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Conversing with an ideal world

The occasion for the exhibition was the completion of 1.900 years since the Roman emperor ascended the throne (117-138 A.D.). Well-educated and profoundly philhellene, Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus, quite early in his life became partaker of the Greek education, supported the intellectual movement of the Second Sophistic and developed strong ties with Athens, a city that received his benefactions in the form of magnificent edifices.

The aim of the exhibition is to present Hadrian’s philhellenism and highlight its significance. By promoting the blending of the Greek intellectual achievements with Roman tradition, Hadrian contributed decisively to the formation of the common cultural basis that proved to be one of the most essential elements of western civilization.

An ideal world comes alive before our eyes

Important intellectuals of the antiquity take part in an imaginary philosophical dialogue. Hadrian converses with the Epicurean philosopher Metrodotus and with two great representatives of the Second Sophistic, Antonius Polemon and Herodes Atticus and with Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, who wrote his meditations in the Greek language.

Plato and Aristotle reveal their presence in this conceptual encounter, as diachronic symbols of the ancient Greek philosophical thought. Their conversation is attended by the gathered in the audience kosmetai, the Athenian officials of the Diogeneion Gymnasium, who retain responsibility for the education of the ephebes and stand as guardians of the traditional Greek education in the Imperial period.

The picture of the landscape with olive trees behind the gathering of the kosmetai enlivens the natural environment of the Academy, where apart from the similarly called Gymnasium, there also was Plato’s philosophical school, active in the matters of philosophy up until 529 A.D., when it was permanently reduced to silence by an edict of Justinian.

A symbolic dialogue

Kosmetai and ephebes: An allegorical concentration

The kosmetai are high-ranking officials in the Athenian gymnasia, serving an one-year term. They have absolute control over the administrative and financial management of gymnasia, while, at the same time, they look after the instruction of the ephebes. They draw up the syllabus of courses, appoint instructors, organise races in the context of religious festivals and supervise the progress of the pupils, while at the end of their tenure they submit a final account to the boule (Council). Athens, by joint decision of the Assembly, the Boule and Areios Pagos, was attributing honour to their work by erecting in the gumnasium area inscribed Hermaic stelae with their portrait.

The gymnasia

Places of corporal and spiritual instruction of youths

Gymnasia are since the 6th century B.C. the places par excellence for the athletic training of youths. From the 5th century B.C. physical exercise is combined with spiritual instruction, primarily aiming at the harmonious integration of young people into the socio-political and religious life of the city. In Roman times, gymnasium education focuses on the cultivation of the spirit, while physical exercise is limited. Already in the mid 2nd century B.C. the education programme includes classes on oratory, philosophy, but also on other sciences, such as medicine, physics and astronomy, resulting in the transformation of the gymnasia into educational institutions, with teaching rooms, lecture halls, even libraries. Philosophers and orators find at the gymnasia their audience and their natural abode. The three traditional gymnasia of ancient Athens, Academy, Lyceum, Cynosarges, were situated in groves outside the city walls. Towards the end of the 3rd or the beginning of the 2nd century B.C., two other gymnasia, the Diogeneion and the Ptolemaion, are founded in the heart of the ancient city.

The exhibition was organized by the National Archaeological Museum in collaboration with the Italian Archaeological School of Athens. It is being presented in room 31a of Roman Sculptures since 28.11.2017.

The exhibition catalogue

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