Sokrates: the pursuit of knowledge at personal expense
Antisthenes, Cynicism: virtue through the rejection of conventional desires
Chrysippos, Stoicism: moral and intellectual perfection by rising above emotions
Epikouros, Epicurianism: the greatest good through seeking modest pleasures and the absence of pain
The British museum has many treasures, but this is an adventure in curating which is to me one of the most thrilling. Rather than considering the philosophers themselves, which, seriously, you can better do through their writings or even Wikipedia, consider the artistic journey by which these heads reached us. First, at some point either during their lives or soon enough afterwards for people to still remember them, four different sculptors created the heads. Based on what we know about Greek sculpting, they created them because they had been commissioned to. Then, two centuries or more later, some four other wealthy persons commissioned four other sculptors to make copies of the heads. These heads survived the depredations that ended the Roman empire in the west, which almost certainly meant that they passed through the hands of preservers or collectors, until they were each, finally, separately, collected in the 19th century and donated to the British Museum collection, about a hundred years after its founding. Finally, a curator chose to exhibit them together.
Looking at the sculptures themselves, the wealth of Greek culture is at once revealed. If you wander a few rooms to the North, South, East or West, you can review the colossal, majestic but inhuman statues of the Egyptians, the flattened reliefs of the Babylonians, repeating the same figures again and again as they emphasise the greatness of the kings who defeated them, the grotesque, stylised representations of the Incas, and the noble, but largely lifeless representations of medieval Europe before the Renaissance. These, by contrast, are filled with life and character, even down to hair and cloth which seem to flow, though they are stone. Like the Socrates of Plato’s writing, they appear to be at the point of moving and speaking. With the possible exception of Epikouros, these are not ennobled heads.
Blurred by time, and second generation copies as they are, these are sculptures that speak. If you will let them.