Cynosarges (Greek: Κυνόσαργες Kynosarges) was a public gymnasium located just outside the walls of Ancient Athens[1] on the southern bank of the Ilissos river. Its exact location is unknown but it is generally located in what is now the southern suburbs of Athens.[2]

Its name was a mystery to the ancients that was explained by a story about a white[2] or swift dog, etymologising the name as Kynos argos, from genitive of kyon (dog) and argos (white, shining or swift). The legend goes that on one occasion when Didymos, an Athenian, was performing a lavish sacrifice, a white (or swift) dog appeared and snatched the offering; Didymos was alarmed, but received an oracular message saying that he should establish a temple to Heracles in the place where the dog dropped the offering.[3]

Herodotus mentions a shrine there in 490/89 BC,[4] and it became a famous sanctuary of Heracles which was also associated with his mother Alcmena, his wife Hebe and his helper Iolaus.[5] A renowned gymnasium was built there;[6] it was meant especially for nothoi, illegitimate children.[7] The Cynosarges was also where the Cynic Antisthenes was said to have lectured, a fact which was offered as one explanation as to how the sect got the name of Cynics.[8]


  1. Κυνόσαργες. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  2. 1 2 The Stones of Athens, Wycherley, R.E., Princeton 1978.Pg 229
  3. Suda, κ2721, ε3160. In another account, (Suda, ει290) a white dog was being sacrificed, and an eagle stole and dropped the offering.
  4. Herodotus, Historiae 6.116
  5. Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.19.3.
  6. Plutarch, Themistocles, 1; Stephanus of Byzantium, Ethnica 393, 24; Diogenes Laërtius. "Wikisource link to Book VI [Chapter 13]". Wikisource link to Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. Translated by Robert Drew Hicks. Wikisource.
  7. Demosthenes 23.213; Athenaeus, Deipnosophists, 6.234E; Plutarch, Themistocles, 12
  8. Diogenes Laërtius. "Wikisource link to Book VI [Chapter 13]". Wikisource link to Lives of the Eminent Philosophers. Wikisource.

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