Gymnasium , (Gr. naked), a term applied anciently in Greece and Italy, and now in continental Europe, and especially in Germany, to schools of a higher class, but in England and America to places for physical exercise. The Greek gymnasium was so called because of the preeminence given in Greece to physical culture. The education of a Greek youth was divided into three parts, grammar, music, and gymnastics; to which Aristotle added a fourth, drawing or painting. Gymnastics, however, occupied as much time as all the others together, and were continued after the mental education was finished. There was no Greek town of importance without its gymnasium, and Athens had three : the academy, famous for the instructions of Plato; the lyceum, where Aristotle taught; and the cynosarges. A gymnasium is described by Vitruvius, which is believed to have been at Naples, and which illustrates the general construction of gymnasia in Greece and Italy. It consisted of four porticos placed in a square 1,200 ft. in circumference; three of them arranged with seats for philosophical and rhetorical conversation, while the fourth, a double portico, contained a large hall in the centre and rooms for the bath, anointing, and other purposes.
In the winter gymnastic exercises were carried on in the shelter of the portico, and there were also sheltered and covered walks for study. The laws of Solon regulated the use of the gymnasium with great strictness, and a gymnasiarch or governor of the gymnasium was appointed with power to remove any teacher, philosopher, or sophist whom he thought injurious to the youth. The teacher of gymnastics was expected to know the physiological effect of the different exercises, and to assign to each pupil such as were suitable for him. The gymnasia were dedicated to Apollo, the god of physicians, because of their relation to health and disease. - In Germany the gymnasia occupy a middle place between elementary schools and the universities. The classics, mathematics, physics, and German literature are taught in them.