Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE French Institute in London is about to open the first `philosophical cafe (surely `philosophical premises'?) in the country, complete with resident philosopher. There are already 80 such cafes in France, 20 of them in Paris.

But we have still some way to go to catch up with ancient Greek precedent. They had philosophical gymnasia. It was here that young men gathered to practise their athletic skills (gymnos, naked, of course) and old men gathered to engage them in, er, discussions.

Originally such gymnasia consisted of little more than an open space, with a water supply and shrine. Plato's dialogue Charmides gives a good idea of what went on in them. Here Socrates, who has just returned from military service and wants to catch up on things, turns up at the wrestling ground eager to find out `if any young man has become pre-eminent in wisdom or beauty or both', and has the young Charmides pointed out to him. He is stunningly good-looking (`Wait till he strips,' leers Chairephon, `you won't notice his face') and young and old alike cannot take their eyes off him.

But he has a persistent headache, and Socrates begs an introduction on the grounds that he knows a good headache cure. …

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