All About Plato's Famous Academy

Plato Statue Outside the Hellenic Academy
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Plato’s Academy was not a formal school or college in the sense we're familiar with. Rather, it was a more informal society of intellectuals who shared a common interest in studying subjects such as philosophy, mathematics, and astronomy. Plato held the belief that knowledge was not purely the result of inner reflection, but instead, could be sought through observation and therefore taught to others.

It was based upon this belief that Plato founded his famous Academy.

Location of Plato's School

The meeting location of Plato’s Academy was originally a public grove near the ancient city of Athens. The garden had historically been home to many other groups and activities. It had once been home to religious groups with its grove of olive trees dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, war, and crafts. Later, the garden was named for Akademos or Hecademus, a local hero after which the Academy was named. Ultimately, the garden was left to the citizens of Athens for use as a gymnasium. The garden was surrounded by art, architecture, and nature as it was famously adorned with statues, sepulchers, temples, and olive trees.

Plato delivered his lectures there in the small grove where senior and junior members of the exclusive group of intellectuals met. It has been surmised that these meetings and teachings employed several methods including lectures, seminars, and even dialogue, but primary instruction would have been conducted by Plato himself.

Academy Leaders

A page on the Academy from School of Mathematics and Statistics University of St Andrews, Scotland says that Cicero lists the leaders of the Academy up to 265 B.C. as Democritus, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Parmenides, Xenophanes, Socrates, Plato, Speusippus, Xenocrates, Polemo, Crates, and Crantor.

After Plato: Aristotle and Other Instructors

Eventually, other instructors joined, including Aristotle, who taught at the Academy before founding his own school of philosophy at Lyceum. After Plato's death, the running of the Academy was handed over to Speusippus. The Academy had earned such a reputation among intellectuals that it continued to operate, with periods of closure, for almost nine hundred years after Plato’s death hosting a list of famous philosophers and intellectuals including Democritus, Socrates, Parmenides, and Xenocrates. In fact, the Academy’s history spanned such a long period that scholars generally make a distinction between the Old Academy (defined by Plato’s tenure and that of his more immediate successors) and the New Academy (which begins with the leadership of Arcesilaus).

Closing of the Academy

When Emperor Justinian I, a Christian, closed the Academy in 529 A.D. for being pagan, seven of the philosophers went to Gundishapur in Persia at the invitation and under the protection of the Persian King Khusrau I Anushiravan (Chosroes I) [Iraj Bahiri's Ahuric Order and the Platonic Form]. Though Justinian is famous for the permanent closing of the Academy,  it had suffered earlier with periods of strife and closure.

When Sulla sacked Athens, the Academy was destroyed. Eventually, during the 18th century, scholars started searching for the remains of the Academy, and it was unearthed between 1929 and 1940 through funding by Panayotis Aristophron.

Reference

"Academy" The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature. Ed. M.C. Howatson and Ian Chilvers. Oxford University Press, 1996.

"Athens after the Liberation: Planning the New City and Exploring the Old", John Travlos

Hesperia, Vol. 50, No. 4, Greek Towns and Cities: A Symposium (Oct. - Dec. 1981), pp. 391-407