Academy | origins

Origins

Original Academy

The School of Athens, fresco by Raphael (1509–1510), of an idealized academy

Before Akademia was a school, and even before Cimon enclosed its precincts with a wall,[2] it contained a sacred grove of olive trees dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, outside the city walls of ancient Athens.[3] The archaic name for the site was Hekademia, which by classical times evolved into Akademia and was explained, at least as early as the beginning of the 6th century BC, by linking it to an Athenian hero, a legendary "Akademos". The site of Akademia was sacred to Athena and other immortals.

Plato's immediate successors as "scholarch" of Akademia were Speusippus (347–339 BC), Xenocrates (339–314 BC), Polemon (314–269 BC), Crates (ca. 269–266 BC), and Arcesilaus (ca. 266–240 BC). Later scholarchs include Lacydes of Cyrene, Carneades, Clitomachus, and Philo of Larissa ("the last undisputed head of the Academy").[4][5] Other notable members of Akademia include Aristotle, Heraclides Ponticus, Eudoxus of Cnidus, Philip of Opus, Crantor, and Antiochus of Ascalon.

Neoplatonic Academy of Late Antiquity

After a lapse during the early Roman occupation, Akademia was refounded[6] as a new institution of some outstanding Platonists of late antiquity who called themselves "successors" (diadochoi, but of Plato) and presented themselves as an uninterrupted tradition reaching back to Plato. However, there cannot have actually been any geographical, institutional, economic or personal continuity with the original Academy in the new organizational entity.[7]

The last "Greek" philosophers of the revived Akademia in the 6th century were drawn from various parts of the Hellenistic cultural world and suggest the broad syncretism of the common culture (see koine): Five of the seven Akademia philosophers mentioned by Agathias were Syriac in their cultural origin: Hermias and Diogenes (both from Phoenicia), Isidorus of Gaza, Damascius of Syria, Iamblichus of Coele-Syria and perhaps even Simplicius of Cilicia.[7]

The emperor Justinian closed the school in AD 529, a date that is often cited as the end of Antiquity. According to the sole witness, the historian Agathias, its remaining members looked for protection under the rule of Sassanid king Khosrau I in his capital at Ctesiphon, carrying with them precious scrolls of literature and philosophy, and to a lesser degree of science. After a peace treaty between the Persian and the Byzantine empire in 532 guaranteed their personal security (an early document in the history of freedom of religion), some members found sanctuary in the pagan stronghold of Harran, near Edessa. One of the last leading figures of this group was Simplicius, a pupil of Damascius, the last head of the Athenian school.

It has been speculated that Akademia did not altogether disappear.[7][8] After his exile, Simplicius (and perhaps some others), may have travelled to Harran, near Edessa. From there, the students of an Academy-in-exile could have survived into the 9th century, long enough to facilitate the Arabic revival of the Neoplatonist commentary tradition in Baghdad.[8]