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I've seen this in quite a few places, I'm just wondering if it's a cultural myth, or whether it actually has a basis in fact.

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up vote 6 down vote accepted

This presentation, I think, will answer most of your questions about the inscription.

In short: Plato probably didn't inscribe anything himself. Was there something inscribed above the academy? We don't know. The inscription story began in the 4th century when it was mentioned directly by Julian the Apostate in 362 and tangentially by Sopater of Apamea. So the earliest records of such an inscription are dated more than 700 years after the academy was founded - which should speak to the lack of their gravitas.

Of course, it's a nice story :)

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He does present an argument in the Republic that 'geometry will draw the mind towards truth, and create the spirit of philosophy' (this might be the source of the myth) but he also warns 'They have in view practice only, and are always talking in a narrow and ridiculous manner, they confuse the ways of geometry with those of daily life'. He's more subtle than the purported inscription suggests. – Mozibur Ullah Dec 20 '12 at 1:07
Also, the claim that most philosophers/mathematicians/scientists studying at the Academy most likely were familiar with geometry is probably correct - which, of course, would add to the inscription's supposed legitimacy. – David Titarenco Dec 20 '12 at 6:03

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