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An academy (Greek Ἀκαδημία) is an institution of higher learning, research, or honorary membership.The name traces back to Plato's school of philosophy, founded approximately 385 BC at Akademia, a sanctuary of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, north of Athensmarker, Greecemarker.

The original Academy

Before the Akademia was a school, and even before Cimon enclosed its precincts with a wall (Plutarch Life of Cimon xiii:7), it contained a sacred grove of olive trees dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, outside the city walls of ancient Athensmarker (Thucydides ii:34). The archaic name for the site was Hekademia, which by classical times evolved into Akademia and was explained, at least as early as the beginning of the 6th century BC, by linking it to an Athenian hero, a legendary "Akademos". The site of the Academy was sacred to Athena and other immortals.

Plato's immediate successors as "scholarch" of the Academy were Speusippus (347-339 BC), Xenocrates (339-314 BC), Polemon (314-269 BC), Crates (ca. 269-266 BC), and Arcesilaus (ca. 266-240 BC). Later scholarchs include Lacydes of Cyrene, Carneades, Clitomachus, and Philo of Larissa ("the last undisputed head of the Academy"). Other notable members of the Academy include Aristotle, Heraclides Ponticus, Eudoxus of Cnidus, Philip of Opus, Crantor, and Antiochus of Ascalon.

The Neoplatonic Academy of Late Antiquity

After a lapse during the early Roman occupation, the Academy was refounded (Cameron 1965) as a new institution of some outstanding Platonists of late antiquity who called themselves "successors" (diadochoi,, but of Plato) and presented themselves as an uninterrupted tradition reaching back to Plato. However, there cannot have actually been any geographical, institutional, economic or personal continuity with the original Academy in the new organizational entity (Bechtle).

The last "Greek" philosophers of the revived Academy in the 6th century were drawn from various parts of the Hellenistic cultural world and suggest the broad syncretism of the common culture (see koine): Five of the seven Academy philosophers mentioned by Agathias were Syriac in their cultural origin: Hermias and Diogenes (both from Phoenicia), Isidorus of Gaza, Damascius of Syria, Iamblichus of Coele-Syria and perhaps even Simplicius of Cilicia (Thiele).

The emperor Justinian closed the school in AD 529, a date that is often cited as the end of Antiquity. According to the sole witness, the historian Agathias, its remaining members looked for protection under the rule of Sassanid king Khosrau I in his capital at Ctesiphonmarker, carrying with them precious scrolls of literature and philosophy, and to a lesser degree of science. After a peace treaty between the Persian and the Byzantine empire in 532 guaranteed their personal security (an early document in the history of freedom of religion), some members found sanctuary in the pagan stronghold of Harranmarker, near Edessamarker. One of the last leading figures of this group was Simplicius, a pupil of Damascius, the last head of the Athenian school. The students of the Academy-in-exile, an authentic and important Neoplatonic school surviving at least until the 10th century, contributed to the Islamic preservation of Greek science and medicine, when Islamic forces took the area in the 7th century (Thiele). One of the earliest academies established in the east was the 7th century Academy of Gundishapurmarker in Sassanid Persia..

Renaissance academies

With the Neoplatonist revival that accompanied the revival of humanist studies, accademiamarker took on newly vivid connotations.

During the Florentine Renaissance, Cosimo de' Medici took a personal interest in the new Platonic Academy that he determined to re-establish in 1439, centered on the marvellous promise shown by the young Marsilio Ficino. Cosimo had been inspired by the arrival at the otherwise ineffective Council of Florence of Gemistos Plethon, who seemed a dazzling figure to the Florentine intellectuals. In 1462 Cosimo gave Ficino a villa at Careggimarker for the Academy's use, situated where Cosimo could see it from his own villa, and drop by for visits. The academy remained a wholly informal group, but one which had a great influence on Renaissance Neo-Platonism.

In Rome, after unity was restored following the Western Schism, humanist circles, cultivating philosophy and searching out and sharing ancient texts tended to gather where there was access to a library. The Vatican Librarymarker was not coordinated until 1475 and was never catalogued or widely accessible: not all popes looked with satisfaction at gatherings of unsupervised intellectuals. At the head of this movement for renewal in Rome was Cardinal Bessarion, whose house from the mid-century was the centre of a flourishing Academy of Neoplatonic philosophy and a varied intellectual culture. His valuable Greek as well as Latin library (eventually bequeathed to the city of Venicemarker after he withdrew from Rome) was at the disposal of the academicians Bessarion, in the latter years of his life, retired from Rome to Ravennamarker, but he left behind him ardent adherents of the classic philosophy. The next generation of humanists were bolder admirers of pagan culture, especially in the highly personal academy of Pomponius Leto, the natural son of a nobleman of the Sanseverino family, born in Calabriabut known by his academic name, who devoted his energies to the enthusiastic study of classical antiquity, and attracted a great number of disciples and admirers. He was a worshipper not merely of the literary and artistic form, but also of the ideas and spirit of classic paganism, which made him appear a contemner of Christianity and an enemy of the Church. In his academy every member assumed a classical name. Its principal members were humanists, like Bessartion's protegé Giovanni Antonio Campani (Campanus), Bartolomeo Platina, the papal librarian, and Filippo Buonaccorsi, and young visitors who received polish in the academic circle, like Publio Fausto Andrelini of Bologna who took the New Learning to the University of Parismarker, to the discomfiture of his friend Erasmus. In their self-confidence, these first intellectual neopagans compromised themselves politically, at a time when Rome was full of conspiracies fomented by the Roman barons and the neighbouring princes: Paul II (1464-71) caused Pomponio and the leaders of the Academy to be arrested on charges of irreligion, immorality, and conspiracy against the Pope. The prisoners begged so earnestly for mercy, and with such protestations of repentance, that they were pardoned. The Letonian academy, however, collapsed.

In Naples, the Quattrocento academy founded by Alfonso of Aragon and guided by Antonio Beccadelli was the Porticus Antoniana, later known as the Pontaniana, after Giovanni Pontano.

Sixteenth-century accademie in Italy

The sixteenth century saw at Rome a great increase of literary and aesthetic academies, more or less inspired by the Renaissance, all of which assumed, as was the fashion, odd and fantastic names. We learn from various sources the names of many such institutes; as a rule, they soon perished and left no trace. At the beginning of the sixteenth century came the "Accademiamarker degl' Intronati", for the encouragement of theatrical representations. There were also the Academy of the "Vignaiuoli", or "Vinegrowers" (1530), and the Academy "della Virtù" (1538), founded by Claudio Tolomei under the patronage of Cardinal Ippolito de' Medici. These were followed by a new Academy in the "Orti" or Farnese gardens. There were also the Academies of the "Intrepidi" (1560), the "Animosi" (1576), and the "Illuminati" (1598); this last, founded by the Marchesa Isabella Aldobrandini Pallavicino. Towards the middle of the sixteenth century there were also the Academy of the "Notti Vaticane", or "Vatican Nights", founded by St. Charles Borromeo; an "Accademia di Diritto civile e canonico", and another of the university scholars and students of philosophy (Accademia Eustachiana). In the seventeenth century we meet with similar academies; the "Umoristi" (1611), the "Fantastici (1625), and the "Ordinati", founded by Cardinal Dati and Giulio Strozzi. About 1700 were founded the academies of the "Infecondi", the "Occulti", the "Deboli", the "Aborigini", the "Immobili", the "Accademia Esquilina", and others. As a rule these academies, all very much alike, were merely circles of friends or clients gathered around a learned man or wealthy patron, and were dedicated to literary pastimes rather than methodical study. They fitted in, nevertheless, with the general situation and were in their own way one element of the historical development. Despite their empirical and fugitive character, they helped to keep up the general esteem for literary and other studies. Cardinals, prelates, and the clergy in general were most favourable to this movement, and assisted it by patronage and collaboration.

During the course of the following century and a half many Italian cities established a philosophical and scientific Academy, of which the oldest survivor is the Accademia dei Lincei of Rome, which later became a national academy for a reunited Italy.

Academies of the arts

In Florence, the Medici again took the lead in establishing the Accademia di Belle Arti Firenzemarker in 1563, the first of the more formally organised art academies that gradually displaced the medieval artists' guilds, usually known as the Guild of Saint Luke, as the bodies responsible for training and often regulating artists, a change with great implications for the development of art, leading to the styles known as Academic art. The private academy set up later in the century in Bolognamarker by the Carracci brothers was also extremely influential, and with the Accademia di San Lucamarker of Rome (founded 1593) helped to confirm the use of the term for these institutions.

The Académie de peinture et de sculpture in Paris, established by the monarchy in 1648 (later renamed) was the most significant of the artistic academies, running the famous Salon exhibitions from 1725. Artistic academies were established all over Europe by the end of the 18th century, and many, like the Royal Academymarker in London (founded 1768) still run art schools and hold large exhibitions, although their influence on taste greatly declined from the late 19th century.

A fundamental feature of academic discipline in the artistic academies was regular practice in making accurate drawings from antiquities, or from casts of antiquities, on the one hand, and on the other, in deriving inspiration from the other fount, the human form. Students assembled in sessions drawing the draped and undraped human form, and such drawings, which survive in the tens of thousands from the 17th through the 19th century, are termed académies in French.

Similar institutions were often established for other arts; Paris had the Académie Royale de Musique from 1669, and the Académie d'architecture from 1671.

Modern use of the term academy

Because of the tradition of intellectual brilliance associated with this institution, many groups have chosen to use the word "Academy" in their name. In the early 19th century "academy" took the connotations that "gymnasium" was acquiring in German-speaking lands, of school that was less advanced than a college (for which it might prepare students) but considerably more than elementary. Early examples are the prestigious preparatory schools of Phillips Andover Academymarker, Phillips Exeter Academymarker and Deerfield Academy. Amherst Academy expanded with time to form Amherst Collegemarker.

Other national academies include the Académie Française; the Royal Academymarker and Royal Academy of Musicmarker of the United Kingdommarker; the International Academy of Science; the United States Military Academymarker at West Pointmarker, New Yorkmarker; the United States Naval Academymarker; United States Air Force Academy; and the Australian Defence Force Academymarker. In emulation of the military academies, police in the United States are trained in police academies. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents the annual Academy awards.

Mozart organized public subscription performances of his music in Vienna in the 1780s and 1790s, he called the concerts "academies." This usage in musical terms survives in the concert orchestra Academy of St Martin in the Fields and in the Brixton Academymarker, a concert hall in Brixton, South London.

Academies proliferated in the 20th century until even a three-week series of lectures and discussions would be termed an "academy." In addition, the generic term "the academy" is sometimes used to refer to all of academia, which is sometimes considered a global successor to the Academy of Athensmarker.

Academies overseeing universities

In some countries, notably France, academic councils called Academies are responsible for supervising all aspects of education in a given region.

In France universities (which elect their Presidents) are answerable in some respects to their Academy whose main responsibilities however now lie in primary and secondary education, and the Rector of each Academy is a revocable nominee of the Ministry of Education.

However private Universities are independent of the state and therefore independent of the Academies. The French Academy regions are similar to, but not identical to, the standard French administrative regions.

This is not an exclusive use of the word "Academy" in France, note especially Académie Française.

Honorary academies

See the Académie Française and its many emulators among national honorary academies of strictly limited membership.

Research academies

In Imperial Russiamarker and Soviet Unionmarker the term "academy", or Academy of Scienceswas reserved to denote a state research establishment, see Russian Academy of Sciencesmarker. The latter one still exists in Russiamarker, although other types of academies (study and honorary) appeared as well.

United Kingdom school type

As a British school type, privately funded Academies first became popular in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. At this time the offer of a place at an English public school and university generally required conformity to the Church of England; the Academies or Dissenting Academies provided an alternative for those with different religious views, called nonconformists.

University College Londonmarker (UCL) was founded in the early nineteenth century as the first publicly funded English university to admit anyone regardless of religious adherence; and the Test and Corporation Acts that had imposed a wide range of restrictions on citizens who were not in conformity to the Church of England, were also abolished at about that date.

Recently Academies have been reintroduced. Today they are a type of secondary school - they no longer teach up to university degree level - and unlike their predecessors are only partly privately sponsored and independent, being partly paid for and controlled by the state. They have been introduced in the early years of the 21st century and though mainly state funded have a significant measure of administrative autonomy. Some of the early ones were briefly known as "City Academies" - the first such school opening on 10 September 2002 at the Business Academy Bexleymarker. In February 2007, the National Audit Office published a report about the performance of the first academies (

In Scotlandmarker, the designation "Academy" refers to a secondary school, with over a quarter of state schools incorporating the designation into their name.

See also


  1. Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3rd ed. (1996), s.v. "Philon of Larissa."
  2. See the table in The Cambridge History of Hellenistic Philosophy (Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 53-54.
  3. Ludwig Pastor, History of the Popes, ii, 2, gives an unsympathetic account.
  4. BBC News: Academy opens door to the future

Further reading

External links

Plato's Academy

Modern institutions

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