Plato's Academy

Plato’s Academy

Founded in 387 BC by Greek philosopher Plato, the Academy was situated just outside the city of Athens, outside of the city walls. Before the actual building was built, intellectual gatherings were held in a garden area surrounded by sculptures, olive trees and lined with temples. This area was often used for recreation and group meetings and activities. When Plato bought the land, he began to hold casual meetings with other thinkers long before the Academy building itself was ever built. Considered the first ever university in the world, it was not exactly like a school or university today as it was not as structured, but its attendees could discuss many subjects including philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, politics, and physics.

 

Aristotle was a student at the Academy, and he would later go onto found his own Academy, the Lyceum also in Athens. Plato taught using a combination of lectures and seminars as well as a method involving a dialogue between teacher and student, which is something Dr Sergis has adopted in his own teaching in his own academy. Plato believed in teaching by observation, not merely by inner reflection. During Plato’s times, entrance to the Academy was free. Following Plato’s death in 348/7 BC at the age of 81, his nephew Speusippus succeeded the Academy as head. The Academy continued its operation for nearly 200 years after Plato’s death, even after the Roman general Lucius Cornelius Sulla, conquered Athens and destroyed the Academy by fire in 86 BC. During the late Roman period, the Christian Roman Emperor Justinian I closed it once and for all in 529 AD.

 

Excavation works in the late 1920s through to the 1940s have unearthed the structure of the Academy and it is now an archaeological site that people can visit. The famous fresco by Renaissance painter Raphael (1483-1520), known as the School of Athens (1509-1511) depicts Plato and Aristotle in the centre engaged in an intellectual conversation as they walk through a grand academy. Plato and Aristotle had differing views on philosophy, with Plato depicted pointing upwards, suggesting that we must study the heavens and the laws of nature to develop our theories using pure mathematical thinking, whereas Aristotle, with his palm to the ground, believes in a philosophy based on sight and one that is grounded on the human experience through observation by experiments. Despite the destruction of the building, Plato’s philosophy survived and has lived on to influence the ages. It was reborn in Neoplatonism and sparked off the Renaissance. It has been fundamental in the development of Western philosophy and theoretical physics in the modern world.

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