550 BC – The Magi (wise men) of Babylon included a discussion group that had been taken captive when Babylon conquered Israel. Included in this group were Hanania, Mishael and Azaria, (who were given the Babylonian names of Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego,) and Daniel, who was named rab-mag or “head wise man” by King Nebuchadnezzar.

“The king answered Daniel and said, “Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery.” Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon. And Daniel made request of the king, and he appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego over the administration of the province of Babylon, while Daniel was at the king’s court.” – Daniel chapter 2

The best-known Magi were the “Wise Men from the East” who followed a star to Bethlehem more than 500 years later to see the infant Jesus. (Matthew, ch. 2) Marco Polo claimed to have seen their graves in what is today the district of Saveh, in Tehran, Iran.

390 BC – Plato’s Academy
 in Athens began as an informal gathering of friends whose discussions helped shape the future of the western world. The original group included Neoclides, Speusippus, Theaetetus of Sunium, Archytas of Tarentum and Leodamas of Thasos. Shortly after the arrival of Eudoxus of Cnidos in the mid-380s BC, Eudemus recognized the gatherings as a formal Academy.

Aristotle gathered wisdom from Plato’s discussion group, but his friendship with King Philip of Macedonia led to Aristotle’s removal from Athens. He stayed in Macedonia for about 7 years where he taught Philip’s son, Alexander, who later conquered the entirety of the known world and became known as Alexander the Great. Alexander encouraged Aristotle to start a second gathering at the Lyceum in Athens, where discussions included logic, physics, astronomy, meteorology, zoology, metaphysics, theology, psychology, economics, ethics, rhetoric, and poetics.

These Israeli, Babylonian and Greek discussion groups made their way into Italy and formed the foundation of Roman culture. By around 300 B.C., real political power in Rome was centered in the Senate, which was essentially just a discussion group.

During the Italian Renaissance of the 1500s, these Italian discussion groups were often galvanized by the presence of a beautiful and educated patroness such as Isabella d’Este or Elisabetta Gonzaga.

Most Americans assume this idea of informal discussion groups originated with the salons of France during the 17th and 18th centuries. But the word salon did not appear in France until 1664 and was taken from the Italian word salone, itself from sala, referring to the large reception hall of Italian mansions.

1643-1715: During the reign of Louis XIV of France, there was a movement to organize science and the arts under the umbrella known as the royal academies. By extension, the informal discussion groups that gathered in the homes of prominent women were known as salons. Their role as salonierres signalled a cultural shift in how women should be accepted and involved in society.

These Parisian salons of the 18th century provided a unique outlet where women’s ideas could be heard. Conversing with men at an academic level, women now had the power to influence the major philosophers of the day. These salons also facilitated cross-class communication between social groups that had never before interacted.

Democracy sprang from informal discussion groups in Greece and Rome. And our modern ideas of gender equality and racial equality were simply a byproduct of informal discussions among friends who got together to talk and think and unwind in 18th century France, 19th century England and 20th century America.

Relax. Think. Play.

The world is full of possibilities
if only you will slow down long enough
to see them.