PLATO’S ACADEMY

Plato established the Academy after his return from Sicily in the Spring of 387 BCE.

In 2013, when the 23rd World Congress of Philosophy took place in Athens, Plato’s Academy was 2400 years old. On this occasion The Bank of Greece had issued special Commemorative Coin, and the Hellenic Post collections of Post Stamps and Postal Envelops. To honor the World Congress, the Commemorative collections of Post Stamps and Postal Envelops were issued, as well.

The site of the School was located in the area of the Gymnasium of the Academy, 1.5 kilometers outside the city’s gates. The area was known for its beautiful groves and trees, and running waters of the river Cephisus. The School operated continuously until 529 CE, more than 900 years.

Plato himself lived near the Academy in the area of Hippeios Colonus.

The Academy was a self- administered association dedicated to the worship of the Muses. The legal status of the Academy, under which its property was deemed holy, helped to assure the School’s continuation. The Academy was an institution of Higher Learning/Education, and, therefore, it could be regarded as the first University in the world. It was dedicated to teaching of the sciences, research of the order of the nature within the universe, and to philosophical inquiry of all aspects of life, especially the politics.

The Scholarch of the Academy was Plato himself, who conducted his role through the development of a dialectical method, which explored ideas and hypotheses. Among the most significant students and collaborators of Plato were Aristotle, the great mathematicians Theodoros of Cyrene, Eudoxus of Cnidus and Thaetetus of Sounion, the astronomer-philosophers Heraclides Ponticus and Philip of Opus, Dion of Syracuse, to name only a few. Studying at the Academy was open to all, to men and women, rich and poor; sons of the leading and prominent political families of the Greek world studied there alongside with humble farmers. There were no fees for the attendance.

Plato was succeeded by Speusippus (347-339 BCE), who was then followed by Xenocrates (339-314 BCE). Under the latter, the archons were selected from the oldest members, and were appointed every ten days to administer the School. Other Scholars of the Old Academy were Polemon (314-269 BCE) and Crates (269-266 BCE). During the Middle Period Arcesilaus (266-241 BCE), Lacydes of Cyrene (241-215 BCE), Evander and Telecles (jointly) (205-c. 165 BCE) and and Hegesinus (c, 160 BC). Amongst the heads of the New Academy were Carneades (155-129 BCE), Cleitomachus (129-110 BCE), Philo of Larissa (110-84 BCE) and Antiochus of Ascalon (84-79 BCE).

During the Roman and Christian eras Platonic philosophers continued their activities under the auspices of the Academy, but not at the historic site. The Roman general Sulla, in his bloody siege of Athens in 86 BCE:  ‘laid hands upon the sacred groves, and destroyed the Academy as well as the Lyceum’ (Plutarch, Sulla 14.4).  Nevertheless, from 410 CE philosophers of a Neo-Platonic bent, such as Plutarch of Athens and Syrianus, continued their teaching under the authority of the Academy. This development found its highpoint in the monumental work of Proclus (c. 485 CE) who taught in his own building complex, which, as Scholarch, he had inherited from Plutarch and Syrianus. The property and the building have been located south east of the Acropolis (near the theatre of Dionysios). Proclus was succeeded by Marinus of Neapolis (modern Nablus), Isidore and, finally, Damascius

After Justinian’s Edict in 529, which ordered the closing of the philosophical schools, the leading figures of the Academy, led by Damascius and his followers, abandoned Athens around 532 and migrated to Persia to the court of King Khusro I (in Ktesiphon). The conditions they had met there were disagreeable, so they were granted permission to return to Byzantine territories, including Athens. After the official closure of the Academy in Athens, the original site underwent further damage due to barbarian invasions, lack of maintenance, and repeated floods of the river Cephisus. As the site reverted back to agricultural land, all traces of the School disappeared.

The efforts to determine the precise location of the Plato’s Academy began with the establishment of the Μodern Greek state. Making use of ancient sources, the archeologists explored the area west of the Dipylon Gate, near the hill of Hippeios Colonus. There was a breakthrough in the search when the discovery of the ‘Municipal Seal’ of ancient Athens was made. However, the search only began in earnest with the efforts of Panagiotis Aristophron, a Greek architect from Alexandria. The excavations, which he personally funded, were supervised by the archaeologist Professor Κ. Kourouniotes.  In June 1933 the location of the Gymansium’s Peristyle was positively identified. Excavations, however, were delayed due to protests from landowners. From 1955 to 1962, excavations were resumed under the direction of the archeologist Phoebos Stavropoulos; his findings, and his colleagues, led to the protection and promotion of the site, which continues unabated to this day. The Academy was officially declared as an archeological site 1965 and placed under the Law for the Unification of Archaeological Sites of Athens in 1997.

From 1989 to 2004 Konstantine Boudouris, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Athens, successfully organized and held, within the archeological site of Plato’s Academy, the International Seminar of Philosophy series. These seminars were open for the public, following Plato’s footsteps, and were attended both by thousands of citizens and intellectuals from all over the World

In the Spring of 2002 the International Association of Greek Philosphy organized at Plato’s Academy and at Pnyx the 14th International Philosophy Seminar on the topic: “Philosophy and Globalisation”.

Many persons, Academics and other Athenians, have attended the Seminar. Please see pictures from the Sessions of the Seminar.

Therefore, it is not surprising that during the 23rd World Congress of Philosophy one Special Session of the Congress took place at Plato’s Academy. It was very warmly received, for it was a great oppurtunity for all the participants to honor and pay homage to the institution that had as its sole aim, from the day of its founding to its closure, the cultivation of the most divine within the human being – nous, or mind. This dedication to strive for the highest and best in humankind, which began here, has been the inspiration for those in the past and those yet to come. 

Pictures from the Special Session at Plato's Academy of 23rd World Congress of Philosophy (August 2013)