Category: Plato in 80 entries

Gymnasia and intellectual life

The name "gymnasia" was given to the specific sites in every Greek city that were aimed at the physical education of men. The compulsory nakedness of the athletes resulted in the prohibition of entry for women. The facilities appeared to be minimal: a fountain and a woodlot for leisure and recreation seemed to suffice. The neighbouring existence of a place for worship should be taken for granted. In the course of time, many gymnasia were furnished with a covered portico, named xystus (meaning "smooth", due to the polished floor), which had the length of a stade. Additionally, gymnasia were complemented with a palaestra, where athletes exercised and competed in the pankration, and other forms of wrestle. The polis would cover all maintenance expenses, thus making the gymnasia open to all citizens.

Habitual gathering of men of all ages, made the gymnasia into sites of social interaction. Some of them offered broader education.

The big Athenian gymnasia developed into centres of philosophical exchange, and operated as higher intellectual institutions.The gymnasium of Cynosarges was initially designed to serve as an athletic facility for aliens (nothoi: residents of non-citizen birth). Later, a pupil of Socrates, Antisthenes, started teaching there. Some believed that the cynics were named after the gymnasium of Cynosarges.

The gymnasium of the Academy was renovated by Kimon into a shadowy woodlot with improved water supply . Plato, who settled down close to the gymnasium, used to spend time there as a teacher. Later, he secured his own garden in the area. After his death, he was buried in the Academy. Plato's Academy was named after this gymnasium.

The gymnasium of the Lyceum was frequented by many pundits who also taught in its premises. When Athens was defeated to the Macedonians, Aristotle selected it to establish his school.

Plato elaborated on the role and contribution of the gymnasia in an ideal polis. In keeping with the view that they educate and prepare the young for war, he suggested that they should also accept women.

Author: Dimitris Kyrtatas
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