Category: Persons

Plato’s Successors – Scholarchs of the Academy

The Platonic Academy operated from its founding in 387 BC until the mid-first century BC. Specialists distinguish the Old Academy (until 265 BC) of Plato’s immediate successors, from the New Academy of Arcesilaus and of Carneades.

Old Academy

The Academy as a philosophical school was founded by Plato after his first visit to Sicily, most probably in 387 BC. Plato stayed at the School’s helm until his death in 347 BC.

In the same year, his nephew Speusippus was appointed scholarch of the Academy, which position he held until his death in 339 BC. Only fragments of his writings have survived, from which it appears that he linked philosophy with mathematics. Speusippus was succeeded by another of Plato’s students, Xenocrates from Chalcedon, who directed the Academy until 314 BC. Influenced by Pythagorism, he attempted to systematize philosophy by classing it in three categories: physics, logic and ethics. The Athenian Polemo, who replaced him, has no significant written work to his credit and all that can be assumed is that his now-lost book On Nature influenced the teaching of the Stoa. Polemon died in 270 BC and the reins of the Academy passed for three years to Crates from Thriasio in Attica, who until his death in 267 BC followed the didactic method of Speusippus.

New Academy

Arcesilaus from Pitane in Asia Minor, although initially a student of Theophrastus in the Peripatos, ended up at the Academy, following the teaching of Crantor. He became its head in 265 BC, probably keeping the post until his death in 241 BC. His scholarchate ushered in the period of the so-called New or Middle Academy, during which the style of Plato’s teaching with references to Socratic dialectics was revived. Arcesilaus’ successor, Lacydes from Cyrene, moved out of the Academy premises and continued his teaching in a “garden”, which was laid out with sponsorship from the king of Pergamon, Attalus I Soter. In 215 BC Lacydes handed over the position of scholarch to two of his students, Telecles and Euander. All that is known of their life and work is that Euander was a proponent of Neoacademic scepticism and that he continued to direct the Academy after the death of Telecles. When exactly Hegesinous (or Hegisilaus) from Pergamon assumed the duties of scholarch is not known, nor is the nature of his work. The only certain fact is that he was a teacher of Carneades of Cyrene, who succeeded him in the Academy.

Carneades became scholarch in 155 BC and kept the post until his death in 129/8 BC. He wrote nothing, as far as we know, but sparked the conflict between the philosophical schools of Athens. He bequeathed the scholarchate to his pupil Clitomachus from Carthage, who served until his death in 110 BC. Clitomachus was a prolific author and according to the Suda wrote 400 works. His student Philo of Larisa, who was elected scholarch after him, tried to bring the polemic against the Stoa back to the forestage, but the objections of Academy members and primarily of his student Antiochus of Ascalon, thwarted his plans and led to his dismissal in 88 BC. Antiochus fail to bring the teaching back to genuine Platonism, but rather prepared the ground for Neoplatonism. Cicero was in his audience in Athens between 79 and 78 BC, from which time on nothing is known about the continuation of the scholarchate of the Academy, nor is there any other reference to the operation of the school.

Author: Konstantinos Sp. Staikos
Symposium

Symposium

The Symposium is a dialogue on the subject of love. It was...

Middle Platonism

Middle Platonism

Period of Platonist philosophy extending from 1st c. BCE to...

Portraits of Plato

Portraits of Plato

The picture we have for the figure of Plato has been formed...

The symposium

The symposium

The symposion as a main mode of entertainment and social...