The Lyceum (Ancient Greek: Λύκειον, Lykeion) was a gymnasium and before that a public meeting place in a grove of trees in Classical Athens. The grove was named in honor of its patron Apollo Lyceus ("Apollo as a wolf" or "Apollo in the form of a wolf"). Though best known for its connection with Aristotle, the Lyceum was in existence long before his founding the Peripatetic school there in 334 / 335 BCE and continued long after his flight from Athens in 323 BCE until the Roman general Sulla sacked Athens in 86 BCE.
The Lyceum before Aristotle
Speculation suggests that Pericles or Pisistratus may have originally initiated the building of the Lyceum as a gymnasium in the 5th or 6th centuries BCE, though the Lyceum grounds would have predated the gymnasium. In the early years of the Lyceum the head of the Greek army was said to have had an office there, which would have made it easy for him to be involved in the military training and exercises for which the grounds were used. The Lyceum’s use as a recreational gym and military training base is attested by the existence of wrestling rings, a racetrack, and seats for athlothetai, the judges of athletic events.
A long list of philosophers and sophists gave talks at the Lyceum prior to Aristotle, including Prodicus of Ceos, Protagoras, and numerous rhapsodes. The most famous philosophers to have taught there, however, were Isocrates, Plato (of The Academy) and the best-known Athenian teacher, Socrates. In addition to military training and educational pursuits, the Lyceum also housed Athenian Assembly meetings before the Pnyx became the official meeting place in the 5th century BCE. Cult practices of various groups were also held at the Lyceum.
Aristotle's school and library
In 335 BCE, Athens fell under Macedonian rule and Aristotle, aged 50, returned from Asia. Upon his return, Aristotle began teaching regularly in the morning in the Lyceum and founded an official school called "The Lyceum". After morning lessons, Aristotle would frequently lecture on the grounds for the public and manuscripts of his compiled lectures were eventually circulated. The group of scholars who followed the Aristotelian doctrine came to be known as the Peripatetics due to Aristotle’s tendency to walk as he taught.
Aristotle’s main focus as a teacher was cooperative research, an idea which he founded through his natural history work and systematic collection of philosophical works to contribute to his library. His students were assigned historical or scientific research projects as part of their studies. The school was also student run. The students elected a new student administrator to work with the school leadership every ten days, allowing all the students to become involved in turn. Before returning to Athens, Aristotle had been the tutor of Alexander of Macedonia, who became the great conqueror Alexander the Great.
Throughout his conquests of various regions, Alexander collected plant and animal specimens for Aristotle’s research, allowing Aristotle to develop the first zoo and botanical garden in existence. It is also suspected that Alexander donated what would be the equivalent of more than 4 million dollars to the Lyceum. In 322 BCE, Aristotle was forced to flee Athens with his family when the political leadership reacted against the Macedonians again and his previously published works supporting Macedonian rule left him a target. He passed on his Lyceum to Theophrastus and died later that year in Chalcis, near his hometown.
History of Aristotle's library
Theophrastus placed a provision in his will that left the Lyceum library, which at this point included both his and Aristotle’s work as well as student research, philosophical historical texts and histories of philosophy, to his supposed follower, Neleus. However, the seniors of the Lyceum placed Strato as the next leader and upon his retirement from the school in the mid 3rd century BCE, Neleus divorced the Lyceum from its library and took all of the books with him to Skepsis in Mysia. Neleus was an expert on Theophrastus and Aristotle, and it may be that Theophrastus hoped he would prepare a catalogue of the 10,000 rolls of papyrus. At least some of the books seem to have been sold to the library in Alexandria. In the 10th century, a catalogue of the library revealed manuscripts by both Theophrastus and Aristotle which almost had to have been obtained from Neleus. The rest seem to have been hidden by his family, known for their ignorance.
The library then disappeared for several centuries until it appears to have been bought from Neleus’ heirs in the 1st century BCE and returned to the school. However, when Sulla attacked Athens, the books were shipped to Rome. Throughout their travels one fifth of Aristotle’s works were lost and thus are not a part of the modern Aristotelian collection. Still, what did remain of Aristotle’s works and the rest of the library were arranged and edited for school use between 73 and 20 BCE, supposedly by Andronicus of Rhodes, the Lyceum’s eleventh leader. Since then, the remaining works have been translated and widely distributed, providing much of the modern knowledge of ancient Western philosophy.
The Lyceum after Aristotle
As head of the Lyceum, Theophrastus continued Aristotle’s foci of observation, collaborative research and documentation of philosophical history, thus making his own contributions to the library, most notably as the first organizer of botany. Though he was not a citizen of Athens (he had met Aristotle in the 340s in his homeland of Lesbos) he managed to buy land near the main gym of the Lyceum as well as several buildings for the library and additional workspace in 315 BCE. Theophrastus also continued his own work while teaching and demonstrated his devotion to learning and education by leaving the land of the Lyceum to his friends to continue their work in education in philosophy in the non-private tradition of the school upon his death.
During the era of Theophrastus and his successor, Strato of Lampsacus, the Lyceum experienced a decline until it fell with the rest of Athens in 86 BCE.
There is some thought that the Lyceum was refounded in the 1st century CE by Andronicus of Rhodes and once again flourished as a philosophical school in the 2nd century, continuing until Athens was once again sacked in 267 CE.
Leaders of the Lyceum
Theophrastus headed the Lyceum for 36 years, between Aristotle’s exile from Athens in 322 BCE until his own death in 286 BCE. There is some speculation that both Aristotle and Theophrastus were buried in the gardens of the Lyceum, though no graves have been positively identified. Theophrastus was followed by Strato, who served as head until 268. Lyco of Troas, likely Aristo of Ceos, Critolaus, Diodorus of Tyre and Erymneus were the next several heads of the school. Additionally, Andronicus of Rhodes served as the eleventh head.
Members of the Lyceum
At various points in the history of the Lyceum, numerous scholars and students walked its parapetoi, though some of the most notable include Eudemus, a mathematical historian, Aristoxenus, who wrote works on music, and Dicaearchus, a prolific writer on topics including ethics, politics, psychology and geography. Additionally, medical historian Meno, and an eventual ruler of Athens, Demetrius of Phaleron, spent time at the school. Demetrius of Phaleron ruled Athens as a proxy leader for a dynasty from 307 BCE.
Aristotle's Lyceum today
Location of Lyceum:
During a 1996 excavation to clear space for Athens’ new Museum of Modern Art, the remains of Aristotle’s Lyceum were uncovered. Descriptions from the works of ancient philosophers hint at the location of the grounds, speculated to be somewhere just outside the eastern boundary of ancient Athens, near the rivers Ilissos and Eridanos, and close to Lycabettus Hill. The excavation site is located in downtown Athens, by the junction of Rigillis and Vasilissis Sofias Streets, next to the Athens War Museum and the National Conservatory. The first excavations revealed a gymnasium and wrestling area, but further work has uncovered the majority of what is believed to have withstood the erosion caused to the region by nearby architecture’s placement and drainage. The buildings are definitely those of the original Lyceum, as their foundations lie on the bedrock and there are no other strata further below. Upon realizing the magnitude of the discovery, contingency plans were made for a nearby construction of the Art Museum so that it could be combined with a Lyceum outdoor museum and give visitors easy access to both. There are plans for canopies to be placed over the Lyceum remains, and the area was opened to the public in 2009.
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