An academy is an institution for the study of higher learning.

The name Academy became known for the Athenian school of philosophy and learning that Plato founded in the gymnasium there, in approximately 385 BC.

The term is also used for various other institutions in modern times.


The original Academy

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The revived Academy in Athens, housed in neoclassical splendor

Before the Akademeia was a school, however, even before Cimon enclosed its precincts with a wall (Plutarch Life of Cimon xiii:7), it contained a sacred grove of olive trees outside the city walls of ancient Athens (Thucydides ii:34). The archaic name for the site was Hekademeia, which by classical times evolved into Akademeia and was explained, at least as early as the beginning of the 6th century BC, by linking it to an eponymous Athenian hero, a legendary "Akademos".

The site of the Academy was sacred to Athena and other immortals; it had sheltered a religious cult since the Bronze Age, a cult that was perhaps associated with the hero-gods the Dioskouroi (Castor and Polydeukes), for the hero Akademos associated with the site was credited with revealing to the Divine Twins where Theseus had hidden Helen. Out of respect for its association with the Dioskouri, the Spartans would not ravage these original "groves of Academe" when they invaded Attica (Plutarch, Life of Theseus xxxii), a piety not shared by the Roman Sulla, who axed the sacred olive trees in 86 BC to build siege engines.

Among the religious observations that took place at the Akademeia was a torchlit night race from altars within the city to the Promemeikos altar in the Akademeia. Funeral games also took place in the area as well as a Dionysiac procession from Athens to the Hekademeia and then back to the polis (Paus. i 29.2, 30.2; Plut. Vit. Sol. i 7). The road to Akademeia was lined with the gravestones of Athenians.

The Platonic Academy is usually contrasted with Aristotle's own creation, the Peripatetics.

Famous philosophers entrusted with running the Academy include Arcesilaus, Speusippus, Xenocrates and Proclus.

The revived neoplatonic Academy of Late Antiquity

After a lapse during the early Roman occupation, the Academy was refounded (Cameron 1965) 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. There cannot really have been any geographical, institutional, economic or personal continuity with the original Academy in the new organizational entity (Bechtle).

The last "Greek" philosophers of the revived Academy in the 6th century were drawn from variouis parts of the Hellenistic cultural world and suggest the broad syncretism of the common culture (see koine): Five of the seven Academy 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 himself (Thiele).

The emperor Justinian closed the school in AD 529, a date that is often cited for 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. The students of the Academy-in-exile, an authentic and important Neoplatonic school surviving at least until the 10th century, contributed to the Islamic preservation of Greek science and medicine, when Islamic forces took the area in the 7th century (Thiele). One of the earliest academies established in the east was the 7th century Academy of Gundishapur in Sassanid Persia.

Raphael's portrait of Plato, a detail of The School of Athens fresco
Raphael's portrait of Plato, a detail of The School of Athens fresco

Raphael painted a famous fresco depicting "The School of Athens" in the 16th century.

The site of the Academy was rediscovered in the 20th century; considerable excavation has been accomplished. The Church of St. Triton on Kolokynthou Street, Athens, occupies the southern corner of the Academy, confirmed in 1966 by the discovery of a boundary stone dated to 500 BC.

Modern use of the term academy

Because of the tradition of intellectual brilliance associated with this institution, many groups have chosen to use the word "Academy" in their name.

During the Florentine Renaissance, Cosimo de' Medici took a personal interest in the new Platonic Academy that he determined to re-establish in 1439, centered on the marvellous promise shown by Marsilio Ficino, scarcely more than a lad. Cosimo had been inspired by the arrival at the otherwise ineffective Council of Florence of Gemistos Plethon, who seemed like a Plato reborn to the Florentine intellectuals. In 1462 Cosimo gave Ficino a villa at Careggi for the Academy's use, situated where Cosimo could descry it from his own villa. The Renaissance drew potent intellectual and spiritual strength from the academy at Careggi. During the course of the following century many Italian cities established an Academy, of which the oldest survivor is the Accademia dei Lincei of Rome, which became a national academy for a reunited Italy.

Other national academies include the Académie Francaise; the Royal Academy of the United Kingdom; the International Academy of Science, the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY; the United States Naval Academy, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who give the Academy awards.

In the early 19th century "academy" took the connotations that "gymnasium" was acquiring in German-speaking lands, of school that was less advanced than a college (for which it might prepare students) but considerably more than elementary. An early example are the two academies founded at Andover and Phillips Exeter Academy. Amherst Academy expanded with time to form Amherst College.

Mozart organized public subscription performances of his music in Vienna in the 1780s and 1790s, he called the concerts "academies." This usage in musical terms survives in the concert orchestra Academy of St Martin in the Fields and in the Brixton Academy, a concert hall in Brixton, South London.

Academies proliferated in the 20th century until even a three-week series of lectures and discussions would be termed an "academy." In addition, the generic term "the academy" is sometimes used to refer to all of academia, which is sometimes considered a global successor to the Academy of Athens.

See also: national academy, list of honorary societies, academician, military academy

Honorary Academy

See the Acadmie Franaise and its many emulaters among national honorary academies of strictly limited membership..

Research Academy

In Imperial Russia and Soviet Union the term "academy", or Academy of Sciences was reserved to denote a state research establishment, see Russian Academy of Sciences. The latter one still exists in the Russian Federation, although other types of academies (study and honorary) appeared as well.

External links


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