<Standard 7.33 ......................................................................................................................................... Standard 7.35>

Describe the purposes and functions of the Lyceum, the gymnasium, and the Library of Alexandria, and identify the major accomplishments of the ancient Greeks.

The ancient theater of Dodona, Epirus, Greece.  Photo on Wikimedia Commons by Onno Zweers
The ancient theater of Dodona, Epirus, Greece. Photo on Wikimedia Commons by Onno Zweers

Topics on the page
The Gymnasium, The Lyceum, the Library of Alexandria
A. Thales (science)
B. Pythagoras and Euclid (mathematics)
  • Hypatia
C. Hippocrates (medicine)
D. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (philosophy)
E. Herodotus, Thucydides, Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Euripides (history, poetry, and drama)
F. the Parthenon, the Acropolis, and the Temple of Apollo (architecture)
G. the development of the first complete alphabet with symbols for consonants and vowels
H. Sports and Olympics

Focus Questions:

  • What were the purposes and functions of the lyceum, the gymnasium, and the Library of Alexandria?

  • What were the accomplishments of Socrates, Plato, Homer and other Greek philosophers, scientists, and writers?

external image Red_apple.jpgFor an interesting topic to discuss with students, see World's Oldest Computer Recreated in Legos from New Scientist magazine.
Multimedia.png Overview- Brief history of Greek accomplishments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3fN98XEkvo


The ancient Gymnasium at Delphi, Greece.  Image on Wikimedia Commons by  Luarvick.
The ancient Gymnasium at Delphi, Greece. Image on Wikimedia Commons by Luarvick.

The gymnasium functioned as a training facility for competitors in public games.
  • Gymnasium was also a place for socializing and engaging in intellectual pursuits. The name comes from the Greek term gymnos meaning naked. Athletes competed in the nude, a practice said to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body. Some early tyrants feared gymnasia facilitated politically subversive erotic attachments between competitors.
    • The gymnasium supplied the means of training and competition formed part of the social and spiritual life of the Greeks from very early on.
      • The contests honored the heroes and gods, sometimes forming part of a periodic festival or the funeral rites of a deceased chief. The free and active Greek lifestyle (spent to a great extent in the open air) reinforced the attachment to such sports and after a period of time, the contests became a prominent element in Greek culture.
        • The victor in religious athletic contests, though he gained no material prize other than a wreath, was rewarded with the honors and respect of his fellow citizens. Training of competitors for the greater contests was a matter of public concern and special buildings were provided by the state for such use, with management entrusted to public officials. A victory in the great religious festivals was an honor for the whole state.
Multimedia.pngTake a virtual tour of the Gymnasium at Olympia.

Ancient History Encyclopedia entry - Gymnasium

National Geographic article on Women and Homosexuality within the Greek Gymnasium


The Lyceum, like the other famous Athenian gymnasia (the Academy and Cynosarges) was more than a space for physical exercise and philosophical discussion, reflection, and study.
  • The name "Lyceum" comes from a gymnasium near Athens in Ancient Greece named after Apollo Lyceus or Apollo "the wolf-god."
    • The Lyceum contained cults of Hermes, the Muses, and Apollo, to whom the area was dedicated and belonged.
  • The Lyceum was also used for military exercises, the marshaling of troops, and for military displays. It encompassed a fairly large area, including large open spaces, buildings, and cult sites starting in sixth century.
    • The Lyceum was also the place for meetings of the Athenian assembly before the establishment of a permanent meeting area on the Pnyx hill during the fifth century BCE.
  • The Lyceum was a place of philosophical discussion and debate well before Aristotle founded his school there in 335 BC.
    • The Lyceum was an important early milestone in the development of Western science and philosophy. The complex structure itself, named for its sanctuary to Lycian Apollo, dates from before the 6th century BC, while Aristotle founded his famous school there in 336BC. Aristotle walked in the lyceum's stoae and grounds as he lectured, surrounded by a throng of students, so the philosophical school he founded was called the Peripatetics.
  • It was at the Lyceum that Aristotle most likely created most of his works; they are thought to be notes for his lectures to use at his school.
    • The Lyceum was destroyed in 267 C.E.

19th Century Rendering of the Library of Alexandria
19th Century Rendering of the Library of Alexandria

Library of Alexandria

The Library of Alexandria was a major library and cultural center, founded by Alexander the Great, and located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea in the Egyptian city of Alexandria.
  • In 2004, scientists reported finding the location of the Library, once the largest in the world.
  • It is usually assumed to have been founded at the beginning of the 3rd century BC during the reign of Ptolemy II of Egypt after his father had set up the temple of the Muses, the Musaeum (whence we get "Museum").
  • The Library was created because the Greeks were impressed with their neighbor's achievements.
  • King Ptolemy I Soter had Demetrius of Phaleron, an Athenian refugee, was tasked with founding the library.
  • The Library is believed to have been burnt down. https://ehistory.osu.edu/articles/burning-library-alexandria
  • It is possible that Julius Caesar was the cause of the demise of the Library.
  • In this translated verse the Latin poet Lucan describes a fire set by Cesare while at war with Egypt.

Check out this video of the contemporary Library of Alexandria
external image 6939103.jpg?885

Focus Question: What were the major accomplishments of the ancient Greek scientists, mathematicians, philosophers, historians, and writers?

A. Science

external image Thales_of_Miletus.jpg
Thales of Miletus also known as Thales the Milesian (624-546 BC), was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and one of the Seven Sages of Greece.

Most of his understanding of of philosophy and science came from Aristotle. Aristotle regarded him as the first philosopher in the Greek tradition as well as the father of science.

No surviving texts written by Thales exist so our knowledge of him and his work is based on other philosopher's accounts

Multimedia.pngA short video biography of Thales

Thales dabbled in philosophy, history, science, mathematics, engineering, geography, politics, and astronomy. His ideas removed “godly intervention” from phenomenal occurrences. He also developed the scientific method.

B. Mathematics
external image Pythagoras._Line_engraving_by_D._Cunego%2C_1782%2C_after_R._Meng_Wellcome_V0004825.jpg

The Pythagoras Theorem; image by FirefoxRocks
The Pythagoras Theorem; image by FirefoxRocks

  • Pythagoras of Samos (582 BC –507 BC) was an Ionian (Greek) mathematician, astronomer, scientist and philosopher, founder of the mathematical, mystic, religious, and scientific society called Pythagoreans.
    • He was called Pythagoras because Pythian oracle predicted his birth.
      • He is best known for the Pythagorean Theorem which bears his name. Known as "the father of numbers,"
    • Pythagoras made influential contributions to philosophy and religious teaching in the late 6th century BC.

Multimedia.pngEducational video explaining Pythagorean Theorem! from Kahn Academy.

Statue of Euclid
Statue of Euclid

  • Euclid, also referred to as Euclid of Alexandria, (330 BC – 275 BC) lived in the city of Alexandria, Egypt, is often considered to be the "father of geometry".
    • His most popular work, Elements is one of the most successful textbooks in the history of mathematics.
    • Euclid also wrote works on perspective, conic sections, spherical geometry, and possibly quadric surfaces. Neither the year nor place of his birth have been established, nor the circumstances of his death.
lincoln.jpg You can read this interesting article to learn about the influence Euclid's "The Elements" had on President Abraham Lincoln. "Lessons Learned From Abraham Lincoln's Old Math Book
Multimedia.pngTo accompany this, a small clip from the "Lincoln" movie

external image 0df803746cff993c3fef7d37cd0c3281.jpegFemale_Rose.png Hypatia was the daughter of Theon, the last known member of the museum.
- She was a mathematician and astronomer who wrote commentaries and lectured students from her home.
-> letters from one of her students, Synesius, indicated that her lessons included how to design an astrolabe.
- Hypatia has become a symbol for feminists, a martyr to pagans and atheists and a character in fiction after her death.

C. Medicine


  • Hippocrates of Cos IIor Hippokrates of Kos (460-370 BC) was ancient Greek physician of the Age of Pericles, considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. He is often referred to as “The Father of Medicine” in recognition of his lasting contributions to the field as the founder of the Hippocratic School of medicine.

  • In particular, he is credited with greatly advancing clinical medicine, summing up the medical knowledge of previous schools, and prescribing practices for physicians through the Hippocratic Oath.

Multimedia.pngSong video from "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" which is all about the Hippocratic Oath.

D. Philosophy
The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (1787)
The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David (1787)

external image Essener_Feder_01.pngSocrates (470-399 BC) is widely credited for laying the foundation for Western philosophy.
  1. Socrates is quite possibly the most important and influential philosopher of Greek civilization (though strong cases could also be made for Plato and Aristotle).
  2. Socrates disparaged the pleasures of the senses, yet was excited by beauty; he was devoted to the education of the citizens of Athens, yet indifferent to his own sons.
  3. Socrates is credited with creating a method of discourse known as the "Socratic Method" which involved a person strategically asking questions to foster critical thinking in the person they are addressing. A great example is this scene from the 1973 movie, The Paper Chase.
  4. The trial and execution of Socrates was the climax of his career and the central event of the dialogues of Plato. Socrates admitted in court that he could have avoided his trial in the first place by abandoning philosophy and going home to mind his own business. After his court conviction, he could have avoided the death penalty by escaping (as he was well able to do so and had willing accomplices).
  5. The reason behind his concord with the state's mandate forms a valuable philosophical insight in its own right and is best articulated by the dialogues themselves, especially Crito.

external image Beautiful_red_apple.jpgSocrates and the Law: Argument in an Athenian Jail.

  • Plato (428-348 BCE) was also a mathematician, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the western world. Plato is widely believed to have been a student of Socrates and to have been deeply influenced by his teacher's execution. His most famous dialogue is The Republic, writing that had a great influence on the development of American Revolution and American constitutional law.
  • Information about Plato as a homosexual philosopher and a broad overview of homosexuality in ancient Greece http://www.livius.org/articles/concept/greek-homosexuality/

external image Beautiful_red_apple.jpgPlato's Allegory of the Cave and //The Matrix// from the Center for Philosophy for Children from the University of Washington.
Lesson plan for Plato's Allegory from the University of Washington

  • Aristotle (384-March 7, 322 BC) was a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote on diverse subjects including physics, poetry (including theater), biology, zoology, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, and ethics. Aristotle defines philosophy as "the knowledge of being."

external image Beautiful_red_apple.jpgAristotle: In Search of the Best Constitution from the Constitutional Rights Foundation.

Female_Rose.pngHipparchia, a woman philosopher from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

timeline2_rus.svg.pngWant an interactive was to learn Greek philosophy? Look no further than this timeline!

E. History, Poetry and Drama
  • Herodotus was a Dorian Greek historian who lived in the 5th century BC (484–425 BC) and is regarded as the “father of history”. He is almost exclusively known for writing The History of Herodotus, a collection of 'inquiries' about the places and peoples he encountered during his wide-ranging travels around the Mediterranean.

primary_sources.PNGThucydides (460 -400 BC) was an ancient Greek historian. Click here for Speeches from Thucydides. He was the author of the History of the Peloponnesian War.

For a side-by-side comparison of Herodotus' and Thucydides' style of historical writing, click here!
external image Homer_bust_louvre_front.JPGHomer was a legendary early Greek poet and aoidos. ("singer") traditionally credited with the composition of The Iliad and The Odyssey. The poems are often dated to the 8th or 7th century BC; whether Homer himself was the actual writer of his works, or whether they were largely gradationally built through oral transmission, is debated by scholars. Click here for a Plot Outline for Homer's Iliad and List of Principal Characters.

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 12.30.24 PM.pngLesson Plan for teaching Homer

  • Aeschylus (525-456 BC) was a playwright of Ancient Greece. Often called the “Father of Tragedy”, he is the earliest of the three Greek tragedians whose plays are not entirely lost, the others being Sophocles and Euripides. His plays can be found here.

  • Sophocles (495-406 BC), according to the Suda, wrote 123 plays; in the dramatic competitions of the Festival of Dionysus (where each submission by one playwright consisted of four plays; three tragedies and a satyr play), he won more first prizes (around 20) than any other playwright, and placed second in all others he participated in (Lloyd-Jones 1994: 8). His most famous plays are "The Theban Plays," a trilogy of plays about the life and death of the Theban King Oedipus and his family. Thanks to Project Gutenberg they can be found here.

  • Euripides (480–406 BC) was the last of the three great tragedians of classical Athens. Ancient scholars thought that Euripides had written ninety-five plays, although four of those were probably written by Critias. Eighteen of Euripides' plays have survived completely. Euripides is known primarily for having reshaped the formal structure of traditional Attic tragedy by showing strong women characters and smart slaves, and by satirizing many heroes of Greek mythology.

F. Architecture
  • The Parthenon is a temple that housed the cult statue of Athena, built in the 5th century BC on the Acropolis of Athens. It is the most famous surviving building of ancient Greece and has been praised as the finest achievement of Greek architecture. Its decorative sculptures are considered one of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is an enduring symbol of ancient Greece and of Athenian democracy and is regarded as one of the world's greatest cultural monuments.
    • Nashville TN has a reconstructed Parthenon! The Nashville version of this ancient wonder is built to scale and includes reproductions of the original architecture and artwork, as well as a reproduction of the magnificent chryselephantine cult statue of Athena.
    • external image 200px-Book_Hexagonal_Icon.svg.pngSee new book, The Parthenon Enigma by Joan Breton Connelly (Knopf, 2014) that argues that the figures depicted in Parthenon are not engaged in civic duty by human sacrifice to the Gods.
external image Acropolis_-_from_Temple_of_Zeus_%2813309584094%29.jpg
  • Acropolis literally means the edge of a town or a high city. For purposes of defense, early settlers naturally chose elevated ground, frequently a hill with precipitous sides, and these early citadels became in many parts of the world the nuclei of large cities which grew up on the surrounding lower ground. The most famous example is the Acropolis of Athens, which, by reason of its historical associations and the famous buildings erected upon it, is generally known without qualification as simply "The Acropolis"

Female_Rose.pngPerhaps the most famous prophetess of Ancient Greece was the Trojan princess, Cassandra who was rumored to receive her gift from the god Apollo.

Here is also a list of 10 not only noble, but also notorious, women from ancient Greece that you may not know much about, as most of the history of Greece was written by men for men.

G. Alphabet

The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since about the 9th century BC. It was the first alphabet in the narrow sense, that is, a writing system using a separate symbol for each vowel and consonant alike.
  • It is the oldest alphabetic script in use today.
  • The letters are also used to represent numbers – Greek numerals. In addition to being used for writing modern Greek, its letters are today used as symbols in mathematics and science, particle names in physics, as names of stars, in the names of fraternities and sororities, in the naming of supernumerary tropical cyclones, and for other purposes.
  • The Greek alphabet originated as a modification of the Phoenician alphabet and in turn gave rise to the Gothic, Glagolitic, Cyrillic, and Coptic, as well as the Latin alphabet. The Greek alphabet is also considered a possible ancestor of the Armenian alphabet. It is unrelated to Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, earlier writing systems for Greek.

Screen Shot 2017-03-18 at 11.16.22 AM.pngClick here for the Greek alphabet, recited in song!

Also present is an image of the Greek letter in both upper and lower case next to its name, modern letter equivalent, and sound.external image greekAlphabet.jpg

H. Sports and Olympics

For more on the beginning of the Olympics, see Standard 7.33

The ancient Greeks created the first gymnasium, where athletes could train and compete. These athletes competed in the Olympics, which are still wildly popular to this day.
  • The Greeks often placed a high emphasis on who the fastest person was, and who the strongest was. The first 13 Olympics only had footrace events but after that, they expanded to wrestling, discus and other events.
  • These events were done to honor the Gods, which is why they were held in Olympia. Olympia was the major religious center of Greece, which is why the games were there.
  • Women were not allowed to compete in the games but were allowed as owners of different teams in which they could be crowned as winners.
  • To prevent cheating from happening, the games were only allowed to be judged by certain people. These people were all Elean Greeks. Even though they were allowed to compete still, it was a shock if they cheated. And even if they did, the other judges still imposed penalties upon them.
  • Pausanias described such a situation in this primary source, Pausanias. It is thought that the first ever games were between 776 to 772 B.C. and were abolished in 394 A.D.
  • The impact of the games is clear today as the Olympics are still celebrated throughout the world.

external image 200px-Olympic_flag.svg.pngFor more information, feel free to go to, Olympics.

Opening Ceremony from the 2004 Athens Olympics

Morison, William, The internet encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2006, from http://www.iep.utm.edu/l/lyceum.htm#H2
Crystal, Ellie, Crystalinks, Ancient Greece, Feb. 2007, from http://www.crystalinks.com/libraryofalexandria.html
Barba, Robertta H., SJSU Virtual Museum, The history of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, 1996, from http://www.sjsu.edu/depts/Museum/aamenu.html#top
Universal Artists, Inc., Ancient Greece, 2006, from http://www.ancientgreece.com/html/mythology_frame.htm
Ancient Greek alphabet image found at http://www.aae.wisc.edu/aae637/ta/wp-content/
El-Abbadi, Mostafa, Encyclopedia Britannica, Library of Alexandria, May 12, 2016. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Library-of-Alexandria