Academies Under Stress: lessons from antiquity for modern higher-education institutions

Professor Harold Tarrant, Conjoint Professor, University of Newcastle

Co-presented with the Inspired Voices Research Cluster at the University of Sydney

16 September

After Plato had founded his ‘Academy’ in the 380s BCE, teaching of a broadly Platonist character survived multiple crises and endured without major interruption for almost a millennium. It survived political changes as Athenian democracy succumbed to Macedonian hegemony, to Roman rule, and eventually to the Christian emperors of Byzantium. The centre of activities had to shift away from Athens at times to Rome or to Alexandria, and it had to cope with changes in state or municipal relations that at times led to salaried ‘chairs’ and at others to outright hostility, and finally to the effective closure of the Athenian school in 529CE.

The constant across all this time was a set of texts – the dialogues of Plato – that had the ability to mean different things for different readers. The corpus invited the reader to puzzle over matters of mathematics, science, and religion as well as over language and argument. Platonists could be confident of the quality and the variety of their materials, which in turn guaranteed the determination of pupils to study them. It is by highlighting different aspects of these materials that ancient Platonists were able to adjust the curriculum to the changing needs of both pupils and their political masters - making concessions but preserving always what was most important to them.

Professor Harold Tarrant


Professor Harold Tarrant was educated in Classics and Ancient Philosophy at Cambridge and Durham Universities, and worked for a year at the University of Manchester before taking up a post in Greek at the University of Sydney, where he worked for twenty years. From 1993 to 2011 he was Professor of Classics at the University of Newcastle, where he is now Conjoint Professor, having retired to the UK for family reasons. His books include Scepticisim or Platonism? (1985), Thrasyllan Platonism (1993), Olympiodorus On Plato's Gorgias (1998), Plato's First Interpreters (2000), Recollecting Plato's Meno (2005), Proclus: Commentary on Plato's Timaeus, vol. I (2007), and From the Old Academy to later Neo-Platonism (2011). He has just finished co-editing a book on the Neoplatonist reception of Socrates with Danielle Layne, and is currently working on a further Proclus volume, and on an ARC-funded ‘Academies under Stress’ project.