Heard of the stoic philosophers? Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus are a few of the most famous ones. The stoics got their name because their schools/sessions took place under the Stoa. Totally understandable; shade is a welcome gift in the Athenian (or Roman) heat. The stoic school was founded in Athens in 300 BC, about 35 years after Aristotle returned to Athens from Macedonia and founded his peripatetic school of philosophy in Athens. Peripatetic comes from the Greek word for ‘walk,’ and if you visualize Raphael’s School of Athens, with Plato and Aristotle strolling along and debating, you’ve got it. Aristotle liked to walk and teach.
The Lyceum, the site of Aristotle’s school, was discovered in 1996 in downtown Athens during excavation for what is now Athens’ Museum of Modern Art. It was found thanks to descriptions from the writings of ancient philosophers — so it wasn’t a total surprise — which described Aristotle’s school as just outside the eastern boundary for ancient Athens. Archaeologists first uncovered the gymnasium and a wrestling area and then buildings shortly after. Visitors can see teaching rooms, the remains of a heating system, a reading room, and two rooms for the athletes to oil and powder their bodies. Naturally, museum construction plans were altered so that the art museum could be built with the outdoor Lyceum museum right next to it, and it opened in 2009. They both sit right next to the Byzantine Museum, which has one of the prettiest outdoor coffee shops in all of Athens.
Aristotle modeled his structure after those of Plato’s Academy, the remains of which lie on the opposite-ish side of the ancient Athens border. Lessons for the ‘advanced’ students would take place during the early morning walk, while more beginner lessons happened during an evening walk. Philosophy happened in the morning; rhetoric in the afternoon. Aristotle taught here until 323 BC.
The Lyceum is beautiful, especially in the Spring. The grounds that surround it are so well landscaped that it really is one of the most lovely spaces in the city of Athens. Demetri and I first visited at the end of May when the Spring flowers were in full bloom. The photo above is from that day. Then the Fisackerlys visited it last week on their Athens trip and in our quest to find them we walked in quickly too. We returned yesterday with Ms. Scala, the head of Aspen Academy, and her son. It was considerably hotter than that April day, but the planting beds, filled with rosemary, lavender, oregano, thyme, and olive and pomegranate trees, were thriving in spite of the heat. The space itself is some 12,000 square meters and there’s a lovely little section with benches where you can sit and view the entire Lyceum. In the late afternoon, there’s even a little corner of the benches that have some shade.
Demetri often wonders aloud about what things haven’t been discovered yet in this vast city of antiquities. The Lyceum is a perfect example: if it wasn’t found until 20 years ago, what other astonishing treasures lie beneath the streets?