The word “gymnasium” comes from a Greek word meaning “to exercise naked.” Its root, gumnos, meaning “naked,” is also found in “gymnosophist.” The gymnosophists were members of an ancient Hindu ascetic sect devoted to mystical contemplation. They wore little to no clothing, as they regarded it as detrimental to purity of thought.
The term is first used by Plutarch in the 1st century CE, when describing an encounter by Alexander the Great with ten gymnosophists in Punjab.
,,He (Alexander) captured ten of the Gymnosophists who had done most to get Sabbas to revolt, and had made the most trouble for the Macedonians. These philosophers were reputed to be clever and concise in answering questions, and Alexander therefore put difficult questions to them, declaring that he would put to death him who first made an incorrect answer, and then the rest, in an order determined in like manner; and he commanded one of them, the oldest, to be the judge in the contest.
The first one, accordingly, being asked which, in his opinion, were more numerous, the living or the dead, said that the living were, since the dead no longer existed.
The second, being asked whether the earth or the sea produced larger animals, said the earth did, since the sea was but a part of the earth.
The third, being asked what animal was the most cunning, said: “That which up to this time man has not discovered.”
The fourth, when asked why he had induced Sabbas to revolt, replied: “Because I wished him either to live nobly or to die nobly.”
The fifth, being asked which, in his opinion, was older, day or night, replied: “Day, by one day”; and he added, upon the king expressing amazement, that hard questions must have hard answers.
Passing on, then, to the sixth, Alexander asked how a man could be most loved; “If,” said the philosopher, “he is most powerful, and yet does not inspire fear.”
Of the three remaining, he who was asked how one might become a god instead of man, replied: “By doing something which a man cannot do”; the one who was asked which was the stronger, life or death, answered: “Life, since it supports so many ills.”
And the last, asked how long it were well for a man to live, answered: “Until he does not regard death as better than life.”
So, then, turning to the judge, Alexander bade him give his opinion. The judge declared that they had answered one worse than another. “Well, then,” said Alexander, “thou shalt die first for giving such a verdict.”
“That cannot be, O King,” said the judge, “unless thou falsely saidst that thou wouldst put to death first him who answered worst.”