Society, it seems, has always found a place for the eccentric. Swaddled in philosophy and drifting seamlessly through the ether of erudition, he trips and stumbles through life’s more mundane and necessary tasks. In academia lies the only repose. Those red brick sanatoria for the gifted but incapable are at the same time bastions of learning and shelter from the tangible and concrete.

The other day, I came upon the origins of the word academia and academic. They are derived from Plato’s academy (cited by some have been founded long before Plato), which, rather than being the great marble hall of Raphael’s imagining, was in fact more of a walled public park. It seems that the academy began as a series of impromptu meetings of various of the ancient lovers of knowledge to discuss ideas away from the hubbub of the necessary. The site contains various temples and was the setting for various games involving men racing along narrow tracts between altars. Plato’s school took its name from the area of Athens in which the meetings took place. This in turn is derived from the name of the Attic hero Hekademus, which was corrupted first into Akademus and then into Academus. Apparently, Helen of Troy was originally a girl from Argos who at the age of 12 was carried of by Theseus (of golden fleece fame) and Pirithous, who were otherwise good men. Having won the lots they took to decide who would marry her, Theseus then hid her in Aphidnae under the care of his mother. In the process of trying to find Pirithous a wife, Theseus was imprisoned and Pirithous killed. In the mean time, rescuers were searching for Helen in vain until…

“Akademus, who had by some means discovered that she was concealed at Aphidnae, now told them where she was; for which cause he was honoured by the sons of Tyndareus during his life, and also the Lacedaemonians, though they often invaded the country and ravaged it unsparingly, yet never touched the place called the Akademeia, for Akademus’ sake.” XXXII, Plutarch’s Lives, Volume I (of 4)

(For the full text, check out project Gutenberg)
The park in which Plato and the other philosophers met was indeed by tradition, the same land given to Akademus to form the Akademia. Thank goodness then for our own little slices of Akademia, be they parks with marble temples or edifices of brick and concrete.


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