amorous and loving to drink. On the right is Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war and the same figure as Minerva of Roman mythology. Pallas, which means “one who wields spears” refers to Athena. Centaur, who carries an arrow, has a sad expression‎ as he is seized by Pallas. Unlike his beastly-like appearance, he seems to be entirely under control by the goddess. Centaur represents uncontrollable instinct and lust, while Pallas symbolizes reason and wisdom. The painting has been considered an expression‎ of reason triumphing over instinct, interpreted in various other meanings from political and religious perspectives.  

On Pallas’ dress, she has three diamond rings in the form of the House of Medici arms and a laurel wreath on her head. These signal that the painting was ordered by Lorenzo de Medici, the ruler of Firenze at that time. In other words, the painter depicted his sponsor and lord as a wise winner that triumphed over instinct and greed.

However, it is not easy to suppress instinct all the time. Anyone can tempted and head for the other option. Centaur is the symbol of such duplicity. If we are accustomed to reason, we become more gentle and mild, but when we are controlled by instinct, we become a destructive monster. This is why people need reason to keep ourselves alert and away from becoming uncontrollable beings.