The Tabula of Cebes or The Journey of Human Life

Cornelio Pepoli, Lettere instruttive intorno alla Tavola di Cebete …col Nome Pastorale di Cratejo Erasiniano (Venezia: Appresso Francesco Sansoni, 1771). Frontispiece engraved after Hans Holbein (1497-1543). Includes Latin and Italian versions of the Kebētos Thēbaiou pinax, on facing pages. Graphic Arts (GAX) 2010- in process

Cebes of Thebes (ca. 430-350 B.C.E.) was a member of Socrates’ inner circle. One of the dialogs that has been attributed to him is the Pinax or Tabula, also known as the Tablet of Cebes.

In fact, it was probably Hellenistic, from the second or at the earliest, the first century. The Tabula was well known in antiquity, and after the first modern publication in the late fifteenth century, popular in Europe through the eighteenth century (such as this example).


Pepoli’s bilingual text is a dialogue describing a vast panoramic painting of human life in allegorical terms, and depicting the dangers and temptations that the frail human pilgrims encounter. It is an attempt to show that only the proper development of our mind and the possession of real virtues can make us truly happy. Parallels are often drawn between this work and John Bunyons’ The Pilgrims’ Progress.

Frontispiece is based on a design by Hans Holbein (below), although Pepoli’s includes a key at the foot of the plate identifying the highlights and low points of human progress, such as genius, luck and happiness, but also misery, penitence, folly of love, and much more.


Below: Hans Holbein’s title page with the Tabula Cebetis, metalcut, 1521. Kunstmuseum Basel. First used in De patienta, in Quintus Septimius Tertullian’s Opera …, edited by Beatus Rhenanus, Basel: Johann Froben, July 1521.



Princeton has a large collection of Tabula Cebetis. Here are two more examples.

See also Princeton’s Rare Books blog:

For more information: John T. Fitzgerald and Michael White, Kebētos Thēbaiou pinax (The Tabula of Cebes) (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983). Classics Collection (Clas). Firestone PA3948.C2 A24 1983


Above: Cebes, of Thebes, Paráfrasis árabe de la tabla de Cebes. Traducida en castellano é illustrada con notas por Pablo Lozano y Casela. (Madrid: Imprenta Real, 1793). Rare Books (Ex) 2010-1020N

Below: Hendrick Laurenszoon Spieghel (1549-1612), H. L. Spieghels Hertspieghel en andere zede-schriften (Amsterdam: Hendrik Wetstein, 1694). Rare Books (Ex) N7710 .S64 1694