During the XXIII World Congress of Philosophy, four Special Philosophical Meetings will be held to four different historical and philosophically important sites of Athens. All registered participants are welcome to attend, free of charge, any philosophical meeting they are interested in. As the availability in the below mentioned sites is limited, requests will be handled on a first-come first-served basis.
I. PLATO’S ACADEMY
Plato established the Academy after his return from Sicily in the Spring of 387 BCE. 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 flowing waters from the river Cephisus. The School operated continuously until 529 CE, a period of over 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, and in this sense was the first University in the world. It was devoted to teaching in the sciences, to research into the nature of order in the universe, and to philosophical inquiry into all aspects of life, especially to the study of politics.
The Scholarch of the Academy was Plato himself who conducted his role through the development of method for dialectic in which ideas and hypotheses were explored. 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 and many others. Study at the Academy was open to all, to men and women, rich and poor; sons of the leading political families of the Greek world studied here as well as humble farmers. There were no fees for 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 its 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 of 529, which ordered the closing of the philosophical schools, the leading figures of the Academy, led by Damascius and his colleagues, abandoned Athens around 532 and migrated to Persia to the court of King Khusro I ( in Ktesiphon). Because the conditions that they found there were disagreeable, they were granted permission to return to Byzantine territories, including Athens. With the official termination of the Academy in Athens, the original site underwent further damage from barbarian invasions, lack of maintenance, and repeated floods of Cephisus river. As the site reverted back to agricultural land all traces of the School disappeared from view.
The efforts to determine the precise location of the site of Plato’s Academy only began with the establishment of the modern Greek state. Making use of ancient sources the archeologists explored the area west of the Dipylon Gate near the hill of Hippeios Colonus. The search was aided significantly with the discovery of the ‘Municipal Seal’ of ancient Athens. However, the search only began in earnest with the dedicated 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 those of other colleagues, led to the protection and subsequent promotion of the site, which continue unabated to this day. The Academy was officially declared to be an archeological site in 1965 and placed under the Law for the Unification of Archaeological Sites of Athens in 1997. From 1989 to 2004, over a fifteen year period, Professor K. Boudouris, of the University of Athens, held within the archeological site, the International Seminar of Philosophy series which were attended by thousands of citizens and intellectuals alike.
The year 2013 marks a fortuitous coincidence in that the 23rd World Congress of Philosophy, which is to be held in Athens for the first time, coincides with the 2,400th anniversary of the Academy’s founding. This occasion beckons all lovers of wisdom to come to Athens to give honor and pay homage to the institution that had as its sole end, from the day of its founding to its closure, the cultivation of the most divine within the human being – nous, or mind. This devotion to the search for the highest in humankind, which first began here, has been the inspiration for all renaissances of the past and those to come in the future.
II. THE LYCEUM AS THE SCHOOL OF ARISTOTLE
The Lyceum was the site where Aristotle in 335 BCE founded his School as a ‘thiasos of the Muses’ - an association devoted to the Muses. At this site Aristotle purchased a building for living quarters and others for teaching activities. The choice of area was hardly accidental. The School’s facilities were immediately adjacent to the Gymnasium, a place of physical training, education and culture that was frequented by young ephebes undergoing military training. The youths’ presence there was like a magnet that attracted philosophers and other intellectuals who wished to engage them in discussion. Among those who frequented the Gymansium were the famed intellectuals Prodicus of Keos, Protagoras of Abdera, Isocrates of Athens (who located his School here), to name but a few.
The Lyceum encompassed an area of considerable extent outside the city walls east of the city, and seems to have covered an area that now stretches from the National Gardens all the way to the Byzantine Museum. The Lyceum was one of the most significant Gymnasia of Athens and included facilities for the military training of youth and was the site of many sanctuaries, such as that of Lykeios Apollo, Heracles, and the temple of the Muses. The Gymnasium contained facilities for gymnastic exhibitions and for the training of hoplite infantrymen as well as cavalrymen; it also served as an Assembly site, before the Assembly was officially moved to the Pnyx in the 6th century BCE. At the same time it was an idyllic area with a variety of trees, shrubs, flowers and flowing water, all of which created an ideal setting for leisurely walks, discussions and reflection. Socrates was a frequent visitor there as we learn from Plato’s dialogue Lysis (203a-b).
When Aristotle founded the Lyceum he had already served some twenty years as a member of the Academy and a collaborator of Plato. Now, in the most mature phase of his life, assisted by his own students and his own collaborators, he lectured and wrote his major works here, thus establishing the Lyceum as the greatest theoretical and applied research center of the time. It became in effect the foremost institution of advanced learning in the liberal arts and sciences. Aristotle’s School had a similar structure and mode of operation as Plato’s Academy. The School was a society of friends engaged in advanced and path-breaking research; the public lectures of the School would draw large audiences.
Information about the Lyceum site is to be found in many ancient sources such as Plato, Xenophon, Theophrastus (in Diogenes Laertius), Plutarch, Lucian, Strabo, and Pausanias. The last information that has come down to us is from Plutarch and Lucian around the 2nd century CE who make reference to a dedication of the Gymnasium to Apollo as the god of Strength and Health.
Theophrastus, the successor of Aristotle at the Lyceum (322-287 BCE), states in his will that he wished to be buried in his own private plot of land he purchased within the greater area of the Lyceum, and he makes references to the Sanctuary of the Muses, two porticos, an altar, and to the statues of Aristotle and his son Nicomachus, and he designates a sum of money for repairs and maintenance of the School’s monuments and buildings (Diogenes Laertius V, 51-57). Undoubtedly, during the period of Theophrastus’ tenure as head of the School, the Lyceum contained a library, probably the first research library of its kind, which later became the model for the great library of Alexandria. Most importantly, the Lyceum library contained Aristotle’s works which, according to ancient sources (Strabo), were inherited by Neleus, who transported them to the city of Skepsis in the Troad in Asia Minor where they suffered damage and remained out of circulation until they were recovered in the 1st century BCE and brought back to Athens. After Sulla’s sacking of Athens in 86 BCE Aristotle’s works were taken to Rome as a war prize. There the writings were collated and systematically edited by Andronikos of Rhodes, a Scholarch who was invited to Rome for this purpose. Andronikos published the corpus, more or less as we have it today, in 45 BCE.
Amongst those who served as Scholarchs of the Lyceum were Theophrastus, after whom came Strato of Lampsacus (287 to c. 270 BCE), Lycon of Troas, (3rd century BCE), Ariston of Keos (3rd century BCE), Kritolaos of Phaselis, (190-150 BCE), Diodorus of Tyre (2nd century BCE), Andronikos of Rhodes (c. 58 BCE) and others. Important personages who worked at the Lyceum were Eudemus, Dikaiarchos of Messenia, the historian Menon, the theoretician of music Aristoxenos, and Demetrios of Phaleron (one of the leading figures behind the establishment of the Library and the Museum at Alexandria, 345-283 BCE).
Among the notable research-scholars who tried to locate the site were E. Curtius and J. A Kauper (1878) and Alexandros Rangaves (1888), who identified the location of Gymnasium with greater accuracy, pointing to the area which recent archeological excavation has certified to indeed be the historic site. In the more recent period honors go to I. Meliades, who during his excavations along the Ilisus river bed (1953-1954), expressed the view that the palaistra, i.e., the wrestling and boxing facility of the Gymansium, should be exactly where later excavations were to find it. These excavations occurred in 1966 by a number of Greek archeologists; especially important were those conducted under the direction of Dr. Eutychia Lygouri-Tolia.
Though there were many vicissitudes and there exist many blank pages in our history of the Lyceum, we can venture to say that philosophical activity continued here from 335 until 86 BCE when the area, and much of Athens, was pillaged by the Roman general Sulla. Later, during the 1st century BCE, it seems that the Lyceum was reconstituted in some fashion by Andronikos of Rhodes (45 BCE) who is referred to by some sources as the 11th Scholarch of the Lyceum. During the 2nd century CE the Emperor Marcus Aurelius appointed professors at the philosophical schools of Athens, and of course at the Lyceum. The Lyceum seems to have suffered great destruction during the barbarian invasion of the Heruli in 267 CE. The operation of the School (as well as that of the Academy) seems to have come to an end in 529 CE.
III. THE PNYX AND THE ASSEMBLY OF THE PEOPLE
The rocky hill of Pnyx began to be used as an area for public assemblies and deliberations of the Athenian citizens (the dêmos) from 507 BCE. In that year the Athenian statesman Cleisthenes introduced his sweeping reforms, under which the Athenian dêmos gained sovereignty over the political life of the city. Soon buildings and facilities were constructed here for the functions of the Assembly. Henceforth the Pnyx was to become associated with the democratic ideal that has inspired humankind the world over.
The podium, known as the ‘Bêma’, is the raised protruding step from which the speakers addressed the Assembly. More than any other remnant on the Pnyx, the Bêma is the symbol that best expresses the principles of the democracy, namely, political equality (isonomia), freedom of speech and assembly (isegoria), and the equal participation of the people in the institutions affecting public life (isopoliteia). It was from the Bêma that all the important political statesman and orators of the 6th to the 5th centuries BCE (the golden age of the Athenian democracy) addressed the Athenian people. Among them were Cleisthenes, Themistocles, Aristides, Kimon, Pericles, Alcibiades, Nicias, Demosthenes, Aeschines, Lycurgus, and many others.
The Pnyx, both as a public area and as the Assembly of the People, undoubtedly was used during the Roman times as the boulê, the Council that regulated the internal affairs of Athens. Naturally, during its long years of use the site underwent continuous modifications that reflected the political changes of each era, and these modifications have been systematically studied by Greek archaeologists.
As a prominent rocky hill, the Pnyx has certainly always been visible, however its positive identification in modern times was made in 1835 by the archeologist S. K. Pittakis, who discovered the 5th century stone inscription bearing the title ‘HOROS PYKNOS’ (Boundary of the Pnyx). Shortly, thereafter, in 1838, Theodoros Koloktrones, the military commander of the War of Liberation, made use of the site’s identification to deliver a speech here that exhorted the youth of the struggling nation to pursue wisdom so as to follow in ‘the steps of the wise men who once walked here’. Excavations resumed in 1910 and continued during 1930–1937 under K. Kourouniotes, Robert Scranton and others. Their work brought to light the foundations of buildings, such as those of the two porticoes (which were constructed around 330-326 BCE), the Altar of Zeus Agoraios (i.e., of ‘Free Speech’), the Temple of Zeus, the Highest, and the Heliotrope of Meton, an important astronomical observatory.
The Pnyx is open free to the public. However, the site, especially the Bêma, is discreetly protected as a sacred symbol of democracy. The view from the vicinity of the Bêma grants to the discerning observer a breathtaking grasp of the logical unity of the Athenian republic: below is the Agora, with its magistracies, courts and administrative offices; immediately opposite is the Acropolis with its Parthenon and just below it is the Theatre of Dionysius, the hub of the city’s culture. These monuments, with the Lycabettus hill and the Hymettus Mountain in the background, provide a view that continues to enchant with its wonderful beauty, especially during sunset.
The Pnyx is located less than 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) west of the Acropolis and 1.6 km south-west of the centre of modern Athens, Syntagma Square.
IV. PLATO’S PHAEDRUS –THE SETTING OF THE DIALOGUE
(Olympeion, Kallimarmaro Stadium, Artemis Agrotera, Kallirrhoe, St. Fotini at Ilissos)
Socrates, barefoot as usual, encounters an acquaintance of his, Phaedrus, who is also walking barefoot near the Olympeion. Phaedrus is planning to take a constitutional walk into the countryside, outside of the city environs, because he has spent the morning at the house of Morychus listening to a speech by Lysias, the famous orator, on Love (Erôs). Phaedrus tells Socrates that if he wishes to learn what Lysias said then he must join him on his walk. Though Socrates would rarely leave the city, he is enticed by Phaedrus and agrees to accompany him. As the two become engaged in discussion they pass through the city gates in the area just north of the Olympeion and coming to the Ilissos river ( in the vicinity of the Panathenaic Stadium) they turn right and walk along the river’s bank. Meanwhile, Socrates discovers that Phaedrus is concealing Lysias’ speech under his garment and asks him to read it. They then decide to sit beneath a large plane tree whose shade provides them with relief from the scorching heat. As it turns out their resting place is a sacred location dedicated to Pan, the Nymphs, Acheloos and other deities. The time is high noon and the entire area is buzzing with the echoes of cicadas.
At this enchanted spot Phaedrus reads Lysias’ speech on Love. Socrates responds with his first speech, during which he famously keeps his head covered to hide his shame because he believes that the words he is uttering will be offensive to the goddess of Love. Socrates goes on to present his second speech, his retraction - the ‘palinode’ - in which Plato’s views on love are developed (also see the Symposium). The dialogue proceeds to a discussion of the nature of rhetoric and writing (literature, oratory, legislative art), where the speech maker is said to plant reproductive seeds in the minds of the listener, seeds that have gained the status of truth through philosophical dialectic. The dialogue emphasizes the close relationship of the philosopher with love, where the philosopher is understood as a genuine seeker of knowledge, truth and beauty.
As the noon time heat fades away the dialogue comes to its end with the notable request of Socrates - and with Phaedrus’ agreement - to make a prayer to the deities of the place. The text reads as follows:
Socrates: Is it not well to pray to the deities here before we go?
Phaedrus: Of course.
Socrates: O beloved Pan and all ye other gods of this place, grant to me that I be made beautiful in my soul within, and that all external possessions be in harmony with my inner man. May I consider the wise man rich; and may I have such wealth as only the self-restrained man can bear or endure.—Do we need anything more, Phaedrus? For me that prayer is enough.
Phaedrus: Let me also share in this prayer; for friends have all things in common.
Socrates: Let us go (Phaedrus 279b3-c8,trans.Hackforth).
Note on the dialogue’s location: The dialogue seems to have taken place in the region limited by the Olympeion (west), Basilissis Olgas Street (northwest), the Panathenian Stadium, the streets Ardittou and Kallirrhore and the Temple of Artemis Agrotera (east) and Athanasios Diakos street (south). We should also point out that next to the church of Hagia Fotini (on the south side of it) is the cave and what is believed to be the relief of Pan (see I. N. Theodorakopoulou, Plato's Phaedrus, Second Edition, Athens 1968, pages 462-463).