Essay on Education in the Classical World

Submitted By hungrycaterpillar
Words: 1575
Pages: 7

Examine the role that education played in preparing to fulfil a socially appropriate role in Athenian society.
In ancient Athens education was more focused on developing character suitable for Athenian life in the polis. An important procedure as it was done so at a very young age. The process begins with good behaviour being drilled into their young minds, teaching them what was right and what was wrong. Before entering their years of school it was up to the parents and nurses to nag what was considered to be good habits into them. Doing otherwise would result in a beating, something considered to be an overly harsh punishment today. Urn paintings have shown us boys being beaten by sandals, a tradition still found today amongst TV programmes such as “Brotown.” Parents would also go to suh measures as to scare children with ‘stories of hobglins taking bad children away’. This shows how much they valued good behaviour and the parenting ways that were tolerable in ancient Athens. “For the truth is that the whole of one’s life benefits from a calm, well-ordered personality.” – Protagoras. It wasn’t compulsory but a common view in every wealthy Athenian oikos to send their sons to school to raise a young man in the Athenian image. Wealthy fathers would send only their sons to school alongside their trusted Paidagogos (slave guardian) to carry equipment, watch over their learning and inflict a bit of discipline if needed. At school the Athenian character development was done in 3 parts. A class of around 10 students would visit a Grammatistes to learn reading and writing. Students began on a wax tablet and stylus to learn their letters before being promoted to the likes of ink and papyrus. Basic maths was also taught by using an abacus. We not only use abacuses today but the foundations of their curriculum have remained mostly the same. Today reading, writing and maths are still the subjects first taught to new students. Ancient Athenians seemed to be self-learners as teachers or didaskalos were ranked slightly above slaves and paid the same as a cleaner, so were not the professionals nor did they have the capability of today’s teachers. The role of didaskalos was considered an insult, Demosthenes thought of “Helping out in the schoolroom” as “scornful.” Regarding teachers as unimportant would have damaged the society. Not teaching well enough would have meant a failing student might not receive the help he needs and be disadvantaged at Athenian life.
As soon as students could read the poetry of Homer did all the work. Homer’s poems were thought of as a bible to the Greeks. Not quite like our modern view on the bible but essentially the same. It was a place to turn to when in need of inspiration; it was full of exciting tales and wise sayings. These poems were so important to the Athenians; they taught young boys the tales of Homeric heroes in any way possible. Music was a surprisingly important part of the Athenian curriculum, playing the lyre and singing were thought to be one of the things a well-educated gentlemen should be able to do. Kitharistes (music teacher) would only teach what was needed and again the students would focus on poetry. This would have greatly helped Homer’s poetry stay alive and not be so easily forgotten. When learning Homer, the teachers would teach the boys moderation, a big factor in Athenian life. Music was thought to be very powerful emotionally, changing moods and feelings at the mere sound of it. Although we don’t know exactly how it sounded (something historians know the least about) we can see similarities to today’s music on similar instruments, by knowing how it made them feel. It was because of this that music was taught in moderation and so that the students would grow up understanding the famous Greek saying “Nothing in Excess” on display at Apollo’s shrine in Delphi.
The last stage in the process was physical training. At the age of 12 boys are sent to a Paidotribes so