In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Academy

  • Introduction
  • General History and Archaeology of the Academy

Classics The Academy
Harold Tarrant
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389661-0146


The term “Academy,” even in the context of the ancient world, could mean a number of different things. The most general meaning applies to the gymnasium of Hecademus at Athens (originally Hekademeia) and its immediate vicinity, in which the school was founded. From this is derived the usual meaning, given to the place of education, including a garden, established there by Plato approximately halfway through his life. Teaching there continued until 88 BCE, when the politics surrounding the Second Mithridatic War, plus subsequent Roman retaliation against Athens, brought it to an end. Although we often hear of Platonist circles and schools in Athens thereafter, they are not correctly referred to as “Academies,” let alone as “the Academy.” The leaders of the institution may also be referred to collectively as the Academy, just as those of the Stoics could be referred to as the “Stoa” (or “Porch”). A narrower meaning is applied to leaders and prominent pupils of the “skeptical” phase of the Academy, from Arcesilaus to Philo of Larissa, some of whom survived well beyond 88 BCE, and that might occasionally be further extended to include later figures such as Favorinus of Arles, who described themselves as “Academics” at a time when teachers of Platonic doctrine preferred the title “Platonic.” This article is intended to concentrate on the period from late in Plato’s life until 88 BCE, with some attention also to the aftermath of the breakup of the school, and the focus will be on the principal people involved in the promotion of the school and on their doctrines or strategies. Hence, it is intended to cover (1) the period from the death of Plato until the accession of Arcesilaus, usually known as the “Old Academy” following terminology originally applied by Antiochus of Ascalon; (2) the period from c. 265 BCE to c. 95 CE dominated by the “skeptical” innovations of Arcesilaus first and then Carneades; (3) the period immediately preceding and immediately following the breakup of the institution in 88 BCE. The target period is thus 347–c. 68 BCE, but some of the earliest figures to be considered here were active for many years while Plato was alive and established their reputation during that period, Therefore, the evidence for them will often apply to works written before the death of Plato, although some account should be taken of developments potentially involving the pupils of “Academics” until the time of Augustus. Although some later philosophers were “Academic” in allegiance and show signs of commitment to the Academy’s Socratic-Platonic and dialectical heritage, their links with the original institution are unclear, and Plutarch, the most important, has been allocated a separate article for his Moralia (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article Plutarch’s Moralia).

General History and Archaeology of the Academy

Glucker 1978 is a notable, but demanding, modern work that has much to say on the Academy’s history across most of this period (but not in any chronological order because the emphasis falls on the 1st century BCE). Algra, et al. 1999 includes a chronology of the Academy (Dorandi 1999), covering the whole period from the death of Plato in c. 348/347 BCE until the death of Antiochus in c. 68 BCE, and an observant “Epilogue” on the period when Hellenistic philosophy was transformed into a new era (Frede 1999); however, the philosophy itself covers only the so-called “skeptic” phase of the Academy, omitting the Old Academy and post-Carneadean developments. A number of minor Academics of this period are best considered after consulting Goulet 1989–. Billot 1989 (an article of special note in Goulet 1989–) covers just about everything that philosophers would want to know about the site of the Academy and its surrounds. A more recent volume on the archaeology of the site is Caruso 2013.

  • Algra, Keimpe, Jonathan Barnes, Jaap Mansfeld, and Malcolm Schofield, eds. 1999. The Cambridge history of Hellenistic philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521250283

    Substantial general work on Hellenistic philosophy, covering much of the period of the Academy, but without much coverage of philosophic movements antedating the Hellenistic age.

  • Billot, Marie-Françoise. 1989. Annexe: Akadémie (topographie et archéologie). In Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques. Vol. 1. Edited by Richard Goulet, 693–789. Paris: Éditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

    Extremely useful survey of material environment and remains of the Academy for the study of the site’s relevance to philosophy.

  • Caruso, Ada. 2013. Akademia: Archeologia di una scuola filosofica ad Atene da Platone a Proclo (387 a.C.–485 d.C). SATAA: Studi di Archeologia e di Topografia di Atene e dell’Attica 6. Athens, Greece: Edizioni Pandemos.

    New treatment of the archaeology of the site from the founding of Plato’s school until the 5th century CE.

  • Dorandi, Tiziano. 1999. Chronology: The Academy. In The Cambridge history of Hellenistic philosophy. Edited by Keimpe Algra, Jonathan Barnes, Jaap Mansfeld, and Malcolm Schofield, 31–35. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521250283

    Especially useful for the many tricky issues of chronology that involves the principal figures of the Academy.

  • Frede, Michael. 1999. Epilogue. In The Cambridge history of Hellenistic philosophy. Edited by Keimpe Algra, Jonathan Barnes, Jaap Mansfeld, and Malcolm Schofield, 771–797. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521250283

    Breaks new ground in suggesting an earlier date than is normally given for the end of Hellenistic philosophy proper.

  • Glucker, John. 1978. Antiochus and the late Academy. Hypomnemata 56. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.

    Major study that sets out to counter the common assumption (following the work of the 19th-century scholar Karl Gottlob Zumpt) that there is a continuity of Academic/Platonist teaching in antiquity from Plato until 529 CE.

  • Goulet, Richard. 1989–. Dictionnaire des philosophes antiques. Paris: Éditions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique.

    Ongoing series of detailed reference articles on ancient philosophers, their schools, and related issues (including the Academy and many of its adherents).

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.